Jesus Is the Hope of Christmas: Our 2016 Advent Sermon Series

I love everything about Christmas.  The decorations.  The lights.  The snow.  The music. And yes, Christmas movies.  My wife and I began a tradition of watching “White Christmas” when we were first married, and last year we watched it in Vermont for the first time.  “Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, all that snow…”  Nope, just like the movie, it was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve.

I have noticed over the years that there is one recurring theme in every Christmas movie, even if it has nothing to do with the real Christmas story:  HOPE.  In “White Christmas,” it is the hope of snow and true love on Christmas.  In “It’s a Wonderful Life” it is the hope of finding purpose and joy in life again.  In “How the Grinch Saved Christmas” it is the hope of even the most depraved person finding their heart and caring for others again.  We could go on and on.  Hope–in every one.

the-hope-of-christmasI think this is because innately, people know that things are not the way they should be, and if a miracle is ever going to happen, a miracle that changes things, then why not on Christmas?  But as Christians, we know that the greatest miracle that ever could happen already happened on Christmas.  He is the reason for Christmas.  God was in the manger that night.  God entered into our suffering world, physically.  God Himself appeared in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ.  God is not “out there,” God is here.  Jesus is Immanuel–God with us.  That is why we celebrate Christmas, because Jesus didn’t just give us hope in the past, Jesus’ salvation and presence today gives us hope today.

Our community and our world need hope, and Christmas gives some unique opportunities to share true, lasting hope–even gospel hope!  I will be preaching 3 sermons leading up to and including Christmas, to prepare our hearts as we seek to celebrate the Savior:

  • Jesus is the Hope of Christmas Because God Always Keeps His Promises
    (December 11, Matthew 1:1-17, the Genealogy of Jesus)
  • Jesus is the Hope of Christmas Because He Will Save His People From Their Sins
    (December 18, Matthew 1:18-25, the Birth of Christ from Joseph’s perspective)
  • Jesus is the Hope of Christmas Because He Offers Eternal Joy For All People
    (December 25, Matthew 2:1-12, The Visit of the Wise Men)

I can’t wait to celebrate Jesus with you–the true hope of Christmas!  And yes, I am hoping for a white Christmas.

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A Prayer for My Children This Christmas Season

Father,

As I picked up my 2 year old son out of his crib this morning, hearing him chatter in 2 year old boy talk about the mini Christmas tree in his room, it struck me that Your Son not only came as a little baby but also grew up as a boy. The Word who became flesh learned how to form words with his mouth. How incredible. How humble. How like us and yet unlike us you are, Jesus.

As we approach Christmas Day, my prayer is that my children would not miss Jesus for Christmas.  I know this starts with me, Father.  Would you strip away idols of materialism and picture-perfect white Christmases from my heart and help me to shine the spotlight on Jesus brightly this Christmas?

Would you answer the prayer that all of the decorations and cookies and parties and even Christmas programs this Advent season would not cover up the manger, but rather point my children to it?

May Christmas cookies remind them that only in Jesus will they “taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8) nativity

May even gifts this Christmas point them to the greatest treasure, Your own Son.

May our Christmas tree point to the tree that the Messiah would die on for their sins.

May we celebrate like people who have a reason to celebrate, because the good news of great joy that a Savior has come is the greatest reason to celebrate.  But as we enjoy our celebration, may we never forget the reason we’re celebrating.

I know that this would take a miracle to do in my children’s hearts just as it takes a miracle in my heart, but I confess with the angel Gabriel, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)  I know that You long for my children to behold and to believe in Jesus more than I do Father, because You are zealous for Your own glory.  Make it so–as the star shone for the magi, shine in my children’s hearts so they can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) this Christmas!  As the angels pointed the shepherds to the glory that was in the manger that night, help my wife and I to point our children to the Glorious One who is reigning in Heaven today because He was lying in the manger that night.

We adore you, Jesus.  May this Christmas be about adoring You!

Celebrate Advent at Home This Year!

child lighting advent wreathMy family and I have loved celebrating Advent since we arrived at Immanuel Bible Church.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming has helped us keep Christ central to Christmas.

As Christian parents, we all want to keep Christ at the center of our families’ Christmas celebrations both inside and outside of church.  Advent is one way to do that.  Maybe you have been wanting to start Family Devotions…what a wonderful way to get in the habit of regularly talking about God’s Word as a family!

Here are several ideas and free resources for you to use in your own families’ Advent celebration.  Joy to the world–and joy to your family this Christmas season!

  • There are Advent wreaths available at Christian book stores, but there are simple, free instructions and ideas on page 2 of this Focus on the Family booklet from 2012.  Don’t let not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  You can still have a very meaningful time looking to Christ as a family without the wreath or candles.  However, last year was the first year that we used an Advent wreath at home and lit the candles almost every night and I can’t imagine not doing it now–it only added to the anticipation of celebrating Christ’s Incarnation as the kids would talk about how soon before the other candles were lit.
  • I encourage you to pick it right up again if you miss a night–or several nights because of the busy holiday season.  The general consistency of looking to Jesus in a special way together as Christmas approaches is what will impact your family!
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible is what we used with our family last year.  As this blog points outbaby jesus…there are twenty-one stories in it from the Old Testament—each ending with a paragraph that ties in to the imminent birth of Jesus—and then three stories from the New Testament leading up to (and surrounding) the birth story of Jesus.”  Celebrating Advent at home was as simple–and meaningful–as lighting the wreath, reading the story for that night, and one of us praying.  There is a free PDF from the same blog that lays the readings out from December 1st to Christmas Eve!
  • This year we will use Focus on the Family’s free 2014 Advent guide, “Journey to the Manger.”  Journey to the Manger Advent 2014It includes a full color printable poster with a Bible character our kids will tape on the poster every night of Advent, and of course a Scripture reading, prayer idea, “opener” and discussion for the family.  There are even printables for each day such as puzzles, that our 6 year old will love doing, that will further cement what he is learning–while the younger kids will benefit from the bright poster that goes along with the Scripture readings.  It won’t stop us from using it, but do be aware that there is one issue with this Advent guide: the first cut out to put on the poster is a cartoon picture of “God the Father.”  For that first day, we will color light on a paper to put on the poster instead of using that cutout, and explain to our kids how God lives in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).  This aside, I can’t wait to use this Advent guide in our home this year!
  • I was excited to hear about a brand new devotional, “Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Advent Devotional.”  Prepare_Him_Room_3D_Thumb__67756.1404693711.451.416This is written by the author of “The Gospel Story Bible,” which is an excellent children’s Bible that I have read in it’s entirety with my 6 year old.  There is even a video that you can watch explaining why the author wrote this Advent guide!  We will surely be using this devotional guide for Advent as my kids (currently 2, 3 and 6) are a little older, but it may be perfect for your family this year.
  • Nancy Guthrie has written an Advent devotional book, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” that is designed for the entire family–from school age children to teenagers to parents. [HT: Mike Pohlman]
  • If you have teenagers in your home–or would read an Advent devotional yourself, I encourage you to consider John Piper’s new “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” free from Desiring God.

Don’t Cover Up the Manger

image

My wife and I had the joy of teaching Children’s Church on Sunday, and I loved the opening illustration.  As the children came into the room they took turns writing what they do to get ready for Christmas on the whiteboard.  As could be expected 10 days before Christmas, most of it had to do with presents.

Then Melanie read a list of some of the things we often do to prepare for Christmas and a prop was placed into a manger on top of a doll for each activity.  There was a cookie sheet, a little Christmas tree, a camera to represent the family photo, stationery, and of course several presents.

The point was not that doing activities to celebrate Christmas is bad, but rather that we can get so busy getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday that we forget about Jesus.  He can get covered up by all of the details or traditions and be completely missed.

Isn’t this what the chief priests and scribes did in Matthew chapter 2?  They were so concerned with their traditions that even though they knew a lot about Christ’s birth, they didn’t go to see Him or worship Him.

All of those things in the manger in that Children’s Church room should have been outside the manger.  They should have pointed to Jesus rather than take His place!

This Christmas, don’t cover up the manger, but point to it. Because pointing to the manger points us to the cross. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

Joseph: A Young Man Who Followed God

josephLast Christmas I wrote about Mary as an example of a teenager who loves God.  There are also things we can learn for our walk with God by thinking about God’s work in Joseph’s life as a young man.  While most agree that Mary was probably a teenager when Christ was born, some believe that Joseph was a much older man than her.  The Bible simply does not tell us, but this idea probably came from the fact that the Gospel accounts do not talk about Joseph once Jesus is mature (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, p. 506).  It is true that Joseph had almost certainly died by the time Christ died on the cross (John 19:26-27), but this does not necessarily mean that Joseph was much older than Mary when the angel announced to Joseph that the Messiah would radically disrupt his life and plans.

As a young man, Joseph wanted to follow God.  Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph as “being a just man.”  When the Bible describes somebody as “just” or “righteous,” it should perk up our ears.  There is certainly something we can learn from this person’s life.  The way that Joseph responded to God’s working in his life is something that we can all learn from.

As a young man, Joseph put others before himself.  The Gospel writer next gives an example of this following after God that characterized Joseph: Deuteronomy 22:13-21 would have allowed Joseph to submit Mary to a public trial and even stoning if she was found guilty of sex outside of marriage.  Instead, Joseph, being “unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Mt. 1:19)  His plan was to show Mary grace by quietly breaking off their betrothal.  In a culture that increasingly doesn’t expect a young man to think of others until he is in his thirties and married with children, Joseph’s example should remind us that teenagers and twenty-something Christians have a special call to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phil. 2:15b-16a)

As a young man, Joseph’s daily walk with God empowered him to follow God in the “big things.”  Joseph did not suddenly start to follow the Lord the day that the angel appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 1:20)  When Joseph woke up and immediately “…did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,” (Matt. 1:24) no matter what the social consequences would be, it was because he had already been following God for years.  It was the same with when he moved his family to a foreign country overnight because of another command from God in order to protect Jesus as a baby from King Herod.  When life-changing circumstances arose, Joseph did not need to think long about how to follow the Lord.  He simply obeyed because his spiritual reflexes had been trained over years as a child and teenager (1 Tim. 4:7-8).

Joseph and Mary both are great examples, but they both were sinners in need of a Savior (Luke 1:47), the very Savior whose arrival into their lives put their faith to the test.  This Christmas, do not forget your constant need of Christ.  He is the One who has saved “His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), and He is the One who is worthy of following, both every day, and in the big things.

Advent Ideas for Families

child lighting advent wreathLast year was the first time that I had ever celebrated Advent at a church, and I loved it.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming helped me keep Christ central to Christmas.  This will be the first year that my family is celebrating Advent at home as well.

As Christian parents, we all want to keep Christ at the center of our families’ Christmas celebrations both inside and outside of church.  Advent is one way to do that.  Maybe you have been wanting to start Family Devotions…what a wonderful way to get in the habit of regularly talking about God’s Word as a family!

Here are several ideas and free resources for you to use in your own families’ Advent celebration.  Joy to the world–and joy to your family this Christmas season!

  • There are Advent wreaths available at Christian book stores, but there are simple instructions and ideas at the beginning of the Focus on the Family booklet below.  Don’t let having or not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  While I anticipate it adding to the fact that this is a special season, you can still do Advent readings together without an Advent Wreath at home.
  • I encourage you to pick it right up again if you miss a night–or several nights because of the busy holiday season.  The general consistency of looking to Jesus in a special way together as Christmas approaches is what will impact your family!
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible is what we will use with our family this year.  As this blog points out, baby jesus…there are twenty-one stories it in from the Old Testament—each ending with a paragraph that ties in to the imminent birth of Jesus—and then three stories from the New Testament leading up to (and surrounding) the birth story of Jesus.”  Celebrating Advent at home will be as simple–and meaningful–as lighting the wreath, reading the story for that night, and one of us praying.  There is a free PDF from the same blog that lays the readings out from December 1st to Christmas Eve!  Our church will be using the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum for Children’s Church after Advent, so using it at home during Advent will be another way to further connect church and home.
  • Focus on the Family produced an excellent, free Advent booklet last year, “Knowing Him By Name,” that focuses on the names of Christ throughout the Bible.  It is written for school age children and parents to do together, with a short reading each day and an activity.
  • Nancy Guthrie has written an Advent devotional book, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” that is designed for the entire family–from school age children to teenagers to parents. [HT: Mike Pohlman]
  • If you have teenagers in your home–or would read an Advent devotional yourself, I encourage you to consider John Piper’s “Good News of Great Joy,” free from Desiring God.

“And in Despair I Bowed My Head: ‘There is No Peace on Earth,’ I Said”?

picture 16Last Sunday night, just two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in which 27 people were murdered including 20 six to seven year olds, our church had a Christmas program.  As a ladies’ choir sang, “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men,” it suddenly grew exceptionally quiet.  I think that everybody who was listening to the words was thinking of the families and children in Connecticut.  Many Christians have been struggling with seeing the depth of this evil and reconciling it with their view of God.

Not surprisingly, the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” were born out of personal tragedy and national mourning.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous American poet, lost his second wife Fanny in 1861 (his first wife died in 1835) through a horrible burning accident.  She was using sealing wax to preserve the locks of their little girls’ hair that she had just cut when her dress caught on fire.  She ran into the room where Longfellow was and when a throw rug that he used failed to put out the fire, he put out the flames using his own body and was badly burnt as well.  Fanny died the next day and Longfellow was too injured to be able to attend the funeral.  At the same time, the Civil War was raging and two years after the death of his wife Longfellow received news that his son, a Union soldier, was severely wounded.

Asaph who wrote Psalm 73 struggled with similar feelings of despair in seeing evil and experiencing deep personal suffering.  Instead of writing, “in despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped,” (Psalm 73:2) as he tried to reconcile the evil in the world with his view of God.

But I am so glad that Asaph did not end the Psalm with those words.  He explained, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:16-17)  When he went to worship and to focus on what is true about God, then he could exclaim, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24)

Longellow did not end his poem in despair either:  “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;’  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”  Our hope is not that there will never be another tragedy on this sin-riddled earth, but our hope is in the longing of Advent.  Not only did Christ come as a baby, but He also will return to earth as our victorious King.  Every wrong will fail and true righteousness will prevail.

Tragedies like Newtown should make us weep as Christians.  It should also make us pine with hope for the day when “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’  And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:4-5)

For a moving video of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” with Civil War pictures, click here.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!