It’s The Perfect Gift Because It’s The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

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1 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.  The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 

3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice.  They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.  4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.  You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.  5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.  They will be fuel for the fire.

6 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. 7 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! {Isaiah 9:1-7 NLT}

We’ve been looking at The Perfect Gift.  Remember I said that The Perfect Gift has 2 essential elements:

  1. First, it has something of the Giver in it.
  2. Second, it meets a need in the receiver.  Now, I need to add one more element that makes a gift The Perfect Gift.
  3. The Perfect Gift Is The One That Keeps On Giving.

Some gifts are made to last only a short time—like a gift card.  Some gifts wear out.  And other gifts?  Well…the are made to hide in the top of some closet.  But The Perfect Gift is the one that the receiver continues to experience for a long time to come.

Often the spirit of Christmas is overshadowed by that spirit of selfishness.  Often that spirit is intentional, but sometimes it is unintentional.  If we are not careful, we will become self-absorbed with our wishes, our wants, our desires, and our own will.  That first Christmas marked the beginning of God plan to ultimate and decisively deliver humanity from those unimportant and self-centered desires. 

God gave This Gift because This Gift can deliver every person from the things that rob and finally destroy their heart and life.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

Being a True Disciple Of Jesus is not a casual thing that we do occasionally and at our convenience.  To really experience the living Jesus by receiving The Perfect Gift for our own—Demands More From Us.  To accept the perfect gift does not mean we become inhibited.  To Accept The Perfect Gift Means We Become Inhabited! 

I do not mean this the wrong way or to be considered disrespectful with what I am about to say.  Nor do I mean to downplay this mysterious event of Incarnation—God becoming flesh—because I marvel and am amazed at this breathtaking mystery.  But it is too easy to love the baby in the manger.  Who among us doesn’t love every baby?  We are not called to love and follow the baby in the manger.  God Demands That We Love And Follow The Christ Of The Cross!  Face it, The Cross Is A Tougher Image Than The Manger

Yet this is where Jesus calls us to follow Him.  This is serious stuff because it means total and complete surrender to the Love of God expressed perfectly on the Cross.  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us.

Christmas Is About The Messiah And Our Acceptance Of And Submission To The Messiah.  Remember what that word “Messiah” means—“Messiah comes from the Hebrew word, Mashiach, meaning “The Anointed One,” or “The Chosen One.”  To be the Anointed, to be the chosen, isn’t an ordinary thing.  In the Old Testament, anointing was reserved for 3 particular offices:  Prophets, Priests, and Kings—offices set aside for God’s purposes.  Jesus As Messiah, Is The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.

That first Christmas marks the beginning of The Choice that Jesus made even before time began.  Jesus would enter directly into the fallen mess of creation to reclaim and restore it back to God’s Kingdom.  The Arrival Of The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King—Ushers In The Most Radical Movement Of God Since Creation.  His arrival is an offer—the offer to accept for ourselves that Jesus is The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.  Jesus has been Anointed for 3 Offices:    

1.  Jesus Is The Decisive Prophet.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He completely understands the mind of God.  All other prophets receive glimpses of that mind.  But Jesus Reveals The Whole Mind Of God Because That Mind Is In Him.  Not only this, but He sees our real mind and heart.  Prophets are also called to show where we are missing the mark.  To make us aware of what we are missing, and how God can and will restore us. 

False prophets fall into 2 overall categories.  First, False Prophets point out where we’re wrong without giving us the True Remedy.  And False Prophets aren’t truthful—they are mirrors of our own imaginations.  They feed us what we want to hear.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He Perfectly Reveals God’s Heart.  A Heart That Longs For Us To See Our Own Sickness So That He Can Bring God’s Desires Into Our Minds And Hearts.  He shows us HOW we can live the life we are created to live.  Not only is He the Decisive Prophet:

2.  Jesus Is The Decisive Priest.

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because continually He serves in the direct presence of God.  Human priests can only point toward God.  But no priest is closer to the heart of God than Jesus.  He Doesn’t Point Us To God, Because He Is God!

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because He intercedes for messed up and broken people—not the “oh, so righteous” feeling people.  True priests are those who feel for the condition of The Fallen Image Bearers.  The Decisive Priest is drawn to and into the messiness of deceived and broken people.

Jesus Is The Decisive Priest Because He Is Also The Lamb!  No other priest can do what Jesus has already done.  The priests of other religions want you to do something for their “god” before that “god” can do anything for you.  But This Priest, The Decisive Priest Is The One Who Offers For Us, And Is The Sacrifice That Once And For All Delivers Us From Sin’s Power And Dominion.  And Jesus is also Anointed for 1 more office, the Highest Office of All:

3.  Jesus Is The Decisive King!

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Holy!  Human leaders are guided by other interests.  They are all flawed somewhere.  But He Demands That We Be Holy As HE Is Holy.  He never accepts second place.  He will never play second fiddle.  He will never accept our leftovers.  He’s Jealous and will never share His rightful throne in our heart with anything or anyone else.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Eternal.  Every other kingdom, each dominion, and all other authorities will end one day.  They are never final.  Only His Dominion will last.  And He will hold every other authority accountable to Him.  Not only authorities, but each and every one of us.  This ought to be frightening—because it is!  But This Very Demanding King Has Something Else, Too.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Full Of Grace And Mercy.  He pours everything about Him into restoring us—WE are the object of His Desires.  And HE and HE alone, should be the object of our desires!  Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is, Well, HE IS!  Nothing we say or believe will ever change this fact.  Argue about it.  Deny it.  But Jesus is the King of Kings.

God doesn’t ask us to follow a baby; He calls us to follow the Conqueror of Death and Hell.  Christmas is a great time to remember Easter—because the power that conquered death is the power given to us when we open our heart to Him.  Joy and power are ours when we see for ourselves The Perfect Gift. 

God Loves Sinners Like Us!  It’s useless to give your heart to the child in that feed trough.  Give your heart, mind, soul and strength to the One who first died on the Cross then rose from the dead!  Then rise up in joyful worship!

Joy isn’t just for Christmas or Easter—it’s for every day all day long.  Begin living in and through the Holy Spirit.  Trust, really trust that God will never lead you wrong—He will challenge you—but He will never lead you wrong. 

You may not understand what God is doing—you may not even like what God wants to do—but Christmas reminds it’s the right thing, always the right thing. 

God isn’t interested in the qualified people—He’s Wanting The Least Qualified Because We Are The Ones That He Can Pour The Holy Spirit Into.  Now, here lies the Great Contradiction to the world’s value system.  The world’s value system says that in order to receive, you have to Get All You Can, Grab All You Can, And Then Grip The Can

The value system of God’s Kingdom is that in order to receive, you have to share, help, and love unconditionally.  Have you given your heart to the baby—or have your given your heart to Lord and Savior of all?

No one wants to be on Santa’s “Naughty List” but on his “Nice List”.  Hey, it is doable—when push comes to shove, we can be rather nice at times, nice enough to be on Santa’s “Good” list. 

But let me ask you:  Is Your Name In The Lamb’s Book Of Life?  Before you answer, let me share the truth with you:  You can never be good enough, do enough good, to get in The Lamb’s Book of Life.  It’s God’s Gift, for those who will surrender everything to Him, and follow Him.

Jesus Is The Anointed One:  The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King! 

There’s something I realized in this week’s preparations, and it made me realize my own failure.  It’s something I should have said every week, but I haven’t.  So, I’ll say it now—and hopefully as long as I am preaching: 

You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  Jesus didn’t stay in the manger.  He didn’t stay in Egypt.  He Didn’t Stay In Nazareth.  He Was Always On The Move—And He Still Is On The Move.  He’s Moving Forward Advancing The Kingdom

That’s why each week I offer you The Next Steps.  And here is this week’s Next Step: Where have you settled in your journey? And where is He calling you to go deeper?  The Shepherds didn’t stay at the manger.  The Wise Men didn’t stay at that house.  Shepherds went back to their fields and the Wise Men returned to their homes.  But they weren’t the same.  If you are not sensing the call of The Spirit to go deeper and follow Jesus more closely, then this is your moment to come to this altar, and ask The Perfect Gift to show you how This Gift Keeps On Giving.

THE PERFECT GIFT HAS THE PERFECT NAME!

The Jesus We Need Is Not Found At The Manger, But At The Cross.

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18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born.  His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph.  But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.  “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

Matthew 1:18-23

What’s in a name?  In the tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Or as Bubba Bussey of Rick & Bubba might say, “Call a skunk a flower and he still stinks.”  What Shakespeare was trying to say that what is important, is who a person is, not what they are called.  If You Can Remember Only 1 Thing, This Is it:  The Jesus We Need Is Not Found At The Manger, But At The Cross. 

We place a lot of emphasis on naming children.  Naming a new baby is a challenging process.  It’s hard to please everybody with a name.  Dad wants a name that will look good on the sports page, like Tua Waddle or Bo Patrick.  Mom selects a fashionable name and insists on no nicknames, something like Catherine or Benjamin or Cynthia.  Grandpa wants to use a hallowed family name from the past, like Horatio or Alonzo.  Aunt Phebe wants a name that reflects her culture, like Tranquility or Greenpeace or Mellow.  It’s a miracle of diplomacy that a name is ever chosen.  We want names that reflect character and potential, and hopefully fit the child.

But Mary and Joseph did not face the hassle of finding a name for their baby boy.  They didn’t have Joseph’s father saying, “You know, you should name that boy after your Great-Great-Great-Great grandfather Zadok.  I don’t know why our family hasn’t used that name more.”  That important matter was decided for them by God, and the message was delivered by an angel. 

Remember the story with me.  Joseph, a local carpenter, is deeply troubled. His fiancée Mary is pregnant, and he knows that he is not responsible.  She says it is the Lord’s doing, but Joseph is a practical fellow. Maybe he fears that she has been raped, perhaps by one of those hated Roman soldiers.

Maybe he thinks that she’s afraid that he will do something rash that will endanger his life.  She refuses to budge from her story. So he has decided to break the engagement quietly in order to limit the public disgrace.  He knows the community elders could have her stoned for adultery if he breaks the engagement.   His heart is breaking because I believe he loves her.

Absorbed in these sad thoughts, Joseph falls into a troubled sleep.  In that troubled sleep, he has a dream.  An angel tells him that Mary is telling the truth.  He is ordered to skip the balance of their one-year engagement, to go ahead and marry Mary right away.  In other words, Let The Gossips Talk! 

Then the angel revealed something else very important—the name of the baby and His title. “You shall name Him Jesus!”  And his title will be the one predicted by the prophet Isaiah some 800 years earlier—“Emmanuel—God With Us.”

The Name And The Title reveal what Christmas is all about.  Yeshua!  In the Hebrew it means God Delivers, Saves, And Rescues!  It’s The Perfect Name For The Perfect Gift for many reasons.  In the light of Advent, allow me to share with you 3 reasons why Jesus is the perfect name:

1.  It’s The Perfect Name For Hope!

There was no prophetic voice for over 400 years.  Heaven was quiet.  God seemed to be silent.  No one stepped forward with a Word from God.  Except for a brief period, they had been under foreign occupation and rule for nearly 600 years.  No voice from heaven and held captive, there was a struggle—the struggle for hope. 

When hope was obscured by years of fear and oppression, God spoke, not with words, but with a baby. John put it this way in 1:14 from the Message:  The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Jesus is the perfect name for Hope because He chose, out of His awesome love, To Move Into Our Neighborhood.  What does your neighborhood look like right now?  No, not the one where you house is located, but the one that surrounds your day to day living.  Are you living in the neighborhood of Fear?  Despair?  Chaos?  Confusion?  Addiction?  Loneliness?  Uncertainty?  Depression?  Shame?  Doubt?  Guilt? 

Listen, Someone else has moved into YOUR neighborhood and His name is Jesus—God Delivers, Saves, And Rescues!  He joins alongside us, giving us courage, determination, comfort, strength to move through and power to overcome.  Jesus broke through the silence and oppression then, and He still does it today.  That’s REAL Hope!  When Jesus moves into our neighborhood, there is always Hope!  Jesus Is The Perfect Name For Hope!

2.  It’s The Perfect Name For Joy!

There is a real problem in our culture today—people are wanting happiness, rather than Pursuing JoyThe Difference Between Happiness And Joy Is Clear:  Happiness Is Found In Some THING—Joy Is Discovered In Some ONE!  Happiness is built on the assumption that if we just had “that”—that amount of money, that relationship, that job, that other pastor, if we could get into that clique, if we had that car or that house—then we would be truly happy.  If we just had that Samsung 122” TV, or get that promotion, or get rid of that boss, or that spouse, then we would be happy.  The truth is, sometimes we manage to get those things, and for a time, we’re happy.  But when the new wears off, then we will start looking again for something That makes us happy.

On the other hand, Joy is discovered in Some ONE.  As someone once said, There’s A God Sized Hole In Every Heart And Only God Can Fill It!  Not just anyone, but the one who is named Jesus.  We are created for an intimate relationship with God.  Circumstances change, relationships change, material stuff wears out, breaks down and becomes obsolete, wealth comes and goes, even our health changes over time as I have so painfully discovered. 

But God is going to stay with you through thick and thin, ups and downs.  His Presence, Promises And Power are always Here and This rather than That, is what fills us with joy.  Because He Has forgiven us He can be trusted to be our Lord, because He gives us life now and eternal life later—Now That’s The Perfect Name For Joy. 

3.  It’s The Perfect Name For Love!

Love is more than words, much more.  Truth is—words are a cheap substitute because they lack the 2 key components of real love—the love that God gives.  John wrote in 1 John 3:18-19—Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  Our actions will show that we belong to the truth. 

God’s love is expressed in His heart and in His actions.  Words alone are shallow, but love that acts out of the heart is deep, lasting, and powerful enough to transform another person’s life.  Love Without Actions Is Shallow, And God Never Dwells In The Shallow Places, But In The Deepest Parts Of Our Heart.

Jesus set the pattern with His example.  Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13  But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law.  When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 

In 1873, Father Damien De Veuster voluntarily went to Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands.  Molokai was an isolation island for those with leprosy.  He helped improve their quality of life with a water system, a sanitation system and a clinic.  With help of the local lepers, they build a chapel where services were held every Sunday.  Every Sunday, Father Damien would begin his sermon by saying, You lepers know that God loves you.”  This went on for years. 

Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way:  “We lepers know that God loves us.”  Father Damien had contracted leprosy.  He was so busy taking care of them, he didn’t take the time to take care of himself with a simple task of washing his hands.  Yet he went on loving and serving until his death in 1898.

Jesus did not come in a disguise, He came in Real-Life-Flesh-And-Blood, the same stuff of you and me.  He ran, He played, He skinned his knees, laughed, swam, fished, cried, built tables, attended parties, felt anguish and heartache, laughed at jokes and told jokes.  He understands you because He experienced what you experience.  And why did He do that?  He Did It So That We Could Know That He Loves Us!

I want to take this love He has for you one step deeper.  Jesus does not say, You sinners know that God loves you.  Jesus does not say that, He says something much more, much deeper, with more love.  Jesus says to you and me, We sinners know that God loves us! 

I say this because the holiness of God demands justice—that the penalty for each and every sin MUST be paid IN FULL.  If we do not go to the Cross with our sins, and say, “This is the only place my sins can be forgiven”, then the gift hasn’t been received.  And if God accepts us without going through the Cross, Without the penalty being paid, God no longer remains Holy. 

While on that Cross, as Jesus was suspended between heaven and earth, between us sinners and the Holy God, the penalty of all sins—my sins, your sins, everyone’s sins—was placed on Jesus, and for that moment, Jesus became The Sinner.  Want a verse from the Bible to prove this?  2 Corinthians 5:21—“God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (The Message)

And He did it for only one reason:  Love!  YeshuaGod Delivers, Saves, And RescuesIt’s the perfect name for the Perfect Gift—Yeshua — God Delivers, God Saves, And God RescuesIt Truly Is The Perfect Name For The Perfect Gift.  Have you accepted the Gift for yourself?  If not, how can you turn away from Him?  Do not give your heart to the Baby in the Manger.  Give your heart to The Man on the Cross.

As we approach Christmas, your Next Steps can be the most important ones of your life:

  • If you have never felt the shame of your sins, felt the despair that comes from the Penalty of those sins, you need to.  To know The Savior is to know we’re a sinner.
  • If you are struggling right now with that penalty—then struggle no more.  God Delivers, God Saves, And God Rescues!  And that, my friends is the Perfect Name for the Perfect Gift!

Finding The Perfect Gift: God’s Gift Is The Best In The Worst Times!

Those Who Enter This Holy Season With The Greatest Needs Stand The Best Chance Of Encountering The Messiah.

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But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth.  Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5 And he will be the source of peace.  When the Assyrians invade our land and break through our defenses, we will appoint seven rulers to watch over us, eight princes to lead us.

Micah 5:2-5

Today we are in the Second of our Advent Series we’re calling:  Finding The Perfect Gift.  In a season where people should be celebrating God’s gift of love by sharing gifts of love with each other, it seems so many are obsessed with finding that perfect gift.  We think of the perfect gift as the one that satisfies the desires of the heart.  Truth is the perfect gift has already been given; and found by  those who can recognize it:  Emmanuel, God With Us.  And this perfect gift comes to us even in, NO, Especially In The Worst Of Times.

These are difficult times.  Soldiers are still being scattered around the globe trying to bring peace, trying to end terrorist threats.  Washington D.C. who should be leading us forward, is spinning in circles.  For many, maybe even some of you, there is not much joy or hope in this Christmas Season.

On Hampton Plantation in coastal South Carolina, there was an elderly sharecropper, illiterate but very wise.  One of his favorite sayings was this:  If you ain’t in trouble, your prayers ain’t got no suction.”   The Bible declares that our impossibility is God’s opportunity.  God is found at your wit’s end, just when you need Him most, when you have run out of answers and almost out of hope.

The Old Testament prophets were not called in good times.  They were called up by God in times of crises.   Jesus did not visit this planet when we became good enough to receive him. The Bible says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He faced us at our worst, and loved us anyway, all the way to a cross.

If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, then this is it:  Those Who Enter This Holy Season With The Greatest Needs Stand The Best Chance Of Encountering The Messiah.  Jesus did not come to the healthy but to heal the sick.  His mission is not to round up the pious, but to draw in the worst.  If you are hurting or lost or spiritually hungry this season, the odds are in your favor that you will encounter Him.

What causes me to believe this?  I got it straight from an Old Testament prophet named Micah.  Here is yet another reason why I loathe what well-meaning editors and scholars have done to God’s Word. One reason is they put misleading “headings” above passages that obscure greater truths. Another reason is their use of the term “minor prophets”. No prophet is minor and neither are their messages. Case in point is Micah.

700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Micah was called by God to speak His word to the nation of Judah.  Though he was a simple farmer, he was outright fearless.  The national situation was awful:  morals were low, crime was raging, the government was immoral, the courts were corrupt, most organized religion was formalistic and cold, and the dominant religion was materialism.  Sounds just like today, doesn’t it.  To make matters worse, Judah was a tiny nation positioned dangerously between two hostile superpowers—Assyria and Egypt.  

They had as much security as a gambler’s dollar in Las Vegas.  At that critical moment, Micah attacked the nation’s sin.  But he did much more than that.  Inspired by God, he looked out into the future and said:  A Messiah will be born in tiny Bethlehem.  God is going to send someone great to us.  So, don’t despair.  God has good news coming!

Micah and his people could only look forward to the Messiah’s coming at some future date.  But it’s different for us.  We live in the excitement of A Bethlehem Manger, An Atoning Cross, And An Empty Tomb.  What Micah could only promise, we can receive and experience.  Look with me at the specific promises from Micah concerning the Messiah:

1.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Restore Us.

If you can handle it, here’s the truth:  We Are All Broken Somewhere.  Somewhere We Need To Be Restored To The Person God Created Us To Become.

Being in a relationship with Him is more than making it a habit of coming to church for an hour or so on Sunday morning.  It’s more than saying before the meal:  “God is great God is good, let us thank him for our food.”  It’s more than saying at bedtime:  “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

  • It Is All About Intimacy—Knowing And Sensing The Nearness Of His Presence. 
  • It’s Living Out The Name Joseph Was Given To Name That Child—Emmanuel-God With Us.  God Offers Us More Than Nice Sounding Words Or Lofty Ideas And Virtues.  He Offers Us The Nearness Of Himself. 
  • And In The Worst Of Times—It Is That Holy Presence That Restores Us Where We Are Broken. 

Now, I’m about to meddle in your life:  What Are You Doing To Cultivate And Nurture That Nearness?  Are you spiritually hungry and thirsty this Christmas?  If so, Jesus wants to be for you The Bread Of Life and The Living Water.  Let the Messiah feed you during this Holy Season and all the seasons afterwards.  Invite him into your life as Savior and Lord.  Allowing God to restore you will be The Best Gift In The Worst Of Times.

2.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Lead Us.

Do you feel insecure in this Advent season?  You do if your marriage is less than solid.  You do if your job is at risk.  You might if you or a loved one has a medical problem.  You might if you have lost a loved-one in the last year.  You might if you have had a lot of “stuff” to deal with.

Preacher and writer Dr. James Moore tells a story about a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son.  Back home from the cemetery, they went to bed early because there was nothing else he could bear to do.  As he lay there in the darkness—heartbroken, the little boy broke the silence with a disturbing question, “Daddy, where is mommy?”  The father got up and brought the little boy to bed with him, but the child was still disturbed and restless, occasionally asking questions like “Why isn’t she here?” and “When is she coming back?” 

Finally, the little boy said, “Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep now.”  And in a little while he was quiet.  The father lay there in the darkness, and then in childlike faith, prayed this prayer:  “O God, I don’t see how I can survive this.  The future looks so miserable.  But if your face is toward me, somehow I know I can make it.” 

That’s what the Messiah came to teach us:  That God’s Face Is Always Towards Us.  Let the Messiah replace your uncertainty this Advent with this bedrock conviction:  God And You Are In This Together.  Nothing can happen that God and you together cannot manage.  Nothing will ever be able to separate you from his love.  That is how He leads us.

3.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Be Our Peace.

We need peace!  Inner War and turmoil is everywhere and it spans the globe. Some of the streets resemble a war zone as drugs, greed, poverty, and anger create an explosive mixture.  In America people yearn for inner stillness and the absence of turmoil.  So, they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex and anything else that will help them forget their pain, trouble and sense of chaos.

Peace is not placing a police officer on every street corner and U.N. Peacekeepers in every troubled nation.  

  • Peace comes when Jesus Christ washes sin from human hearts.
  • Peace comes when Jesus opens eyes so that people will see each other as brothers and sisters
  • Peace is a personal friendship with Jesus who said, I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give.  It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.  (John 14:27)
  • Listen to how The Message puts it:  That’s my parting gift to you.  Peace.  I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft.  So don’t be upset.  Don’t be distraught.

During Advent, The People Who Most Often Meet The Messiah Are Those With The Greatest Needs.  It seems that Jesus seeks them out.  Just as Micah declared 700 years before Jesus’ birth, God’s best gifts are given in the worst of times.  

Are you experiencing the worst of times right now?  Do you need strength?  Is it security you hunger for?  Are you longing for a deep and lasting peace?  Ask Him for it. His Nature Is To Give It And So Much More.  The Messiah comes to us offering Himself as our gift.  When we accept the gift of the Messiah, it matches exactly Our Hurt, Our Fear, And Our Need.  When we tie our destiny to this Messiah-King, we can face whatever the future brings, knowing that we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.

Knowing the He will restore you, lead you, and give you peace, What are your Next Steps?

  1. Find Ways To Build People Up, Especially Those You Don’t Like.
  2. Seek The Power Of The Holy Spirit And Treat Him As A Real Person Because He Is.
  3. Be A Peace-Maker, Not A Peace Breaker.

Finding The Perfect Gift: A Gift Is On The Way!

1 Think of it this way.  If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came.  We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

4 But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Galatians 4:1-4 (NLT)

Did you hear about the man who got tired of the Christmas hoopla.  All the frantic rush and the commercialism was disgusting to him.  So, he decided not to go along with the crowd.  Among other things, he decided not to send Christmas cards, feeling that the expense and effort were non-productive.  For the first 10 days of December he felt good about his decision.  But then, as the mail brought him greetings from his friends, he began to feel guilty about not sending any cards.  4 days before Christmas, he couldn’t stand it any longer.  He rushed down to the drug store and grabbed the only box of cards still on the shelf.  He bought them, purchased stamps, rushed home, and addressed cards frantically all evening.  He addressed 49 cards.  He had one card left over which he tossed on the mantle. 

That same evening he drove down to the post office and mailed the cards.  The next day he was walking through the house and happened to see that extra card on the mantle.  It occurred to him that he had addressed and signed all those cards but had not actually read what the card said.  So, he grabbed the card and took a look. This is what it said:  “This cheery card has come to say:  A gift from us is on the way.”

For many, this is that frenzied time of trying to find the Perfect Gift.  This quest creates a lot of stress for many, maybe some of you.  But Advent Season is different.  The whole meaning of the Advent season is this:  God Has The Perfect Gift For Us.  The  reason we offer Christmas gifts to each other is to honor and reflect the only perfect gift ever offered—the gift of God through a Bethlehem baby named Jesus.

What makes a gift “The Perfect Gift”? 

  1. The Giver Puts Something Of Him Or Herself Into It And
  2. The Gift Is Suited To The Needs Of The Recipient.

That’s The Perfect Gift.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  God Has The Perfect Gift For You.  When our loving God was thinking about this sin-scarred world that would be filled with warring, selfish, corrupted people, He had a plan.  God knew that if he sent 10,000 educators, the people would simply become more inventive in their evil.  God could have dropped tons of food to alleviate all hunger, but the people would have hoarded it rather than sharing it.  God could have sent a powerful general to clean up the mess by force.  As soon as the good general was gone, everything would deteriorate to business as usual.

And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  God Has The Perfect Gift For You.  When our loving God was thinking about this sin-scarred world that would be filled with warring, selfish, corrupted people, He had a plan.  God knew that if he sent 10,000 educators, the people would simply become more inventive in their evil.  God could have dropped tons of food to alleviate all hunger, but the people would have hoarded it rather than sharing it.  God could have sent a powerful general to clean up the mess by force.  As soon as the good general was gone, everything would deteriorate to business as usual.

So, to give the perfect gift, God did not send a general or an educator or even a preacher.  God sent himself.  The late great preacher Wallace Hamilton put it this way, “God Came Walking Down The Stairway Of Heaven With A Baby In His Arms.” 

Paul expressed this message beautifully to the first-century church in Galatia.  Paul said that since the Fall, all people have been slaves to sin.  And we need someone to redeem us, to buy us out of that slavery.  The thing about trying to do enough to atone for our sins, is that it is never enough.  In the process of trying to cover over one sin, we discover that we have another sin to atone for.  And as we try to cover over for that sin, then there is another and another and another, ad nauseum.

We are all slaves to sin.  We are powerless to atone for it, and we certainly are powerless to stop it from happening again and again.  And when the time was both Right And Ripe, God sent the Gift that was prepared for us before the beginning of time.  We celebrate Advent to remember that God has declared: “The Perfect Gift is on the way.”   And we celebrate Holy Communion because we know that His gift has arrived, and is now among us.   The gift of Jesus is the Perfect Gift.  It is an assortment of the most needed items on earth.  Let me mention three:

1.  The Gift Brings Forgiveness. 

(Verse 5) God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

Forgiveness is absolutely powerful, life changing and soul-saving When It’s Given By Jesus.  Nothing is more powerful, more liberating and more empowering for us than to know that because of the Cross, Jesus has forgiven us. 

Tony Campolo tells a story that happened when he was about 7 years old.  They were sitting in church.  As the Communion Service was about to begin, the preacher read from 1 Corinthians 11:27, Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  There was a young woman sitting in front of them who began to cry uncontrollably.  As the plate with the bread was handed to her, she waved in on, then lowered her head in despair, as if there was some sin she couldn’t find relief from.  Campolo said his Dad leaned forward and sternly said in broken English, “Take it, girl!  It was meant for you!”

Sin goes too deep into the human heart for superficial cures.  Only the spirit of the living Christ can free us from sin and teach us to forgive ourselves and others.  It’s a miracle made possible by the Cross that happens each time one of us says to God with all our heart, “I’m so sorry.  I’m not worthy, but please forgive me!”

2.  The Gift Brings A Heart Transplant.

(Verse 6) And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

We must have a heart transplant.  Not the surgical variety.  I am talking about the change of Values, Attitudes, And Will.  It happens because of Christ living in us.  He takes up residence in the deepest parts of us.  He will never reside in the shallow places of our heart.  He will live only in the deepest places, regardless of what it looks like right now.  Transformation only begins from those deepest places inside our hearts.  Superficial changes are useless.  Only Jesus living in the deepest parts of our heart brings the transformation we must have.

In that presence we find the strength to do all those things we are created to do.  In that presence we find the strength to keep from doing those things we know are sinful and self-destructive.  We have a new heart because we have a new relationship with God!

A Harvard education is wonderful, but it alone will not touch the heart to change our Values, Attitudes, And Will.  You can take all of the Dale Carnegie courses but still not touch the Values, the Attitudes, and the Will.  But when Jesus becomes not only your Savior, but the Lord of your life, He creates a new heart that changes, The Values, The Attitudes And The Will

Paul hits the bullseye when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17:, This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  Only He changes us from the inside out; and it happens through The Gift.  What we cannot do in or for ourselves He is able to do.  The miracle of the Gift is that when we allow Him, He gives us a completely new heart that changes our values, our attitudes, and our will.

3.  The Gift Brings Eternal Life!

(Verse 7) Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Our heavenly reservations were made that moment when we repent of our sins and genuinely Believe In Jesus As Our Savior And Follow Him As Our Lord.  When we dare to step out in faith and claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, we don’t have to wonder where we will spend eternity.  When we die and reach heaven’s gates, our future is secure, because of our faith in Jesus and our love for Him.  The mark of Christ will be visible upon us.  His righteousness will cover us and the gates of heaven will be wide open for us. 

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about or to hope maybe we get it right to get into heaven.  The seal of love is on and there is no doubt, no maybe—Eternal Life is guaranteed and it’s all because one day God said, A Gift Is On The Way.  Why did God do it?  The answer is clear in that most beloved verse in our Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.” And This Truth Frees Us To Live Abundantly In The Here And Now!

People who do not have inner peace have inner war; a war between their selfish desires and the ways of God.  When a person becomes a Follower of Jesus, our personal world changes, because we surrender to Jesus.  The consequence of the surrender is that Jesus sends an inner composure nothing on earth nor in hell can touch. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

So, there you have it—and why you need to accept God’s Perfect Gift: forgiveness, a heart transplant, and eternal life.   These are the world’s most needed gifts!  No wonder Phillips Brooks wrote in his Christmas carol, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

We celebrate Advent, to remember that God has said that The Gift is on the way.   And we celebrate Communion because we know that His gift has arrived, and is now among us.   The Bethlehem Christ-child, born to die on Calvary’s Cross, is the ultimate expression of love. He is the only perfect gift the world has ever known.  Have you accepted that gift?

This is your homework this week, and the Next Steps as we think about The Perfect Gift:

This Week Answer this Question: “Where is Jesus in these places?”

  1. Your Calendar?
  2. Your Purpose?
  3. Your Desires?

These places reveal if HE is your Lord, or just a crutch. If Jesus has just been a crutch for you, God has a better Gift for you!