St. John's UCC Boonville
Well, my friends, eight days after Christmas. Are we still having fun?
I read that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s that the average American will gain six pounds. I've acquired the official holiday diet. Here are the rules. They might help you out next year, so save them.
Number one - if you eat something, and no one sees you eat it, it has no calories.
Number two - if you drink a diet soda while you eat a candy bar, the calories in the candy bar are cancelled out by the diet soda.
Number three - if you eat with someone else, the calories don't count if you don't eat more than they do.
Number four - food used for medicinal purposes never counts; things like hot chocolate, toast and Sara Lee cheesecake.
Number five (this is Debbie's favorite) - if you fatten up everyone else around you, then you look thinner.
Christmas time is a magic time. Everybody smiles more. They make the attempt to be friendlier. People seem to be happier. And yet an amazing thing happens just days after Christmas. The atmosphere changes from "Ho-ho-ho" to "Ho-hum." Why doesn't Christmas last?
There are a lot of factors. Relatives go home. Decorations come down. Presents get returned. Diets start. But there's one factor that many people miss. The music stops. When we want to sustain the spirit of Christmas into this new year ... carry the songs of Christmas in our hearts all year.
Did we know that there were songs at the very first Christmas? There are at least five songs recorded in the first two chapters of Luke. Mary sang a song. Zachariah sang a song. The angels sang a song. The shepherds sang a song. Simeon sang a song. Let’s look at three of them.
Mary was a young teenager. And of all the women God could have chosen to be the instrument by which He would come to the earth, He chose Mary. I bet she had no idea what she was getting into!
Mary's response to that awesome responsibility was to sing. Luke 1:46,48,49, "Then Mary sang, 'My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord. My soul is full of joy. For He has taken notice of His humble servant girl. . . . People will call me happy because of the great things the mighty God has done for me. He shows mercy to those who reverence Him.'"
We can call this song, " ," because Mary gives us four great example of grace in her song.
First, she says, "He notices me. He knows me." She sings, "He has taken notice of His humble servant girl." Then she says, "God loves me. He's done great things for me." She says, "God forgives me. He is a God of mercy." Then she says, "God wants to use me. I'm just a humble servant girl, but He wants to use me."
When we want to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts all year, then we want to remember these four truths that Mary sings in her song.
First, God knows us. He knows every single thing about our lives ... the good, the bad and the ugly. He knows the heartaches, the stresses, the pain, the problems, the pleasures, the joys, the sorrows. He knows it all. In our society today, in order to get noticed, we have to be weird, or a criminal, or do something unusual or real special. What about the average person? The decent person, who's just out there trying to do the right thing in life. Does anybody notice that person? God does. God knows us.
Not only that, God loves us. Christmas says that we are worth coming to earth for. And we want to know that we matter to God. We really do.
And God wants to use us. God used Mary, just a humble, poor, peasant teenage girl. Yes, God uses even teenagers. And when God can use Mary, He can use us.
So, what do we do to keep Christmas alive? We keep the song of Mary in our heart. Amazing grace.
There's a second song. The song of Zacharias. Zacharias was an old man of about 80 years. He was the father of . And when he heard about the coming of Jesus, this is what he sang. Luke 1:68,69, "Let us praise the Lord. He came to the help of His people and set them free. He has provided us a mighty Savior." We can call this song "The Amazing Gift." He sings, "What an amazing gift God has given us. God has come to visit us! He came to the help of His people." This tells us that God is not only with us, He's for us! And that's Good News.
It says He came to set us free. What does Jesus set us free from? From worry, from guilt, from fear, from bitterness, from misunderstanding and meaninglessness in life. From the fear of death. Zacharias said, "What an amazing gift. God has sent us a Savior." What's that? It means somebody who came to help us, because we all need help.
A letter to Santa Claus. " . There are three boys in my house. There is Jeffery; he is two. There is David; he is four. There is Norman; he is seven. Jeffery is good some of the time; David is good some of the time; Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman."
Fact is, we're not Normans. I'm not, and neither are you. None of us does good all of the time. So we all need help. We all need a Savior. The Bible says, "For unto you is born a Savior." Unto you. You, personally. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. That's an amazing gift. Verses 78&79, Zacharias sings, "God will bring the rising sun (S U N ... he's giving an illustration of light) to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death. And to guide us in the way of peace."
Now, notice that word "visit." God has come to visit us. He came down to earth. The infinite became the definite. God became like us.
Now, what did God come to do? What did Jesus Christ come to do? Look at what Zacharias says, "He will send the sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness, and to guide us in the way of peace." He says, "God sent Jesus for two reasons. To light up your life, and to direct your life." Jesus said, "I am the ." What does that mean? Let me be as clear as I can be. When we don't have Christ in our lives, we're living in the dark. We're missing out on so much that God has planned for us. He's the light of our lives. And all of a sudden things take on new meaning and significance and we finally realize why we're here on this earth! And He came to guide and direct our lives. So when things are confusing and we don't know which way to go and we're discouraged and depressed and everything seems dark, Jesus says, "I'll guide you."
There's a third song we want to remember ... that's the angels' song. Luke 2:13,14, "All at once there was with the angels a great company of the , singing, ' in the highest heaven and on earth, His peace to men on whom His favor rests."
We can call this song, "Amazing Glory." Heaven and earth came together. God came down to visit us. And the angels could see the whole plan unfolding. Jesus Christ came to earth to give peace to those whose hearts were open to Him. Peace on earth.
Where do we need peace on earth? Everywhere. Even right here in the fait town of Boonville, in the great state of Indiana. The Bible says, "Glory to God in the highest." How do we glorify God? How do our lives bring glory to God? Jesus said, "By your relationships." Peace among all people. Be a peacemaker, that brings glory to God. Treat other people the way Jesus would. Be kind, be loving, be patient. When we make peace with God, then we get the peace of God in our hearts. And when we are at peace with God, then we can be at peace with other people. That will make Christmas last.
Let's wrap this up and make it practical. Three steps to make Christmas last.
Number one - remember God's grace. When we want Christmas to last, we want to remind ourselves all year how God is so good to us. Remind ourselves daily, "God knows me, God loves me, God forgives me, God wants to use me." That's what Mary sang. She remembered the grace of God.
Number two - we receive . We accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Can we imagine getting a gift and never opening it? How about if you bought me a present, and I took it home and put it under my tree, and about a month from now, you come over and say, "Hey, Bob, how did you like my gift?" And I answer, "Well, I'm sure I'm going to like it, but frankly, I just haven't had time to unwrap it yet." You'd think that was kind of strange. You'd say, "Why haven't you unwrapped it?" "Well, I intend to. One of these days I'll get around to accepting your gift. But right now I'm just a little busy." That just doesn't make any sense, does it?
Yet we know people who live Christmas after Christmas after Christmas and never do receive the gift that God sent them. They miss the very reason we celebrate. They celebrate Christmas after Christmas, but they never unwrap God's gift to them, Jesus Christ. "Yeah, well, one day I'll get around to it. One day when I'm not so busy I'm going to open up my life and I'm going to say, 'Thank you, God. Jesus, come into my life. Be my Savior. Help me live the kind of life that you want me to live.'" That doesn't make any sense.
So, we remember God's grace ... we receive God's gift ... and ...
Number three - we reflect God's glory. Now, for us to reflect God's glory is kind of like trying to capture Niagara Falls in a tea cup. Awesome task. But let's think about this.
What can we give Jesus for Christmas? Well, we think, He's God. He's got everything. What do we give the God who has everything? We give Him our life. Because He doesn't have it unless we give it to Him.
He gave His life for us. And the greatest gift we can give God this year, in gratitude for what He's done for us, is to simply pray, "Jesus, I want to live everyday of my life this next year, 2011, in your will. I want to be the kind of person you want me to be, I want to live for your glory.”
How about another present? Tell God, "Father, in this coming year, help me to bring one other person to know you." That would be a great gift for Jesus!
Will Christmas last for us? We can make it last forever when we say "Yes" to Christ ... when we receive God's gift ... when we reflect His glory ... and when remember His grace. That God loves us, God forgives us, God wants to use us. That we matter to God ... that we count.
Several years ago on the day before Christmas, I was delivering large boxes of clothes, food and toys to some sad homes of the poverty-stricken areas of New Haven, Connecticut. I stood with such a box in the vestibule of a ten-story building ... one of those high-rise slums that our enlightened government built for its down-trodden masses. And as I was seeking the location of the apartment to which the box was to go, I noticed a little African-American boy standing next to me ... his eyes wide with excitement at the sight of all that food and those toys.
"Gee," he gasped, "Where ya taking that? To my house?"
"No, I think not," I replied. "This is for a little girl named Rhonda White."
"Oh," he replied. "I know where she lives ... she's in my class."
He led me to the elevator, and as we rode up together, he asked, "How come Rhonda gets all that stuff?"
"Well, she's been very sick ... and her family is very poor."
"I had the measles last month! Does that make me count?"
"No, I'm sorry ... I'm afraid not."
Dutifully, he led me down the hall to the proper door, and then he said 'goodbye' and left. But a moment later his little face reappeared around the corner, and he called out:
"Hey, mister! If you decide that I count, remember that I live in number 807!"
God has decided he counts. He counts, you count, I count. That's what Christmas is all about!
Let's come to our Lord in prayer.
Lord, You have brought us here to this place at this time so that You could say to us, "You matter to me." Open our hearts that we may receive the greatest Christmas present ever, the gift of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May this new year we face bring to our minds the ... the song of Amazing Grace ... the song of Amazing Gift ... the song of Amazing Glory. And as we journey on in our lives, help us sing to you these songs in our hearts, that the meaning of Christmas will see us throughout the year.
And the people said, “Amen.”