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Today we start our Advent sermon Series. I trust that everybody had a great Thanksgiving and now you’re getting geared-up and looking forward to Christmas- the “big papa of all theholidays. And this morning we’re gonna get a little help from Scripture in getting ready for Christmas.
Who here doesn’t love getting ready for Christmas? I bet that most of us (if not all of us) really enjoy the Christmas Season… And for MY family…all the festivities and all the activities leading up to Christmas are some of the best times of the year.
What are some things that WE like about getting ready for Christmas? Which I bet are some of the things you enjoy too. How bout…?
Christmas music- we love Christmas music
We start listening to it immediately after Halloween. The day after Halloween
We set our car radio to the station that plays the continuous quality Christmas music
We get our ipods set.
Kaylee has something like 200 Christmas songs on her ipod that we listen to when we sit down to eat dinner as a family and I crank it up
The Christmas tree- we love the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree
We don’t typically get the tree till after Thanksgiving but…this year we got it the weekend before Thanksgiving because we’ll be visiting family out of twon at Christmas and so we wanted to have an appropriate amount of time with the tree up.
Varner Farms story
Lights- we love the lights- except the tangled ones
We’re not like the Griswold Family covering every square inch of our house with lights but we like havin up some lights.
I remember one year…I literally almost died trying to put up lights on the house. The roof was a sheet of ice, but it was of those now or never moment and I busted it out almost sliding off the roof several times- good memories.
Bake cookies, go shopping, etc.
I think many of us Christians love these… what you might call “cultural” or “secular” holiday traditions… But we try not to admit and we try not to talk too much about them much in the church because they’re not religious enough. In the church it seems like we can only really enjoy the part of Christmas that’s about Jesus.
But if we’re really honest with ourseleves- you and I are are lot like like our kids, the fact that it is Jesus birthday doesn’t really excite my kids that much.-a nd it doesn’t mean they’re not gonna want some cool new toy.
In fact, do you remember that Operation Christmas Child music video we played a few weeks back called “Give this Christmas Away?” My son Wyatt honestly doesn’t like that song because he’s afraid if he gives Christmas away it not gonna be any fun.
And I’ve tried to assure that giving Christmas away does not mean that Christmas will be less fun.
We’re gonna have fun in preparing for Christmas, we’re gonnna do the music, and lights, tree, and cookies, and even some shopping to give gifts.
But the question this morning is this:
In the midst of all the holiday fun, how do I prepare my heart to remember Jesus?
How do I prepare my heart to not only remember the birth of Jesus but also How do I prepare my heart for the return of Jesus?
How can I have a fresh encounter with Christ in the Christmas season and in this season of my life despite all the good and bad distractions that surround me?
The challenge then I think is to somehow invite Christ into all the stuff that tends could draw us away from Him and to make every bit of it an act of preparation to remember Jesus and to look ahead for his coming. thus it all an act of worship.
So how do we do that? How do we prepare for Christmas? How do we get to the place where our life- heart, and soul, and mind, and body at all times- not just on Sunday morning but in every moment of our life is prepared for the coming of Jesus and can say…”Lord I want you to show up, I’m ready for you, I want you to be present.”
In Luke 3 verses 7-14 we have a nice holiday message from John the Baptizer the one whom the Bible calls the forunner for the messiah- the one preparing the way of the Lord to make his paths straight. And so we get from John’s words in Luke what it looks like to prepare for Jesus. This is somewhat of a dummies guide to Preparing for Christmas- Let’s look at Luke 3 for a nice holiday message.
Luke 3:7-9 7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Does that sound like a nice holiday message to you? I’m not quite sure John got the chance to read Carnegie’s book “How to win Friends and Influence People.”
John the Baptist is typically more abrasive than many of us in our culture want to hear. But even through what seems to be a rather “in your face” method used by John to impact his culture and which is really a similar style used by most of the Old Testament prophets, we can still discover the heart of God and what is involved in preparing for Christmas
Preparing for Christmas: Repentance
The first thing involved in preparing for Christmas is: Repentance
We don’t typically like that word Repentance, do we? It’ got this negative tone. It seems harsh. It implies that we’re not as good as we often think we are. It implies judgement of some kind if we don’t repent- which is an idea that is bunk in our culture because “who’s to judge.”
When I hear the word “Repent” I often think of some off the wall tv preacher sweatin like a pig on the stage shouting at people…or I think of those people who walk around with picket signs that say “God Hates” or “The Apocalypse is Near.” But I want to submit this morning that repentance is a beautiful, freeing and life giving action
In verse 7 it says that the crowds “were going out to be baptized by him”
Back in verse three John was preaching a “baptism of Repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
What he was doing was he was calling the jewish people to repentance. And this repentance meant turning the directions of their life and the affections of their heart away from the world and away from their sin and their own selves… toward God.
Do you realize what a significant call this was for his Jewish audience?
For the Jews in John’s context, baptism had one main meaning: it was the symbolic action that converts to Judaism had to go through to become Jewish.
And so John’s baptism would have been extremely offensive to many Jews who were already Jewish. Because in their mind, as Jews they were already right with God.
And John anticipated this response and says in verse 8 “do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”
You see…In calling Jews to accept a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… He was telling them that they cannot rely on their Jewishness- their ethnic connection with Abraham- in other words they can’t trust in their ethnic religion for salvation; they have to be changed in their heart toward God.
And this is what we need, too…a turning of the direction of our life- our motives and our actions towards the living God- so that we become oriented on God and love the things He loves.
In trying to clarify this idea of repentance, Pastor John Piper the author of Desiring god and founder of Desiring God ministries says it well that “Repentance…is the altering of what we rely on in life, what we hope in, what we are counting on for salvation in the age to come and for help now. The repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins is turning away from what we are by birth or achieve by effort to rely wholly on God’s free and sovereign grace.”
And so in preparing for Christmas: Are OUR hearts turned toward God? Or are they hardened in sin? Are we relying wholly on God’s free grace through Christ for our life or do we our own religiosity? Are our hearts on fire with an authentic and passionate repentance toward Christ?
Repentance is essential in preparing for Christmas
Preparing for Christmas: Bearing Good Fruit
The second thing involved in preparing for Christmas is: Bearing Good Fruit.
John says in verse 7 “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance
Can you imagine if there was group of people that came to the church wanting to be baptized and I called them names and told them that their heart condition was rotten?
I’d probably get fired…But that’s what John is doing- He says to the crowd …“You are a brood of vipers.” What does that mean to Jews schooled in the Old Testament?
Well… in Genesis 3 Satan is pictured as a serpent or a viper, and God says to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 , “I will put enmity between . . . your seed (a plural form of the word seed referring to the serpent’s family) and her seed (a singular form of seed- referring to the coming Messiah)
If somebody said to you that you were the seed or the brood of a viper, it was the same as saying “your Dad is the Father of Evil- the Devil.” And that would be offensive to anybody but especially the Jews. That’s exactly what Joh is saying and its what Jesus said on another occasion to different crowd”
Jesus Christ and John the Baptist weren’t on a mission of flattery make friends. They intentionally realigned paradigms to get people thinking about the truth they and got killed for.
John is telling these people and everyone else that they are born into the Kingdom of Darkness and they are not ok if they’ve not truly turned to God. They’re not ok if they’re simply going about their business and life without living for God..without bearing the fruit of repentance
In verse 9 he repeats the warning implied in verse 7 about the wrath to come. “”Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
He’s saying… Don’t trust in the kind of tree you are. If there is no good fruit that accords with repentance your repentance is worthless. It doesn’t matter if the tree is Jewish . It doesn’t matter if the tree is Gentile. It doesn’t matter if you call yourself a born again Christian and come to church every week, what matters is genuine repentance and its fruit.
A tree bears fruit according to its nature- apple trees produce apples. so the truly repentant soul begins to bear fruit according to this new nature, fruit that pleases God and is observed by others.
John Calvin explains (Calvins Commentaries
[Baker], “Harmony of the Gospels,” pp. 189, 190, italics his),
“It ought to be observed, that good works (Titus 3:8) are here called
fruits of repentance: for repentance is an inward matter, which has its
seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields its fruits in a change of life.”
And so now the question is “what DO I do?” and this is the question that faith produces.
What is good fruit? What are the signs that show that my faith is a real faith, that I’m not a Pharisee or on some kind of self-salvation project? What are the works that will inevitable show up in me if I’m a repentant sinner saved by grace?
This is the exact question they asked John. Look at verse 10- 10 And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” and in verse 12 some tax collectors say “what shall we do? And in verse 14 some soldiers, “what shall we do?”
And in the next 4 verses John tells them what the good fruit looks like that comes from genuine repentance.
Preparing for Christmas: Showing God-like Love to others
And this brings us to third thing involved in Preparing for Christmas: Showing God-like Love to Others
In verse 11-14 we see John’s response to the question- “what shall we do?”
It says “And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise12 And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” 14 Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”
The question is: In my heart of hearts is there an authentic God-like love for other people that is expressed in my action? Do I actually demonstrate the love of God to others?
Here John gives us two practical ways to show God-like love to others. And I think his words reflect the desire of God in the same way the words of the prophet Micah do- who said 8 He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what the LORD requires of you. To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
The first way John says that a person shows God-like for others is by Practicing Mercy.
He says, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise12
In other words, genuine repentance results in a life that takes action to help others who are less fortunate and it gives the necessities of life like food and clothing to those who are in need when it has means to do so.
This is biblical mercy and it is the heart of God. It’s not just being nice.
IF you recall- When two blind men cried out to Jesus, “Son of David have mercy on us,” they were not just saying “please be nice to us.” They were saying “please help fix our physical problem.” And he did.
And so it has been the call of the worshipper of Jesus throughout the ages, to practices biblical mercy- by caring for the physical needs of other people, giving money to help others, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, serving the poor, taking care of orphans and widows, loving your neighbor with action.
Jesus said- For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Matthew 25:35-36
In the words of mother Theresa:
Jesus is the Hungry – to be fed.
Jesus is the Thirsty – to be satiated.
Jesus is the Naked – to be clothed.
Jesus is the Homeless – to be taken in.
Jesus is the Sick – to be healed.
Jesus is the Lonely – to be loved.
Jesus is the Unwanted – to be wanted.
Jesus is the Leper – to wash his wounds.
Jesus is the Beggar – to give him a smile.
Jesus is the Drunkard – to listen to him..
Jesus is the Little One – to embrace him.
Jesus is the Blind – to lead him.
Jesus is the Mute- to speak for him.
Jesus is the Crippled – to walk with him.
Jesus is the Drug Addict – to befriend him.
Jesus is the Prostitute – to remove from danger and befriend her.
Jesus is the Prisoner – to be visited.
Jesus is the Old – to be served.
Will you and I prepare for Christmas by showing God-like Love to others with acts of mercy?
The second way John says that a person shows God-like love for others is to by Practicing Justice
Luke writes in verse 13: “And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.”
In other words, don’t stop being a tax collector but be just and honest and don’t be greedy- right where you are. Don’t leave the darkness devoid of your light, but practice righteousness among the wicked. Show the goodness of God others through your actions. Be salt and light by treating people with equity and justice.
This is the same challenge he gives to the soldiers whose hearts have been pricked by God. It says: Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely and be content with your wages.”
Again John does not say stop being soldiers but he tells the soldiers to practice justice as soldiers… specifically- not to abuse their power for personal gain, and to be content with their wages.
This must have been difficult for the repentant soldiers who would often see the others soldiers using the system to fill their own pockets, while they scraped by with low wages.
But the repentant soldier who is bearing good fruit by showing God-like love toward others, is gonna will pursue justice and mercy and will deal with his own greed by learning contentment in the Lord.
Do your remember that movie with Russel Crow called Cinderella man- about a boxer who lived during the great depression. One scene in that movie really burned into my memory: It’s the scene where the boxer comes home to find out that his son had stolen meat from the butcher shop. This family was really struggling financially and so the boy decided to help bring home food by whatever means necessary. And if you recall, the boxer played by Crow knelt down in front of his son and said, “Son, no matter how bad it gets, we don’t steal”
We do the right thing even when it’s hard.
Will you and I prepare for Christmas by living our lives practicing justice, treating people fairly in an upright manner? Will we live honestly and with intergrity even when no one is watching? And will we seekg to be content with the resources God has provided us.
Today we’ve learned from John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel that preparing for Christmas, preparing for Christ involves repentance… and true repentance results in a life that bears good fruit. And in practical terms bearing good fruit involves Showing God-like love to others by practicing virtue such as mercy and justice.
And although our virtuous acts, our good works are not the means of our salvation, they’re not something that merits a right standing with God, They are marks of salvation- the fruit of a heart that has been born again.
Some of you here today are doing big things for God. And if you’re not today you will someday You’ll start ministries, you write books, you’ll go on missions, you’ll pastor churches. And others of you won’t do big things, but you you’ll simply love people day in and day out with an authentic and passionate God-like love through small acts of mercy and justice.
And when Christ comes back they are both on main stage. Our works aren’t evaluated by God like we do. We just don’t get that sometimes- we’re often dummies when it comes to spiritual things. In fact I don’t doubt that someday Jesus is gonna come back and say to some of those people with “big” ministries “watch it burn because it wasn’t me.” It wasn’t fruit born from the heart of true repentance.
And so as we disperse from this place back onto the mission field and go off to get ready for Christmas, let me encourage you to have lots of fun with family and friends getting ready. But… in the midst of all the fun and festivities and everything else that goes on- Let Us Adore Christ.