What Are You Gonna Do Now?

He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US!

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(My message this week….)

Isaiah 9:6-7  (NLT)

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike.  And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route.  I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west.  I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home.  Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure.  We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again.  We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?”  She said, “No, where are we?”  And I said, “I haven’t a clue.”  She replied, “No, really, where are we?”  And I said, “Really, I don’t know.  But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.”  I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.

Driving to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever, considering a different route.  Now that Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to go back to the dull routines of everyday life.  We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us. 

But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty.  More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!”  And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.

In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message:  The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us.  Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah:  For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation.  In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus.  Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us! 

And at the same moment The Son Is Given To Us—Jesus Is Also Divine.  The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem.  The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine.  The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus. 

And this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son!  The Mystery is that God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen:  He Comes FOR US!  God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens.  God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on.  He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory.  God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus.  There was more than the weight of the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of all peoples in all ages. 

Ever felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders?  Ever felt like the weight of a project at work was on your shoulders?  But try to imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on your shoulders.  God’s eternal purpose is carried on the shoulders of Jesus.  God has no plan “B”!

And in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives, we encounter the mystery of grace.  Isaiah says, “He will be called” and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter. 

  • We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful!  It really is an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace! 
  • We Encounter The Counselor!  The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world. 
  • We Encounter The Mighty God!  We come face to face with Him who holds all power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love! 
  • We Encounter The Everlasting Father!  We encounter the only one who will never ever give up on us!  Love, grace and mercy that is Never Ending! 
  • We Encounter The Prince Of Peace!  He gives us peace not because of what we have done, but because of everything that He has done for us.

There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.

  • In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life. 
  • God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him. 
  • In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness. 
  • In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast. 
  • In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.  
  • Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.

This is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us.  Now, you have a choice.  You can go back the way you came into this encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us.  Or, you can go back into the real world, a different way. 

Think about those Wise Men.  In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person.  When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about?  The sand storms they faced?  The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey?  The beautiful palace of Herod?  That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem?  The wonderful eating places they found?  Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?

We don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that was given, and The Son that they saw in person.  And it should be the same for us.  This morning you are faced with a choice.  Go back to the old life, the usual things, the ordinary things. 

Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person.  Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works.  Then spend some time at the Cross. 

Focus on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.  Focus on the nails.  Focus on the crown of thorns that pierced His head.  Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says “Father, forgive them.”  Now, how can you be the same person who walked in that door this morning?

This Child, This Son who is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they encountered.  And when they encountered Him they went home a different way.  It was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People

Different people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way.  The mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world!  And It Ought To Change Us!  Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known to us.   

They went home a different way because they were different people.  The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery:  He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us.  This Different Way changes everything.  3 things should change in our lives:

1.  It Changes How We Think About Life!

Life is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks.  Life is meant to be about relationship—with God first and then in relationships with others.  Because of The Child, because of The Son, life isn’t about us and what we want.  It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.

2.  It Changes How We See Life!

See your life in light of what God can do, not what you can accomplish.  Start looking at situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth.  Start seeing people the way God sees them—people in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love.  Stop Seeing Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.

3.  It Changes How We Live Life!

Make your life an offering to God.  Make every thought, form every word, make every choice as an offering to God.  Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled:  The Road Not Taken.  He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path.  Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled.  In the last verse he writes these famous words:  “I shall be telling this with a sigh.  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  You are about to go home, back into the world, your world.  Which way will you go?

Your Next Step

Decide if you will go back to life the same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a different person.

The Image Of The Season

What is the best and most perfect image for this Season of Christmas?  Let’s look at a few of those images.

1 Christmas TreeThe Christmas Tree.  Now that’s what ought to speak into the hearts of people.  Right?  For many, it’s all about “The Tree”!

1 christmas lights.jpg

The Christmas Lights.  Ah, there’s nothing like loading up family and friends and driving through neighborhoods to see all the pretty lights.

1 santaSanta Claus!  Oh most definitely YES!  Taking the kids and waiting in line so they can sit on Santa’s lap and allow that narcissistic personality out with a WISH LIST which more often than not, is a WANT LIST.

 1 presents

Christmas Presents!  Now we have it.  We wait all year-long to receive presents!  Presents that we have “earned” because we have been on Santa’s “Nice” list.  Yeah, right!  (Sorry for the cynicism.)

heart of the season

But for many, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, it’s the Manger Scene!  Manger scenes are nice and our images of them are always clean and neat.  Have you ever noticed that the images of that first Christmas are always neat and clean?  I wonder, if those who have that image have actually stepped into a barn and carefully looked at a well used Feed Trough?  To any Churchian or Tenured Pew Sitter who might actually be reading this, you do know that a manger is a feed trough, don’t you?

1 feedtrough

One of my deepest concerns for those who occupy the pews, is that we have sanitized the Christmas Story to make it neater and cleaner, and thus, have sterilized this powerful saga and made it impotent.  Nothing was neat about that first Christmas.  Mary is pregnant, out-of-wedlock pregnant!  Joseph hears her insist that she’s a virgin (now that goes against what his Dad told him about the birds and the bees) and that this child in her womb is the Son of God.  God just doesn’t become human in Joseph’s theological world.  Rome decrees a census and taxation and now they must journey, with a very pregnant wife, to Bethlehem.  They get there but all the rooms are filled so they go to that barn.  Then there’s that rough and rowdy band of shepherds who show up, unannounced.  Then there’s those Wise Men who upset Herod and all of Jerusalem.  Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus have to escape to Egypt, where by the way, their ancestors were slaves.  And the families of Bethlehem watch in horror as Herod has their toddlers and babies slaughtered.  Yeah, that is a real “neat and clean” story.

But allow me to ask you a question:  What about Jesus?  I mean, just before He disappeared from the Throne Room of Heaven to become a fertilized embryo, what was HIS image of the Christmas Saga?  Which of these two images do you think Jesus had?  Your answer will reflect what you believe in your heart, that either God loves you, or, that God’s loves you enough to make you whole.

The Manger or the Cross?  One speaks to our wants, the other speaks to our deepest need.  I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the last image Jesus saw before leaving Eternity to enter into time was that Cross.  Nothing was neat about His arrival into time, and nothing was neat about His exit from time.  To see an image of Jesus on the Cross without the wounds and the blood (now that’s a “neat” image of the cross, but not true!) is to do the same thing to the Easter Story that many have done to the Christmas Story–it’s sanitized, and impotent.  It a useless, feeble, futile story and not the Saga of God’s love for us messed up human beings who are supposed to bear the image of our Creator.

Jesus never said, “Hey, if you want to follow me, pick up that neat and pristine manger and remember that beautiful baby.”  No, He never said that.  What He said is this:  “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NLT)  As messy as that barn and feed trough were that night, the Cross was even messier.

Yes, go visit that feed trough covered in animal slobber and remember that this Baby ruled in Heaven and created great beauty out of nothing but chaos.  Also remember He continues to grow up.  He worked with his earthly Dad, Joseph, and probably made other “mangers”, chairs, tables, and platters.  But His best work with wood wasn’t in that Carpenter’s Shop.  NO!  His best work with wood came later as He was suspended between Creation and the Creator and became The Sinner who bore our sins and suffered our punishment.

So as you put out your “Nativity Scene”, or go to see a church present a “live Nativity Scene”, remember; remember that the image Jesus had in His heart the instant before leaving Heaven for Mary’s womb, the image He carried in His Heart and Mind as He walked this earth as one of us, the image He had that night in the Garden of Gethsemane–and it was The Cross.  He had that image because He loves you and I enough to be placed in that animal slobber covered feed trough so that He could then be stretched out on that Cross, suspended between Creation and Creator, to be treated as THE Sinner, THE Sinner that we are.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!