TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

 

Light in the Darkness

Luke 2:41-52

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” d 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

 

During the Christmas season, there are times when you have to say, “You don’t need to know.”  You come home from a trip to the store with some bags and of course the kids notice and ask, “What’s in the bags?  Anything for me?” “You don’t need to know.”  A spouse opens up a gift that seems pretty expensive and blurts out with a bewildered excitement, “How much did this cost?”  “You don’t need to know.”  Some family members who said they weren’t going to make it for a visit during the Christmas season show up unexpectedly, and you say, “What in the world are you doing here?  I thought you couldn’t make it this year.  How did you work this out?”  “You don’t need to know.”

There are also times when that seems to be the response from God.  Certain things in the Bible often raise questions for me.  Doesn’t that happen to you?  I want to know more about the circumstances, people, or a doctrine so that I can understand my life, the good and bad, better.  I want to know how to figure things out or what to tell people who are bothered by questions or problems they are having, but it seems like God is content to say, “You don’t need to know” to some of the questions we might have.

Can you understand why that is the case?  I’m not God and I cannot begin to understand everything he does or everything he knows.  How could I understand all the bad things happen in this world, to those close to me, to me?

There are some examples in Scripture of some who wanted answers and thought they deserved better from God.  And from what those sections describe, I don’t need detailed answers for every single bad thing that I see on the news or experience in my life.  I need the simple, straightforward, universal answers. I need to be reminded that I’m not God.  I’m not the one who is in control of all things.  If there are problems and pain all I need to know is that the cause is a world that is dark with sin.  Sin is at the root of every single bad thing that happens.  And sin is not God’s fault, it’s mine, yours…ours.

And if I want to find the answer, the solution to sin, there’s only one simple, straightforward, universal answer for that.  It’s Jesus.  That little baby of Bethlehem wasn’t born so that we could have an entire category of music that takes over the radios from Thanksgiving to New Years.  The eternal Word did not take on human flesh so that we could have a time of year to be off from school, get together with family, share some memories and eat way too much.  The Son of God who came from heaven down to earth did not take up residence here only for us to have a brilliant and inspirational life coach.  Or any of that other stuff that people want Jesus to be.

He came here to be the one answer for our sin.  He came here to destroy the devil’s work.  He came here to make peace for sinners and his Father.  He came here to open the gates of heaven.  He came here so that we could have good news that no one can take away from us.  He came to bring us out of our own darkness so that we could live in the light and also shine with his light for others.

How’s that for keeping things simple, straightforward, and universal?  Every page of Scripture is an answer to what is wrong with me and this world: it’s sin.  It’s the darkness we make by doing what God forbids and not doing what he commands.  And every page of Scripture is an answer to what takes the darkness of sin away: it’s Jesus.  He’s the light that dawned on Christmas and has been shinning brightly through the Word ever since.

But then we arrive at this sixth day of Christmas, and those questions start coming back again.   If the entire Bible is written by God and given to point people to our Savior, then why don’t we have more about Jesus from 0-30 years-old?  What was it like to teach baby Jesus to walk, to talk, to eat solid food, to potty train?  What was his first day of school like?  Did he always get straight A’s?  What was it like to be friends with the Son of God?  What did it look like for a perfect Jesus to make it through the tumultuous teenage years?  Did his voice ever crack?  Did he play an instrument or sing in the choir at synagogue?  What was his favorite sport?  Did he hit a home run every time he batted?  It’s astonishing how little information we have about the upbringing and growth of Jesus, isn’t it?

Wouldn’t this time period of Jesus’ life help struggling parents what to do with their kids?  Wouldn’t this part of Jesus’ life help struggling kids how to have respect and obedience for their parents?  Wouldn’t this time of Jesus’ life be helpful for a lot of things?  Why not more?  All we have is a very brief mention of Jesus at 8 days old being circumcised, Jesus at the temple when he was 40 days old meeting Simeon and Anna,  Jesus as maybe a 6 to 20 month-old kid when the Magi come for a visit (more on that next week), and then this section in front of us today when he is 12.

God is content to say, “You don’t need to know.”  And the reason why we only need these few events and details of Jesus childhood is because of what Jesus was here to do.  Jesus was not here to write a book for struggling parents or children.  Jesus was not here to come up with a teenager’s guide to high school.  There are some sections of the Bible that can help people in all sorts of circumstances, but the main thing is to know who Jesus is and what he does for us.

That’s why this section of God’s Word that gives us such a brief glimpse of Jesus tells us everything we need to know: Jesus was taking care of business, every day and his Father’s way.

We hear that Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover every year.  And that’s exactly what we need Jesus to do for us.  He needs to keep the law that God gave in the Old Testament 100% perfectly.  Those ceremonial laws for Jewish worship were given by God for the people of Israel, so that they would be a light to the dark nations around them, so that foreign people would notice that there is something different about Israel and their God.  The problem was that the people of Israel did not always follow these laws very well if at all.  And that leads to the other reason for all of these special worship and festival laws and customs. They were also given by God as a promise that the Messiah was coming to forgive, deliver, save, and restore people.

These two little verses that seem so insignificant tell us so much about Jesus’ childhood and his life as our Savior from sin, death, and hell.  Every day he was following God’s laws.  Every day he was obeying his parents without a single sideways glance or disrespectful grunt.  Every day he was putting God first.  And he was doing that every day for all the 4, 5, 6, 12, 18, 24, 33, 42, 58, 67, and 92 year-olds who fail every day to obey God and those in authority, for those who fail to keep God as the number one priority, for those who fail to worship the Lord every week, for those who fail to keep God’s name holy, for those who fail to love their neighbor as themselves.  Every day Jesus was taking care of business, he was living as our perfect substitute who walked this world in our place so that some day we could walk in his place in heaven.

He was also taking care of this very important business his Father’s way.  When Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not with them, they react like every parent.  They search the big group of relatives and friends.  When that’s not successful, they take off for Jerusalem because this is worse than that Home Alone movie when the little boy, Kevin, is left all alone.  Kevin was in his house.  He knew the territory. He knew the neighborhood and the neighbors a little bit.  Jesus was in Jerusalem, not Nazareth where home was.  This is a huge city for a small-town kid.  I think we call understand the parents’ angst.

But the child was not lost.  He was not missing because of a conniving scheme to get away from mom and dad.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  You can here a little bit of an irritated mother in Mary’s words.  She knows who she is talking to.  She’s seen him every day of his life as the perfect Son of God.  But this seems like a stretch to her.  Jesus had not done something actively against them, but these words still seem to show her shock and anxiety that her son could go three days without his parents.

But this is where God doesn’t want to keep us in the dark.  This is where we need to hear the child Jesus explain who he is.  Mary says, “Your father and I…”  to which Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  Mary and Joseph are focused on their relationship to Jesus as his parents, his caretakers, his nurturers, his providers, but Jesus knows the whole time that his relationship to the Father in heaven is the priority.  It’s not that Mary and Joseph don’t matter.  Far from it.  But he knows why he’s here.  Jesus was here to take care of business his Father’s way.

Almost all the English translations say “my Father’s house,” but interestingly the Greek word for “house” is not in the text.  Literally, Jesus says, “Didn’t you know that it is necessary for me to be about my Father’s things.”  God’s business was that Jesus would fulfill all of the prophecies and laws for us. God’s business was to save the world through Jesus the Christ, his one and only Son.  God’s business was to put perfect Jesus in your place so that our sins would be removed from us and eternal righteousness would be put in their place.

And so that’s why Jesus gently, lovingly, and respectfully reminds Mary and Joseph whose he is.  He is God’s Son.  And in so doing he reminds them what his business is here in this world.   God lets us in on a little detail that Mary and Joseph don’t understand what he was saying to them.  It had to be difficult to raise the Savior, who doesn’t have the same life goals as normal children, but who also has to be a normal child to understand us and what we go through.

This is why Jesus quickly gets up and proceeds to go with them back to Nazareth.  Mary and Joseph are his earthly parents and there is a commandment about parents and authorities that we break far too often that Jesus needs to keep perfectly for us, because he is our Savior who is here to take care of the business of our salvation.

There are definitely times when we want to know more, we want God to let us in on some more information about the Bible, about our lives, about this world, about so many things.  But for all those times when God says “You don’t need to know” we have this beautiful section of Scripture recorded for us.  God says this is Jesus.  This is the one you need.  He is the one who took care of your business every day of his earthly life and just the way God needed him to do it so that we could be saved eternally.  I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough for me to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for my entire life and for eternity.  Amen.

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THE WORD BECAME FLESH

 

Light in the Darkness

John 1

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

When I was a kid, we used to do this thing on Christmas Day where my brother, sister, and I would look for a small pickle ornament that was hidden somewhere in the Christmas tree.  Have you ever heard of this before?  There are a lot of hypotheses as to how this ever became a thing to do at Christmas, but the one that my mom taught us seems logical.

Putting an evergreen tree up in your house became a thing around the 15th century in Germany.  It’s a symbol for the tree of life.  And so they brought this tree in their house at Christmas because Jesus is the Life, he gives us the gift of life, and he will bring us to heaven where, as the Bible says, we will enjoy the tree of life forever.  And they decorated this tree sometimes with candles because Christmas is all about the light that shines in the darkness.   Their ornaments on the tree were cookies, apples, and other fruits and vegetables because the tree of life is something that we will eat from.  That’s why a lot of ornaments nowadays are round balls that look like apples and pears.  So here’s where we pick it up with this pickle thing.  My mom said, according to tradition, that the pickle was the last ornament hung on the tree.  It was hidden and then the game was that whoever found it first would get an extra present.  So that’s why we did it as kids.

We read through this Christmas gospel from John 1 every year on Christmas day, and it’s straightforward and clear language.  There are no big theological words here, just plain normal words that we use all the time: “beginning…the word…with God…was God…”  But there is something hidden in here that is a lot more profound than getting an extra little present.  Because hidden in these words is the greatest Christmas gift we have.

The true gift of Christmas is not a great man, a miracle worker, or compassionate leader, because it is something far greater.  John wants us to see just how great it is and so he goes way back to the very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning…”  But John goes ever further back than Genesis, to a time where was no earth.  What was there? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God was there before Genesis 1.  And God was not alone.  The Word was with God, but the Word also was God.  Jesus is one of the persons of the eternal Triune God.  Astounding to think that Christmas started before Bethlehem, before the shepherds and angels, before Mary and Joseph.  Because the one whose birth we celebrate today, has no beginning.

But why did he have to be born here in this world?  I don’t claim to know anything about engineering, but when an engineer designs a machine, he has a specific job that it is designed to do, right?  That machine does not need to do anything nor everything.  It has a precise purpose.  When an architect sketches out a building it is to fulfill a certain function.  If it’s a church building it will look one way, a house another, a store still another.  Likewise, when God made this world and put us here, it was for a specific purpose: to love our maker, to give him glory as an unequaled powerful and loving God, and to be a blessing to our fellow human beings.  We were designed in the image of God to reflect his love, care, thoughtfulness, and productivity.

But quite quickly after we were placed into this paradise, we failed to keep God’s image.  We did not live up to our purpose.  That is why we needed God to become man.  We couldn’t fix ourselves and get rid of the brokenness.  We needed the one who made us to fix us.

There is another reason we needed God to come here.  People often look at God as distant or hidden.  Sure, he says he is watching over you and helping you, but sometimes it’s hard to see.  It seems like God is way off in his perfect home not having a clue how hard it is to live as a human being in this dark world.  Christmas shows us that our God knows and understands us better than we often think.  If we say, “God, do you know what it is like to face endless temptations,” Jesus says, “I can recall more than 30 years of experience fighting off the devil with my thoughts, words, and actions.”  If we say, “God, do you know what it is like to be so scared that you can barely function,” Jesus replies, “I can relate from that night in Gethsemane where my sweat was drops of blood and my prayers begged my Father to change the plan.”  If you say, “God, you can’t understand what it is like to have family and friends let you down again and again,” Jesus answers, “Do you remember my disciples Denying Peter, Betraying Judas, Doubting Thomas?  I think I get it.”  Even if you say, “Jesus, do you know what it feels like to carry a burden of guilt and shame?  Do you know what it is like to feel like God is against you, like he has abandoned you,” Jesus responds, “I can understand better than you, because I carried the burden of sin for the whole world.  My Father would never abandon you, because when I was on the cross paying for your sins, he abandoned me.”

And still another reason we needed God to come here.   The God we have is so huge and powerful and divine and vast and mighty and holy and eternal and on and on and on, that we could never begin to comprehend him.  That’s pretty clear with this title before us today, “ λόγος.”  What does that even mean?  It can be translated “word” or “statement” or “communication.”  But we’re not just talking vocabulary here; it’s the message or the embodiment of an idea.

How can we possibly understand a being that could call all things into existence simply by speaking?  That’s why smart science people have tried to answer that question by saying he didn’t.  Their brain power is too small to understand how this world came into being.  Jesus is so far above us, so much beyond us, we cannot grasp the breath of his knowledge or the limitlessness and eternity of his power.  The title “the Word” wraps all of that up in a package that says we have an awesome God.

But we need to understand him, at least to some extent.  We need to know what he wants and does not want of his creation, how he feels about us and our sins.  So, we needed him to reveal himself to us, that we might understand what he wants us to know.

To really understand someone requires words.  Imagine you are walking through a park or the mall.  You see a man in his 30s.  Just by looking at him, you come to some conclusions.  He has no ring on his finger, so he’s likely not married.  He has a big beard, a plaid shirt, and tight jeans, so you conclude he’s a millennial hipster.  He’s eating a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms and pickles, so you assume he is dieting or a vegetarian.  Just by looking at him, you can figure out a few things.  But would you say you actually know him?  I sure hope you’re not the judgmental.  To really know him would require a conversation with WORDS.  So, when Jesus is called “the Word,” the Spirit is telling us he is the way God reveals himself to us.  He is how we get to know God.  We can sure look at things in Creation and deduce that God is powerful, wise, and creative.  Yet only in looking at Christ Jesus can we really see what is in God’s heart.  Only in looking at Christ can we see that God is loving, that he doesn’t wish to destroy sinners, but save us.

And so, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus came.  The hidden God became known here among us.  God “made his dwelling” here.  I like how that is the past tense.  It means God did that in the past.  He came here once, but he didn’t stay because that was not the job.  The job wasn’t to make this place his home.  It was just a dwelling.  The Greek word means “to live in a tent.”  It wasn’t permanent.  The Word became flesh so that he could remove the darkness we made.  The Word became flesh so he could reveal himself as the God who loves us.  The Word became flesh so he could save us from sin and open up the doors to a new home.  The first time, God came here to dwell with us, so that there would be another time where God could dwell with us, when we are taken to his home in heaven forever.

There is only one way that eternal life in heaven can be ours.  There is only one way to be on God’s side, a child in his eternal family.  John says that you cannot be born “of natural descent.” It’s not about having the right parents or genes.  John says that you cannot have this by “human decision.” That means you don’t decide to make heaven your home.  It is “of God.” Heaven, being part of God’s family is a gift given by God.  And he does it this simple yet amazing way.  Through the written Word, the living and active Word of God, the Spirit creates faith in us and ties us in faith to the incarnate Word.  They are inseparable.  To be in the Scripture is to be in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Apart from Scripture, you are apart from the Word.  That’s why we join in worship, why we encourage Bible study, why you read your Bible at home and have devotions with your family.  Because without the written Word you don’t have the incarnate Word, who came to remove our darkness.

So here we are today, marveling all over again at the miracle of the Incarnation, taking in that Word of God.  Brothers and sisters, hidden in here is something better than a pickle in a Christmas tree and an extra little trinket.  Hidden in this Word is the eternal Word who took on human flesh to save us.  Hidden in this Word is the greatest gift we could ever have: the Light of life that drives away the darkness of sin, death, and hell.  Hidden in this Word is the eternal Word who took up residence in our hearts so that we could be called “the children of God.”  There is no greater gift at Christmas than this Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

…to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas.

 

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

 

Light in the Darkness

Isaiah 9:1-7

1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

 

What is the meaning of Christmas?  I’m sure you have been hearing a lot of options.  Ads and little jingles are saying that Christmas is all about gifts, presents, decorations, food, parties, yada…yada…yada.  Your Spotify or iTunes playlists are singing about reindeer, a fat-bellied, jolly, man in a red jump suit, a snowman, and on and on.   And how about all the Christmas movies?  A few weeks ago, I went with my 5 year-old daughter 3 year-old son to see the new Grinch movie.  It was a fresh take but similar to the one I grew up with.  The Grinch hates Christmas, so he steals everything from the Whos down in Whoville.  But to his surprise, they still wake up on Christmas Day and gather together to sing.  Do you remember the song from the Dr. Seuss version?  “Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze! Christmas Day is in our grasp! So long as we have hands to clasp!”  …and later “Fah who rahmus! Dah who dahmus! Christmas Day will always be! Just as long as we have we!” Seeing and hearing that completely changes the Grinch forever.  His heart grew three sizes that day. The meaning of Christmas is you don’t need presents, decorations, and food; you just need hands to hold.

That pretty much sums up the way our culture talks about the meaning of Christmas.  It’s sappy, sentimental, and tugs at your emotions.  It says as long as we have compassion and kindness with family, friends, and those around us, then the world will be a better, brighter place.   That sounds so warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?  The meaning of Christmas.

And then we hear these classic words of Isaiah 9 that always come up at Christmas time: “For to us a child is born , to us a son is given…” and everything seems right in the world.  But this section of the Bible is so common at Christmas, maybe sometimes we don’t even concentrate on what it’s saying and the meaning of it.  For example, did you notice how Isaiah chapter 9 begins with the word “nevertheless?” That means to understand Isaiah chapter 9, you have to look at what comes before it.

And here’s the situation surrounding Isaiah and his beautiful Christmas prophecy.  Judah is the land where he is living, and it’s an ugly mess.  The people were threatened by a foreign nation that specialized in terrorism.  The Assyrians loved to send a message by chopping off heads of conquered foes and piling them up in pyramids to let everyone know who was in control.  Isaiah tells us that the world was full of racism, mostly against the Jews because there was something different about them, their religion and laws.  Isaiah says there was a problem with elitism.  That means the rich had no mercy and compassion for the poor and destitute, even taking advantage of them.  People didn’t care for one another but were always fighting “neighbor against neighbor.”  Divorce was on the rise.  Immorality was the norm. People struggled with addiction as some were known as “heroes of drinking wine.”

Terrorism, racism, elitism, moral decline, political chaos, addiction – does this sound familiar?  The truth is the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Isaiah described the gloomy scene as he saw it more than 2,700 years ago, and it’s still pretty accurate now.   Turns out God know us really well.  This world doesn’t look much like the one he made.  This is the result of what we have done to it.

And so, Isaiah says that we are people “walking in darkness.”  The word “walking” there means to “walk in the way of;” it can be translated “to follow.”  And the word “darkness” is the common word that refers to something that is not filled with light.  Symbolically, it can mean the parts of my heart and life that aren’t bright, like “distress” or “dread.”  So, Isaiah is saying this is not something that we were forced into, against our will.  Darkness is often something we choose to walk around in, like taking a casual stroll.

Jesus said the same thing in one of our earlier lessons from John 3.  He says, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light…”  And if we examine our own heart, we have to admit it’s true.  When someone wrongs us deeply, we have this urge to hold onto the grudge or seek revenge, rather than forgive them.  When we have a juicy bit of gossip, there’s a part of us that would love to share it a few times.  We say that honesty is the best policy, but if being dishonest will get you ahead – like a free meal at a restaurant, a better grade on a test, a better perk at work – then we prefer the self-serving dishonesty.  My friends, why would you think that humanity can rid the world of darkness, when I can’t even begin to rid my own heart of darkness?

And then, there’s the other word for darkness that Isaiah uses.  He says we are “living in the land of deep darkness.”  This is the Hebrew word, “zalmavet.”  It’s the more poetical word that means “death shadow.”  You might be familiar with this word from another place in Scripture. The Good Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23, is where the psalmist says, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  Maybe you can look around this world and say, “Yeah, there’s some darkness, but it’s not completely corrupted.”  But the darkness is not just something that we walk around in, it is also coming for us, looming like this death shadow over everything.

That’s the mother of all dark problems that not one of us can solve.  You can run 5 miles a day, eat healthy, and use products that counteract signs of aging, but the shadow of death is chasing you.  We can cure cancer.    We can crack down on gun violence.  We can stop abuse.  All we’ve done is put off the inevitable. We haven’t really made the world a brighter place.

Like I said, we live 2,700 years after Isaiah.  All these advances in technology, sociology, and in governments – the invention of democracy – s0 now we don’t have terrorism, we don’t have racism, we don’t have political chaos, now we don’t have economic problems, we don’t have people struggling with addictions, or do we?  The world is a dark place, and everything that mankind does to try and rid the world of darkness fails.  Merry Christmas!

It’s a pretty gloomy message, if that’s all that Isaiah tells us.  But he goes on; chapter 9 starts with “nevertheless.”  And Isaiah reveals these two brilliant conclusions to the phrases in verse 2:  people have “seen a great light…a light has dawned.”   I hope you notice that this light is not something the people produced by holding hands and singing around a tree.  This light is not a program or policy. It just appeared; it “dawned.”  What is the light?  It’s a person.  “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.”  The light is a human baby boy, but he’s no ordinary baby boy, because Isaiah continues “the government will be on his shoulders.”  It’s not a government.  His job is not to be a king for just Jews.  The administration of the entire universe is his responsibility.  That is something no human being can handle.  So, Isaiah tells us this human baby boy is also God.  He emphasizes that fact with these four titles.  He is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  We don’t have time to dig into the beauty of these divine titles, but each one can only be applied to God.

Wonderful Counselor – he is the one who gives perfect advice because he knows absolutely everything.  That doesn’t apply to Oprah or Doctor Phil or anyone else.  Only God knows everything.

Mighty God – this little baby will accomplish things only God can do.

Everlasting Father – the author and source of all life, and he has been doing it for all eternity with the love and compassion of the perfect Father.

Prince of Peace – he is able to create perfect harmony, even between the Holy God who hates sin and the people who sin every day.  This Hebrew word for “peace” is “shalom.”  It also has the idea of making everything whole and complete.  He can take any and everything that is broken in your life and put it back together forever.  This is what the angels sang about that first Christmas.  Only God can do this.

The Light of the world is God in human flesh to free us from the darkness of sin.  That is who lies in the manger.  The Light had to be both God and human.  He had to be man to deal with the darkness of the mankind.  If God wanted to tell us how to think about darkness and sin, he could have used a normal person to give us his laws, which show us how to live a bright, beautiful life.  But then again, he did that with all those prophets and we still choose the darkness.  If God wanted to give us an example of how to live a bright life, he could have sent us an angel to show people how compassionate, thoughtful, and selfless we need to be.  An angel would show us how to use our entire existence to give God glory.

No, that wasn’t going to be enough. We needed all the darkness to be snuffed out completely.  Normally, we think of a light being snuffed, but we needed the darkness – sin and that death shadow – to be snuffed out and removed.  That required the Light to be God and man.  The Light needed to be man so that he could be pay for sins.  The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death.”  The Light needed a human heart, so that it could stop beating.  The child needed blood in his veins, because the Bible says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

The Light also needed to be God for the payment to have enough value for the sins of every man, woman, and child who ever lived.  We all understand that a trade needs to be two things of equal value.  You can’t get away with trading a Christian Yelich card (great baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers and MVP of the NL) for a T206 Honus Wagner from 1909.  One is maybe 5 bucks and the other is over 3 million.  If the one who died on the cross was just a man, then an equal trade is one other person.  But if the one who died on the cross is not just a man but the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace that is a sacrifice that is extremely valuable.  It’s so valuable, in fact, that the Apostle John wrote in one of the lessons that we read, “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

My friends, the only gift that matters for us at Christmas is this Light, God and man to free us from the darkness.  Christmas was not given to us to be sappy and sentimental.  It’s not supposed to be a distraction from the darkness.  It’s not just nostalgia with all the lights, cookies, carols, and parties.  See, here’s the facts. I cannot save myself.  I cannot overcome temptation enough.  I cannot fix the relationships I have fractured, including the one with my Creator.  I cannot outrun the shadow of death, even if I fulfill a New Year’s resolution to get in shape.  There’s too much darkness in here.  And you have it, too.  We are in desperate need of the Savior from all the darkness.  That is what Jesus came to be.  Christmas is Jesus saying to us, “You all are so broken, so utterly incapable of cleaning yourselves up, that I had to come into this world to save you.  The situation was so dire and hopeless, that I not only was born for you but I will die to completely remove all darkness from you forever.” That is what Christmas is about.  The angels said so: “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.”

But this Light of Jesus Christ does not just save me from the darkness.  Isaiah says the Light is going to build people into a new nation. “You have enlarged the nation…” he says, which, from the context, is a reference to believers.  In using that terminology, Jesus intends that the relationship we have with him will create relationships with each other.  Do you remember hearing that already tonight?  The Apostle John wrote, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”  God doesn’t want his people walking in his light alone.  If you consider yourself a Christmas and Easter type of person, God’s gift of this Light in the darkness is for you, so that you can walk in his light with others.  Believers need the encouragement of fellow Christians as we roam through a world that is still covered in darkness.  One of the main places that happens is here, in this place of God’s light.

So, are you still looking for the meaning of Christmas?  You’re not going to find it from the pen of Dr. Seuss, from your playlists on Spotify, from a TV special, a movie or a shopping mall. The meaning of Christmas comes from God. It isn’t sappy nor sentimental.  It is his honest truth from the one who loves you more than anyone, because he was willing to do more for you than anyone could.  The world is full of darkness, and we contribute to it without any way of piercing the darkness.  Nevertheless… NEVERTHELESS! A light has dawned.  Christ was born to you.   Walking in his light gives you peace, joy, hope and love this world cannot give. It’s your free gift now and forever.  Merry Christmas!

HE IS GOD’S GIFT

what-child-is-this

We don’t know the exact day it happened.  God doesn’t tell us, but we know Jesus was born.  That is a historical fact.  And that’s why you are here today.  We have Constantine to thank for that. It was the year 336 and Constantine wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ rather than all the other celebrations going on around the same time –  Hanukah and pagan winter solstice festivities to name a couple. Well, as the Emperor of the Roman Empire and a Christian, he could make that call.  So he did.  And here we are.  It sounds simple enough: pick a day, call it Christ’s Mass, or Christmas, and let’s celebrate Jesus’ birth.

But we’ve turned it into this commercialized train doing warp speed down the tracks, and nobody is going to stop it.  Christmas has exploded, and not in a good way.  The music tells you about snowmen, Santa, sweat treats, and sappy feelings.  The shopping deals start in November and you are urged to get out and shop ‘til you drop.  Even now the thought is to get out there and find after Christmas deals. Millions of dollars are flying out of bank accounts to make sure that we do Christmas right every year.  Having a celebration for the birth of Christ just doesn’t cut it anymore.

It was supposed to be that simple, kind of like the Christmas story John tells us today.  The words before us in John, chapter one are straightforward.  So clear and easy, in fact, that even a kindergartener could read them. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  …In him was life and that life was the light of men…The Word became flesh… It’s not difficult to read it.  We don’t need a professional linguist or theological scholar to get through this Christmas account.  They’re simple, until you to start thinking about what these words mean.  Christmas becomes a bit more complex.  There is more going in here than we could ever comprehend.  What child is this?

Throughout history, people have tried out many answers.  There are some who said he’s a nobody because they say he never happened.  They put Christmas and Jesus in the fairytale category.  Then, there are those who said he was great example for us.  The way he helped the poor and diseased when no one else would shows us what love is. They say Christ was showing us that love is accepting all people no matter what they say or do.  Others said he was a powerful prophet who taught wise lessons about humility, finances, possessions, personal sacrifice, and determination.

Well, that’s not good enough.  For people during the Apostle John’s day, for people during Constantine’s day, for people during any age of this world, it’s not good enough to think that Christmas is about the birth of a wise teacher, a great example of compassion, or just a fairytale on the level of The Grinch who Stole Christmas.  People need to know the simple truth.

So God had the Apostle John write this version of the Christmas story in simple sentences to lay it all out there, describing what kind of child this is.  And to start it off he says, “In the beginning…” That’s right!  For John’s Christmas story, he goes back to where it all began.  No Bethlehem here.  No City of David.  We don’t hear about a journey from Nazareth in Galilee.  We go back before there was a Bethlehem or Nazareth.  This Christmas story takes us to the beginning of it all.

Why does John go back so far?  Why start with creation?  Well, we have to see how vast God is.  We have to understand that we cannot understand everything about God.  He’s too big, too infinite, too omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  God is before us and after us.  He fills all things.  He’s the one who made everything and still makes everything work.  He’s the almighty Creator.

Then, John wants to go back one step farther.  He wants us to think of a time before there was time and space. Peering back into that mysterious eternity, John introduces us to this main character of his Christmas narrative with a unique name.  This time of year, we would call him baby Jesus, the Newborn King, and Immanuel.  But as we have already heard, John’s Christmas story is simple but a little different.  He says his name is the Word.  That title for God’s Son is simple and so beautiful.  What child is this?  He’s God’s messenger.  He speaks for God.  What God thinks, the Word speaks.  What God desires, the Word communicates.  And John says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…” So you have the Word and God side by side, face to face, in perfect harmony, perfect agreement.  It is the perfect relationship.

At this point, we have some answers for who this child is.  He is there before the beginning.  He is called the Word.  And he was with God.  These are simple answers.  Christmas is supposed to be simple after all.  But now John is going to start blowing our minds.  John continues with something that sounds like a contradiction: “…the Word was God…”  The Word was with God in perfect harmony. The Word was communicating for God.  Even though the Word and God are two separate and distinct beings in eternity, they are also one, united and joined together.  So when it comes to the beginning, the Word and God do not have one.  God has always been.  When it comes to creation, the Word and God did it together.  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” 

If you want to know what kind of child this is laying in Bethlehem’s manger, you have to look around at everything there is.  It’s all because of and through him.  He is the Word that is both with God and is God from all eternity.   You want to talk about an amazing birth with angels and shepherds?  John wants you to know that before there was any birth, or any sheep, or anything out there at all… you have to talk about who this child is and what he has already done.

These are simple words but they go beyond what I can understand.  And we need it that way.  We need to know that this little baby in a manger is the eternal Word, that he is the vast and infinite God who made all things.  We need to see how much care he took in making this little pearl of a planet. We need to know just how much we don’t know about God, because that makes this next part so amazing.

The Word became flesh.  This God, who can do more with a single breath than billions of people can do with their entire lives, he decided to come here and live like one of us.  He traded his eternal throne of heaven, as the creator and ruler of all things, for a feeding trough.  He gave up his unlimited power and knowledge to be a helpless little baby.  He did that for you and for me, so that Christmas would not be about dollars and decorations, about deception and, for some, depression.  Instead, it is a time of good news and peace for all.  The creator of this world was content to be born in a stall so that you and I can have a place in his mansions.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  The Word, who created mankind, had to become a man himself in order to save his beloved creation.  This is the message of Christmas for you, the simple truth of a God who loved you enough to be one of you.  The Word became flesh.  If we don’t have this kind of Christmas, then we don’t have a Savior.  The Word became flesh just like you.

Have you ever had trouble sleeping because you are dealing the things that you did or didn’t do?  You’re upset because you realize that your title is spiritual failure, again.  You wonder how you can fall back into the same sins that said you wouldn’t do anymore – the same feelings or same words.  Do you wonder if God can ever understand what you are going through when you are having struggles or sadness?  He can.  The Word became flesh. Jesus knows exactly what it is like to live in human flesh.  He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin.  Jesus knows your frailties and my weakness.  He knows what it is like to like in a fleshly world like this.  He became flesh and he did it perfectly so that he could be the Savior for every one of us on this pearl of a planet.

John says the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.   God was not willing to let this world sit in its own handiwork.  Where there was darkness, God brought light. With every promise God made, with every message of good news and hope God was shining his flashlight in the darkness.  It happened when God told a man named Noah to build a boat.  It happened when God made a bold promise to a 99 year-old man named Abraham.  It happened when God told David that he would have a future son who would establish a kingdom for God’s people forever.  It happened when prophets told God’s people that rescue and restoration was coming.  It happened when angels appeared to shepherds in the fields nearby.  It happened when Magi saw a special star and made a long journey.  It happened when apostles and evangelists walked miles and miles to bring the news of the risen Christ to people who had never heard it before.  God’s light was shining in the darkness.

That kind of light still shines.  When God’s people gather (even a week after Christmas because we had to cancel a service), there’s a light.  When God’s people give church invitations to friends and neighbors, that’s a light.  When children sit up front here to sing and proclaim the real Christmas story, that’s a light.  When you forgive as the Lord forgave you, that’s a light.  When you stand on the foundation of God’s holy Word, the Word that was with God in the beginning and was God, that’s a light.  God’s light still shines, and he uses you to do it.

But it doesn’t always seem to work, does it?  Noah only had 8 people on that boat.  Everyone else mocked him and perished in the flood.  Abraham’s wife laughed about the thought of a child for an old couple.  David’s sons became kings, but often the apple didn’t fall far from the tree – they were liars, sexually immoral, and murderers.  God’s prophets and apostles went to great lengths to preach good news, but were often persecuted and even killed for the message they spoke.  The light, well, it’s not always understood today either.  Watch the news, walk around in a store, listen to people at the gym.  The darkness is creeping everywhere.  Invitations go out, facebook posts go up, and you ask someone to come, but not everyone wants to hear the good news of great joy that is for all people.

We know this darkness, often times too well.  It lingers in our hearts towards people who are different.  It creeps into our conversations when our words are not decent.  It covers our actions when we are selfish or when we are alone and there are no eyes on us.  We each have our own battle with darkness that we cannot overcome.

That is exactly why the Word became flesh.  Jesus came here to be a light in our darkness.  And in love he let the darkness overtake him so that it would never overtake us.  He gave up his human life so that we wouldn’t have to.  Jesus came down from heaven so that he could suffer the punishment of hell for us.  He took our fear of darkness and death away forever.  Every ounce of guilt that we produce and carry, Jesus has removed and replaced with the light of life.  Our greatest need is not a bunch of presents under a tree.  Our greatest need is forgiveness and life, so the Word became flesh to do just that.

What child is this?  What a great question.  And what a fantastic answer we hear today.  He is the eternal God, who created all things.  He is the Almighty, who decided to leave heaven to live, die, and rise for us.  He is the light that shatters our darkness.  He is life that defeats death.  As John puts it so beautifully, he is the one who gives us the right to become children of God.  Now there’s a gift.  And friends, that’s a gift that will be with you every day in the New Year.

The words are simple and clear, but the meaning boggles the mind.  What child is this?  Listen one more time to the Christmas gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!