Thursday, December 19, 2013

At the heart of Christmas--

The heart of Christmas is about waiting.  Whether in the physical realm or the spiritual one, if Christmas teaches us anything, it is to wait.

Do you remember when you were a child?  The universal question: “Is it Christmas yet?” plagued our parents just as much as we’ve been plagued.  It gets asked ten times a day since the day after thanksgiving.  That’s roughly 27 days before it actually arrives.  That’s about 270 times each season.  Factoring in that a child begins speaking fluently around 3 and doesn’t lose the luster of Christmas about around 13, that’s 10 years of asking…or roughly an average of 2,700 times per child.

And how about those traffic jams caused by holiday shoppers?  Weren’t cars designed to move?  If I want to sit in one I’ll go to an antique car show.  We just don’t have a chance these days.  Either we’re cut off by some dare devil road hog who nearly smashes our front fender or we get behind the most cautious driver the roadways have ever known.  You know the kind—the one who backs off the accelerator two blocks from the stop sign coasting to a complete stop; allowing seconds to elapse; then turning with deliberate intent to the right, perusing oncoming traffic.  Seeing none, they gaze to the left, scoping out the statistical possibility of a traffic skirmish.  Seeing none, what do they do?  They turn back to the right to see if the situation has changed.  And suddenly they see it—an approaching car.  It’s one and a half miles away, but it’s approaching and they’re not about to interfere with oncoming traffic.  About that time I’m hoping, just hoping and praying that they are a Christian.  Because maybe, just maybe, if they’re a Christian, they’ll have a “Honk, if you love Jesus” bumper sticker and I’ll have an excuses for blasting down on my horn!

And speaking of holiday shopping, have you ever seen all 32 cashiers at Walmart working at the same time?  The customers don’t help matters any.   There’s the one who never starts unloading their cart until the person in front of them is totally done.  Then they roll up to the cashier and start unloading their 427 items.  Or the other kind of customer starts unloading their 427 items on 4 inches of conveyor belt space.  Their stuff flowing over the bar separator, covering my own merchandise.  And why don’t people sign their checks before the clerk tells them their cost?  Do they think they’re going to get it free?

Ah, yes, the angst of waiting!

Of course there are far more serious weights of waiting.  An out-of-work father waiting for a job offer.  Or a barren couple that have invested much in fertility drugs, waiting to have a baby.  Or a wife waiting to hear a word of praise, instead of foul criticism from her husband.  Some parents wait to hear from a wayward child—not even knowing if they are alive or healthy.  Some wait for a spouse—someone to call your own and to love on.  They’d probably even settle for a date but the phone never rings and the invitations never come. 

Oh!  The weight of waiting.  But that’s one of the many beautiful things about Christmas.  It teaches us about waiting and helps us handle the weight of it with more grace and trust.

King Ahaz of Judah had to wait.  Around 735 B.C. things weren’t going too well for him.  Assyria was the regional super-power and had subjugated area countries several years earlier.  But now, Assyria’s military attention was elsewhere and countries around Palestine started to form an alliance to rebel against Assyria.  The kings of Aram and Israel were pressuring Ahaz to join their alliance.  In fact, they threatened military invasion if he would not join them.  But Ahaz was inclined to keep paying tribute to Assyria and not rebel.  This did not endear him to the super-patriots of his country.  They were ready to be free and wanted war with Assyria; thus they were more than willing to see Ahaz ousted from power.  Faced with these pressures, God gave Ahaz a promise through his prophet Isaiah: “the virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel, God with us.”

This promise really went beyond Ahaz.  God was speaking to him, but in a larger sense, God was speaking to all of Judah and, in fact, to all the world.  He was telling us that the day would come when we wouldn’t have to worry about this world’s pressures—that someday there would be a good ruler that we could completely trust.  Immanuel would come and God would be with us!

At that moment, God reaffirmed the promise He made thousands of years earlier in the garden of Eden.  God promised the Serpent, our adversary the Devil that:
·          One was coming who would crush his head. 
·          One was coming who would destroy his kingdom.
·          One would render evil powerless and sin ineffective.
·          One would help rulers make wise and good decisions.
·          One who become like we are so that we can become like He is.

So Ahaz, hang in there!  Face your pressures!  Wait and hold on.  Immanuel is coming!
·          God will not turn his back on our fickleness—He will be with us!
·          God will not ignore us—He will be with us!
·          God will not be standoffish or aloof—but with us!
·          God will not be callous to our pain—He’ll come and feel it with us!
·          God will not abandon us—He will save us!

And so the wait was on.  Messiah didn’t come after the eviction from Eden and Adam and Eve didn’t see deliverance from the curse.  He didn’t come Himself to pull Israel out of their bondage, hurts and oppressions from Egypt—but sent an ex-murderer prone often to lose his temper—to be His instrument.

And Ahaz himself, the one to whom this promise was given, died before seeing the virgin conceive.  In fact, God didn’t show up in the flesh until over 700 years later.  Now there’s a thought.  The problem ripping your heart and shredding your soul will get fixed 700 years from now.  Can you hold on?

The people who believed God’s promise waited and waited and waited.

One such man who waited was named Simeon.  He waited and hoped and trusted and believed and waited some more for God to show up on the scene of human history.  He waited as powerful Romans harassed his friends and perverted justice.  He waited as wealthy and disloyal countrymen exploited common, working-class families.  And one day, his wait was over.  A young couple named Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son into the Temple to be circumcised and the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon exactly who he was holding.  “Now let me die in peace” he said, “for my eyes have seen Your salvation!”

That’s one message of Christmas!  That God makes good on His promise!  And while people had to wait—and wait and wait—for our Savior to come—come He did!  Through His cross, sin has been paid for and our enemy’s power broken.  I can now be the husband my wife deserves, and the father my children need and the pastor God intends me to be—not because I have achieved some degree of enlightenment; not because of my own effort—I am flawed and often selfish.  I can be those things because I am saved—because Immanuel has come and God is with me!

So hang on to your promise.  Hold on to that hope!  Lean on the God who always delivers on His promises.  Your arduous circumstances will soon change.  Your pain will soon be gone.  Not today, and probably not tomorrow; and maybe not even next week.  In the meantime, let Immanuel love on you.  Let Him embrace you.  Hear Him whisper in your ear, “It will be alright—let’s face it together.”  Let His strength sustain your weakness.  Hang on to that Christmas promise—He makes all things beautiful in His time.

And because God made good on His promise in sending His Son Jesus, I can wait for Him to make good on His promise that He’ll be back.  Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t say I like waiting or that it’s easy, I just said I can do it.  With His help and by His strength I can wait.

What I want you to see today is that while life is pretty messed up, there is a God who isn’t.  While others hurt me, there’s a God who heals me.  Life can frustrate you—God can fulfill you.

I don’t like greedy, evil abortionists exploiting vulnerable young women and maiming and torturing and killing precious children.  I get tired of the setbacks and wacko judicial rulings. I’ll work hard against those evils but I’m waiting for my King to come back and make His ruling.  Oh, it’s hard to wait, but He’s coming and children will soon be safe!



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