THE PASTOR’s PEN DECEMBER 23, 2018
Dear Church Family and Friends,
Well, the calendar says that Christmas will be here this Tuesday.
I get a little uptight this time of the year because I realize the responsibility that is mine in presenting the Christmas message, and ordering church services trying to get people to think about God loving us so much that He would come into our world, become a part of our lives, & die on the cross for us.
This Pastor’s Pen I am calling, “If Christmas Comes.” That naturally prompts the question, “Do you mean that it is possible for Christmas not to come?”
Yes, it is possible, for even with all the activities of the season, too often & for too many, when Christmas is over we’re not any different than we were before. Because, you see, when Christmas really comes, it changes us – it makes a difference in our life.
So, every year, for millions of people, Christmas never really comes. Oh, I’m not saying that Dec. 25th doesn’t come. It comes, but Christmas doesn’t really come into their hearts & their lives.
My prayer is that somehow, this Christmas, God’s Spirit will come upon us & change us, & Christmas will really happen. With that in mind, I have noted some things I want to share with you as we celebrate this Christmas season.
The Christmas season has come. Christmas decorations went up, Santa Claus started making his appearance at the malls, & newspapers nearly doubled in size because of all the advertisements they contained.
In fact, it seems that more attention is being given to the shopping habits of Americans on the day after Thanksgiving – we now call it “Black Friday” – than ever before. Both on TV & in our newspapers there were pictures of crowded malls, & people shopping.
And during this season, we’re encouraged to buy things we can’t afford, with money we don’t have, to give to people we’re not even sure we like. The commercial side of Christmas has really arrived.
The social side of Christmas has begun, too. It’s a festive time, a time for dressing up, going to parties, & enjoying ourselves with family & friends.
And as the Day approaches, many will travel, finding a way to get over the river & through the woods to grandmother’s house. And for those who can’t get there physically, we’ll be there in our dreams.
Did you hear about the man in Salt Lake City who decided to send out 600 Christmas cards to total strangers?
He got telephone directories from several cities, addressed 600 cards to people he had never met, put his return address on the envelopes, & mailed them.
Amazingly, he received 117 responses from total strangers. One lady wrote, “It was so good to hear from you. Your card arrived the day I got home from the hospital, & I can’t tell you what an encouragement it was to hear from an old friend.”
Another wrote, “I have to admit that when we received your card we couldn’t really picture you. We had to think hard for a long time before we remembered. By the way, please give our regards to your father. He is such a wonderful man!”
But I think this one took the cake. One guy wrote, “It was so good to hear from you after all these years. By the way, we’re going to be in Salt Lake City next summer. Would it be all right if we came & spent a few days with you?”
You need to be careful who you send Christmas cards to, don’t you?
The Christmas season has arrived in the church, too. We see the beautiful decorations, & lift our voices in song & special services celebrating the “Reason for the Season.”
But will Christmas really come? Oh, the earth will make its 359th revolution of the year & Dec. 25th will come right on schedule. But will Christmas really come? That’s the question, for there are several things that have to happen before Christmas really does come in our hearts & in our lives.
Looking at Galatians 4:19, I realize this verse is not usually considered a Christmas verse, but listen to what Paul says, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”
We often talk about being “born again” when we become a Christian. But may I suggest that Christmas is also a good time to remind us of our need for Jesus to be born again in our lives, our families, & our relationships.
That is what Paul is praying for, that somehow in a wonderful way Christ will be formed inside the hearts & lives of each of us.
We sing about it in our songs.
“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend on us, we pray.
Cast out our sins & enter in. Be born in us today.”
And another beautiful song mentions some of the names of Jesus: He is also called “Emmanuel, God with us!”
We have adapted fairly well to our environment. We have learned how to clean the air we breathe, purify the water we drink, & enrich the food we eat.
We’ve adapted ourselves to technology, too. We’ve learned how to program our computers, operate our smart phones, & figure out the GPS system. Over all, we have adapted pretty well to our modern world.
But we have not learned how to get along with each other. Even though more than 2000 years have passed by since that first Christmas, & even though we are reminded every year of the angel’s message, “Peace on earth…” we still haven’t learned to live in peace with each other.
So our greatest need this Christmas is to have Jesus formed in us, to live with us, to show us how to accept & forgive each other, how to get rid of the tensions that divide us, & how to overcome our fear & prejudice.
Let me raise another question, “How will Christmas come?” When you read the Christmas accounts in Matthew & Luke, you read about Mary & Joseph making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. You read about crowds, & people who have come to pay their taxes.
Luke takes us through the whole story of shepherds & angels, of Jesus being born, & then being wrapped in swaddling clothes & placed in a manger.
Then he adds something we could easily miss. And I think he adds it because he knows someone will ask, “Why was he born in a stable?” Almost as an afterthought, Luke says, “Because there was no room in the inn.”
There it is, & it bothers us. Luke doesn’t condemn the innkeeper. He doesn’t even comment about him. He doesn’t say, “He was bad,” or “He was good.” He doesn’t say, “He was right,” or “He was wrong.”
But forever this crowded inn that shut out Jesus stands as a symbol of crowded, cluttered lives that still have no room for Him. It’s not that we’re bad people, it’s just that we’re busy people, & our schedules are so full.
But if you don’t have time for Him, then your schedules are just too cluttered. You need to allot some quiet time to be still & to acknowledge that He is God.
Then I think something else must happen before Christmas really comes, & that is that we must desire Him to come – to come into our lives.
There is a part of me that wants Him to come. I want His blessings, but I’m not sure I want His cross. I want His forgiveness, but not His judgment.
I want His salvation, but I’m not sure I want to serve. I want a Savior, but I’m not sure I want a Lord to direct what I do.
Yet, as I read the Bible, I’m convinced that the one thing Jesus teaches over & over again is that we must make His kingdom our top priority.
There are a couple of short parables that Jesus tells that teach us that. These two parables take up just a little portion of the New Testament. But they speak volumes.
Jesus tells about a pearl merchant who has looked all his life for the perfect pearl. He has gone from marketplace to marketplace, from city to city.
He has accumulated some wealth in the process. He has a bag of precious pearls, & other valuables that he has collected. But he keeps looking for the perfect pearl.
Finally, one day there it is right before his eyes, & within his reach this wonderful, fabulous, perfect pearl. So he approaches the merchant, trying to act uninterested & asks, “How much?”
The merchant says, “It will cost everything you have.” Well, he tries to bargain with the merchant. “How about this much?” or “How about that much?”
But the merchant never comes off his price. “It will take everything you have.” Finally, all his other precious pearls, & all his wealth, are placed on the counter, & he walks away with this one wonderful pearl.
People, I think Christmas will never really be Christmas for us as long as we have just a casual desire for entering the kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “Everything! Everything you are. Even your life must focus on this one great treasure, the kingdom of God.”
Finally, if Christmas is really going to be Christmas for us, then I think we must approach Christmas with a feeling of humility.
I grew up on a farm. In the wintertime during the coldest months we kept the animals inside the barn.
Early in the morning Papaw would go out to the barn & milk the cows. If you went with him, you would have to wear galoshes or boots because of the manure. I can still remember smelling the stench & seeing the steam rising off the floor.
And when I think about him & the farm, I remember that old barn, & I smell the smells & see the sights once again.
Then I think of Bethlehem & that stable, & those animals. That stable must have smelled a whole lot like my uncle’s barn. I see Mary & Joseph entering that stable, & inside her womb is God in the flesh. And I marvel that God would come down that far & sacrifice that much to enter our world.
Yet, it was for a reason. God was stripping everything away & saying, “Now there is nothing that stands between us. There’s no place for arrogance or pride. You can’t come here if you’re looking down your nose at someone else.”
And through the doors of that stable come cows & sheep & livestock, & Mary & Joseph, & each of us. We come to worship Him, God born in the flesh.
Without anything to brag about we come humbly before Him & say, “Here am I Lord, use me.”
I think that is what it will take for Christmas really to come. It will take some broken hearts & broken wills for Christ to be born again in us.
If you’re not a Christian, please realize that there is nothing that stands between you & God except yourself.
God has done everything to make it possible for you to be freed from your sin. God has done everything to make it possible for you to spend eternity with Him. And right now I extend His invitation & pray that you will respond by allowing Christmas to truly come and allow Christ to be reborn in your life if He has been pushed aside. May the Spirit of Christmas Be Reborn In All Our Lives This Christmas!
Until next week, Love and prayers,
And A Very Merry Christmas!
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