The Gift (part 4) Sermon Preview

I still remember when my Dad turned 40.  I was a second grader at the time.  Honestly I don’t have a ton of memories from my early elementary years, but I remember that day.  My mom had planned a special celebration for my Dad’s birthday  A surprise party was planned and guests were invited.  In addition to a number of “in town” friends, my mom intentionally sent invites to my dad’s brothers and sisters.  Even though they lived a great distance away, they were personally invited to the party and made plans to attend.  On the afternoon of his birthday I was playing outside at my uncle’s house when I saw the rest of the family arrive from out of state.  I came running into the room where my dad was sitting and exclaimed, “You are never going to guess who just pulled up!!!”  Much to everyone’s surprise, my Dad calmly said, “I bet it is the rest of the family!”  Somehow he had caught wind of the plan and was actually expecting their “surprise” arrival.

I was thinking about that experience today as I read Matthew 2:1-12.  These verses talk about a birthday party for Jesus Christ when He was quite young.  We saw last Sunday from Luke 2 that invitations went out to some local folks (shepherds) who were invited to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  But in Matthew 2, we find out that God the Father also invited some out-of-towners to come to celebrate the newborn King.  Magi from the East had been summoned and invited to attend the party.  At first glance, this seems like quite the surprise.

However, upon further review, we should not be taken aback.  While the method of invite (the Christmas star) is a bit unusual for us, it was not unusual for God.  After all, He had used this method of guidance to lead the people of Israel years ago (remember the cloud by day and fire by night?)  But even more, we might be surprised that Iranian Astrologers were invited to the party … but again, we should not be confused.  When these distant, Gentile, foreigners showed up, you can almost imagine Joseph running in to the house and exclaiming to his Son, “You are never going to guess who just arrived!!!!”  Jesus (a toddler at this point) calmly responds saying, “Yeah!  The rest of the family has shown up!”  

Jesus was ALWAYS to be the gift for all people … including those who lived at a “distance.”  God had told Abraham in Genesis 12 that through his descendant, ALL the people of the earth would be blessed.  Isaiah talks about foreign Kings bowing before the Jewish Messiah, and people from ALL the earth gathered to worship Him (Isaiah 60:1-3).  The Psalmist even knew this was coming when he wrote, “Let THE NATIONS be glad and sing for joy (Psalm 67)”  The Great Commission was not a new idea for God, but an added emphasis to an old idea … the culmination of His ultimate plan.

The reason why Christians are so evangelistic and mission minded is because the mission of God is not local but global in scope.  It should not surprise us.  It has been that way from the beginning … and the Iranian Astrologers (the Magi) being invited to the party let us know early on the intentions of His advent.

This Sunday, December 20, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church, we will be continuing our Christmas Sermon Series “The Gift” by looking at Matthew 2:1-12 and being reminded that Jesus is THE GIFT for the Distant.  Hope you make plans to join us in our 9:00, 10:15, or 11:30 services (or online at wildwoodchurch.org/live beginning at 10:15), and bring friends!  This is a “surprise” we don’t want to miss.

P.S.  Our worship band has prepared their annual rendition of “Carol of the Bells” and will be including it in this Sunday’s service!  Don’t miss it!

December 17: The Gift – The Angels’ Song

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 17

The Angels’ Song (Luke 2:13-14)

Hope is a necessary thing.  It is not a luxury.  It is not an option.  We may need water and food and air to survive, but we need hope to thrive.  So how do we have hope?  Where is our hope found?  In this dark world, is there a light at the end of the tunnel, or is that flicker an oncoming train?

In Psalm 42:5a, the Psalmist asks a very important question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”  In other words, life is hard!  My spirit feels crushed!  I am prone to discouragement!  Under the tree of my life today I can see more hardships than blessings.  What am I to do?  Is your soul cast down today?  Are you in turmoil?

The Psalmist continues with the solution to our down cast soul, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”  The solution for our spirit today is hope for tomorrow.

Hope for tomorrow means that we do not believe that today (or yesterday) was the best things will ever be.  We are tempted to think that our past was the “good old days.”  As we age, we are also tempted to think that the end of our lives will only be about loss:  loss of health, deaths of friends and families, activities we can no longer enjoy.  With this perspective, our past or our present are the pinnacles of existence, and everything else is simply downhill.  If our perspective is only earth bound, then there may be some truth to this existential depression.  However, if we know the God of the universe, we have access to an unending hope . . . because our hope is anchored to something OUTSIDE this life.

God is eternal.  When we “hope in God” we connect our perspective to Him.  In eternity, we are saved.  In eternity, our broken and breaking bodies are upgraded to an imperishable sort.  In eternity, God richly provides for all our needs.  In eternity, we do not sin or struggle.  With this eternal perspective, we can have hope now! 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God demonstrated His intimate connection between the world in which we live and His eternal order.  Jesus came here to give us a tangible and living hope, to provide a way for us to enter eternity.  When we place our faith in Christ, we can have a hope today based on what He has promised us tomorrow.  And Christmas is a reminder of that.

The Psalmist ends 42:5 by reminding us to demonstrate our hope in God by praising Him.  This same hope of peace and good will from God to mankind, is sung about by the Angels on the night that Jesus was born.  As you read Luke 2:13-14 today may your heart sing harmony with the Angels (and the Psalmists) praising God for all He has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ. 

Suggested song for today:  “Angels We Have Heard on High”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 16: The Gift – Away in a Manger

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 16

Away in a Manger (Luke 2:12)

A “manger” is an animal’s feeding trough.  After Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph placed Him in one such trough.  This reality is sung about in the song “Away in a Manger.”  This fact is so commonplace to us since the Christmas story is so familiar.  However, have you ever stopped to wonder exactly WHY God had Jesus placed in a manger that first Christmas day?

While certainly the repurposed manger helped symbolize the humility of Jesus, Luke 2:12 gives us the specific reason for the trough. “And this will be a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in the manger.” These words (spoken by the Angels to the shepherds, inviting them to visit Jesus after His birth) indicate that the manger crib was the sign to let the shepherds know which baby Jesus was.  In others words, there were other babies in Bethlehem that night, but only one was wrapped in cloth and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.  That One was Jesus.

Since every Jewish mom would wrap their child in cloths, it was the manger that highlighted Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.  The Angels basically used the manger as a spotlight.  The shepherds would go house to house until they found the baby in the feeding trough.  When they found THAT child, they would worship Him.

I think it is important to reflect on the BED Jesus lay in being the distinguishing factor as to His identity.  This lets us know that He otherwise LOOKED like a normal child.  He was not glowing in holiness . . . He looked normal.  He was not talking in perfect language . . . He sounded like a normal baby (meaning He probably was crying, despite  what the lyrics of the Christmas Carol might suggest).  Everything about Jesus looked normal, so the Angels could not identify Jesus to the shepherds through His physical appearance.  So they described the bed He lay in.

Friends, this simple point helps remind us that the Son of God really did become the Son of Man.  Jesus really did become fully human, identifying down to all the sights and sounds of “normal.”  This reminds us that, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)” Jesus knows what it means to live a normal human life.  He lived a “normal” human life in every way . . . except that He did not sin.  Therefore, He can help us and forgive us as we deal with the sin in our own life as well!

As you sing “Away in a Manger” this Christmas season, be reminded that Jesus’ bed (not His body) revealed His uniqueness that first Christmas night.  He knows normal, and so He can help normal people – like you and me.

Suggested song for today:  “Away in a Manger”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 15: The Gift – Angel Announcement

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 15

Angel Announcement (Luke 2:11)

When the story of 18th century western church history is told, there are three names that simply must be included:  John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield.  Growing up within the Church of England, these three men each came to a genuine faith in Christ later in life.  After their conversions, these men followed Christ in a radical way, spreading the knowledge of Christ to the common people.  These three men were some of the early fathers of American Evangelicalism because they had an interest in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people wherever they were.  Instead of staying inside large stone cathedrals, these men took to the open air, holding outdoor revival meetings and church services where thousands were in attendance.  In a day before microphones and high tech audio/visual equipment, Whitfield alone preached to as many as 30,000 people in one audience!

Given their common threads, it is not a surprise that these men were friends and had a great deal of respect for each other’s ministry, even though they had some theological differences.  Charles Wesley wrote over 7,500 hymns in his lifetime.  Some of these hymns were incorporated into Whitfield’s open air revival meetings.  One of Wesley’s hymns that Whitfield used was a hymn Wesley titled, “Hark, How the Welkin Rings!”  (The word “welkin” means “vault of heavens”.)  This song had the same tune as another famous Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”  Whitfield loved the song, but did not care for the opening line.  He changed the opening line to further connect this song with the birth of Christ.  His new first line was the now famous, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!”  Whitfield made this change, but never asked his friend Wesley for permission to do so.  This outraged Wesley.  Even after Whitfield’s version grew in popularity and became very well know, Wesley refused to acknowledge or sing the Whitfield abridged version of his song.  Can you imagine that?  The author of one of the most famous Christmas songs ever written never sang it!  About 100 years later the tune was changed to the current form by Felix Mendelsson.

What are your Christmas traditions?  What do you do every year at Christmas time that you would be very upset if it changed?  For some it is the day and time that presents are opened.  For others it is the songs that you “should sing” in church or on Christmas Eve.  For others it is a particular service (and time) that must be attended or a particular passage of Scripture that must be the text for that service.  Whatever it is, there are somethings that just “have to happen” in order for it to be Christmas for you.  What happens if your form changes?  What happens if you open presents on Christmas day instead of Christmas Eve?  What happens if you sing a contemporary song instead of “Silent Night”?  What happens if the “wrong passage” is preached at the Christmas service?  If these changes happen, will you refuse to sing?

May we learn something from Wesley’s folly.  May we learn that most of the traditions we embrace today have evolved over time.  Santa Claus has not always been at the mall, Candles weren’t always a part of Christmas Eve services, and at one time, it was the “Welkin,” not the “Herald Angels” that were ringing/singing.  At one time, maybe the greatest Christmas hymn in existence today sounded like an Easter song to our modern ear.  The key is not the form, but the spirit behind it.  Whitfield and Mendelssohn improved Wesley’s hymn.  Is it possible that God might be using some of the changes in your Christmas worship celebrations to increase your soul’s rejoicing this season?  Don’t refuse to sing.  Join the angel chorus and worship Christ the new born King!

Suggested song for today:  “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 14: The Gift – The Invitations Go Out

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 14

The invitations go out (Luke 2:8-10)

I still remember the morning when our son was born.  It was truly an event to celebrate!  After 11 years of marriage, our family had grown from two to three, and joy filled our hearts.  When Josh was born, the news was so great that we could not keep it to ourselves . . . we had to get the word out.  We made phone calls, sent birth announcements, and even had friends decorate our front lawn — all announcing the arrival of this precious newborn!

As I think back on how we announced Josh’s birth, however, I am mindful of the fact that we were quite focused in our announcement.  The waves of people we informed were customized to our situation.  We did not take out an ad in the “Oklahoman” newspaper, or notify ABC News.  Instead, we contacted friends and family in a very targeted way.

In a similar way, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God the Father could not keep the news to Himself.  After thousands of years of relating to His creation, His one Son had now taken on flesh and entered the world.  The Father was so overjoyed, He began sending birth announcements to the world.  He had Angels sing to shepherds and He placed a star in the sky for the Magi.  Far more than just placing an ad in the newspaper, these two announcements were a very targeted form of communication letting us know something of the purpose of Jesus’ life.

The shepherds were common, working class people in Jesus’ day.  These Jewish commoners sleeping in a dirty field receive an announcement to remind the world that Jesus would be more than just the Messiah of the Government Palace or Temple, but that He came to seek and to save all Israel.  The shepherds became a figure of the scope of Jesus’ saving work in Israel.

The Magi were Gentiles.  These foreign star gazers bring gifts to the new born King reminding all that Jesus’ rule was not just Jewish.  He came to provide a way for any person of any ethnicity to be saved.  The Magi (in some senses) represent me (and probably you), a person of non-Jewish origin forever changed by Israel’s Prince of Peace.

This Christmas as you set up your nativity set and place the wise men and the shepherds beside the manger, may you remember the targeted communication that brought them there . . . and the blessed hope that means for you and me.

Suggested song for today:  “Angels from the Realms of Glory”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 13: The Gift – What if Jesus Had Not Been Born?

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 13

What if Jesus had not been born?  (Luke 2:6-7)

Have you ever stopped to think what life would be like without Christmas?  If somehow it were possible to eliminate Christmas from the landscape of human history, what would be the net effect?  In answering that question, here is a sort of “un-Christmas” list of the things lost if Christmas never happened:

  • Wal Mart would be forced to find other items to fill their shelves from August to December.
  • Ebenezer Scrooge would have been able to work every day in December without any “unwanted visitors.”
  • The average man would own 10 less “bad ties” and the average woman would own 14 less “decorative items,” the cumulative result of one less yearly gift giving mandate.
  • Hallmark would go out of business.
  • The Grinch would have to find something else to steal.
  • Families would no longer get together for big parties and meals at the end of every December.
  • Jimmy Stewart would never have realized that he had a wonderful life.
  • We would never have heard anything about flying reindeer or jolly overweight men in red suits giving gifts to those who have been “nice”.

As sad as it would be to give up all that, the loss of Christmas would cost humanity so much more.  To fully understand the impact of a Christmasless history, we have to go back and investigate the origin of Christmas and the reason for this season of celebration.

If Christmas were truly lost, the greatest impact on humanity would be that mankind would be separated from God forever.  That’s right.  Without Christmas, you and I would stand no chance at gaining access to heaven after we die and no opportunity to have a relationship with God in the here and now.  If Christmas were skipped historically speaking, humanity would be without hope.

All humanity suffers from a terminal condition known theologically as “sin.”  Sin is anything that falls short of God’s perfect standard.  Any honest survey of our own lives informs us that there is plenty in our lives that falls short of divine perfection.  The problem with the sin in our lives is that it has a consequence.  The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that the “wages of sin is death.”  Therefore, because of our sin, a price of death has to be paid.  When Jesus was born into the world 2,000 years ago at the first Christmas, He started His earthly life so that He could end it on the cross.  Without physical birth, physical death would be unattainable, so He was born . . . and He was born to die in our place.  Your sin (and mine) demands a death, only who will die for your sin?  There are only two options.  Either you will pay the price for your own sin and after your physical death be separated from God forever in hell, or you can put your faith in Jesus Christ.  If you do, then the death He died in His Passion will pay the penalty for your sins, so that you might spend eternity with God in heaven.

If Christmas never happened, Wal Mart would find another way to sell toys and decorations, people would find other ways to honor each other with gifts, families would gather for celebrations at New Year’s, and Hollywood would entertain us at Winter Wonderlands instead of at the North Pole.  Life would move on in each of these areas.  However, if Christmas never happened, mankind would be without a Savior . . . and there is no other solution to that problem.  This year, as you celebrate the holidays, remember the part of Christmas that you cannot afford to skip.  Without Christ in your heart, your life and future are without hope.  When Jesus was born … so was our future.

Suggested song for today:  “Silent Night”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 12: The Gift – Footnotes to His Story

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 12

Footnotes to His Story (Luke 2:1-5)

Growing up I was very optimistic about my future. Let me give you an example. Back in 1984 when the Olympics were in Los Angeles, I remember dreaming that one day I would be a part of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. I loved playing basketball, and thought I had a “realistic” shot at making the team one day. I actually did the math and thought that I would only have two chances to make the team – 1992 and 1996. I thought I would only have the chance for those two Olympics because I would be in the NBA in 1997, thus making me ineligible for an amateur competition (the Olympics at that time were only open to amateurs). Best I can tell, I wanted to be an Olympian for three reasons:

  • A love of America. Putting on the stars and bars and taking on the world was an incredibly motivating idea.
  • A love of Basketball. I thought I had the skills to compete.

By the time 1992 rolled around, I no longer lived in Bartlesville . . . and I no longer thought I could be an Olympian. Though the inclusion of the professionals did not help me (thanks a lot Dream Team), the reason I did not make it to the Olympics in 1992 was that I was not good enough to make the team. Time has an incredible ability to kill our dreams, doesn’t it? The longer we live, the more we are in tune with our own abilities and liabilities. The more basketball I played against better and better competition, the more I realized that I was not going to be the next Mark Price or even the next Tim Legler. My talent ceiling was 6A sports in Oklahoma. Getting a realistic picture of what I could accomplish caused me to alter my idealistic notion of being an Olympic champion.

What about you? What did you used to think you were going to grow up to be? How has time changed your hopes and dreams?

While it is fun and nostalgic to look back on our dreams of fame, it is tragic when we let the passing of time ebb away at the confidence we have in our spiritual lives. For far too many of us, we trust God with less each passing year. This happens because over time we become more and more acquainted with our lack of ability to accomplish things we genuinely desire. Year after year, an illness remains, a relationship deteriorates, a sin struggle lingers, depression clings on. Because of the persistent nature of some of our struggles, and our lack of ability to change them, we begin to trust God with less. As we become aware of our liabilities, we begin to limit our expectations. When we limit our expectations, we shrink our dreams. When we shrink our dreams, we have a tendency to shrink our God as well.

The flaw in all this is that we are attaching our hopes and dreams in the areas that matter most to us only to our own ability. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have a God we can trust for things way larger than that! Think about it: if you are a believer in Jesus, you are trusting God for forgiveness of all your sins. Your ability to be forgiven has nothing to do with your ability to accomplish something yourself, but it has to do with God’s ability to do more to you and through you than you could ever do alone! God forgives by sending His Son to die on the cross for us. That is how we are forgiven. However, as believers live out their spiritual lives, we can allow time to cause us to focus more on what we can do and less on what God can do. When we do that, our vision for tomorrow deflates.

This year, this Christmas, I want to encourage you to inflate your vision again. Trust God more this coming year for things bigger than what you can accomplish on your own. I want to encourage you in this direction by looking at the first few words in Luke 2. At the beginning of the story of Jesus’ birth, Luke says this, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. . .” If you have been a Christian for a long time (or if you have recently watched the “Charlie Brown Christmas” special), no doubt these words are very familiar to you. In fact, the name Caesar Augustus is one of the most famous names of any Caesar in the history of the Roman Empire. But who was Caesar Augustus and why do we know his name today? Answering that question is a very interesting story.

In 63 BC, a young man named Gaius Octavius was born. Octavius was in the Roman army. At that time, a man named Julius Caesar was the dictator of Rome. Julius noticed the great skill and leadership ability that Octavius had. Octavius was Julius’s nephew. Julius had no children of his own. Unknown to Octavius, Julius had written into his will to adopt Octavius upon his death, and make him the heir to his fortune and political successor. On the Ides of March, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by political adversaries in the Roman Senate. Octavius was summoned to Rome to hear a reading of his late Uncle’s will. In the will, Octavius found out his future would be changed forever. He had been post-humously adopted by his uncle Julius and at the age of 19, Octavius had become the leader of Rome. As a tribute, Octavius took on Julius’s name “Caesar,” making him Octavius Caesar. In 42 BC, the Roman Senate deified Julius Caesar, making him the “Divine Julius” and Octavius, “The Son of the Divine” or as we might say, he became known as the “Son of God.” Then, in a twist that changed the course of Rome, Octavius changed the Roman constitution making himself an Emperor and Rome an Empire. At that time, they changed his name to Augustus . . . which means “Sacred one” . . . Thus Augustus Caesar became known as the Sacred One, the Son of God. He was the apparent leader of the world at the time of Jesus birth.

Caesar Augustus was such a powerful man that he was able to speak a word and make the entire Roman Empire move. When you are an emperor and people think you are a god, you have lots of power. That is why when Caesar developed a new tax code and said that people needed to go to their ancestral homes to register, people started walking – among them Mary and Joseph.

Now imagine that you were alive in the Roman Empire on the night that Jesus was born, and imagine that you were walking with a set of travelers to the town of Bethlehem to register for the census. Imagine that someone were to say to you that alive in the world at that time was one known as the Son of God, the Sacred one, who would be known for 2,000 years and counting into the future. Imagine that someone were to tell you on the way to Bethlehem that 2,000 years later all of human history would hinge around this Son of God and what He would accomplish with His life. Imagine that someone were to tell you that 2,000 years later, people would look at pictures and symbols of this Sacred One and think of how the Son of God had changed their lives. Imagine that. I would imagine that if someone would have told you all that on that night, you would have thought they were talking about Caesar Augustus. In reality, however, they were talking about a child that would be born later that night in a cave and placed in an animals feeding bin.

Despite the drastic differences between Jesus and Augustus on the first Christmas night (one in a manger, the other on a throne), the world has come to remember the one, only because of His association with the other. Think about it, the man who was responsible for starting the Roman Empire . . . the man who was known as a god by the most advanced civilization in the world at that time, would be known to us only because he was the ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. As Andy Stanley has correctly said, Augustus Caesar is merely a footnote in the history of God’s Story in Christ. Men and women, we serve a God who can make a baby born in a manger infinitely more powerful than the leader of the “free world.”

This Christmas, as you ponder anew what the Almighty can do, I want you to stop limiting what God can do. I want you to renew your belief that God can do big things. As the Christmas story is read and you hear of Caesar Augustus, I want you to remember the power of God. Caesar thought he was a god and tried to make himself famous, but in the end, he was a footnote in history. Time has taught us of the limitations of human power. However, time has also taught us of the enduring nature of God’s story. When we are attached to Christ, He can do infinitely abundantly beyond all we ask or think. I want you to trust God again for big things this year, because we serve a big God.

Now, I want to ask you this question. Who are you trusting tonight? For the problem of our sin. For the problem of our uncertainty. For the problem of our mortality. For the things you truly long for. Who are you trusting? Yourself? The best a person could do is what Augustus did . . . and he is rotting in a tomb. Trust instead in the One who has gone from the manger to a throne that will never be unseated. He can offer us forgiveness, and hope. He is the One we orient our history around. His story gives meaning to ours. My dreams are bigger because I am a part of His team.

Suggested song for today:  “Breath of Heaven”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 11: The Gift – B Side

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 11

B Side (Luke 1:67-80)

What is your favorite Christmas song?  Christmas is truly a musical holiday.  I love the “soundtrack” that plays in the background of December every year.  Whether you are in church, driving in the car, or even shopping at the local mall, songs of our Savior fill the air from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Sometimes, we think that our love for music at Christmas time is a part of the commercialization of the holiday, but a closer look at the biblical account of Christmas reveals that the first Advent was also a musical.  From Mary’s “Magnificat” to Harold and his angels singing, music/poetry was a key way heaven and earth welcomed the newborn king.

As you look at the albums first recorded around the birth of Christ, however, you will notice that both famous AND more obscure songs were recorded around the time of the manger.  Right after Mary’s hit song, Zechariah records what some may see as the “B side” to her 45.  You may have skipped this track in the past, but today, I want you to “press play” and read its beautiful lyrics found in Luke 1:67-79.

Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist.  John’s conception definitely took Zechariah by surprise, however, as both he and his wife Elizabeth were well advanced in age.  Like Abraham and Sarah before them, God had special things in store for this elderly couple by filling their barren womb with joy and purpose.  The song you just read was sung by Zechariah at John’s circumcision ceremony on the 8th day of his life.

After waiting a lifetime for the joy of fatherhood, it is striking that Zechariah spends most of the time at his son’s circumcision singing about Jesus, not John.  Zechariah “got it” . . . he understood that the real joy in his AND John’s life would be their connection to Jesus.  Zechariah waited a lifetime to be a father, but God’s people had waited a few millennia for Messiah’s birth.  Therefore, the song centers around Jesus and His work.

At the end of the song, is one of the most poetic and beautiful statements about the work of Jesus in all of Scripture.  “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

I am so thankful that in Christ we have a hope that one day all death will be replaced with life eternal, and all darkness will be illuminated with His light.  This is the reason Zechariah sings . . . and the reason we sing as well.

Suggested song for today:  “Hope has a Name”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

The Gift (part 3) Sermon Preview

Let’s be honest for a moment … the Elf on the Shelf is a terrifying concept.  Isn’t it?  I mean seriously.  Santa sends an elf to live in your home and spy on you for a few weeks before Christmas to make sure you are “good enough” to be on the”nice” list?  Sweet dreams, junior.

No thank you.  I had enough trouble falling asleep as a child with the shadows of tree branches dancing on my curtains and an overactive imagination.  Actual creepy dolls that moved day after day recording my actions?  Yikes.

Now, of course, these dolls really ARE NOT connected to reality.  There is no chain of command outside our home spying on us through cameras hidden in dolls.  They don’t need to resort to those tactics.  “The establishment” already has Siri and Alexa to do this covert work for them … but I digress.

I want to focus for just a moment, though, on the concept of Christmas gifts going to the “nice” and not the “naughty.”  Where did this idea come from anyway?  Well in the west, many countries had traditions about Santa leaving sweets or toys for children if they were “good” while leaving sticks or a lump of coal if they were “bad.”  Exactly what constituted good and bad?  I have no idea … but it was another tool to try to keep children in line.  This idea was popularized even further in the 1934 song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”  In this song, the familiar lyric is shared, “He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice, Santa Claus is comin’ to town!”  

The reality is, deep within each of us we have such a belief in people “getting what they deserve” that we even write this narrative into our fairy tales.  I think our desire for this is actually anchored in our desire for justice.  There is a problem with this way of thinking, though.  How do I know “how good is good enough?”  I mean, none of us have been “nice”  all year through.  It is 2020 for crying out loud!  our normal sinfulness has been amplified by being sifted through this pandemic’s strain!  Since none of us are 100% “nice” how “nice” do we need to be to get a “Christmas Gift?”  Or will Santa’s delivery schedule just be that much shorter this year?

Well, the reality is this.  Our God sees and knows all.  He (not Santa) sees us when we’re sleeping.  He knows when we’re awake.  He knows when we’ve been bad or good.  

Oh no.  For goodness sakes!

All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God.  The more we examine our lives, the more real this reality becomes.  Therefore, are we without hope?  Is there no way we can receive “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and “grace upon grace”?  

Well, if our reception of these gifts depends on our “niceness” then we are out of luck.  But by an amazing demonstration of grace, we find out that Jesus is a gift given by God NOT to those on the “nice” list, but the naughty!  Not just to the clean but to the dirty!!  Jesus said so Himself, “I did not come for the healthy, I came for the sick.”  He came to rescue sick and sinful and dirty people –  like you and me.

This Sunday at Wildwood in our 9:00, 10:15, and 11:30 services (and at 10:15 online in the stream wildwoodchurch.org/live ) we will be looking at part 3 of our “The Gift” sermon series, seeing how the Gift of Jesus is given to the dirty … and we are reminded of that reality through the angelic message to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20.  Join us this Sunday as we look at this blessed section of God’s Word together.  Join us, and bring friends!  This passage is a gift for all of us to enjoy.

 

This sermon is part of the 2020 Christmas series at Wildwood.  We have also prepared a Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

Wildwood has put together a list of Christmas songs in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 10: The Gift – Joseph’s Encounter

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 10

Joseph’s encounter (Matthew 1:18-25)

For good reason, Mary (the mother of Jesus) gets a lot of attention in the Christmas story.  After all, the Gospel of Luke gives us a number of details (throughout Luke 1-2) about Mary’s experiences while Jesus was in the womb and at His birth.  Further, it seems as though Joseph died by the time Jesus’ public ministry took off, while Mary lived on.  Therefore, there are more biblical records of Mary’s experience than Joseph’s.

All that said, it is important for us to think through Joseph’s experience in the story of Jesus’ birth – as it is a remarkable story of faith and faithfulness.

Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of Joseph’s experience during the time Jesus was inside Mary’s womb.  Joseph and Mary were betrothed, but not yet married.  This meant that they had made the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together, but they had not yet begun to live together and sleep together.  This month, we have already looked at Mary’s experience from Luke 1 as God announced (through an Angel) that Mary would be pregnant (even though she was a virgin) and have a Son who would be the Messiah.  This was HUGE news, and certainly would have been hard to believe for anyone who was not talking to Angels!  And at first, Joseph was NOT talking to Angels.  God first brought the news to Mary before He brought the news to Joseph.  So, with Mary pregnant, and Joseph looking only to natural explanations for this situation, Joseph decides to divorce Mary quietly – probably so that she could then marry whoever was the father of the child.

But it was not God’s will that Joseph would leave Mary.  So, an Angel intervened and visited Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was indeed supernatural, and that Mary was telling the truth that the Baby was the Messiah.

 

Can you imagine being a fly on the wall of Joseph’s room as he prays out loud, processing the news of Mary’s pregnancy and the Angel’s visit.  What must Joseph have been thinking in that moment?  Ultimately, Joseph chooses to trust the Lord (and not his emotion, reason, or logic) and stay with Mary.  As a result, generations of people all over the world have named their kids “Joe” and put statues of him out each Christmas season.  What a great choice Joseph made!

 

Take a moment and ponder the things about God that don’t make sense to you.  Things you might wish to “dismiss quietly” instead of receiving them as true.  Let this song remind you that though God’s ways are sometime “strange” to us, there is salvation and blessing in God’s plans in this world.

Suggested song for today:  “Strange Way to Save the World”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links: