The Hope Of Christmas

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” – Luke 2:13-14. 

I enjoy the time leading up to Christmas as much as I do Christmas day itself. There is something special about this time of year. It’s the Christmas music. It’s the feeling of love and hope that overwhelms me this time of year. It’s seeing God’s love in this world and the hope of what is to come. 

Hope is is not a granted wish or a favor performed. No, it is far greater than that. It is a faith-filled, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves us and wants the best for us. Hope isn’t actually something we do, but something we receive, like grace. But for hope to exist, there must also be hopelessness. If everything was perfect or even near perfect there would not be any need for hope. But our world was far from perfect. And in all the millions of concerted efforts to make the world a better place, to bring hope to humanity, real hope came unexpectedly. God came to earth to provide a once-and-for-all substitute for the sins of everyone on the first Christmas. 

It is impossible not to be in awe of God’s design and methods. Who could have conceived of the plan of salvation or the virgin birth. Who could have imagined the plan for the walls of Jericho to crumble, for hungry lions to turn into Daniel’s pet kittens, or the Red Sea to part and offer up dry land. Who could have conceived of the Son of God dying on the cross for the sins of the world. And who can conceive the plans God has for me and you and the blessings and miracles we could see this Christmas. So neither do I know how my problems will be solved, or what miracles I’ll be blessed to see this Christmas. 

Isaiah 9:6-7 talks about the hope of the prophecy being fulfilled that brought us a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The last sentence of verse seven says it’s “The passionate commitment of the Lord” that will make this happen. Romans 15:13 says: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

Why is there hope? Because Jesus was born. So we celebrate the hope of Christmas today. I hope you take a few moments this Christmas season to reflect on and to thank God for bringing us this hope.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a hope in a Jesus Christ life look like?
  2. How does hope change the way we live our lives?

Set Free

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” – Galatians 5:13-15.

In our society today the definition of freedom has become distorted. The world has confused freedom with indulgence. Christians are called to freedom (Galatians 5:13-15). Yet we are not to use our freedom as a excuse or license for self-indulgence. Freedom is not a permission slip.

It is easy to fall into what Andy Stanley calls our sin bucket mentality. Every day we fill our sin bucket and that evening we ask God to forgive us our sins, thus emptying our bucket.  Then we go about filling the bucket again the next day. Yes, we have freedom, and yes God will forgive, but freedom isn’t a license to continue filling our sin bucket.

True freedom is never freedom from responsibility, but responsibility not only for choice, but right choices. True freedom flows out of total commitment to Jesus Christ. “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  In turning control of our lives over to Him, we find true freedom—the freedom to be what we were designed to be. Using our freedom to indulge ourselves never really satisfies us as an individual or as a group. 

There was a far higher cost paid for the freedom that you and I enjoy in Christ. You and I must never take for granted His mercy, love and grace.  We are free in Christ.  There is no other freedom like it.  No king, nation, president, congress, senate, or supreme court can steal it, remove it, or destroy it.  We are held firmly in His hand: “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:36) And Jesus will not only make you free, if you let Him, He will keep you free.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you have define Christian freedom?
  2. How does Galatians 5:13-14 define Christian freedom?

A Landslide Victory

“For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!” – Deuteronomy 20:4

In every facet of life, we have seen victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. That requires a person or team to win, succeed, or be victorious at the last moment, despite the apparent likelihood of failure or defeat. A prime example is the Houston Oilers. 1993 AFC Wild Card Round, playoff game verses the Buffalo Bills known as “‘The Comeback” and rightly so. The Oilers were up 35-3 early in the second half. The Bills went on to put up an incredible 35 unanswered points and ended up winning the game in overtime 41-38. There are two opponents that we can never snatch a last minute victory over: sin and death.

The Bible tells us everyone has sinned. Every one of us occasionally pushes God aside to do what we want to do. Our sinful nature is very difficult to control and so it can easily gain control.  In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul makes an honest portrayal of his enslavement to his sinful nature. If we were to be as honest as Paul, we could probably relate to his inability to do what he wants to do or stop doing what he doesn’t want to do. It is a universal problem. Sin is one enemy we cannot defeat no matter how much time and effort we put into it.

Death is the other enemy we can’t defeat. We can’t control sin, and sin results in death. God told Adam and Eve if they sinned, they would die, and the wages of sin remains death today. (Romans 6:23) We die. It is pretty hard to argue with that fact when death has been batting a thousand since Adam and Eve.

Fortunately, God is a god of victory. In the Old Testament we see God victorious, and giving the ultimate victory to His people. But even then there were two enemies even God’s people could not defeat: sin and death. So God sends His only Son Jesus, born in manger in Bethlehem. God takes human form. “Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form.” (Philippians 2:7)

Jesus lived a human life and then went to the cross. Tortured, beaten and bloody, He died a horrible agonizing death and was buried in a tomb.  It seemed like the most devastating loss ever suffered. The one who many thought was God in the flesh was now dead and buried. Defeat seemed total and final. Except it wasn’t final, it wasn’t total It was not even defeat. It was the ultimate victory. For it was on the cross Jesus overcame our sin problem. Three days later, Jesus walked out of the grave, overcoming our death problem and setting us free.

1 Corinthians 15:57 says, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We can live with confidence. A confidence not in ourselves, but in the One who has the power to experience victory over sin and death.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a victorious life look like?
  2. Through Christ, we have victory over sin. How can that be evident in your life this week?

Live In Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” — 1 Peter 1:3.

Barack Obama once said, “If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” 2000 years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem, and the world was forever changed.  And today lives are still being forever changed.  The birth of Jesus gave people hope during biblical times and we still have that hope today. But contrary to popular opinion, hope can be turned into an actionable roadmap that literally walks you from where you are to where you want to be within the very near future.  Hope then, is not simply emotion, attitude, or a feeling. It is confidence that defines us.

Some people may well think that being a Christian just means professing a faith in Jesus, but Jesus clearly said “Follow me.”  Sometimes, that means literally dropping everything like the first disciples, and doing what we feel called by God to do. Providing hope to others can feel risky, but often exciting, and God sustains us through the changes that are necessary.

Putting hope or faith into action can take many different shapes, but I believe it should always follow Jesus’ example of solidarity with those less fortunate, inclusion of those on the margins, and putting others before ourselves. There are so many needs out there, including at Christmas time. We can’t fix all of them, none of us have time, resources or money to fix every wrong. We have to focus on what is most important to us, or on where we can most use our knowledge and passion to make a difference, and then hope that other Christians will take up other causes.

Giving hope to others won’t be quick or easy, but it is possible.  We see examples of changing people’s lives all the time. You have to choose to get involved. It requires a resolve to get involved, to make a difference in somebody’s life this Christmas season. I pray that today you begin your journey to let hope in today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a hope filled life look like?
  2. Through Christ, we have hope. How can that be evident in your life this week?

Jesus At The Center

“for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him..”- Colossians 1:16. 

There are few things as beautiful as the stained glass windows you find in churches all over the world. The light shining through the stained glass window adds illumination and beauty. Stained glass windows tell stories, educate and inspire. At the center of many of the stained glass windows is a depiction of Christ, and that makes perfect sense. Christ is at the center of everything that we do as a people and a church, not just at Christmas or Easter, but all the time. 

As the Colossians passage above tells us, Jesus is at the center of the universe. But Jesus is not only the creator of the universe, He also continually sustains it. Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command….”  Jesus is at the center of the Bible. The New Testament begins with four different accounts of Jesus’ life. The New Testament contains a number of letters explaining more about the significance of His life, death and resurrection. But let us not forget the Old Testament spoke about Him too.

Consider the rest of the Colossians 1 passage: “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Colossians 1:17-20)

Paul wants every Christian and every person to know that Jesus Christ is preeminent. He is preeminent over His natural creation, the universe. He is preeminent over His spiritual creation, the church. Jesus Christ is the center of everything, but is He at the center of our lives? Does He have first place over your thought life? Does He have first place over your words? Does He have first place over how you use your time? Does He have first place over your finances? Does He have first place over your entertainment choices? Is Jesus the center of your life?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do this week to keep Jesus front and center in our lives?

The Same Old Story…Or Is It

“…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Over the course of human history, nearly everything has already been written about extensively. Christmas is a prime example. Every year pastors across the country have the task to create another Christmas sermon. But after many years of preaching the same message, you can get repetitive. The message every year should remain the same, but you need a bit of a creative twist on the way you present it every year to keep the message fresh. It is not an easy task. What can be said that hasn’t already been said? How do we find new angles and approaches to engage people with the Christmas narrative?

Pastor’s may be worrying unnecessarily. Since Christians began celebrating Christ’s birth, preachers have given a Christmas sermon. For nearly 2,000 years, the story has remained the same, yet it continues to spark the imaginations of Christians and non-Christians around the world: the creator became a creature, the mighty became weak. And through the Incarnation, God redeemed the world. The story has brought Christians, since the first Christmas, to wonder and awe at the miracle. There is so much more to say. There is no chance that we will ever run out of something to say about Christmas. C.S. Lewis once said, ”Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Every passage of the Bible is telling us something about Christmas. The Old Testament tells us about the promise that the Savior would come to this earth, the four Gospels tell us about how that promise was kept in the person of Jesus Christ, and the whole rest of the New Testament tells us about the results of His coming. The message of Christmas is summarized in John 3:16-17: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

While it is hard to say something new about Christmas, it is not as difficult to do something we may not do every Christmas: to pause and reflect and to remember the reason for the season. This Christmas pause to reflect: What’s taken a hold of you? Most likely, it’s the things you behold. Take time each day to stop the holiday preparation frenzy and prepare your heart to celebrate Jesus. Worship Him. Bask in His grace. Rest in His presence. And share with others the things you discover about Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the reality of Christmas for you?
  2. Take a moment to reflect: How can you behold Jesus this Christmas season? Ask the Holy Spirit to captivate your heart with His presence.

Living In Victory

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Romans 6:6

The world is looking for victory over all the doom and gloom that permeates the news. Some people believe the world is falling apart, and the solutions seem out of our grasp. You don’t have the solutions to the world’s problems. Neither do I. Nor does anyone else. Your thoughts and ideas matter, but so do the ideas and thoughts of some 7 billion other people. 

There is good news, however. No matter what situation you may find yourself in right now, Jesus won the victory for you. Christmas time and Easter are the times that we pause to realize the immensity of Christ’s triumph. It is unprecedented, complete, and eternal.

Jesus gives us the victory in any area of our lives. So we do not need to struggle or strive or fight in our strength – that only goes so far and lasts only so long – but we have this supernatural, accessible-at-all-times power within us that has and will enable us to overcome all things. And what power it is. The uniqueness of Christianity is that God has supplied everything we need for life and godliness. I do not have to have more willpower, or study more or work harder to achieve victory. it’s right there, right within you and within me, ready to be accessed and put into action. It’s real. It’s accessible. 1 Corinthians 15:57 says, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Very few people would be prepared to live the life that the Apostle Paul lived. He endured trials, persecutions, and hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). It seems he faced every kind of opposition anyone could ever face; and yet he learned to live in Christ’s victory in whatever state he was (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul learned how to turn every situation (whether impossible or otherwise) into contentment.

In Romans 8, Paul again reveals the complete victory which is ours through Jesus Christ. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (vs, 37)  We are more than conquerors through Jesus Who loves us. This is the kind of victory that God has for those who love Him and who believe the promises of His Word. 

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, it is well to remember that Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of the Savior who would give us victory over our greatest enemy. And because Jesus came, we can be changed, and we can know that He’s restoring all things. That’s the meaning of Christmas.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine yourself involved in a conversation with a neighbor or colleague at work about Christmas when this person says, “what is this victory I keep hearing about?” What would be your response?

Dirty Work

“And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him…the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”  – 1 John 3:5,8.

In these two verses, you get to the heart of Christmas These verses summarize why Jesus came to earth and His life, death, and resurrection. This is the whole reason for Christmas.

These two verses give two reasons for Jesus coming to earth. Jesus came to take away sins and to destroy the works of the devil. They are two sides to the same coin since Satan’s works are sins. 

Jesus lived the perfect life. When Christ died for our sins on the cross, Satan was disarmed and defeated. This is the reason for Christmas. Jesus came to deal with our greatest problem. He came to destroy the mortal enemy of our souls, Satan himself, and all of his works.

D-Day, or June 6, 1944 is the day that the allies established a beachhead on the European mainland in Normandy, France. While it was the day when, for all practical purposes, the allies won the war, in fact the war ended some 11 months later. Christmas is when a different war began. And Easter is when the war was won. When Jesus returns the war will be over.  We live in between those events. But the victory has been won.   

That’s the meaning of Christmas. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s anticipate the realization of the victory that our Lord and Savior won. And because of God’s victory we can have victory as well.  Our victory is not dependent upon educational degrees, accomplishments, church attendance or how often we pray. Victory is ours because of what Jesus has done. The work of redemption was completed through His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. 

The birth of Jesus was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. It’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. So what if Jesus was never born… then there would be no cross and no one to destroy the works of the devil and provide each of us with victory over sin. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it change your view of Christmas to know the soft little hands and feet of baby Jesus would one day stagger up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross?
  2. If you were God, would you have chosen the same method to reach humanity? Why or why not?

The Devil Is In The Details

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” – 2 Corinthians 4:4. (NIV)

The devil is real. He has real powers. And he has real intentions and an overall goal. He doesn’t want to merely disrupt your dealings with God, he wants to destroy you. He is incessant, meaning he will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. And he has been at it a long time, starting with Adam and Eve.

The first thing Satan tried to do was to destroy God’s relationship with the first human beings. He subtly asked Eve, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). He cleverly avoided mentioning all that God had given to her and Adam—every other plant, tree and kind of fruit in the garden. Instead he succeeded in getting her to concentrate on the fruit of the one tree from which God had forbidden them to eat.

He is sly and subtle. He introduced his first lie, telling her she would not die if she took of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:4). He followed with another falsehood, saying she will be like God if she eats the fruit. (Genesis 3:5). She succumbed to his argument and the rest is history.

Nothing has changed since that day. Satan still wants to thwart God’s plan in any way he can. He wants to prevent us from developing a close relationship with God. And as a master manipulator of mankind, he has many methods and tools at his disposal.

In His parable of the farmer scattering seeds, Jesus explains that as soon as some people hear God’s truth, “the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved.” (Luke 8:12). Satan wants you to struggle through your entire life. The devil wants you to be sick, depressed, down in the dumps, glum, and miserable. The devil wants you to feel like you will never hit the target with your life.

The devil wants to make your life a less-than-gratifying, unhappy, uneventful life.  So, what is the answer? Jesus is the answer. Jesus was born to destroy the works of the devil. John 10:10 tells us, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Did this week’s sermon change your perspective on the devil? If so, how?
  2. If the devil is the problem, how is Jesus the solution?

Does Christmas Still Matter?

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8.

If you want to generate some interesting conversation, just ask people what they think about Christmas. If you did, you would encounter some people who cannot get past the story of Christmas. The story of Christmas is the story of God coming to set His people free. That is the good news of Jesus Christ at Christmas. But people give you a quizzical look and say, “dude, the world is a mess.” So they doubt, they have issues with the church and they poke holes at faith. They accept the fact that there was a man that was born 2,000 years ago named Jesus. He was a good teacher, but that was then and this is now. He is no longer relevant, in fact, should we keep Christmas at all?  Could you imagine with me for a minute what life would be like if their wish was granted.

For me to imagine a life without Jesus is difficult, because we all have had some understanding and concept of Jesus but, on the other hand, I know that a life without Christ is a life without purpose or point.    

There is a lot of talk in the world about what the meaning and purpose of this life is. Scholars and philosophers discuss that question and people come up with varying answers. Some say that being a good person is the purpose of this life. Some say having stuff and resources and leading a happy life is the purpose in life. Some say positively affecting the world is the purpose in this life. Solomon was a person who tried all sorts of things to find meaning, and in the end this was his conclusion as to where we find our meaning, purpose and value in life:

“That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

There are many things that I hope to accomplish in this life. I strive to be a good father and husband. I desire to be a good influence in the community, but I do not find my meaning of life in those things. I find my meaning in Christ. If it was not for Jesus, my life would be a wreck. I would be without hope, without direction, without ambition, without aim, without anything significant to live for, without meaning and without purpose in life. So Christmas matters.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you find hard at Christmas time?
  2. How could you look for Jesus in Christmas this year?
  3. Who could you share Jesus with this Christmas? How?