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The Great Exchange

I want to begin this morning simply by reading through the account of Jesus’ birth as recorded in Luke 2. This really is the centrepiece of Christmas and this will set the stage for what we want to talk about today.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Luke 1:1-21

We’ve probably heard that passage at Christmas so many times that we’ve started to forget how amazing this story is. The very idea of Christmas is pretty incredible. It’s amazing enough to think that God Himself would come and live on the earth with us – that’s amazing! – but when you think that the Almighty, Everlasting, Infinite Creator of the Universe would confine Himself to the tiny helpless body of a fragile, human baby and actually become like one of us?! THAT is pretty mind-blowing!

We probably can’t ever grasp just how incredible it was for God to become human and to be born as a baby.

Think about it. The omnipotent, all powerful God who set the boundaries for the oceans and created billions of stars and galaxies – that God, as a baby needed someone to feed and cloth him and carry him and change his diapers. The omniscient all-knowing God – who calculated the earth’s perfect size and rotation and tilt and distance from the sun so that life could flourish, that God had to learn to walk and say his first words.The omni-sufficient God – the God who has never needed anything from anyone, now had to depend on his very own creations to care for him and to provide for his basic needs. He would experience hunger and thirst and pain and tiredness for the first time ever.

Imagine all that Jesus gave up and all the limitations and restrictions that Jesus had to take on to born as a human baby.

I know it’s not even close, but here’s the best way I can imagine it: We are extremely privileged to live in Canada (we have health and wealth and comfort beyond what most people dream of)- but imagine giving all that up to be born in some of the poorest places in the world.

  • Imagine choosing to give up your family to be born as an orphan on the streets in India.
  • Imagine choosing to give up your nice house to live in a cardboard box in some rat-infested, garbage filled back alley.
  • Imagine choosing to give up all the great food you eat every day (Tim Horton, Christmas dinner, roast beef & mashed potatoes) to instead live in the slums of the Philippines and eat rotting or moldy bits and pieces of stuff that you find in the garbage dumps.
  • Imagine choosing to give up your health in exchange for being born with aids or some other life-threatening disease – knowing that you’ll die a painful death long before you grow old.

That’s really what Jesus did. Jesus gave up all the amazingness of heaven (And I can’t even begin to imagine that) – and in it’s place, he came to live here. And he wasn’t born in a palace or among the wealthy or the affluent – but his first bed was a feed trough in barn. He took on the weakness of humanity. He came into this sin-filled world and lived in within the restrictions and limitations of a fragile human body.

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The Unexpected Source of Joy

We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming.  We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.

This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.

And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.

One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.

  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
  • And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.

And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.

But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.

  • Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
  • Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
  • Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.

There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.

So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?

Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?

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Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men

How many of you have ever heard Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”? I asked Greg – and he had no idea what I was talking about – so I started feeling a little bit old – but I’m glad that some of you know what I’m talking about. But for those of you who don’t know Paul Harvey – when I was a kid, every Friday at noon, Paul Harvey would come on the radio and do a 3 minute spiel on the rest of the story. He would take a real life famous story – a person or event that everyone would know about, but then he would tell you the story behind that famous person or event.

On Thursday I listened to one of his clips – a story about a struggling poet and author in New York named Ted who’s book had been just been rejected for the 27th time from different publishers. So finally in frustration, Ted decided to go home and burn his manuscript. But just as he considered this, he happened to run across an old school buddy. Well, as they talked, it came out that this old school buddy was starting up his own publishing company – and believe it or not, he wanted to specialize in publishing works that had been rejected by other publishers. Well, you can guess what happened. Ted’s book was published. And it was only the first of many. He went on to write and publish many books – you might even recognize some of the titles like – Horton hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, or How the Grinch stole Christmas.

Yes, that struggling author that was about to set fire his first manuscript was Theodore Geisel or as you probably know him – Dr. Suess. And as Paul Harvey says, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

And I always enjoyed those “the rest of the story” stories. And this morning, I want to share one of those with you. Not about Dr. Suess – but about a famous Christmas carol.

The story begins with a man name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a fairly famous American poet who lived in the mid-1800s and he wrote a poem that formed the basis for the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. You might be familiar with that one – I’m sure you’ll hear it at least sometime this Christmas season.

The poem that it was based on was written on Christmas Day of 1863. The American Civil war had been raging for over 2 and a half years by this point. Over a million fathers, sons, and brothers would not be home for that Christmas – and many of those would never return.

But on that Christmas day in 1863, Henry Longfellow pondered the dismal state of the world in which he lived. He was no stranger to tragedy. His first wife, Mary, had died six months into her first pregnancy at the age of 22. His second wife, Frances, had died from severe burns after her dress caught fire. And now, as the Civil War raged around him, Henry would spend this Christmas nursing his oldest son, Charles, back to health after a confederate bullet nearly paralyzed him.

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A Reminder of Hope

Now some of you will already know this about me – but for some of you, today I want to share with you a little bit about my life that you may not have known before.

You wouldn’t guess it by the state of my backyard right now – but I’m actually a bit of a gardener. When Heather & I were first married – I actually spent a few months working at the Meadowbrook Greenhouses just west of town and it was somewhere around that time that I took an online landscape design course. I learned how to survey a yard and then how to plan and design a beautiful garden space. I put that to use at our home in Mirror.

This was the plan that Heather & I came up with for our yard. It’s kinda hard to make out everything from this map – but for those who have know us for a while and have been to our house in Mirror before, you might be able to recognize some of the elements.

I’ve actually got a couple before and after pictures to give you an idea of how it all came together.

When we started working on the sidewalk, people thought it was pretty strange to put a fire pit in the middle of the sidewalk…. But no, it wasn’t a firepit. It was for a tree.

I’ll tell you, it was a lot of work, but it’s pretty cool to see the transformation from a barren wasteland to a beautiful, productive garden. I think that’s probably why I love gardening and landscaping. I love to see that transformation. I love to see things grow and flourish and be beautiful and productive.

And that’s probably why I love pastoring too. It’s the same idea, just in a different realm. I love to see God transform people’s lives – helping them to grow and to flourish and be productive!

And I bring all this up today because earlier this week, I received in the mail my annual catalogue for T & T Seeds. This is probably my favourite thing to get in the mail – especially in the dead of winter. When everything is cold and frozen – there is nothing green anywhere – it’s all brown or covered in snow and ice. Summer has been long forgotten and there seems to be no sign of life anywhere. You start wondering if winter will ever end.

And then, in the mail, comes this beacon of hope! The seed catalogue! It brings us the promise that winter will not last forever – spring is coming. Soon the ice and snow will melt – new leaves will sprout on the trees, the little seeds that we buy and bury in the ground will soon push through the dirt and grow into flowers and vegetables. New life is just around the corner. There is hope.

And in a lot of ways, Christmas is a lot like that seed catalogue. Christmas is a reminder of hope.

Sometimes I wrestle with how much emphasis we put on Christmas. You know, the Bible never actually tells us to celebrate Christmas – there’s no mention in the Bible of the early church celebrating Jesus’ birth. In fact, in my Bible there is only about 4 pages out of about 1200 pages of Scripture that talk about the birth of Jesus. That’s only 0.3 percent of the Bible that talks about Christmas. And yet, we often take the entire month of December (1/12th of the year) to talk about it. Why is that? Well, I think it’s because Christmas is like that seed catalogue – it offers us a beacon of hope. It reminds us that God always keeps His promises. God is in the midst – even right now – of redeeming and restoring his Creation back to the way He intended it. 

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Go Tell It

Listen to this Sermon!

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
Luke 2:1-7

Now I’m sure you know the next part of the story – the part about the “shepherds watching over their flocks by night” – But before we continue with the rest of the passage – I want you to try to put yourself in the shepherds place as we read this. Imagine that you are with them that night – out on one of the grassy hills that surround Bethlehem.  You’re just up there on that big hill with your flocks of sheep and a few other shepherds. The sheep are in their pen for the night already. You can hear their “baaas” in the background. It’s a cool, clear night so you’re probably sitting around a fire to keep warm – just relaxing and chatting with the other shepherds. Its a beautiful night. You can see a million stars and the lights of the village of Bethlehem maybe down there in the valley. It’s just beautiful. Kinda makes you wanna quit your job and go be shepherd, doesn’t it? Well, keep that picture in mind as we continue reading at verse 8.

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