December 24, 2016
Hebrews 1:1-4 | New International Version (NIV)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”
But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
He also says,
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”
This morning is the culmination of our Advent preparations. Jesus now is here. As I will be preaching this morning, “The Force Awakens.” Jesus Christ has come to earth as a baby – placing himself into the hands of his creation. He was a baby just like any other baby. We can say for certain that He cried – unlike the line in “Away In a Manger.” I’m sure he cried when he fell and scraped himself. Did you ever think about Jesus crying when he was teething? Jesus was fully human. As a human baby, he could not take care of himself. He was vulnerable. There is a line in the Getty hymn “Joy Has Dawned.”
Hands that set each star in place
Shaped the earth in darkness
Cling now to a mother’s breast
Vulnerable and helpless
This little baby grew in favor with God and man and became the man who would die on a cross for our sins and three days later rise again. He ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father – where he intercedes for us – and where He will reign forever.
December 24, 2016
Titus 3:4-7 | New International Version (NIV)
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Again, this scripture speaks to the incarnation – Jesus coming to earth. It was the love and kindness of God. He didn’t do it because we deserved it. All of us have the same issue that Adam and Eve had. God came because of his great mercy toward us. Through Jesus coming – his death on the cross – and resurrection – we are justified – made just as if I had never sinned. What a beautiful thought on this Christmas eve morning.
Titus 2:11-14 | New International Version (NIV)
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own,eager to do what is good.
I love this passage – especially as it relates to the incarnation – the fact that Jesus came in the flesh – that he really was human – he was and is fully divine – but he was fully human. To deny that is to deny the incarnation. But notice why he came. Christ came for our salvation. I came across this quote yesterday.
“The deepest of deep truths about Christmas–without which Christmas is just a lovely social custom–is that Mary’s baby is God…..if that is true, with him all things are possible.”
Richard John Neuhaus
This is why he came.
Last night I did something for the first time. I led our church in a Longest Night Service. This service could also be known as a “Blue Christmas” service. “What is a Longest Night Service?” you ask. It is a service designed to comfort – it can be a place for lament – it can be a place for grieving. It is designed to be on the longest night of the year – the first day of winter. The service itself is simple. We kept the music low key, using a combination of Advent and Christmas songs. The litany is simple – all focused on Christ and how He can be our comfort. I love candles and this service is great for candles. I had candles everywhere.
This service was good for our church. Although we are a small church, it seems like there are many who have lost loved ones in this season. We have had some lose loved ones just this year. It was a service that I have heard about and have wanted to try. I can say that it will probably be something that we do next year. I’m actually hoping to invite our community to the service and invite the participation of the area churches and clergy. We have a great community clergy association.
I do want to thank my friend Mark Wilson for several service ideas. In addition, several of the elements from our service are from this resource.
Here is the script for our service.
From the Junia Project
“No one is on the periphery of God’s story”.
That’s how the pastor at the church I attended last Sunday started his very well delivered message. And what a great message it was! He went on to explain that no matter who you are, God wants to use you to spread the light of Jesus to the people around you.
Several weeks ago, Pam and I posted an about a Children’s Advent Devotional. We had received something very similar many years ago while we were pastoring a Wesleyan church in Fort Edward, NY. I wasn’t quite sure how all the symbolism fit together.
This morning Pam was looking for something – a world – and came across something on Pinterest. Somehow we got talking about Chrismon trees. One of our friends back in Staunton had given me a book about the symbols found on the Chrismon tree. This led to a conversation about the Jesse Tree and she mentioned that the devotional that we put together was based on the Jesse Tree.
“What is a Jesse Tree?” you may ask. A Jesse Tree is a learning device, much like an Advent Calendar. It helps countdown the days to Christmas, but also tells the story of God’s plan for his people.
The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots.” It is a vehicle to tell the Story of God in the Old Testament, and to connect the Advent Season with the faithfulness of God across 4,000 years of history. The Branch is a biblical sign of newness out of discouragement, which became a way to talk about the expected messiah (for example, Jer 23:5). It is therefore an appropriate symbol of Jesus the Christ, who is the revelation of the grace and faithfulness of God. [via CRI/Voice]
As I have researched this, there are many different ways you can do a Jesse Tree…imagination is the key. The important thing is that we use this as a learning device. Our plan is to make a Jesse Tree for our grandson and his new baby sister. There are a myriad of resources available. Here are just a few that I used:
- CRI/Voice – Rev. Dennis Bratcher – there are a multitude of church year resources listed. I’ve used several of his resources over the years.
- Reformed Church of America – Lots of good Jesse Tree resources here.
Our table is now covered with Jesse Tree resources. Pam and I are really excited about this. I hope you enjoy these resources.
From the desire of being praised — deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being honored — deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being preferred — deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being consulted — deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being approved — deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of comfort and ease — deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being humiliated — deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being criticized — deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being passed over — deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten — deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being lonely — deliver me, Jesus
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praise and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, strengthen me with your Spirit
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, teach me your ways.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, help me put my self-importance aside to learn the kind of cooperation with others that makes possible the presence of your Abba’s household. Amen.
Last year, Pam and I were Christmas shopping and came across this Advent devotional by Louie Giglio. It’s called Waiting Here for You: An Advent Journey of Hope. It’s something that we try to do each year leading up to Christmas. Louie Giglio is founder of the Passion movement and pastors a church in the Atlanta area.
What I love about this devotional is the idea of waiting. It’s not something that we like to do and yet that is what Advent is all about. This is a great devotional for several reasons – there is a scripture, a short meditation, a song, and a prayer. What I love about the song section is that Giglio didn’t use contemporary or modern songs, even though he is part of the movement that has given us many great modern worship songs, but he uses ancient songs. Most of the songs that he uses pre-date the songs found in most hymnals you will find in the pew. There are some great gems in there. Pam and I have really enjoyed this devotional and while it is set up for a particular year – you can use it anytime. We just went by the dates on the top of the page, even though it didn’t quite line up with the Sundays. Below, I’ve included the trailer for the book. I hope you check it out.