Pastor Jeremy's Sermons

RSS Feed

AWAKE: Rise and Shine

January 15, 2023

Just last week we were celebrating the coming of the Magi to see the child who had been born the King of the Jews. Remember these guys? And now just one week later we flash forward 30 years to this young man who now comes to his cousin John to be baptized. 

Remember Elizabeth and Zechariah? This is their son John. The child who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary touched him. You can think of this day, Baptism of the Lord Sunday as almost Epiphany the sequel. Epiphany part II The Promise Revealed.

But let’s flashback to those 30 years from our scripture today. We are once again in the house as the Magi presented their gifts and bowed down and worshipped him. The Greek word presented indicates an offering made to God. 

We don’t know if the Wise men knew what their gifts meant. But as we talked about last week they have meaning for us still. And understanding what those gifts stood for will awaken us and help us to rise and shine as we come today to a different Epiphany, an aha moment, a revealing moment in which we receive or renew the gift of baptism.

In case you missed last week here is what we said about the gifts. 


Gold also symbolizes the Gift of Loyalty and Obedience Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord in all areas of your life? What gold can I bring to Jesus today? What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?

What that gift says to us also is that we are to give God our first and our best not our last and leftovers whether that is our prayers, or presence or financial gifts or service or witness or anything else.

Second THE WISE MEN GAVE FRANKINCENSE TO HONOR JESUS AS GOD. Frankincense was an aromatic incense used in the worship of God in the Temple.

Frankincense also symbolizes the gift of Trust and Worship We said our response to Jesus’ being our high priest is faith. Our gift to Jesus is our trust that he makes this possible. Our gift to Jesus here is our prayer — for prayer is the ultimate act of trust, of turning over our situation to God. Our gift to Jesus here is our worship, to honor him as God, the one through whom we have life and existence, as well as hope and salvation. One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God That we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him. Create a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus –  in prayer and Bible Study. This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Your gift of time?

The magi were overjoyed The message said they could hardly contain themselves. When we bow down, there should be so much joy that we can hardly contain ourselves. Many people come to church but they never worship. Worship is all about giving and not just the offering. 


And Myrrh for his humanity. Myrrh was an ointment used to embalm bodies to retard decay. 

Myrrh also symbolizes the Gift of Service and Sacrifice

We are called to bring Jesus the gifts of service and sacrifice. We are called to serve. We serve Christ through our gifts of time and energy and resources. We serve Christ when we serve one another. We serve Christ when we give sacrificially of ourselves, when our service costs us. That’s what sacrifice is — costly service. Ultimately, we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves — to give the gift of ourselves to those around.

It means sacrifice on our parts as servants. Maybe ministry won’t look the way we think it should or maybe it means we have to go out of our way or our comfort zone. It means to us as a congregation that everybody is better than somebody. And that the church exists for service to the body and the world and not to serve us.

We have to remember that one day this child’s chubby hands would be torn open by the nails of a cross. We have a need to offer the Christ our lives because he was willing to die for us. When we die to ourselves and lose our life for him we show he is the King of our lives. 

We are coming close to our 1-year anniversary together at the beginning of February. We are about to have our leadership retreat and work on our vision for the future. And each year I spend time in a practice of choosing a word for this new year. The title of a chapter in a book if you like. We are about to begin closing one chapter of our church In which the word for me was RESTORE.

When I arrived in February we were still scattered and struggling to return. We spent that spring and summer restoring our ministry and programs along with restoring relationships.

And begin looking to the next. What is God calling us to do together next? The next word I think is…RENEW

Renew our relationship with God and renew living into our vision and mission. Isaiah 61

What if each of us covenanted to put as much effort into our church life as we do our work, sports, or social life. It would mean in our personal life that we don’t stop thirsting for the word of God, the heart of God, the promise God wants for our lives and our church.

Do you really thirst for that? Are you thirsty for living water? Come to the water.

Isaiah 60: 1 says  Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.

Rise and Shine. 

Now we are two weeks into the new year. How is your prayer life? How is your bible reading plan going? Your worship presence? How is your financial giving becoming more extravagant generous? Come to the water. Rise and Shine. How will you serve in deeper ways this year? And what does your witness look like? Still being salty and shiny? What about being in a small group?Come to the water. Rise and Shine.

Now flash forward 30 years and Jesus stands in the Jordan River about to be baptized. Maybe he is thinking about the day the Wise Men brought their gifts as his true gift is about to be revealed. The real reason Wise Men would come from so far away to see a helpless baby is about to be fulfilled. Revealed in his baptism. An Epiphany of a whole new kind.

Mark 1 tell us 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 As we do every year we gather together today to remember and reaffirm  renew our baptism. Once a year most United Methodists and others have a Service of Baptismal Renewal like this one. Sometimes we forget how important that moment was in our lives especially if it was long ago.  Do you remember what it felt like, the anticipation? the life change, the hope of a new beginning? When you promised to give your whole life to Christ, not just the parts on the side? When you confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

The time when you said it is time to change. It is time to go a different direction. My life has to change…I can remember that moment in my life even though it took several years to get fully there…As some of you read my Facebook post on New Years’s Eve Every year you know that I spent it when I was sixteen fighting for my life in Vanderbilt hospital.

It was at a retreat called Resurrection, ironic enough, that I would consider an ending instead. An obvious cry for help from a teenager who didn’t know what else to do anymore. 

And after a phone call to my parents from the girl I liked I was on my way to the hospital and then by ambulance to Vanderbilt for experimental medicine back then. 

Flash forward 5 years and I was getting ready for my baptism. It was a long time in coming from being in Vanderbilt to standing at the MTSU Wesley Foundation receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It is a moment I have always kept very close in my heart.

I wonder did the Magi keep the Christ Child in their heart when they returned to their part of the world. Or did the experience fade away with time until it was just a distant memory. The coming of the Wise Men revealed to the world a Messiah for all. The coming of Jesus to the Jordan to be baptized revealed to the world that he was the Son of God. And our baptism reveals to us that God wanted to claim us as one of his very own and cleanse us so we could begin a new life. "Baptism points back to the work of God, and forward to the life of faith."

MLK said Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. 

Did you know that Chinese bamboo produces little outward growth for the first four years of its life? In its first year you see no visible signs of growth in spite of providing water, fertilizer and sunshine.

In the second year (again), there is no growth above the soil. The third, fourth year…still show no signs of anything happening.

Your patience is tested, and you begin to wonder if our efforts caring for and watering the tree will ever be rewarded. They start to doubt ourselves and question the value of our efforts.

But then finally in the fifth year – something amazing happens… And even though it's puny and pitiful on top, there is something powerful happening underground. In the fifth year, the tree grows eighty feet in six weeks! 

But did it really grow 80 feet in six weeks? Or was the little tree growing underground developing a root system strong enough to support it is outward growth in the 5th year and beyond? 

Growth takes time. It doesn’t happen all at once. But we have to actually cultivate our soul. It won’t just happen on its own. If you want to grow you are going  to have to put some effort into it. But we have to understand that the root comes before the fruit. And that if the bamboo had not developed a strong foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew.

It is going to requires us to rise and shine. It's not about achieving, it's about receiving. Because God's world works in a different way. Jesus received the gift of baptism from John and God was revealed in that moment. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and then we are able to do things we are resolved to do. And in this still New Year what kind of fruit is going to be revealed in us? Are we going to hear a voice from heaven speaking to us saying this is my son, my daughter with whom I am well pleased? 

What are you going to do to live out the covenant you made with God on the day you gave your life to him? What direction are you resolved your life is going to head this year? Is it going to lead towards Christ or are you going to be led away from him? 

On this weekend honoring MLK Jr he said a lot of thought-provoking things but this one stands out the most as we arise and shine…

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 

Are you going to continue to snooze or wake up from your alarm? Are you going to rise and shine? And give God the glory? 

AWAKE: A Wake Up Call

January 8, 2023

A family was driving by the Episcopal church and there was a manger scene in the yard, The youngest boy asked his mother; what is that?" That is Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, there in the manger,". A few blocks further on they passed the Methodist church, a scene was depicting the journey of the Wise Men. "Who are they?" the young boy asked. His mother replies, "Those are the Wise Men, who are looking for the Baby Jesus." "Well, they're not all that wise" the young boy replied, "they won't find him there... He's down the street at that other church."

The annual observance of the birth of our Savior is almost over. Epiphany recalling the visit of the Wise Men is commemorated today but was actually Friday January 6th — and it ends the liturgical celebration following the "Twelve Days of Christmas." Many legends have grown up around the story of these Wise men.  Their story is wonderfully and somewhat accurately captured in the Christmas carol, We Three Kings, composed by Episcopal priest John Hopkins in the 1800s to help his nieces and nephews understand the true significance of the Christmas story. The first verse sets the theme…

We three kings of Orient are/ Bearing gifts, we traverse far/Field and fountain/Moor and mountain/Following yonder star

Actually, it’s now generally believed that the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia. Most everything else we know about the Magi is pure speculation. – I’m reading this now For instance…

The idea that they were kings comes from the early church leader (Tertullian) in the second century because the Old Testament had prophesied that kings would worship the Messiah.  And We don’t really know how many of them there were. – He also based the idea that there were three solely on the fact of the number of gifts given. Some have suggested that there were actually Four Kings, but the fourth one’s gift was fruitcake so he got dropped from the story.

The idea that their names were Melchior depicted as old, grey hair, and a long beard, Balthazar- a bit older, dark-skinned, and a new beard; and Caspar young, beardless, with a ruddy complexion - is pure myth.  The truth is .... We really do not know who they are.

What is not myth is what Matthew tells us in chapter 2 of his gospel — that wise men from the east saw a star, and based on certain information we do not know about, realized that it signified the birth of the promised Messiah; that they consulted Herod, who consulted the religious leaders as to where the Messiah would be born, which was Bethlehem; that they went to Bethlehem and found Joseph, Mary and Jesus in a HOUSE, not a stable, so it must have been some time after Jesus’s birth, that they gave Jesus gifts gold, frankincense and myrrh and worshipped Him, and that after being warned in a dream they returned to their own country another way instead of reporting to Herod as he had instructed them.

And today we begin our new sermon series AWAKE The Call to a Renewed Life. You know how hard it is to wake up sometimes? After being on Christmas break that first morning getting up and going…So, I began to think what is the wake-up call we can receive from the story of the Magi? Is it their journey? Is it who they are themselves? For these Wise men, this was the most important journey they would ever take. Nobody .... No-thing was going to stand between them and following that star. These Magi made a dramatic commitment of time to search for this new king. The gift of giving time to Jesus is one of the most important things we can do to Wake up. 

I mean these three or four, or however many Magi met God in the midst of their normal daily working living when God gave them a sign.  A wake-up call that tells us that God is not limited to meeting with us in a certain place or at a certain hour. God can and does speak to us anywhere and at any time. But we have to ready and aware. You have to be constantly prepared. To be constantly alert for what God has prepared for you in this life. And the willingness to move on whatever God is calling us to do. They put their feet to faith and started a journey. And their story helps us to see that there is something special at the end of a journey with God. 

And then I began thinking about their gifts and the question I always get is what do they mean? Why those gifts? Did God choose those gifts to be brought? The gifts the Magi gave at the most famous baby shower in history tell us wonderful truths I think about what it means to live the call to a renewed life with Jesus of how to respond to him and what gifts we are called to give him.

The meaning behind the gifts is also lyrically explained in We Three Kings. First. THEY GAVE GOLD TO HONOR Jesus AS KING.

The second verse goes “Born a King on Bethlehem's plain / Gold I bring to crown Him again / King forever, ceasing never / Over us all to reign.”

Gold signifies Jesus’ Kingly role. What is more fitting than gold for a King! We know they recognized Jesus as the king of the Jews because when they came to Herod, they asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Many times, in the Old Testament, the promised Messiah is portrayed as a King who will rule the Jews and the world from Jerusalem. Though Jesus was born in a humble stable or cave; though He grew up, not in a palace, but in a poor carpenter’s home; though throughout His life he was without even a place to lay his Head; and though He was brutally beaten, cruelly treated and crucified on a cross — Matthew juxtaposes this thought: that this humble servant was indeed the long-promised King.

Gold symbolizes the Gift of Loyalty and Obedience This gift can be said to point to Christ’s kingship—gold is a gift for royalty. Christ is the final king of Israel—he is the king of kings. He is our king and we as his disciples, live in the kingdom even now. He is our Lord and ruler. We talk about accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, but we are to spend our lives submitting to Jesus as Lord. Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord in all areas of your life? What areas do you keep to yourself?

 Jesus want to have Lordship in our lives. Have you given him the gift of your complete loyalty and obedience? If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today? What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?


The next verse says “Frankincense to offer have I / Incense owns a Deity nigh / Prayer and praising, all men raising / Worship Him, God most high.”

Frankincense was an aromatic incense used in the worship of God in the Temple. We know that these wise men recognized Jesus’s divinity because we’re told in our text that when they found Jesus, they fell down, and worshipped him.” The promised Messiah would be divine is found throughout the Old Testament: Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah in Isaiah 7:14:  “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” 

Frankincense symbolizes the gift of Trust and Worship This gift can point to Jesus in two ways. First, it can point to Jesus’ role as our high priest since incense was used by priests in temple worship. Jesus is our intercessor, our mediator before God. He is our avenue to forgiveness. 

Our response to Jesus’ priesthood is faith. He is the go-between between us and God as high priest. Our gift to Jesus is our trust that he makes this possible. Our gift to Jesus here is our prayer — for prayer is the ultimate act of trust, of turning over our situation to God.

This gift can also point to Christ as divine since it was used in worship. Scripture tells us over and over that Jesus is “image of the invisible God.” He is the Word made flesh. Our gift to Jesus here is our worship, to honor him as God, the one through whom we have life and existence, as well as hope and salvation.

One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God as the Apostle Paul put it (Rom 12:1). That we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him. The gift of Frankincense also speaks to me of a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus  –  in prayer and Bible Study. This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Your gift of time? Which leads us to our final gift.


The fourth verse says, Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes of life of gathering gloom / Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Why all the gloomy language for a baby shower gift — because myrrh was an aromatic gum used for embalming the dead. How would you like that at your baby shower? A thoughtless gift perhaps? Not for this baby. For myrrh signifies the death of Jesus. These wise men, in their wisdom knew that Jesus was born to die. The writer of the book of Hebrews put it like this: ".. we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." 

The gift of myrrh foreshadowed the purpose for which God the Son came to this earth. The baby Jesus the wise men came to see was born to go to the cross as the Lamb of God who would take all our sin upon Himself so that we might have eternal life. Myrrh symbolizes the Gift of Service and Sacrifice

This particular aspect to the Christmas story, reminds us that not all will end well with this Jesus — death is on the horizon. We hear it in Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph in Luke’s Gospel. And we see it in Herod’s slaughter of the children. Right at the beginning of the story we see the cross anticipated. Christ ultimately would give the gift of himself. And his death would bring us life. 

This speaks to how we are called to bring Jesus the gifts of service and sacrifice. We are called to serve. We serve Christ through our gifts of time and energy and resources. We serve Christ when we serve one another. We serve Christ when we give sacrificially of ourselves, when our service costs us. That’s what sacrifice is — costly service. Ultimately, we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves — to give the gift of ourselves to those around. Also when I think of myrrh, I am challenged to think of why Jesus came to earth – to die for the sins of all the world. And that makes me consider mission. How am I sharing the good news with my friends and neighbors? 

My favorite Christmas hymn “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” goes like this: “What can I give him, poor as I am/ If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb/ If I were a wise-man, I would do my part/ Yet what can I give Him/ I can give my heart.”

Maybe you don’t feel you have much to give to Jesus. Maybe you can’t imagine being able to give him something of value. Maybe you think, “It’s Christ who has given me so much. What could I possible bring him?” But the most valuable gift is the gift of yourself — your new self in Christ that God has given you. To Awake to the possibilities that following his call allows us to do. To have a renewed life.  The most valuable gifts we can bring him are our obedience and loyalty, our trust and worship, our service and sacrifice. 

Many of you here are in need of a personal epiphany. You’ve struggled in some way, you know you need to change, you want to change. You’re sick and you’re tired, you wonder if things can ever change. What I wish for you is a personal epiphany. I need that for myself. I need a new understanding of how God works in my life, and what God expects from me. I really believe that God does want to change us but when God does it won’t be by our own efforts. We take part by being awake and showing up, and by letting God have control of our lives. 

This story invites each one of us to consider what we need to give Jesus. What gifts are you willing to bring to him? How are you going to respond to the God revealed in Jesus? AWAKE: Wake Up CallAnd for all that he has given us, what are we willing to give in return?

The Best Is Yet to Be

January 1, 2023

It’s time to make New Year resolutions. Have you made yours yet?

Last New Years I made some resolutions and I am proud to say that I kept them all year long. I kept them in an envelope in the top drawer of my desk! That is probably where yours are as well. Most of us will end up breaking any New Year Resolutions we make within 30 days. We feel bad about breaking them, but it is not easy to keep resolutions, is it?

 It takes effort, sacrifice and determination to keep these resolutions. Webster’s Dictionary defines “resolution” as a firm decision. It is a strong commitment to a course of action.

This week, people will be making resolutions of changes they wish to make for the New Year. They resolutions may include financial, health or lifestyle changes, promises to study the Bible more, or to spend more time with parents or  children or ways to better ourselves. Sadly, too often while making resolutions we remember only the physical. We forget those resolutions that will make us a better person spiritually. 

Will these resolutions include decisions to attend church more regularly, to begin attending Sunday School or get involved in a Bible study? Will there be resolutions to start a daily quiet time, to pray more, to tithe or to serve more? 

Will your resolutions this year include ways to learn more about Christ, read your bible and to draw nearer to Him? Any resolution we make that improves our relationship with God, greatly pleases the Lord. Does God care about the resolutions you make this New Year? Yes! Does God care if you keep your resolutions or not? Yes! If there is an area in your life that is destroying your health, affecting your family negatively, or destroying your witness, God’s desire is that you resolve to make a change for the better. 

Is there is an area in your life that is affecting your relationship to God? Make a resolution, a firm decision, a strong commitment to a course of action for improvement. But don’t just make a resolution for the coming year. Resolve to do it for life. 

Notice what Paul says in Colossians 3:9-10 “Take off the old self and its practices…and put on the new self”

That sounds like a good New Year’s Resolution text, doesn’t it? It sounds like what we desire to do when we make new year resolutions — taking off the old ugly practices and putting on new better ones. Paul is speaking about more than just ugly habits, though.Paul is speaking of a sacrifice.

Paul is saying that being a Christian is more than just making good resolutions. It means more than just having good intentions. It means taking the right actions. Your conduct should match your faith. That means a constant renewing, revowing and resolving. Why? Paul says so you will become more like Christ “being renewed in the image of your Creator”.

Sadly, many Christians accept Christ and never get much into the “taking off the old self and putting on new self” part. We never get much into the “sacrifice” part” either. Many of us neglect the renewing and resolving that it takes daily to become more and more like Christ. Is there is an ugly habit you need strength to break? 

Is there an area in your life that is not pleasing to God, an area that is affecting your relationship to God or relationship to others, turn it over today. Resolve for a change for the better. Ask Christ for strength to stand by your resolution. This morning I want to talk to you about some resolutions, some commitments which I guarantee will make a radical difference in my life and your life if we follow through on them.

In fact, what I want to do is to offer to you a way of starting the New Year which could significantly change your life. If you will make these commitments the scripture encourages us to do I guarantee you that the start of 2023 could become one of the most significant events in your life.

New Years instead of being simply about having a few days off, if you will follow God’s advice, could become a way for you to have a better life. And everybody wants a better life right?So I want to challenge you to make 3 new commitments for this New Year.

Here they are…


The Apostle Paul gave us this advice in Phil 3:13-14 “Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” 

I don’t know of any more relevant and practical advice for us at the start of a new year. God is here so that you do not have to live your life imprisoned by your past. All of us have failed in some way in our lives over the last year. For many of us our failures are painful memories. 

Maybe for you it is a memory of how you failed in a relationship. You made the wrong decisions, said and did the wrong things and the relationship ended. 

Some of you who are parents probably know that you failed your children in some way, many of us are aware that we have failed our parents and it’s more than likely that many of us know that most of all we have failed ourselves in some ways. 

What God’s Word is saying is that we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down by our past failures. That we do not dwell on our past so that it stops us moving forward into the future that God has for us. I think that the start of New Year is a good time for you to rise to that challenge. To say to yourself I am going to, with help of God, to forget my past. I am going to stop torturing myself about what I did or didn’t do. This New Year is a good time to stop being chained to your past failures. God doesn’t want you to go through your life branding yourself as a failure. 

On the Cross Jesus died so that he could forgive. When we become Christians that forgiveness must become a reality in our lives. When we have received Christ’s forgiveness it allows us to forgive ourselves and forget our failures. Do you need to do that? The Best is Yet to Be. 


Listen to these words from the book of Colossians because in them you’ll hear the second challenge I believe God wants you to rise to if you want to make 2023 a significant turning point in your life .

“Bear with each other and forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” 

3:13 in 2023. It has a nice ring to it. Did you catch that challenge? In those words we are being challenged directly and personally to give up our grudges. That is what he means when he says forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. 

What’s a grudge? A grudge is a deep ongoing resentment that we cultivate in our hearts against someone else. A grudge is an unforgiving spirit that leads to unforgiving attitudes and unforgiving actions. Now I know you know what I am talking about. Harboring a grudge is about nursing a dislike for someone. What you need to know is that grudges are dangerous because they are destructive. Grudges destroy marriages. Grudges break up families. Grudges ruin friendships. 

Today if you know you are holding a grudge against someone then God has something to say to you. God says “give it up.” When you hold a grudge against someone you will hurt yourself as much and perhaps more than you will hurt the person you are holding it against.

Do you remember that parable that Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king and then refused to forgive someone else a tiny amount? Jesus said his unforgiving spirit landed him in prison. Max Luxcado says, “Unforgiving servants always end up in prison. Prisons of anger, guilt and depression. God says to you “don’t sentence yourself to prison.”  Set yourself free. Give up your grudges “forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another.” 

Scripture says the way to give up a grudge is to forgive a grievance. God isn’t asking you to ignore whatever the person has done to you. God isn’t asking you to pretend it did happen. God doesn’t ask you to condone it, to pretend it didn’t matter. What God asks you to do is to forgive the grievance. 

That means to acknowledge how wrong and painful what was done to you was but to decide to forgive the person who did the wrong to you. I am absolutely certain that there are people here who need to give up their grudges and forgive the grievance they have against someone else. 

Some of you need to forgive the grievance you have against your parents for what they did or didn’t do. Some of you need to forgive your children for the same reason. Some of you need to forgive a partner for emotional or physical abuse. Some of you need to give up the grudge you have against someone at work because of the way they have treated you.  Some of you need to give up the grudge that stems from an argument you had with someone. 

God says that that deep-seated resentment you have against that person has to go. What better time to make that difficult decision to forgive than the start of a new year? The Best is Yet to Be.


Every time I turn on my computer a little window pops up that asks if I want to run a check to see if my computer is working as it should. God gives us a similar invitation. To check whether our personal relationships are working properly. Here is that challenge in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” 

The important phrase there is, as far as it depends on you. God by using that phrase is personally challenging each one of us to do all we can to restore our relationships. God wants you to do everything you can to restore any relationships that have gone wrong in your life. Some relationships might have gone wrong in your life because of what other people have done and they might not want that relationship restored. 

God recognizes that. That is why it says “If it’s possible” But let’s be honest some of our relationships have gone wrong because of what we have done haven’t they? When God’s word says here is as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” it is saying if you have caused a rift in a relationship then you have a responsibility to do everything you can to restore it. 

That everything includes the one thing we all probably find most difficult, asking for forgiveness. Am I the only person who finds it hardest to say “I am sorry” to the people I am closest too? I wonder how many marriages and relationships represented here are not at all what they should be or could be simply because someone won’t say “I was wrong, I am sorry, will you forgive me” I am certain that some of us need to ask forgiveness for “ harsh words and cutting remarks” that have really wounded our partners or friends over the years. 

Maybe God is saying to some of you that this new year is the right time to restore those relationships you ruined by going and sincerely saying that you are sorry for those angry words or those selfish and thoughtless actions. Make no mistake it will be hard to do but one of the most significant things that you can do to mark the New Year is not set off fireworks party but to admit your past errors in relationships and humbly seek forgiveness from the one you have hurt. 

Will you rise to that challenge and make a commitment to restore your broken relationships in this new year? The Best is Yet to Be.

It all boils down to this: Will this New Year be just a calendar changing event for us or are we willing to rise to these challenges from God’s word and make these commitments and so make it a life changing event?

Are you willing to make these 3 commitments for 2023? Will you commit yourself to forget your failures? Will you commit yourself to give up your grudges? Will you commit yourself to restore your relationships?

This New Year will really be something to celebrate if you’ll make forgiveness the heart of what it’s all about for you.

The Joy of Christmas: The Redemption of Scrooge

December 25, 2022

Early in the morning Scrooge wakes up from the strangest dream he has ever had. He opens the window and discovers that it is Christmas morning, and he has been given a chance to change his ways.

 It is Christmas day I haven’t missed it! He didn’t do anything to earn it; rather it as a gift. He shouts to himself, “I am light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy new year to all the world!JOY…

The first thing that Scrooge does on Christmas morning is to buy the prize winning turkey for the Cratchits. He heard Bob say “Have you ever seen such a goose” talking about their meager feast and in Scrooge’s own way he wants Bob’s hope to become reality.

In Muppet Christmas Carol  Beaker gives Scrooge his scarf as a gift. Have you ever been giving anything you didn’t know you wanted or needed but loved? I think that gift giving at its best is a present for which we didn’t ask, and didn’t think we needed but reveals that the gift giver really knows us. This is why we celebrate Jesus as a gift during the Christmas season. Scrooge has been redeemed. Redemption means something is offered and something is received. We redeem coupons in the store all the time or online. In God’s kingdom it is that God has offered us salvation and we respond to that gift and that is where transformation takes place.

Ephesians 1:7 says we have been ransomed through his Son’s blood and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace. You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith Eph 2:8 We are the redeemed and our response to that redemption reveals our commitment to God’s grace, love and mercy. Scrooge did not earn this new day he has but he responds well to it as a gift. You might wonder why someone like Scrooge is offered a new day. He is not a young man who have years ahead to make up for all the pain he has caused.

Why would Jesus raise Lazarus his friend only to know that he will die again one day. Christ commands Lazarus to be unbound. Scrooge is now unbound. He has not been given a new day in order to make amends. He has been given a new day in order to experience endless joy.  Through his lack of compassion and empathy, Scrooge has become a shell of a person. He has forgotten who he was. But interesting enough this is the Scrooge we can’t seem to forget. Maybe the point of a Christmas Carol is not to see how Scrooge is transformed but that we understand you reap what you sow in a different, grace filled way. Otherwise Scrooge can never find redemption in our minds. We will continue to live as if the bad will always outweigh the good. People can change.

Perhaps Scrooge was meant to remind us of the heart of Luke 15 and the heart of the gospel itself. The lost sheep did not find its way back, instead it was found. The lost coin did not jump back into the woman’s purse. She searched for it. The lost son did not earn his way back into his father’s house. The father embraced his return. In all three parables the community is asked to do one thing- Rejoice. Our job in the story is to rejoice over what God is doing through Jesus. Fred rejoices over his lost uncle.

I bring good news to you wonderful joyous news for all people. When we find joy that unbreakable assurance that God is with us, we understand the redemption the Christ child was born to offer and we can celebrate Scrooge’s rebirth as Ebenezer rather than remember his faults. 

Before hearing the famous God bless us everyone at the end of the story we hear that Scrooge learned how to keep Christmas well. Dickens himself wonders if the same can be said of us. How do we keep Christmas well? Maybe the entire point of A Christmas Carol is in those three small words keep Christmas well.

First what are we called to keep? The Advent candles during the season remind us what we are to keep. We should keep Hope always trusting in God for the goodness that we do not yet see in the world. We should keep Peace, continually learning how to love our enemy and break bread with the outcast and forgotten. We should keep Joy constantly remember the steadfast assurance that God is with us. We should keep Love because God is love and God is calling us to share God’s presence with the world.We do not have to keep the same level of gift giving debt which leaves the offering plates bare come January. We do not have to keep the fear and anxiety of creating the perfect Christmas. 

How do we keep Christmas then? Maybe you have tried to sing carols in July and it doesn’t work. Christmas is a special time of year. Keeping Christmas means getting lost in the ever present announcement of the angels. Keeping Christmas does mean when the days get darker we light up our church and homes. That we do start getting ready in Oct with extra choir, band and drama rehearsals to ensure we have the most beautiful and exciting music we can muster. Keep Christmas means we decorate our sanctuaries with evergreens. We keep Christ in Christmas not just through bumper stickers or anger towards coffee cups or making sure the Christmas tree or nativity is the largest on the public square. Keeping Christmas is in our invitation in our selflessness, our service to others and our humble witness lived out in our lives. We are called to keep. We are called to keep Christmas and we are called to keep Christmas well. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come certainly showed Scrooge how to keep Christmas well. The compassion he found for Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit stirred Scrooge’s soul. Relieving the joy of seeing the Fezziwigs twirl around brought a smile to his face and a tap to his toe. Offering donations to the poor and gifts to the community was the fruit of Scrooge’s redemption revealing that he was a new and joyful person. Charles Dickens said No one is useless who lightens the burdens of another.

But I am convinced that Scrooge doesn’t know how to keep Christmas well until he allows his nephew Fred to welcome and receive him. We saw it with George C Scott but I especially like how this scene is shown in Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol

At the end of the story Scrooge knows what he must do. His journey will not be complete until he humbly and selflessly reconciles with his family. He approaches Fred’s door, a home he walked past dozens of time without the courage to knock. He wanders into the dining room and says I have come to dinner. Will you let me in Fred? Fred welcomes him to dinner with exuberant joy and they all rejoice.

When the invitation is accepted Scrooge journey of redemption is complete. Christmas is an invitation into relationship with God through Jesus the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus’s invitation is accepted, we discover that we have been redeemed. We have neither earned it nor do we deserve it. It is a gift from God, calling us to respond in the world with love. Scrooge knocked at the door an asked to be welcomed and with joy he was. If Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we! This is the journey Scrooge had to take to become Ebenezer. When he woke up on Christmas morning, everything looked different. 

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Charles Dickens: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

So how will keep Christmas this year,the whole year starting fresh in January?

What invitation do you need to offer someone? Which invitation do you need to accept? Dickens also said Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts. 

May that be true for us as well. Merry Christmas And God bless us all, everyone. So rejoice! A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The Cast of Christmas: And Us

December 24, 2022

It’s good to be home this Christmas. Whether you’re visiting or at home, I want you to know that you are welcome here. I’ve always loved Christmastime and its traditions. I love the special meals. I love the season. I love the lights. I love the music. 

Christmas Eve was always such an exciting time when I was a kid. The anticipation grew to almost unbearable levels as Christmas Eve approached. The tree was decorated with icicles and bubble lights bathed by the light of the color wheel. We would wait for my dad to come home from his double nursing shift from the VA Hospital later in the evening. We need to celebrate his birthday first then it was Christmas. Some times the greatest gift was just having him home. And of course, the gifts like the year I got the Death Star Station playset from the Sears Catalog I had circled.  

I’m not going to ask you to pretend that you don’t really care about the gifts, the food, the family time, and the celebration. I know the power of food and presents. I am, however, going to ask you to take this short time we have together to pause with me for just a moment to focus on the Greatest Gift that has ever been given.

Luke 2:6–7 presents the gift to us: While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Jesus’s arrival says so much about who He is and how He works in our lives. The Gift first presented Himself in a similar way to how He presents Himself to us right now. His parents had left their hometown of Nazareth to be registered for the census, and they couldn’t find a place to stay. It’s a remarkable event if you consider who Jesus is. He is the Almighty One. John 1:3 says, “Through him all things were made.” He has the ability to peel back the heavens, to stop time, to thunder to the ends of the earth. Yet there was no room for Him when He arrived. The way He was received — or, more accurately, ignored — speaks so much about how we can respond to Him even at this moment. The way of His arrival reminds us that Jesus doesn’t force Himself upon any of us. He doesn’t make threats, doesn’t beg, doesn’t make a grand display.

Instead, in His arrival that night and in His arrival right now, He offers us all a quiet invitation — a call to be welcomed in and welcomed home in the dark night of our own hearts. How ironic that the One who came to welcome us back home to relationship with God spent His first night in a barn, lying in a feeding trough, because no one welcomed Him in. 

The circumstances of His birth show how people throughout the ages would misunderstand and reject Him. More often, though, people simply wouldn’t have room in their lives and would just ignore the great gift and the great invitation that He extends to us all. 

For the last four weeks, here at Nolensville First we have been looking at the cast of characters in this amazing arrival and rescue mission. As we remember each of their responses to Jesus’s arrival, let’s consider our response to the fact that Jesus has arrived right here in this place as well. Jesus is here right now, wanting to be a greater part of your life or to become part of your life for the first time. The prophets, angels, shepherds, and Magi all had an important part to play in this wonderful arrival. They all responded to Jesus in a unique but wonderful way. Let’s consider their responses to His arrival as we consider how we will respond this Christmas. 

This is the holiday where we remember that God took a huge step toward us. We were in trouble. Although we were created to be with God, our hearts had turned far from God. There was a barrier between us and our Creator that had to be dealt with. the answer wasn’t going to be found in our own effort and resolve to try harder. God took a big step toward us by coming to live with us, show the way, and remove the barrier through His death for us. 

I know that some of us are here right now because it’s expected or even required.  If that’s where you find yourself — that you’d rather we just be done with all this  religious stuff so we can get home and get to the good stuff — I want you to know that I get it, and I’m really grateful and honored that you’re here. I know as a group we Christians have given you a few good reasons to consider shutting out the story of Christmas.

This simple story of Christmas isn’t about this church or even a religion. It’s about relationship with God. It’s about love, life, and freedom. If you’ve already made up your mind or you’re shutting out this simple story, I’d ask you to consider a different response. Try to look beyond all you’ve heard about Jesus and all the things you’ve seen people do in the name of Jesus, and try to find out for yourself who Jesus is. 

Out in the foyer, we have a table with some Bibles on it, and we’d love for you to take one if you don’t already have a Bible. Before you completely close the door to Jesus, open the Bible to the section titled “Matthew” and read it straight through to the end of the section titled “John” — those pages are all about Jesus’s life, and they are also called the Gospels. It’s only a little more than one hundred pages altogether. You can decide whatever you’d like about me or the music or this service, but don’t shut the door on Jesus until you’ve taken a look for yourself at who He really is and what His birth really means. This isn’t a question of what church you go to.  It’s a question of who God is, what God wants, and what your life could mean within the answers to those questions. The stakes are high enough that it’s at least worth taking a serious look.

Take a look:

Like the Prophets God had been talking about this arrival for thousands of years before it took place. It’s amazing to think that specific words  about Jesus’s birth and death were recorded hundreds and even thousands of years before He was born like Micah. Through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,  the prophets knew we needed a Savior,  and they spoke of His coming. We can respond to Jesus this Christmas  as the prophets responded to Him. We can eagerly and earnestly look for Him!

The best response we can have is to eagerly look for Him and His grace. The prophets have left us a powerful example. They believed in Him even though they never saw Him — even though He hadn’t yet been born! We can respond like the prophets of old who believed that the Messiah would come from God to save us from our sin because we can’t be good enough on our own. 

Like the Shepherds We can also respond like the shepherds. They saw the angels appear before them. A great choir joined them, and they wondered what it was all about. Some of us respond to Jesus wondering what everyone is pointing at and looking at. We wonder if we’re missing something, and we feel like we don’t have the inside track or inside knowledge. But there is no special knowledge, and they don’t see anything you and I can’t see. The arrival of Jesus is personal to each one of us. You don’t have to be anything you’re not or pretend to feel anything you don’t. 

An angel appeared to the shepherds, announcing a Savior had come and that He’s nearby in a stable. In their curiosity, the shepherds didn’t just stand there pointing at the sky. They said to each other, “Let’s go see this thing that has happened.” Maybe you’re wondering if there is anything in this story for you or if it’s just people pointing around aimlessly. To you, I would say, just respond to Jesus and engage the Christmas story a little more than you have in the past. 

Consider the idea that God is, in fact, love. Maybe you have seen God’s greatness in the beauty of the world and experienced God’s brilliance in your own heart. At the same time, you can see there’s something broken in the world, and at some level, even something in your own heart is broken. So, if you’re curious like the shepherds, I want to encourage you that you can respond by opening your heart to Christmas and allow in the possibility that the first Christmas was simply God’s expression of love and kindness toward you. God showed that love by sending His Son, Jesus, to remove judgment and guilt from your life. 

Take a moment to respond to God right now with what you’re really thinking and feeling about it all. It may just be a simple prayer, where you say, “God, I really do want to know who You are; please start showing me.” God cares about the pain and brokenness that you’ve seen and felt — and even that you’ve caused. Because God cares about you, God took a giant leap toward you on Christmas when God lowered Himself as a man. All God wants in return is for you to take a step in God’s direction.

Like the Magi Some of us are here right now like the Magi who were waiting and watching for God to move on their behalf. When they saw a sign in the stars, they traveled hundreds of miles from the east and said, Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him (Matthew 2:2).Like the Magi, some of us are waiting expectantly for God to move in our lives. With great faith, we’ve come here tonight just as they did to worship Him. They brought gold, spices, and perfume. You may be wondering what gift we can possibly bring in response. I want to encourage you that what you have is enough. The whole reason Jesus came was so that He could be with you. The point of Christmas isn’t really gifts as much as it is connection. God is pleased to just have your heart and your affection and build a relationship with you. 

Your response is a gift more precious to God than gold, frankincense, or myrrh. You can bring a wonderful gift by allowing God even more space in your heart. Your response is simply to give more of yourself over to God, to tell God thank you, and in that thanks to give God a little more devotion and space in your life. When you do that, it will be met in a joyful communion of God giving more of Himself to you —because that connection and closeness to you are what God desires. 

Like the Angels  Whomever you most identify with in the first Christmas, all of us can close our service like the angels! On the night when Jesus arrived, the angels praised God and sang,Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).We can wrap up this part of Christmas by carrying our praises out into our Christmas celebrations. Give God glory in the way you treat one another. Give God glory in the way you celebrate. Give God glory in the way you sing. Give God glory in the way you live. 

When we are looking to anything other than Jesus for our fulfillment, we are guaranteed to be disappointed. You can have the experience of a lifetime. You can go to a restaurant on the moon — but you’ll still be disappointed. Have you heard, by the way, about the restaurant on the moon? The food is terrific, but there’s no atmosphere. See, even that disappoints. There is nothing better than Jesus. There is no other who deserves our praise! Wherever the simple and remarkable story of Christmas finds you, I am so glad and thankful that you decided to share its remembrance with us. I’m so honored that at this special, holy time, you chose to be here. Now that it’s finally here, I pray that  your Christmas is calm, quiet, and full — and that it brings you one step closer to the One who came to be with us so that we can be with Him forever. 

Let’s close with a prayer of celebration and praise: Father, we declare Christ has come. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests. For the light now shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it. We want to respond to Your arrival by drawing closer to You. Please don’t stop drawing near to us until You are our everything. Praise You for coming to rescue us on Christmas, and praise You for coming to rescue us today. We glorify You, and we love You. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.

The Cast of Christmas: The Magi

December 18, 2022

When I mention Mona Lisa, The Scream, and Impression, Sunrise, what comes to mind? If you thought, “They’re all famous paintings,” you’re correct. They also have a couple of other things in common. The first is that they’re all considered to be tremendously valuable — you might even call them treasures. The second thing is that they were all at some point stolen. 

Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century. In 1911, a museum worker walked out the Louvre with the Mona Lisa under a smock. He later expressed that he thought the masterpiece belonged in Italy instead of France.

The Scream by Edvard Munch was painted in the early 1900s. In 2004, The Scream was ripped off a museum wall by armed robbers. Fortunately, it was recovered and restored.

 Impression, Sunrise was painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s. In 1985, armed robbers stormed the Marmottan Museum in Paris and took the painting. It was recovered by French police five years later.

I wanted to remind you of what an amazing and precious treasure the first Christmas brought. As our planning, preparation, and commitments reach a fevered pitch in these last few days before the holiday, I don’t want the real treasure of Christmas to be stolen out from under you. The point of Christmas, after all, is that God came to dwell with us so that we could dwell with God forever. As John reminds us in the first chapter of his Gospel, the “Word was God . . . [and] the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (verses 1, 14). 

When you think of the enormity of God, the complexity of the creation, and the majesty of God’s glory, this effort for our salvation is beyond comprehension. Why would God go to such lengths to restore us? The answer, of course, is found in God’s nature. It’s found in the one word used to describe God in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”

So with Christmas closing in, I wanted to help us preserve and protect the real treasure and meaning by looking at the account of the Magi. In the short account in Matthew 2 centered on the Magi’s worship of Jesus, we see three very different responses to this wonderful event. King Herod, the teachers of the law, and the Magi all take a different approach to the events of Jesus’s birth. 

The meaning and the power of the event are lost and stolen for Herod and the Pharisees. But the Magi’s approach of worship is a different response to what God did that night. When we consider that night was the culmination of hundreds and even thousands of years of prophecy, when we consider that God went to these great lengths for you and me, when we remember that Jesus did indeed save us from our sins, what else can we do? If we follow the Magi’s example, we’ll find that the power, wonder, and meaning of the holiday will not be wasted on us or stolen from us!

Enter the Wise Men If you’ve heard the account of the Magi — or the wise men — many times, the image in your mind may not line up with the Bible. Before we begin looking at these different responses, let’s get the actual picture that the Bible paints as we look at Matthew 2 and take a look at all three of these reactions to the amazing events of Christmas:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 

Despite what many of us sing every year, you’ll notice that the Magi weren’t kings and that the Bible doesn’t say how many of them there were. We don’t know where they came from — except that it was to the east. Perhaps it was as far away as Babylon. We don’t know what the star was. The most amazing thing about the Magi is that in this short account in Matthew, these non-Jewish foreigners with questionable religious practices who were gazing at the stars were the only ones who responded appropriately to Jesus’s birth. It serves as a stark reminder for those of us who are in the church and consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus. Are we, like the Magi, focusing on our worship, adoration, and gifts for the King? Or are we so familiar with the story that our wonder has been lost or stolen? A little later we’ll dive a little deeper into the Magi’s response. But before we do, let’s consider another response we see in Matthew 2:4–5. 

First: Pharisees Should Know Better

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

After encountering the Magi, Herod called the chief priests and the teachers of the law together and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They shared the answer by quoting the prophet Micah, who pointed to Bethlehem about seven hundred years before Jesus was born there. But we never hear another thing about them again. 

This is really interesting. The teachers of the law and the priests have just heard that the Messiah has been born, so they look at the Scriptures. In response, the ones who have dedicated their lives to God and the Scriptures, the ones who make their living from teaching about God’s law and His prophecies They don’t investigate; they don’t search Him out. They just say, “He’s probably over that way somewhere.” The priests and teachers of the law are waiting and teaching about the Messiah. When news comes that He’s arrived, they give Herod the biblical answer: “Head on over to Bethlehem.” But they don’t do anything else about it. From what I can gather about the Pharisees, I think they were mostly excited about the fact that they were able to search, study, and give the correct answer. But it seems like they didn’t really care about the Messiah Himself — the One they knew so much about. They were more interested in what they knew about the Messiah than about the opportunity they had to come to know, receive, and worship the Messiah. 

Just from our talk today, you now probably know more about the Magi than 80 percent of the population, but don’t let your knowledge and familiarity with the events of Christmas steal away the wonder of it. God reveals God’s self through the Word, but the whole point is to draw close to God in order to know God more and to become more like God in God’s love. Jesus our Emmanuel showed up on Christmas so we can know God and have relationship with God. Don’t let your familiarity with the story or your focus on new knowledge steal the treasure of Christmas from your heart.

Then you have Herod the Hater

Let’s look at another response to the first Christmas. In Matthew 2:3, we learn that when King Herod heard that the Magi had come to worship the One who had been born King of the Jews, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  Herod was paranoid and power hungry. History tells us that he killed his own two sons because he was jealous of and threatened by their power. True to form, Herod pretended that he wanted to worship Jesus, 

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 

but we see later in the chapter that his plan was to try to kill the Messiah. Herod’s response to Christmas is an extreme example of self-preservation and fighting for the status quo — the exact opposite of the worship of the Magi. Herod treats the news of Christmas in the same way: he responds to any threats of his power — he tries to eliminate it. He even feigns interest in worship so that he can maneuver for the upper hand. 

While few of us would actively fight against the Messiah, there is a little Herod in most of us that we need to guard against. It’s the part of us that takes from the glory of Jesus in this season by putting our traditions above our worship. It’s the part of us that elevates our expectations above the needs of others. Whenever we demand that things go our way in the holiday above what God might be doing or what others need, we make a similar mistake to the one King Herod made on the first Christmas. 

I love Christmas traditions, but we all need to allow God to adjust our plans however God likes. In the last two churches I have served they started a tradition of having a Christmas meal for those who didn’t have family or too far way or didn’t have food.  Others I know include visiting a nursing home or serving breakfast or lunch at a shelter. There’s no requirement to do this, and God doesn’t want us to feel guilty if this isn’t part of your plan. I do want to encourage you, however, to allow God to interrupt your plans if God so desires. Just be open. Herod was so concerned with keeping control that he not only missed the greatest blessing in history, but he fought directly against it. 

Then we have A Wise Example

As we consider our preparation and response to the wonder of Christmas, let’s now consider the example of the Magi.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

We know nothing else about the Magi. But we do know that in light of what God had done, their response is the only one that makes sense. If you want to guard the meaning and wonder of Christmas, I suggest that you start with worship. There is nothing that centers our hearts and minds on what really matters like worship. We don’t worship God because God’s in need of it. We worship God because we are in need of it. Giving God the praise God’s due reminds us of who God really is. Our worship fuels and feeds our gratitude. Our worship brings us back to the grandeur, the grace, and the greatness of God. When we worship, we experience a deeper connection with God and fall deeper in love with God. 

We can plainly see that the teachers of the law should have known better. They knew about God, but they didn’t seek to know God personally. We can easily tell that Herod chose the wrong thing. How ironic that as Herod tried to prop up his greatness, he chose the lesser thing. His own power could never match the power of God. His own place and position could never compare with the presence of God. The Magi show us the way to make the most of Christmas—through worship!

There are hundreds of passages in the Bible that have the word worship in them. The common theme that runs through the majority of them is the idea of giving preference to God and laying what we have and who we are before Him. There are a number of ways to do that. The Magi worshipped through their gifts and offerings. The shepherds worshipped through proclaiming the good news. The angels worshipped through song. Mary worshipped by pondering all the amazing events in her heart with love. If we do anything this Christmas, let’s remember what God has done and give God who is worthy our worship. Like the Magi, you can choose whatever form of worship best fits the occasion. The Magi had precious metal and spices — they gave God what they had.

 What do you have to give to Jesus this Christmas? 

As you share a meal or come to church on Christmas day, I pray that your head bows to the Mighty Creator and your heart lifts in joy because of all that God’s done for us!

 The Magi worshipped the King. 

It was not because they were supposed to or because He required it, but because their hearts demanded it of them. They encountered the Word who became flesh, God with us, and they were never the same again. as Christmas nears, let’s seek God and give God the worship and praise God rightly deserves. May we seek God overjoyed and offer our gifts. 

Will you join me in prayer? Father, thank You that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Please reveal the areas in our lives that reflect the heart of Herod. Please protect us from a familiarity with You and Your Word that circumvents our hearts. Give us hearts like the Magi, who sought You and worshipped You when they found You. Be present in our Christmas and be glorified in our lives. In Jesus’s name, amen. 

The Cast of Christmas: The Shepherds

December 11, 2022

Today we are going to begin by considering a ghost of Christmas past. I’m not talking about old Ebenezer Scrooge and the mistakes of his youth. Susan and I saw all of that yesterday at Dickens Christmas in Franklin. I’m talking about some of the mistakes parents have made in Christmases past. Specifically, the lengths we went to getting the toys we were so desperate to buy our children. 

For example, if you had children in the ’90s, you might remember Tickle Me Elmo and rumors of parents paying thousands of dollars for a Sesame Street character who went into seizures and fits of giggling if you squeezed him. 

If you had a daughter in the 2000s, maybe you remember the scramble to get a certain Bratz doll or Groovy Girls or zooables webkins or silly bands? Maybe it was searching the Dark Web for a ZhuZhu Pet

If we go way back, we face one of the strangest toys of any Christmas past. I know some of you younger won’t believe it, but children of the ’70s were clamoring for Pet Rocks. The pet box included breathing holes all around it, and inside you would find . . . a rock. That’s it. What did you get for Christmas? I got a rock. 

Millions of parents are desperately hoping that this year they’ll find the right toy. A toy that will both light up Christmas morning and not end up stuffed in the back of the closet three weeks from now. I don’t even want to think about all the gifts I’ve bought over the years that scarcely held my family’s interest for Christmas Day, much less for months or years to come. But we keep buying and keep hoping this time it will be different. 

The first Christmas present was significantly different from that. It was The Reason for Hopeand The Foundation for Joy

The Bible tells us, There were shepherds living out in their fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8–12).

Luke continues the story: They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (verses 16–18). This Christmas present was so different. 

The problem with toys and most things we look to for hope and joy is a case of diminishing returns. In economics, the law of diminishing returns says that as an investment in a particular area increases, the rate of profit from that investment, after a certain point, cannot continue to increase if other variables remain at a constant. With both toys and things, we look to for hope and joy, we find that the more we go back to that thing or think on that thing, the less joy it brings. 

Even if you had an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can only hold onto it for so long. Think about something you have experienced? Even our best experiences fade with time. The most exhilarating thing in your life soon becomes a memory that doesn’t hold the same power. In the same way, if you were given an amazing gift, it only brings happiness for so long. Eventually, it just becomes part of the mass of stuff that you have. 

But the first Christmas gift is a different sort of gift altogether. The shepherds show us that encountering Jesus is a different sort of experience. It had such an impact on the shepherds that they had to spread the word after they had seen Him.  This was a lasting hope and joy that they could not contain. Three decades after that encounter, Jesus gave us insight on this sort of hope and joy for our lives: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

We all taste hope. We experience joy. How many of us would say our joy is complete? There are about 250 passages in the NIV translation of the Bible that deal with joy. If you read them, you’ll find the Bible doesn’t just encourage joy, it commands us to have it. In fact, the Bible commands us to rejoice twice as many times as it commands us to repent. We aren’t just given permission to laugh or to have some fun times; God wants your life to be constantly overflowing and filled with joy. Is that how you would describe your life? 

The shepherds’ joy was a result of what God had done. Watching sheep at night has its merits. But the hope, wonder, and life-changing joy for them began when they first heard of Jesus. And the joy grew as they met Jesus. Joy begins for us in the same way it began for the shepherds. It begins with meeting Jesus. Without that foundation, how can we hope to have lasting joy? Very few things last forever. An encounter with Jesus, however, remains and grows through all eternity. Meeting Jesus never stops impacting, shaping, and transforming our lives! It never stops giving us hope and opportunities for joy.

With that foundation in mind, there are a few basic themes that recur numerous times in those 250 passages on joy. If we are going to walk in the joy God has for us, it seems we should pay attention to what the Bible not only says but repeats numerous times. While our foundation for joy comes as a result of what Jesus did for us, we find that embracing daily joy has little to do with what happens every day. In fact, according to many passages in the Bible, hope and joy are more of a mind-set for living that comes from what Jesus did at Christmas than simply a result or feeling. It’s an undeniable theme concerning joy in the Bible.

It is Embracing the Hope and Joy That Have Been Given

The apostle Paul clearly demonstrates this truth in Philippians 4:4–5: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” One important part of walking in hope and joy is simply to choose to rejoice in everything! Much of the hope, joy, and rejoicing in the Bible isn’t really connected with circumstances. It’s connected with a decision. In fact, one of the keys to a life of joy is to rejoice even when the circumstances are disappointing or even painful. Maybe your life too…pain or loss? 

But take, for example, the amazing prayer of the prophet with an unfortunate name Habakkuk. The prophet prays to God when Israel is in a state of terrible disarray. This is Habakkuk’s response: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” 

There’s not much more that could be going wrong in Israel. Yet Habakkuk’s response is to rejoice. Not just to rejoice, but to be joyful. That’s amazing! Normally, good things happen, and then we feel happy. We feel joy, and then we rejoice. Our prospects look good, and hope fills our hearts. The Bible says, “That’s fine, but actually it works the other way around. You start with rejoicing, and then you feel joy.” Like the shepherds, we always have a reason to rejoice—Christ has come! Joy flows out of rejoicing every bit as much as rejoicing should flow out of joy. 

And that is a Hope and Joy That Can’t Be Taken Away Do you remember the Grinch? The Grinch thought he could stop the  joy of Christmas in Whoville by taking everything they had. Then Every Who down in Whoville... was singing! Without any presents at all! He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! It came! 

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

 In that, we can always have hope. We can always rejoice. And one of the eventual outflows of rejoicing is joy even in pain and loss. And we are called to share our burdens. Please, let’s be honest with one another in our pain. I hope you have a godly friend that can lift you up when you share your struggles. And just as rejoicing restores your joy, complaining steals it. How many of you know people who complain a lot? How many of those people would you describe as hopeful, happy, joyful people whom you love being around? It doesn’t help. It hurts. If you complain a lot, you might want to stop it. Complaining is actually a declaration of war against our own joy. 

And Don’t Settle for Anything Less than true Joy There’s another undeniable theme connected to our continued hope and growing joy that’s found throughout the Bible. Listen to what C. S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with worldly things when infinite joy is offered us.”Lewis makes a powerful connection with David’s words in Psalm 51:12– Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” 

In Charlie Brown’s Christmas Charlie says Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel.…And as their play practice goes off the rails, he finally loses it and cries out Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? And Linus says Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Spotlight please…

I think we too easily forget what it is the angel was announcing to the shepherds. I think we too easily forget what it means that the Savior had been born to them and us. The truth of eternal life alone—if we really understand what it means for us—is more than enough to give us cause to rejoice in every single situation.  It may sound a little silly to you or even Pollyannaish, but heaven is our real hope and a source of real joy. 

And the Joy of our Salvation includes heaven, but salvation is more than heaven. Salvation means we are God’s child and we are part of God’s family. To be God’s child is to be always on God’s mind, and working in everything. To believe in Jesus is to always have His Spirit, His insight, His help, His comfort, and His strength in every circumstance. 

Our Joy is lost or stolen when we forget what Jesus’s arrival on earth means to our lives. When you think of Christians, do you see images of people who are full of hope and joy? People who are making the most out of every moment? When I say “followers of Jesus,” do you think of people who are full of hope and marked by rejoicing? Are you one of them?  I hope so.

Life can be hard, but we know the secret the shepherds held. The Savior has come! In Him, we are saved. In Him, we win. The amazing thing is, no matter what happens, that can never be taken away from us. 

Joy the World according to some tallies is the most published Christmas song ever. But did you know that Joy to the World was never written as a Christmas hymn? When you read Watts words to “Joy to the World” closely, you start to notice that there’s nothing about Jesus’s birth—they all refer to his second coming. It is actually about Jesus coming to all of us. 

Jesus tells us, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). So, let’s live like we’re saved. Let’s live like we’re loved. Let’s live like we’re free. Every moment is a chance to sing and live our praises to our amazing King. Every moment is a chance to rejoice. Every moment is an opportunity to be filled with and to overflow with joy. Let your strength arise. Let your hope arise. Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice! 

Would you please pray with me? Lord, thank You for this gift that is unlike any other gift that has ever been given. Thank You for sending Your Son to save us from our sins. Restore to us the joy of Your salvation. Make our joy complete as it is found in You alone and cannot be taken from us. May we, like the shepherds, choose to glorify and praise You. Help us to see the great joy that the shepherds witnessed that night. And fill us with your hope and joy—a joy so complete and overwhelming that we, like the shepherds, are compelled to share it with others. We thank You and praise You. And it is in Jesus’s name that we pray, amen.