Preparing For Christmas and More Importantly – Christ

1409165_39019246This Sunday we are looking at another Advent theme. We are looking at preparing. The truth is for anything big in our lives we start to prepare. People prepare for weddings for months, the prepare for Christmas for weeks, and prepare for days for birthdays.

The point is that the larger the event is the more we prepare. We think about it, we plan for it, we make adjustments for it.

The question then is how are you preparing for Jesus’ coming?

Because this is a major event. This is a life changing reality. This is what Christmas is all about. So how are you personally preparing your life? And not just preparing your home with decorations and gifts. How are you preparing your spirit and soul for his coming this year?

This is what we are going to be talking about Sunday but I don’t think we need to wait till Sunday to start preparing. Why not take sometime this weekend to prepare your heart for Jesus’ coming. Spend some time with him, talk with him, focus on him. Prepare your house and heart for him, and not just all the friends and family you will be having in.

Because the promise of Advent is that Christ comes. So let’s be ready for his arrival.

The Power of the Christmas Story

Merry Christmas!

Take a moment if you can and maybe read the story here. I truly believe that stories can change people. They can redirect attention, give grace, and become a moment of meaning. So simply read the Christmas story to your family, friends, or on your own. But read it and be reminded of why we have Christmas, and maybe even be changed through it:

Mary, a virgin, was living in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter. A1408232_74466547n angel visited her and explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would carry and give birth to this child and she would name him Jesus.

At first Mary was afraid and troubled by the angel’s words. Being a virgin, Mary questioned the angel, “How will this be?” The angel explained that the child would be God’s own Son and, therefore, “nothing is impossible with God.” Humbled and in awe, Mary believed the angel of the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior.

Mary must have reflected with awe on the words found in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling this event, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

While Mary was still engaged to Joseph, she miraculously became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, as foretold to her by the angel. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he had every right to feel disgraced and ashamed. He knew that the child was not his own, and Mary’s apparent unfaithfulness  would shape his community’s opinion of him and her. So Joseph decided to quietly break off the engagement seeking to spare Mary as much shame as possible. Joseph was a righteous man and sought to act with grace even in difficulty.

But God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to confirm Mary’s miraculous story and reassure him that his marriage to her was God’s will. The angel explained God’s amazing plan that the child within Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That the child was the Messiah, and was to be named Jesus meaning God with us. When Joseph woke from his dream, he willingly obeyed God and took Mary home to be his wife, in spite of the public humiliation he would face.

Joseph too must have wondered in awe as he remembered the words found in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

At that time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken, and every person in the entire Roman world had to go to his own town to register. Joseph, being of the line of David, was required to go to Bethlehem to register with Mary. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Inn was full so she gave birth to Jesus in a manager, on their own, on the outskirts of town. She wrapped the baby in cloths and placed him in a manger.

Out in the fields, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night. The angel announced that the Savior had been born in the town of David. Suddenly a great host of heavenly beings appeared with the angels and began singing praises to God. As the angelic beings departed, the shepherds decided to travel to Bethlehem and see the Christ-child.

There they found Mary, Joseph and the baby, in the stable. They praised God for the miracle of the birth of the Messiah. They went on their way still praising and glorifying God. But Mary kept quiet, treasuring their words and pondering them in her heart.

After Jesus’ birth, Herod was king of Judea. At this time wise men from the east saw a star, they came in search, knowing the star signified the birth of the king of the Jews. The wise men came to the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and asked where the Christ was to be born. The rulers explained, “In Bethlehem in Judea,” referring to Micah 5:2. Herod secretly met with the Magi and asked them to report back after they had found the child. Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to go and worship the babe. But secretly Herod was plotting to kill the child.

So the wise men continued to follow the star in search of the new born king and found Jesus with his mother in Bethlehem. They bowed and worshipped him, offering treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh. When they left, they did not return to Herod. They had been warned in a dream of his plot to destroy the child.

This is the story of Christmas. Merry Christmas, enjoy the day, and Jesus’ presence!!

Chasing Stars to Jesus

On Sunday we looked at an odd story of Magi, stargazing, and finding Jesus. What we saw in Matthew 2 is a beautiful story of sacrifice, searching, and stargazing. We see Magi who have been diligently searching the Scriptures because they knew of the prophecy about the birth of the Messiah. We see them willing to sacrifice and travel over 700 miles to Jerusalem to welcome and worship the new king. We see them suffer through heartbreak and difficulty as they finally reach their destination to discover there is no king in Jerusalem. And worse than that, it seems like Israel as a nation isn’t even looking. Doubt and dejection becomes a temptation. But they press on, they keep following the star, wondering and hoping that it will lead them to the one they have set out months and months ago to find. And finally after miles and miles of travel, after cold nights, endless sacrifices, threats, and rough journeys they arrive to find Jesus. They find him. And I think this is a beautiful story about how to find Jesus.

I love this story because amidst all the heartbreak, set-backs, and sacrifices they get to meet with God. Even though at times they were looking for Jesus in the wrong places, and maybe not in the right way, God still guides them to him. What matters to Jesus is the heart that is searching for him and these magi have a heart that demonstrates sacrifice, perseverance, and audacious hope. I love this because this story reminds me to never give up searching for Jesus.

Maybe you know what it is like to search for God and feel disappointed. Maybe you know what it is like to give up and leave behind your context to find this King,only to become confused and unsure. Maybe you know what it is to search but still haven’t found Jesus.

Well, I think this story teaches us something profound: don’t give up. Keep going. Keep believing. Even if doubt tempts you to give up, hold onto hope that Jesus could be over the next hill. Because the magi hold onto to hope in face of difficult circumstances, and eventually they go over the next hill and discover Jesus. And so what I want to leave with you today is this…Jesus could be just over the hill…so if you are searching, don’t give up

Because the God that you’re searching for…is searching for you too…

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: Your heart matters most in finding God

Take Aways…

  • What matters most in a gift is the motive and meaning behind it
  • What matters most to God isn’t looking for him in the right way, or the right place. What matters is the heart that is looking for him
  • Is your heart ready and willing to follow, sacrifice, and celebrate to find Jesus
  • Don’t ever, don’t ever, don’t ever give up searching for Jesus.
  • Focus on getting your heart right and never give up looking for the God who wants to be found

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you in the sermon? What was new? What was different? When have you been given a gift with a “great motive”? What was the best gift you’ve ever received? Think about your motives. Are you searching for God? Are you willing to sacrifice for him? How might you sacrifice to find him this Christmas?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take time to talk with your kids about what matters in giving and receiving. Tell them that the heart behind it is what matters most. Talk to them about Jesus and how that’s what matters most with him too.

Challenge for this Week

Examine your heart your searching for Jesus with, and ask what you might need to sacrifice to find Jesus…

Messiness in the 1st Christmas

On Sunday we looked at the reality of Jesus entrance into the world. And it should give us so much hope because Jesus shows up in the midst of a mess.

On the first Christmas there was family drama because as Mary and Joseph come home they end up staying…in an Inn. Which means they weren’t welcome at home. They were rejected while being nine months pregnant. They have travelled, are dirty, tired, sore, and now hurt. There is a chance for division between them as they talk about their families and the rejection. They can’t find anywhere to stay and Joseph must be wondering how am I to be a father to the messiah if I can’t even find us a place to stay. They end up in a barn with a manger.  Jesus in a feeding trough.  Jesus born in the midst of dirt, messiness, and family drama.

What I love about this is that Jesus decides to show up in the midst of a mess. So if in your family Christmas can bring with it some drama, division, and rejection. If in this Christmas your finances are in a mess, your personal relationships or your family, this doesn’t stop Jesus from showing up. Because God chose for Jesus to show up for the very first time when everything wasn’t perfect, pristine, and pretty. God chose Jesus to show up in the midst of a mess and to start to transform things from there.

So this Christmas, if your life is feeling a bit messy in places, then invite Jesus to show up there. Remember that messiness in our lives doesn’t stop Jesus from coming, because it’s the first place he chose to show up. And so if he chose way back then to show up in the midst of a mess…my theological guess is that your mess isn’t too big for him to show up there too…

So look for him, invite him, and trust that even in the midst of a mess the Messiah comes…

Teaching Notes (Download)

Big Idea: Jesus chooses to show up in the midst of our mess

Take Aways…

  • Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes. Pope John Paul
  • We tend to base our hope on our present reality…rather than the reality of Jesus.
  • Even in the first Christmas there was a mess…family drama, division, and hurt feelings, but it doesn’t stop Jesus from showing up.
  • Focus on Jesus to find him in the midst of a mess…
  • We are far to easily pleased. C.S. Lewis

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stood out to you from this morning’s talk? What made you laugh? What made you think? What was new? Spend a moment and think and picture what it might be like in when Jesus was born. As you reflect on it, what strikes you? Where in your own life is there a bit of “messiness”? Do you believe and trust that God can show up there? What stops you from trusting in that truth? What helps you to trust in the truth that God wants to show up? How might you focus on him this Christmas season and not get distracted by the mess? When has Jesus shown up for you in the midst of a mess? How might he do it again this season?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Read over the Christmas story with your family. Have the kids picture the story and share with them how Jesus came in the midst of a mess, that whenever we are in a mess he wants to be there with us too.

Challenge for this Week:

Decide on how to focus on Jesus this season

The Christmas Story

Merry Christmas!

Take a moment if you can and maybe read the story here. Read it to your family, friends, or on your own. But read it and be reminded of why we have Christmas:

Mary, a virgin, was living in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter. An angel visited her and explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would carry and give birth to this child and she would name him Jesus.

At first Mary was afraid and troubled by the angel’s words. Being a virgin, Mary questioned the angel, “How will this be?” The angel explained that the child would be God’s own Son and, therefore, “nothing is impossible with God.” Humbled and in awe, Mary believed the angel of the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior.

Mary must have reflected with awe on the words found in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling this event, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

While Mary was still engaged to Joseph, she miraculously became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, as foretold to her by the angel. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he had every right to feel disgraced and ashamed. He knew that the child was not his own, and Mary’s apparent unfaithfulness  would shape his community’s opinion of him and her. So Joseph decided to quietly break off the engagement seeking to spare Mary as much shame as possible. Joseph was a righteous man and sought to act with grace even in difficulty.

But God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to confirm Mary’s miraculous story and reassure him that his marriage to her was God’s will. The angel explained God’s amazing plan that the child within Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That the child was the Messiah, and was to be named Jesus meaning God with us. When Joseph woke from his dream, he willingly obeyed God and took Mary home to be his wife, in spite of the public humiliation he would face.

Joseph too must have wondered in awe as he remembered the words found in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

At that time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken, and every person in the entire Roman world had to go to his own town to register. Joseph, being of the line of David, was required to go to Bethlehem to register with Mary. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Inn was full so she gave birth to Jesus in a manager, on their own, on the outskirts of town. She wrapped the baby in cloths and placed him in a manger.

Out in the fields, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night. The angel announced that the Savior had been born in the town of David. Suddenly a great host of heavenly beings appeared with the angels and began singing praises to God. As the angelic beings departed, the shepherds decided to travel to Bethlehem and see the Christ-child.

There they found Mary, Joseph and the baby, in the stable. They praised God for the miracle of the birth of the Messiah. They went on their way still praising and glorifying God. But Mary kept quiet, treasuring their words and pondering them in her heart.

After Jesus’ birth, Herod was king of Judea. At this time wise men from the east saw a star, they came in search, knowing the star signified the birth of the king of the Jews. The wise men came to the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and asked where the Christ was to be born. The rulers explained, “In Bethlehem in Judea,” referring to Micah 5:2. Herod secretly met with the Magi and asked them to report back after they had found the child. Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to go and worship the babe. But secretly Herod was plotting to kill the child.

So the wise men continued to follow the star in search of the new born king and found Jesus with his mother in Bethlehem. They bowed and worshipped him, offering treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh. When they left, they did not return to Herod. They had been warned in a dream of his plot to destroy the child.

This is the story of Christmas. Merry Christmas, enjoy the day, and Jesus’ presence!!

Christmas Eve and Traditions…

There sometimes seems to be a negativity towards tradition. That tradition is old, irrelevant, and outdated. This is surely the case sometimes, but I don’t think it is the case during this time of Christmas.

Tonight I’ll be running my first Christmas Eve service at 7:00 at the church. And I am so looking forward to it. I love the carols, lighting the candles, hearing the story, and the tradition of it. The tradition surrounding the Christmas Eve service doesn’t make it feel old and irrelevant to me but deep and rooted. I feel a part of something centuries old and meaningful. And tonight is extra meaningful for me because of tradition.

For all my life I would go to a Christmas Eve service and hear my dad and mom lead it together. And they used the same structure for almost 25 years.There were always new pieces but there were familiar parts and traditions within it. And tonight I get to carry that tradition on. After my dad passing, this is what I missed around this season. But tonight Krista and I get to carry on the tradition leading our first Christmas Eve service, and even using his service.

Those are the best traditions. The ones that have deep meaning, that make you feel a part of something, that generate beautiful memories, and are things you look forward to. And isn’t that what Christmas is about? Having beautiful traditions that create memories, meaning, depth, and hope?

My challenge to you is this: start a tradition. Start something that will give meaning to this time of the year each year. Start something that will give depth and create great memories. Start something you can pass onto your kids, grandkids, or family. Maybe its going to a Christmas Eve service, sharing stories, creating something as a family, or any other number of things. But this is the year to start a good tradition.

But for me I won’t be starting a new tradition…but carrying on an old one.

Leading a Christmas Eve service just like my dad would…

Messy Spirituality

After an amazing children’s program on Sunday I thought I’d share something I’ve learned from my child.

My personal style or aesthetic is clean, simple, and modern. This is just me. I love working with clean lines and in clean spaces. My son has not inherited this trait. This is him after being home in a spotless house for under five minutes.

How is it that something that was so clean becomes so messy so quick? But this is my life…messy. So I do what any good parent does. I wade into the mess, into the toys, and sit and play with my son.

And God isn’t any different with any of us.

He enters into our mess, plays with us, and helps us clean it up.

So today if your life is feeling a bit messy and you’re stressed about Christmas or any number of other things; if your life is simply not feeling put together – just know this: God is with you, present in our messy lives.

He’s there. Just like how I sat and was with Hudson, God’s wherever you are today. He is with you.

My style may be to prefer clean spaces but that’s not God’s style.

God’s style is to simply be wherever you are…and isn’t that what we need anyway?

Monday Morning Pick Me Up

So today I came to work tired, and a bit drained. We had 3 Christmas dinners yesterday, and then we stayed up late talking and hanging out with my mom. All good things, but this morning I’m dragging a bit.

So Dave – the awesome youth pastor at our church- notices this and writes this blog post: http://gpacrew.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/why-i-love-working-for-my-boss/

It made me laugh out loud multiple times, and made my Monday morning a little bit brighter.

So if you have some time read his funny top ten list, and then why not do the same for someone else? Write about their quirks, who they are, and why they matter. Send it to them in a blog post, an email, or post it on their Facebook wall.

Why not brighten someone’s Monday during this Christmas season. Isn’t that what Christmas is about anyway – spreading love, joy, and happiness? While it might take a little time – trust me it’ll be worth the effort.

I know this because it changed my Monday.

So why not go and change someone else’s…

What are you Hoping for?

This Sunday starts the season of Advent, and we’re focusing on hope. Hope is so prevelant in Christmas. Kids are hoping for a special gift, parents might be hoping to just get through Chrismas. We look forward to Jesus’ birth and how he brings us hope. All of these things are true and good.

But what I want to focus on today is – what are you hoping for?

Not in terms of material gifts, but in terms of you’re life. Is there a need in your life you’re hoping to be filled? Is there a desire that lingers, a prayer that needs to be answered, is there a darkness that needs to be lifted?

Advent is about anticipating, waiting and hoping for Jesus’ birth. Because with his birth comes new hope and new life. This Sunday were going to be focusing not on what hope is, but how Jesus wants to give you and me a hope that overflows.

So today what is it your hoping for this Christmas?

Spend sometime honestly sharing it with God. It can be hard to whisper those deep needs, for fear of being disappointed. But if the Christmas story is true, then it means that hope gets birthed in the most unexpected places and ways.

And it can happen to you today…