Preparing for Christmas…
Week 2 of Advent, of preparing for Christmas…God becoming fully human while remaining fully God, not just to visit us, not just to teach us, but to live perfectly in our place and to die brutally in our place as well…Jesus was born to die…thus,
- we prepare to appreciate Christmas by thinking about the Cross and the empty tomb,
- we prepare to appreciate Christmas by thinking about our own sinfulness
- we prepare to appreciate Christmas by thinking about both heaven (where Jesus came from) and hell (where Jesus wants to keep us from going to).
Yes, my friends, both heaven and hell are directly connected to Christmas, and everyone in this room—indeed on this earth—will be in one of those two eternal locations. Jesus came to this location—earth—to provide the only way to go to that location—heaven—and to prevent us from going to the other location—hell—and. We simply cannot truly appreciate and prepare for Christmas with thinking deeply about the Cross and the empty tomb, about sin, about heaven and hell…
Perhaps Christmas has become a “re-run” for us lately because we are not looking at it as it is, we are watching it as a quick 30 minute sit-com (WITH commercials!) instead of the 4 hour extended-edition Director’s Cut (WITH COMMENTARY!)—we are only seeing Christmas as Jesus being born (sweet little baby!) and aren’t seeing Christmas as Jesus being born to die…
Loved ones, do we realize that much of what we do & think about & give our attention to is worship?
From our external appearance to athletes & actors to so much else,
without realizing it, much of what we focus on & much of who we follow is worship…
But let us remember again this Christmas that Jesus is the only true Celebrity;
HE ALONE does great wonders (Psalm 103:4).
We feast our eyes & minds on “celebrities”—indeed we FOLLOW them!—
because we fast our eyes & minds from Christ. Jesus said follow ME…not follow them…
Perhaps this is why Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and many church services seem stale (or that we try so hard to make church services entertaining and an “experience”)—we have given our appetites over to that which can only make us hungrier, more malnourished, and more drowsy, instead of giving our appetites over to Him who satisfies, nourishes, and awakens us to know Him and truly live…
“Had I a glance of Thee, my God,
kingdoms & men would vanish soon,
vanish as though I saw them not,
as a dim candle dies at noon” (Isaac Watts [writer of “Joy to the World”], early 1700s).
Compared to Jesus, all celebrities and their accomplishments/abilities are like a match compared to the sun…and yet we focus our attention so easily on the match…
No more TMZ…let’s turn to the B-I-B-L-E for the only true Celebrity—Jesus. Let’s open God’s Word to Isaiah chapter 8 to continue to prepare for Christmas by looking at Christmas as it truly is…by feasting on Jesus and not just glancing at Him but fixing our gaze upon Him…
The book of Isaiah was written—around 700 years before Jesus’ birth—to God’s people who had been straying from the LORD for almost 300 years and were getting ready to be conquered & taken into captivity by a foreign army as judgment from God for His people’s consistent disobedience. They didn’t just have a bad day or bad week, they spiritually had a bad couple of centuries! God is patient, but He does discipline and punish those He loves. This is the background of Isaiah chapter 8 and 9 when the Holy Spirit inspired the prophecy so often quoted at Christmas—“to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That is the familiar passage of Isaiah 9 that is often read at Christmas—and rightfully so! We will dig into Isaiah 9 next Sunday, but this morning we will begin with Isaiah chapter 8 because it is connected and leads into chapter 9; thus chapter 8 also about Christmas!
11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me,
warning me not to follow the way of this people:
[don’t follow the way of “this people” who have been wandering from the LORD for hundreds of years by slowly becoming more and more like the pagan and godless cultures surrounding them, who have slowly become
less distinct and more diluted,
less concentrated and more watered down,
less separate from and more blended in with the surrounding cultures.
Oh, do we ever ask God to reveal to us the negative/sinful ways that we are ARE following the way of the American culture? Do we want to know? Are we willing for Him to change us so we can go against the current of the culture?]
12 “Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
[let’s not tremble at what is happening around the world
but instead let’s tremble at what is happening in the Word;
Isaiah 66:2: “These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.”]
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
[don’t worry about what the culture will say & do if you stray from their ways,
worry about what Christ will say & do if you stray from His Way]
14 He will be a holy place;
for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.”
[The Apostles Paul and Peter apply this passage above to Jesus Himself—Christmas is not just about the forgiveness of God offered through receiving the gift of Jesus (though of course it is about that!); Christmas is also about the judgment of God sentenced through rejecting the gift of Jesus. If the gift of Christ is so amazing, how awful is it to reject such an amazing gift!? (Hebrews 2:1-4):
Romans 9:31-33 (NIV)
31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
1 Peter 2:6-9 (NIV)
6 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”[a]
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.
But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”[b]
“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”[c]
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Loved ones, THIS IS CHRISTMAS! Salvation and forgiveness accepted! Or salvation and forgiveness rejected…there are only two responses, loved ones—Christmas and Jesus DEMAND a response from each of us…to merely browse/window shop Jesus—or to take Him home unwrapped & unopened & unsurrendered to is to reject Him…Will Christmas cause you to fall…or to be lifted up? There is no third option…]
16 Bind up this testimony of warning
and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
[Many of us bristle at getting warnings from God—here we go again with the wrath of God!” many think—and many of us like even less when we get warnings from a preacher—“give us good news, encourage us, make us feel warm & fuzzy—it’s COLD out!”
But warnings can be a VERY good thing. Remember the last time you got pulled over while driving a car by a police officer? The stress you felt, the tension, the worry over how you were going to pay the fine…and then remember how you felt when you just got a warning? Your day suddenly became better than it was BEFORE you were pulled over! You’re riding high the rest of the day—you’d vote for that police officer to get officer of the year if you could! What a blessing—you got a WARNING! YES!!! Oh happy DAY! You can’t wait to tell someone about the gift of the warning! 🙂
That is how we must look at God’s warnings throughout the Bible—they are BLESSINGS! They should make us shout for joy that God warns us instead of giving us what we deserve—an eternal ticket and fine that we could never pay off…
And so as awesome as the Good News of Christmas is,
it is also a warning from God to us;
as terrific as the Gift of Christmas is (Jesus!),
how terrible to reject His Gift (forgiveness & new life!)
by not believing it, by not accepting it,
or by accepting the gift but not OPENING it via faith,
by simply keeping Jesus on the shelf of our minds!!!
How terrible for some to have the coach turn from a pumpkin into mice at the stroke of midnight, at the end of their earthly lives…Christmas demands a decision from us, demands a response…
I remember the true story of a person who bought lots of lotto tickets each week and saved them all just in case they won and overlooked it somehow; for this particular state there was a 2 year window that a winner had to claim their prize. This particular person was moving and so was clearing out their drawers and belongings; they realized that they had won the lotto previously…millions of dollars! But the ticket expired—it was more than two years ago!!! Oh how that person must have felt!
My friends, the gift of Jesus also has an expiration date—the end of our earthly lives! If we do not receive Him as our Savior & King, if by the end of our time on earth we don’t crawl to Him on hands & knees to agree with His verdict that we are guilty sinners and accept His plea bargain of total forgiveness and clemency and pardon and adoption through His death on the Cross, then we will experience to an infinite degree for eternity what that lotto winner experienced financially for a short time—missing out on a great prize…
This is why God says in Isaiah 55:6-7,
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2:
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[a]
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
THIS IS CHRISTMAS! Don’t receive the gift of Christmas—Jesus!—in vain! Don’t just put Him on the shelf of your mind without opening up your heart for Him to live there through His Holy Spirit! SURRENDER TO JESUS! Confess your sin to Him & declare your guilt before Him–agree with His diagnosis of your soul!–and then ask Him to forgive you, adopt you, and create you into a brand-new person–receive His cure for your soul!
Have you done this? Do you know? Are you certain? BE CERTAIN! If you were going on a trip and early on you thought you left your front door unlocked or your garage door open you would turn around and make sure! If we do this for our house for the weekend, how much more for our soul for eternity!!! Be certain, loved ones! Oh what peace of mind comes from the certainty and assurance of Jesus…
I have never heard of a child—or even an adult for that matter!—leaving a gift that has their name on it unopened and under the tree! Don’t do the same to Jesus, who isn’t under the tree but was HUNG on the tree because of your sins and mine.
Open Him and receive Him and surrender to Him—Jesus is not an accessory to the outfit of your soul (like earrings or a watch), He is the wardrobe of your soul that covers our nakedness and erases our shame!
This is what the Father did in the Garden of Eden when Adam & Eve sinned—God caused the first death by killing an innocent animal to cover the physical nakedness of Adam & Eve. In doing this the Father pointed ahead to when He would pour out His wrath on the innocent Lamb of God to cover the spiritual nakedness of all who would surrender & believe…
Isaiah 61:10 NIV:
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
HAVE YOU DONE THIS!?!? Have you clothed yourself with the perfection of Jesus?
On earth you cannot go to a restaurant without clothing on—no shirt no shoes no service…
Same in heaven—we cannot enter into the Wedding Feast of the Lamb if we are spiritually naked, if we have not clothed our sinfulness with Jesus’ righteousness—no shirt no shoes no salvation…
HAVE YOU DONE THIS!!??
Now you might say, “Of course I have received Jesus! I have attended church for years! I serve and tithe!”
Please don’t rest your eternity on that, my friend…Just as there are many people—INCLUDING ATHEISTS!—who have Bibles that sit on their shelf not opened, not read and not obeyed, so are there many church attenders who have, not an “elf on a shelf” but Jesus Christ on the shelf, not opened, not received, not surrendered to, and not followed…Tragically, some anorexics physically die of starvation literally surrounded by food that they cannot eat because of their disease…similarly, many sinners spiritually die of starvation literally surrounded by Christ Who offers them the Bread of Life forever but Whom they have refused to eat because of their disease of sin…
Have you received Jesus as Savior? Cry out to Him if you are unsure, cry out to the Holy Spirit to testify with your spirit that you belong to Jesus; sit in silence with Jesus in prayer and Bible reading; reflect and listen to the Holy Spirit’s whisper, respond to His assurance or His conviction–both are blessings!
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Be certain, loved ones, and let this Christmas be a celebration like no other…Celebrate that you have received Jesus as Savior for the first time! Or celebrate that the Holy Spirit has confirmed with your spirit that you are in fact one of God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ…May this Christmas be a celebration like no other!!!