Archive for January, 2008

3 Unpredictable, Unusual things of Christmas

January 31, 2008

Title: 3 Unpredictable, Unusual Things of Christmas

Text: Micah 5:2

Date: December 9th, 2007

The Christmas nativity scene is very familiar to us all because we see it every year in December during the holiday season, but if we stop and think about it we’ll soon see that the persons, places and things surrounding the birth of Jesus are anything but usual. In fact, almost everything connected with the first Christmas is unusual, strange, odd and mysterious. Last week I talked about how unusual Mary and Joseph were in connection with Christmas; how Joseph as a carpenter is totally unpredictable as being the earthly father of the Messiah; how Mary as a virgin mother is totally out of place with anything we might call usual. Then I spoke of the strange visitors called the Magi; how strange it is that they are included in the Christmas story, especially since they were foreigners and not even Jewish but rather followed some pagan religion associated with astrology. Then finally I talked about the shepherds and how unlikely a group for angels to announce the birth of the Messiah to, considering all the other people we might expect angels to bring such news, like the religious leaders in Jerusalem. So we see that the nativity scene, far from being the typical, usual, predictable story, is actually very remarkable in all of the unlikely people, places and things associated with it. Today, I’d like to talk about the highly unusual and unlikely or unpredictable things, not persons, but things, this time connected with Christmas: the Roman census, the unusual star, and the gifts of the magi. A few weeks back I already mentioned how God used the little town of Bethlehem to produce the Savior of the world, and how unpredictable that was when we consider that Jerusalem was just down the street. Jerusalem would have been everyone’s first choice in choosing a birthplace for the Messiah to be born, simply because it is the most important place in Israel, the one with the richest Jewish history, and the place where the holy temple is where the most important spiritual activity happens. Outside of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 giving a hint where the Messiah would be born, outside of that one clue, Jerusalem would have been the most logical choice. But as we’ve seen already, God doesn’t always use human logic in making his choices, in fact, most of the time God doesn’t use human logic in deciding things. Just look at your life and your faith history with God – does your journey to faith in God make perfect logical sense? Probably not. How about your path as a believing disciple of Jesus, has that followed a perfectly predictable straight path from the faith as small as a mustard seed to a mature adult faith? Again, probably not. Rather, our faith usually advances in a pretty random and unexplainable way. Sometimes we seem to be going through a period of little faith growth, and then suddenly we’ll experience a great breakthrough of faith and knowledge about God. There’s an old poem by William Cowper that describes this process — “God moves in mysterious ways”: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.” Let’s look at some of the mysterious ways God worked through things at the first Christmas. (more…)

Bethlehem: Despise not the day of small beginnings

January 31, 2008

Title: Bethlehem: Despising Not the Day of Small Beginnings

Text: Micah 5:2

Date: November 25th, 2007

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving for 2007. We are now resuming our look at the prophecies in the Old Testament that foretell Christmas. We’ve already examined Isaiah 7:14, where the virgin birth is predicted. Also, we’ve looked at Isaiah 9:6, where the boy child who would become king was prophesied. Now today we’ll examine Micah 5:2, where it tells the place where the Christ would be born. This powerful prophecy reveals how God delights in confounding the wisdom of the wise. It shows how God loves to shatter the expectations of man. One of the great temptations we all face in life is beginning to think that we’ve God got all figured out. The Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus thought that they had God all figured out. In fact, they thought they knew far more than they really did know about God. They were over-confident in their knowledge and understanding of God and God’s ways. That’s why when Jesus the Messiah appeared they failed to understand or recognize him. That’s why they crucified him. But we all come to God with certain expectations, but we have to be careful because we might be proved wrong by a mysterious God who defies all explanations. Every Christmas we sing the famous hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” because Bethlehem is the place where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born, but often fail to grasp the fact that this little town is a very unlikely place for God to appear in the flesh as did occur on that first Christmas. Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, would seem to be a more logical place for the Messiah to be born and raised. After all, it is Jerusalem where the famous temple resided. And also, it is Jerusalem that is the center of the Jewish nation and destination of pilgrims to observe the Jews celebrations each year. Wasn’t it from Jerusalem that all the great Jewish kings reigned? Yes. These and other reasons lead us to look to Jerusalem to be the sight where the Messiah would be born. But no, that’s not how it was. Again, God delights in shattering all expectations of man. I think of 1 Corinthians 1:19, “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Actually, the whole section of 1 Corinthians 1:18-30 applies to the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, but here’s another example: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and things are not – to nullify the things that are,” 1 Corinthians 1:27-28. You get the picture. At Christmas time this year, we need to keep in mind that God does not limit himself to a rational calculation of things. He doesn’t always play the odds. He often breaks out of the typical, usual, normal pattern of things to do something great and unusual. That’s what Christmas is all about, originally and for us today. Let’s explore the prophecy further. (more…)

The Second Great Birth Prophecy

January 31, 2008

Title: The Second Great Birth Prophecy

Text: Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:16-38

Date: November 11th, 2007

I A Child is Born

II A Leader Arises

III A Savior and God is Revealed

I was once talking to a pastor of a large church who told me he didn’t like “seasonal” preaching. Or, in other words, he didn’t like preaching messages during the different special seasons of the year, like Christmas and Easter. Well, I’m just the opposite. I love “seasonal” preaching; I love to preach messages during the different special seasons of the year, like Christmas and Easter. That’s why this year I’m starting earlier than usual so that I can get in as many messages about Christmas as possible because it’s so great a theme to teach and learn about. Last week I talked about the famous Isaiah 7:14 prophesy that spoke of a virgin giving birth and his name being Immanuel or “God with us.” I could talk a lot more about that one passage, but I won’t because this week I want to speak on the next great prophetic Christmas verse, Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Maybe some of you remember this passage put to music in the great Handal’s Messiah where the loud choir sings, “And His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, a Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” I’m sure you’ve all heard that many times either on the radio, on a record or cd, or with a live choir. I’ve got the music for Handal’s Messiah and I play it over and over again during the Christmas season, which I plan to do again this year. But that opera is taken mostly from the different passages in the Old Testament that prophecy, foretell, and describe the birth and life of Jesus Christ. If you ever get a chance, listen again to Handal’s Messiah for all the different Old Testament prophecies it uses in the music. Well, today I’ll be talking about the 2nd famous prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus the Messiah, Isaiah 9:6. What’s unusual about this prophecy is that it not only talks about the birth and leadership of the Messiah, but it also describes the divinity or deity of Jesus the Messiah as well. There are some people who call themselves Christians, believe it or not, that don’t accept or believe in the divinity of Christ; they don’t believe that Jesus is 2nd Person of the Trinity. There is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is the Trinity, which is the One God in three persons. Now that’s hard to understand, but we believe it by faith because that’s what the Bible teaches, it calls the Father God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God, so we say that although God is One, He exists in three persons. But some people who call themselves Christians deny this, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons among others. They are wrong, but there could be some confusion in this Isaiah passage because it talks about the son as “everlasting father.” What does that mean? I’ll explain that. But more importantly, some people, particularly Orthodox Jews, who deny that this verse even applies to Jesus Christ. I’ll explain how it can only apply to Jesus and how that helps our faith today. So, now let’s look at this great passage and see what it says to us today. (more…)

The Great Birth Prophecy #1

January 31, 2008

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Title: The Great Birth Prophecy

Text: Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25

Date: November 4th, 2007

I New Testament Fulfillment

II Old Testament Prophecy

III God Controls the Past, Present, Future

We’re getting closer to Christmas 2007, eight Sundays until we celebrate the birth of Jesus. This year, rather than starting in December after Thanksgiving, I’d like to start the Christmas season earlier this year because there always seems to be a lot more I want to say about the birth of Jesus but can’t because there isn’t enough time. So this year I’ll be dealing with the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth, working through each one step-by-step instead of rushing through them as I usually do each year around Christmas. I’ll start today and cover next week also the two great Christmas prophecies found in the prophet Isaiah, the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 and the “unto us a child is born” prophecy of Isaiah 9:6. Then, for the third week in November, I’ll talk about the famous Bethlehem prophecy of Micah 5:2. And then, finally, for the last week in November, I’ll speak about another prophecy concerning the Christ Child from the Old Testament. Once we get into December, I’ll start talking more specifically about the New Testament accounts of Christmas, and what that means to us today. So it should be a very interesting Christmas season because we’re starting it early at the church this year. Probably the most famous of all Old Testament prophecies concerning Christmas is Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Here is a direct reference to the virgin birth of Jesus as described in Matthew and Luke of the New Testament by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before it occurred. What an amazing thing, what an amazing prediction, what a phenomenal event to be prophesied to happen and then to happen! This proves the supernatural reality of our Christian faith. But if you happen to watch television, from time to time you may see a program that attempts to debunk the virgin birth of Jesus, attempting to argue against it ever happening. The History Channel runs documentaries around Christmas time doing this, but so also does ABC News, CNN, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, A&E, and other secular networks. One of the points they try to make is that in the Old Testament in the original Hebrew language, the word used in the prophecy isn’t “virgin” but rather “young girl.” They also try to say that the Isaiah passage isn’t talking about a coming future Messiah but rather a present baby boy to be born soon as a sign of God’s favor. So skeptical tv documentaries try to dismiss the great Immanuel prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus, but I’d like to show how they are wrong because they overlook the miraculous nature of biblical prophecy. The prophecy shows that God is in control of the past, present, and future. Nothing takes God by surprise, and in that we can find confidence and security. Let’s turn to the Immanuel prophecy and see what it really says and means. (more…)

They were all together in One Accord

January 29, 2008

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Title: They were all together in One Accord

Text: Acts 2:1

Date: February 3rd, 2008

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” That’s how the second chapter of Acts begins according to the King James Version of the Bible. If you remember, unity was what we talked about last week — how the early church was unified in one accord around the distinctive and essential areas of personal experience with Jesus, doctrine, and morality. Those three important areas formed the foundation of the early Christian church. These are the three critical areas the church must be unified around today also. I must have read at least a hundred books, seriously, addressing the topic why the contemporary church today lacks the power of the Holy Spirit. Why did the early Christian church have so much spiritual power? Why do we so seemingly lack that spiritual power today in the church? Out of all the books I’ve read seeking an answer to these questions, not very many of them talk about the answer the Bible gives – spiritual unity among the believers. But if we look at the pages of the Bible, especially in the New Testament, we’ll see that spiritual unity was just about the most important thing that the early church had in its favor. And when there was a threat to that spiritual unity, those early believers acted quickly to correct the problem and get the church back into unity of heart, soul and mind. They did whatever they needed to do to assure that everyone was united around a personal experience of Jesus Christ, around sound doctrine, and around obedient moral behavior. Now today, when we look at Christianity and specifically the Christian church, we hear talk of unity and we even see pockets of unity here and there, but they are usually cases of unity in non-essential areas, not the essentials of the faith. For example, some churches unify around racial lines, consisting of almost all members of one ethnic group. There may be racial unity in these churches, but that isn’t spiritual unity. There’s an old Reformation-era saying that goes, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity.” Now that’s a great slogan, but it’s important to define the terms. What is essential? What is non-essential? What is charity? It seems that churches today confuse essential with non-essentials and what may seem like unity isn’t really because it’s not true spiritual unity. The early church in the Book of Acts had real, true spiritual unity. They were in one accord on personal experience of Jesus, doctrine, and morality. Today, we are going to have to get back to these areas of church unity if we want to have God’s power and presence in our churches. If we don’t have unity in these areas, it doesn’t matter how much unity we have in other, non-essential areas. Last week I explained the essential areas of unity a church must have, but today I’d like to uncover the areas of unity that many churches have to some degree, but these don’t really count as being a truly unified church. These are areas we have to be careful in, lest we settle for unity in secondary things and therefore lack the power of the Holy Spirit that comes from true spiritual unity. Here they are: (more…)

Politics is not the Ultimate Answer

January 27, 2008

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Title: Politics is not the Ultimate Answer

Text: Acts 1:6-7

Date: October 14th, 2007

I The Disciples were wrong: Politics and Economics are not the ultimate answer

II Why the Disciples were wrong, and why we’re wrong if we think the same

III The real answer Jesus brought: freedom from sin, liberation to true life.

We are beginning to hear more and more about the presidential elections next November even before this November! It seems like every election gets worse and worse as far as preparing people for the next election. The news reporters have been talking about the elections of 2008 for at least a year and we are still over a year away from it. It’s getting to the point of ridiculous that we spend so much time politicizing the nation when there are more important things to think about and do. Our nation is becoming over-politicized. Everything seems to revolve around politics and economics today, as if everything boiled down to power and money. Well that isn’t a particularly a modern problem because every age has been tempted to think of life in only political and economic terms. The god of this world, the Devil, Satan, wants us to lower ourselves to the level of animal by making this earthly life the whole of life. But the Devil has always tempted people to make too much of politics and economics, power and money. Even the disciples whom Jesus trained for three years fell into that temptation right up to the very end of Jesus’ time with them on earth. We’ve been studying the Book of Acts, the account of Jesus’ last days on earth with his disciples before his ascension and before their missionary activity began. We’ve been talking about the events of the first chapter of Acts because there is so much to talk about in just this one chapter. One of the scenes we’ve talked about, which we’ll talk about some more today, is found in Acts 1:5-6, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ he said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” The disciples were clearly thinking in terms of politics and economics, while Jesus was clearly thinking in terms of soul salvation and spiritual power to live and minister. The disciples were preoccupied in political and economic freedom, while Jesus was emphasizing spiritual freedom from sin and freedom to live as God had originally intended men and women to live. Now that same confusion is one we see today, even among Christians. Just as the disciples were confused, so too today people, Christians as well, are confused about what’s most important in life. Jesus was trying to teach about being set free from sin, while his disciples were worried about being set free from political and economic injustice. Now there is nothing wrong with working towards political and economic fairness, but it’s not most important. It’s not the ultimate answer, it’s not the answer to our problem of existence. Yet if you listen to the disciples and if you listen to people today, especially during an election year, you’d think that economics and politics were ultimate concerns. Jesus corrected his disciples back then, just as he’s trying to correct us today: our main problem isn’t found anywhere else than within our own hearts, the sin within. That’s our main problem, individually and corporately. Our main problem goes a lot deeper than how we organize the government and the economy. It goes further than who leads and who doesn’t lead. Our main problem is that we need liberation from sin. Until that happens we’ll never find soul satisfaction in life. If we think that our solution will come through politics and economics, we may find ourselves “gaining the whole world and losing our soul” — to quote Jesus elsewhere. No. We need to never permit ourselves to look to politics and economics for spiritual salvation, especially during an election year. Let’s hear more what Jesus has to say about this. (more…)

Simeon’s Prophecy over the Baby Jesus #1

January 27, 2008

Title: Simeon’s Prophecy over the Baby Jesus

Text: Luke 2:21-35

Date: December 30th, 2007

We are now in the days following Christmas and I hope you all had a very merry Christmas this year. After Christmas we usually start taking down Christmas decorations, but on the first Christmas Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus did something very different in the days after Christmas: Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, and then they all went up to Jerusalem to the famous temple in order to offer sacrifice to God for the birth of Jesus. Now you have to get a picture for what really happened on that first Christmas night in order to understand the order of events and how it is that Jesus, Mary and Joseph are in Jerusalem and not heading out to Egypt already. When we read that they visited Jerusalem you might be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. I thought they hurried off to Egypt during the night because Herod’s soldiers were coming to kill all the newborns.” Yes, that’s true, but it didn’t happen that first Christmas night, as is often depicted in movies and how we often tell the story. Herod did send soldiers to kill the newborn of Bethlehem and Jesus, Mary and Joseph did flee to Egypt to escape, but it didn’t happen on the first Christmas night, it happened later. I recently watched again the 2006 movie The Nativity on DVD and it shows Jesus being born and then immediately Herod sending troops to kill the newborns in Bethlehem. It also shows Joseph having the dream telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt immediately; and so that’s what they do, just escaping the soldiers. It seems to imply this all happened on that first Christmas night, but we know from the Bible that it didn’t happen all at once because there had to be enough time for Jesus, Mary and Joseph to visit Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice in the temple for Jesus’ birth. It was a kind of baby dedication. All of this is described in Luke 2:21-35, along with their meeting of a strange man, a prophet of sorts, named Simeon, who gives a mysterious prayer and prophecy. That’s what I’d like to talk about this morning, Simeon’s prayer and prophecy, because they contain some very profound things that mean something for us today. He was speaking specifically to Mary and Joseph and Jesus, but what he prays also applies to us and our lives. It reveals things we need to know, believe, and apply to our lives. So let’s take this Sunday, the Sunday just after Christmas, to look at the mysterious prayer of Simeon in the temple at Jerusalem of Luke 2:29-32. We don’t know any more about this man other than what this short passage gives us. He was a godly man, sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and so he went into the temple that day sensing that the Lord had something for him to see and do pertaining to the coming Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he approached the Holy Family and began to speak. Let’s listen to what he has to say and what it teaches us. (more…)

Jesus will Return

January 27, 2008

Title: Jesus will Return

Text: Acts 1:9-11

Date: October 21st, 2007

I Jesus is Coming Back

II We aren’t to stand around waiting and wasting our lives

III We are supposed to be busy doing God’s will until Jesus comes

The other day I was watching a program on the History Channel (you have to be careful with History Channel programs, like Discovery Channel and National Geographic, because they often take a liberal, skeptical view of the Bible and Christianity), but I was watching this program about the end times and it described what Christians believe and have believed about the 2nd Coming of Christ. It gave the account of what happened in 1844 here in America and in Europe over end-times Bible prophecy. I don’t know if you remember reading about or hearing about what was called “the Great Disappointment” among historians. What happened was around the first half of the 1800s a great interest in Bible prophecy started in Europe and spread to the United States. William Miller became the leading figure of this popular interest in end-times prophecy. Building on the teachings of others at the time, Miller came to the conclusion that based on prophecies from the Old Testament Book of Daniel and the New Testament Book of Revelations that Christ would return around the year 1844. Others even took it further, and with Miller’s endorsement, set the date October 22nd, 1844 as Christ’s exact date of return. Now this was not just some fringe group of over-zealous Christians who believed these things; many people in the United States and in Europe considered the dates valid for the return of Christ. While not all who believed these prophecies carried them to extremes, some did, selling their homes and businesses, quitting their jobs, and setting their affairs in order for the return of Christ. Well, needless to say, they were all sadly disappointed. They were right in looking for the return of Christ — which we are commanded to watch for, but they were wrong in setting a date for it. We’ve been studying the Book of Acts and we’ve already seen these words spoken by Christ to his disciples, “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority,’” Acts 1:7. If only Miller and his followers had read their Bible more closely, they would have seen that we are not supposed to know the year, day or hour of Christ’s return. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only,” Matthew 24:36. So there is really no excuse to make that same mistake again, and I think for the most part Christians have learned not to try to set dates in connection with Christ’s Second Coming. Although I do remember way back in 1988 when I first broke into pastoral ministry in Chicago, Illinois, while I was ministering in a Hispanic congregation, I received a book entitled “88 Reasons Christ will return in 1988.” I found out later that this author had written this book and sent it out by the thousands, even millions to Christians and church leaders trying to convince them that Jesus was returning in 1988. Needless to say, again, that date was wrong. And from time to time you hear of people setting dates based on their own calculations of prophecies, but they’ve all proven wrong because we aren’t supposed to know the date of Christ’s return, just that he will return and we need to be ready. Now today I’m going to talk about Christ’s return because Acts 1:9-11 (read) talks about it in connection with Christ’s ascension into heaven. We need to know how to live between now and Christ’s coming. We need to live in expectation but not get caught up in wild speculations. (more…)

Mary’s Song: A Thanksgiving Message

January 26, 2008

Title: Mary’s Song: A Thanksgiving Message

Text: Luke 1:46-55

Date: November 18th, 2007

Today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving 2007, and so I’d like to incorporate Thanksgiving into my Christmas season message series by preaching on what is traditionally called “Mary’s Song” in Luke 1:46-55 (read). This is what the Virgin Mary says after she is told by the angel that she will give birth to the Messiah. It contains a lot of thanksgivings which might help us in giving thanks to God this Thanksgiving season. Every year our nation celebrates Thanksgiving, but it – like Christmas – has become a secular holiday, which is really an oxymoron because “secular” and “holy day or holiday” are opposites. But Thanksgiving has become secularized so that today it’s know for vacation time, big meals, football, family gatherings, etc. just like Christmas is now known for, while the real reason for it has largely been forgotten. Now Thanksgiving never was as spiritual a day as Christmas; it was never meant to celebrate Jesus specifically, but it was established to look to God in thanksgiving by early Americans. So let’s do just that today and this Thanksgiving season – let’s look to God in thanksgiving for all the many blessing He’s given to us in this blessed land. We often focus on the negatives and what we don’t have, but let’s remember this year to thank God for the positives and for what we do have, what God has given us. It amazes me that I’ve been given, and you’ve been given, the great blessing of living in a prosperous land, when most of the world and most of human history shows that people haven’t had it this good. In history, civilizations rise and fall, go up and down. We are blessed that we are living during a time of rising level of prosperity, that we are living in a time of great abundance. That prosperity and abundance might not last for long, we don’t know, but for now at least we are living in a blessed time. We need to stop and give thanks to God for this and not take it for granted. In fact, God has a habit of removing blessings to people who take them for granted. Let us not ever be guilty of that. Now in the passage we are reading today, Mary is told by the angel that she will be the mother of the Messiah, that she is the chosen one to bear the Chosen One. In response to this news, she speaks what is traditionally known as the Magnificat by the traditional, historical church through the ages. What it is is essentially something like a psalm to God and for God. We don’t know exactly, but she may have sung it to some tune that she made up on the spot or that she had heard before, because it fits the form of a song as they sung in ancient times. After the news from the angel, Mary is so overwhelmed by such blessed news that she can’t contain herself and bursts out in song, really almost a prophetic song, inspired by God and by the events of the moment. Let’s look at what she says and apply what she says to thanking God for our blessings during this Thanksgiving season. (more…)

Angels Announce to the Shepherds #1

January 26, 2008

Title: Angels Announce to Shepherds #1

Text: Luke 2:8-12

Date: December 16th, 2007

Imagine you are a shepherd in ancient Israel out in the fields at night. Imagine that you had just got all the sheep calmed down and restful for the night ahead. Imagine you are sitting around the campfire, finishing up your evening meal, trying to keep warm. Imagine talking with the other shepherds about the day just completed and the day ahead tomorrow before you get some sleep. It’s quiet and peaceful, relaxing and calm out. It’s dark and you can see the stars, it’s quiet so you can hear the snap, crackle and pop of the fire, and maybe the sheep once in a while make noise. Maybe you begin to reflect on why you became a shepherd. Maybe you decide that it is because it’s a simple life, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. The clean air, the open sky, and you like the out of doors. You are just about to pack it in for the night, hit the sack, get some shut eye, when all of a sudden this great big, huge light shines down on you from the sky, brighter than the sun, and it scares the living daylights out of you. Then this great big voice speaks out of the sky. Bright light and loud voice interrupts the perfectly calm, night scene. Now let me ask you, are you afraid? You betcha. Are you terrified? You betcha. Do you almost have a heat attack? You bet. Do your knees start knocking and jaw start dropping? Absolutely. That’s what anybody would experience when a bright light and a loud voice suddenly breaks into a perfectly relaxed and tranquil situation. Everybody would be scared, anybody would have been terrified. That’s what happened on that first Christmas night so long ago for the poor shepherds. Remember, these are men who like the countryside, they don’t like the bright lights of the city, they don’t like the loud noises of the city – that’s why they are shepherds, because they like the quiet, calm country, the pastoral life. I remember the old television show Green Acres, where the husband and wife are exact opposites. She loved the city life, the fast paced, rushing here and there, the nightlights, the noise, the busy life. Her husband loved the country life, the slow pace, the quiet and calm surroundings, the laid back atmosphere of the farming life. Two opposites. I can still remember the theme song of that show (hum the melody and repeat as many words as can remember). Well, in terms of that old television show, the shepherds were like the farmer who preferred the country to the city. But into their quiet pastoral lives the Lord God Almighty sent his angels to announce in a big-city kind of way that Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem that night. That’s what I’d like to talk about this morning, the angels announcement to the shepherds on that first Christmas 20 centuries ago. Maybe it will give us a better appreciation for Christmas this year. Let me call to your attention three things about the announcement of the angels to the shepherds. (more…)