Thursday, December 20, 2012

Love Made Visible

Dave Brubeck isn’t well known for music that makes profound theological statements about Christmas.  He is better known for progressive jazz songs like “Take Five” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.”  But, later in his career, Brubeck and his wife Iola crafted a lyric that could inspire the best of Christmas sermons.

One day, while driving down the road, Brubeck announced to his wife that he had finished a new song.  Being familiar with the song, Iola disagreed.  She said, “No, you haven’t finished it.” Brubeck asked, “Well, what did I leave out?” She suggested a new lyric: “God’s love made visible. He is invincible.  God’s love made visible.”  Brubeck said that her lyric “finished it.”
I think that statement could finish a lot of talk about Christmas.  Christmas is the time when God’s love is made visible.  The Gospel of John agrees in saying, “The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  On Christmas morning, the glorious love of God was seen in Jesus Christ.  His people experienced that love as they came to know Jesus.  That love spreads through them as they love the world.  As Jesus works in and through the actions of His people, the world sees the love of God.
As you go through Christmas week, make God’s love visible.  Look for Jesus Christ in the midst of all the holiday business.  As you see Him, let His love flow through you to a hurting world.  God’s love is visible this Christmas.  Your life can be a testimony to the truth of that profound lyric.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Christmas Jesus That Preaches Repentance

I love the Advent story in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus arrives and says, “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news,” (1:15).  In other words, “Check yourself! The Son of God is looking you in the eye. Pledge your undying allegiance to me!” Mark does not mention the birth or childhood of Jesus. He allows Matthew and Luke to fill in that information.  He doesn’t wax theologically about the Word incarnate.  He leaves that to John.  Mark instead announces a grown up Son of God who proclaims God’s authority, demands repentance, and imparts the Holy Spirit. This not-so-cuddly Jesus is just as much a part of the Christmas story as the baby Jesus introduced in the other gospels.

Mark’s Christmas message is different than what we hear at the mall.  The scene is set at the mall: everyone adores the sweet baby Jesus because He is as cute as a cabbage patch doll (a great stocking stuffer for your daughter, on sale for only $49.99 at Toys R US). Seldom does the mall’s depiction of the Christmas story tell the rest of the story. It doesn’t mention the perfect God of the Old Testament. It doesn’t mention human sin and the death that sin causes. It doesn’t mention that because God became human in Jesus Christ, God has conquered sin and death! That little, wonderful baby holds the keys to the world’s salvation!  The mall doesn’t share that message. It might be bad for business.

At Faith Center, don’t let the mall’s portrayal of Christmas change the Christian’s portrayal of Christmas. This Christmas, don’t let your worship stop at the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born a couple of millennia ago.  Let the reason WHY Jesus came penetrate your life. Whether you are a new convert or lifelong believer, take Mark’s good news to heart. Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. He is declaring the closeness of His Kingdom. He is calling you to repentance. Believe His good news and follow Him.  Jesus will save you.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Gift of Ol' Saint Nick

Saint Nicholas was a Christian Bishop who lived during the fourth century in Turkey.  Among many other things, Nicholas became known for giving gifts anonymously.  Legend has it that Nicholas gave to a poor man who needed money to help his daughters.  Saint Nicholas gave the money anonymously by sneaking purses filled with gold coins into the poor man’s house.  He gave one purse, three nights in a row, one for each daughter. 
After giving the second purse, the poor man realized Nicholas was the giver and confronted him.  Nicholas insisted that God had provided for the poor man.  In order to not be seen the third night, Saint Nicholas climbed on the man’s roof and dropped the third purse down the chimney.  The third daughter had just so happened to wash her stockings that night and hung them above the embers of the fireplace to dry.  The third purse of gold fell into the stocking, helping the poor man’s last daughter.

Anonymous giving is a healthy spiritual exercise for all Christians – not just Ol’ Saint Nick.  It allows the giver to serve others out of complete devotion to God.  Anonymous giving removes any temptation to give out of a desire for recognition or something in return.  It also allows the recipient to recognize God’s provision through His people. 

Jesus uses vivid imagery in promoting anonymous giving.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tells His followers, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”  Though it is impossible for our left hand to not know what our right hand is doing, it is a helpful illustration of the importance of giving without recognition.

Faith Center is organizing an opportunity for our church family to give anonymously.  We have placed Christmas ornaments on the Christmas tree in the sanctuary.  Each ornament lists needs and wishes of families who could use help this Christmas.  You, your family, or your Growth Group, can take those ornaments, purchase gifts, return them to the church, and we will make sure they make it to the family in need.  Your left hand will be none the wiser and God will be honored because of it.

This Christmas, join the tradition of Ol’ Saint Nick.  Give out of complete devotion to Jesus.  Give so that the world knows that God is providing.  Give because the God you love gave all, two thousand years ago, in a manger in Bethlehem.