The Season of Advent

Love, 24 December 2023

The Season of Advent

Big Idea:
The heart of Christmas is love…not a feeling, but a Person!

Merry Christmas Eve!
We’re in week four of our series
The Season of Advent. We’re launching from the traditional candle theme of each Sunday, today being love…and tonight we will light the Christ Candle, the conclusion of Advent, a season of waiting, expecting, anticipating.
Love must be the most misunderstood word in the English language. It replaces multiple words in other languages. I love my friends. I love First Alliance. I love my wife. I love tacos. I love riding roller coasters. They hardly mean the same thing!
What do you think of when you hear the word
love? One of my favorite definitions is “looking out for the best interest of another.” It requires more than candy hearts or mushy words. It’s certainly not mere lust or even a feeling. Love is a verb, a rugged commitment to a person, and it’s the best word to describe God.
When I was in high school, our youth group leader once told the story about how he searched for a good definition of love. He found a young lady he wanted to marry, but wanted to know what the Bible said about love. He came across these words:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8, NIV).
God is the definition of love! That word in the original Greek, agape, means “affection or benevolence, charity, dear, love.”
Do you think of God as love…or do other images and words come to mind? I’ve often said the two most important questions in the world are “Who are you?” and “Who is God?” Tragically, many are afraid of God, thinking He’s out to get them, ready to zap them with lightning if they ever make a mistake. Others picture God as some cosmic grandpa who’s taking a nap in a rocking chair or too busy to notice what’s happening on our planet.
God is love, and the most famous verse in the Bible declares His rugged commitment to you and me, a commitment which involved the ultimate sacrifice, the most drastic action.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
God loved. He so loved. He loved the whole world…every gender, ethnicity, nation. He gave. Giving is a sign of love. Gifts are one of Gary Chapman’s five love languages. HE gave His son, His one and only son. He sent him away for 33 years to our planet…to show us what it means to be human, to love, to heal, to teach, and ultimately to die on purpose…for us…and then rose from the dead, conquering sin and death.
Do you know that one and only Son, Jesus Christ? He’s what this season is all about. It’s his birthday we celebrate tomorrow (what are you getting him for his birthday?).
Jesus embodied God’s love, being fully God and fully human. There’s more that John wrote.
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17, NLT)  
That was his mission. He came to die for our mistakes, our sins, our rebellion, our selfishness and pride. He is the greatest gift you can ever receive. It comes with peace, joy, hope, meaning, purpose, and contentment. But a gift is only yours if you receive it. God’s love is only yours if you believe, if you trust, if you surrender. Without Jesus, we live in darkness, without hope.
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:18-21, NLT)   
Light or darkness. You choose. That choice has consequences, both now and forever.
You can choose to be with God now and forever…or choose to be without God now and forever.
As C.S. Lewis put it: sin is a human being saying to God throughout their life, “Go away and leave me alone.” Hell is God’s answer: “You may have your wish.” Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it” (The Great Divorce [New York: Macmillan, 1946], 72).
God loves you. Really. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done. He’s crazy in love with you, and nothing can change that love…but again, if you don’t receive it, you can’t experience it.
What are you getting Jesus for his birthday? What he wants most is you…your heart…your surrender…your acceptance…your obedience…your worship. Going back to the words of one of Jesus’ three closest friends:
And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)
He continues later…
God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
To summarize the reason for our faith in one sentence…
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)
That’s what Christmas is all about…love…God’s love for us…our response of love toward Him…and others.
Two weeks ago, we looked at a story that occurred shortly after Jesus was born. His parents took him to the temple for the customary dedication. It was there that they met Simeon and Anna. Simeon was overjoyed at seeing the infant Messiah, an experience promised by the Holy Spirit. He most certainly spoke through tears of joy as he prayed.
“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:29-32).
The text continues.
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:33-35)
What a bittersweet blessing! Now we come to the prophecy of Anna. Before we read, prophecy is a spiritual gift that is alive and well today to be used not for the prophet, but rather for the benefit of the Church. notes:
Most prophecy is forth-telling, not foretelling. A Christian prophesying will normally “tell forth” God’s word as an encouragement or exhortation for the whole congregation. Only on rare occasions will prophecy predict some future event When it does, the biblical test is in the prophecy: fulfillment, or lack of it (Deut. 18:22).
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. (Luke 2:36)   
We’re about to see just how old she was.
Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. (Luke 2:37)   
That’s a woman devoted to the LORD! One benefit to being single is the ability to invest your time and energy in the LORD rather than a spouse. For decades, Anna was serving the LORD.
She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)   
True love requires action. Talk is cheap. Simeon and Anna were both great lovers…of the LORD. They experienced God’s love and responded accordingly. Although they weren’t at his birth, they gave Jesus special gifts of worship, devotion, time, prayer, energy, and attention. Think about how rare these gifts are today. We are so busy…doing what? Staring at screens? Buying things we don’t actually need? Worrying about outcomes which will never occur? Stressing about unnecessary tasks?
That’s just part of
my list!
Jesus summarized every command in the Bible when…
He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
There’s that agape love again. God is agape love and we are to agape love Him. Always. With all of our being. The second part is often more challenging…loving others as we love ourselves. After all, Jesus clarified his statement by saying your neighbor may even be your enemy, yet they are to be loved…not because they deserve it, but rather because we’ve been so loved. Remember…
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)
We love God because he first loved us.
We love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves because he first loved us.
So What?
Who do you need to love?
How do you need to love?
I mentioned Dr. Gary Chapman’s book
The Five Love Languages. In it, he states we all have ways in which we want to receive love, and that’s how we usually express love. Those languages are
Words of Affirmation: Expressing affection through spoken words, compliments, or words of appreciation.
Acts of Service: Demonstrating love by performing actions or tasks that show consideration and thoughtfulness.
Receiving Gifts: Expressing love through the giving and receiving of tangible gifts as symbols of affection.
Quality Time: Spending meaningful and focused time together, giving each other undivided attention.
Physical Touch: Showing love through physical gestures such as hugs, kisses, or other forms of physical intimacy.
These languages are spoken in marriage, with children and parents, among friends, and even with co-workers. Again, we normally give through the language(s) we like to receive, which might not make the other person feel as loved as we might desire.
The point is, Jesus said to love others, and these are practical ways in which we express love. He also said the greatest command is to love God, and one way we do that is by loving others.
Christmas is about love. It’s about God’s love, showing us how to love, setting a perfect example for us. Jesus said,
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)
That’s what Jesus did for us. He came into our world in the humblest of circumstances, as a baby into a poor family. No hospital maternity ward. No car seats, Pampers, pacifiers, or bottle warmers! He became one of us, moved into the neighborhood and experienced the trials and thrills of life, the joys and sorrows, temptation and victory. This season is about so much more than Amazon boxes, letters to Santa, Mariah Carey songs, and gingerbread cookies (though I love gingerbread cookies!). The heart of Christmas is love…not a feeling, but a Person! His name is Jesus.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Peace, 10 December 2023

The Season of Advent

Luke 2:22–35, Isaiah 26:3
Big Idea: Our world desperately needs to experience shalom…peace and well-being.
One of my favorite words in the world is shalom. It’s a popular Hebrew word for many reasons, often translated peace. Many of us have been praying for peace in the Middle East, particularly Jerusalem, especially during the war between the Jews and Palestinians.
shalom is more than the absence of war and conflict. It is wholeness, well-being, completeness, and safety. Do you need more shalom in your life?
We’re in week two of our series
The Season of Advent. We’re launching from the traditional candle theme of each Sunday, today being peace. Advent is not exactly Christmas, but rather a time of waiting, expecting, preparation, arrival, anticipating…much like children (and some adults) are looking forward to those gifts under the tree!
It seems like advent calendars have recently become popular in the USA, but when I was in Germany a few weeks ago, I was amazed at how widespread they are…and how many different “gifts” are offered each day…some small chocolates, others little toys, and still others things like clues to an escape room game, puzzles, and even beer!
As much as we may yearn for December 25, the Jewish people spent not days, weeks, months, or years waiting, but centuries…anticipating the promised Messiah. Can you imagine? Generation after generation had been looking forward to the arrival of Jesus Christ. They were waiting for God to user in His Kingdom and overthrow the kingdom of Caesar Augustus.
The second chapter of Luke records the birth of Jesus, but today’s text records what happened shortly after.
Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the LORD.” (Luke 2:22-23, NLT)   
It was only a five mile journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Today, we dedicate children to the LORD, following both the Old Testament example and that of Mary and Joseph…though we don’t sacrifice animals!
So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24, NLT)   
The creator of the universe was born into a family so poor, they could not afford the regular sacrifice of a lamb. A pair of birds was all they were able to bring. Dr. Luke includes this important detail. Jesus was not only born in a humble place, he was born into a poor family.
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26, NLT)   
Imagine God telling you that you will not die until you see something or someone. Wow! What a promise! Simeon was a special man who loved the LORD.
That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. (Luke 2:27-28a, NLT)
I love how the text says the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple. Did the Spirit lead you here today? I think so! About 33 years later in Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit would be given to all followers of Jesus to lead and guide us. It’s not always easy to discern the Spirit from our own minds, but I’m here to tell you God still speaks, and angels are not the only vehicle. In fact, the primary way God speaks today is through the Bible. We have been blessed with tremendous instructions, poetry, songs, history, and stories, yet we’re so easily distracted by other things. I think it’s amazing how the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple.
He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
                        as you have promised.
30         I have seen your salvation,
31                     which you have prepared for all people.
32         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
                        and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:28b-32, NLT)
Here, the word for peace is “eye-ray-nay” in Greek. It speaks of peace, quietness, rest, not unlike the R.I.P. we see on tombstones…rest in peace. Simeon is overjoyed that he was able to see and hold the Messiah, promised and prophesied for hundreds, thousands of years. I can’t imagine what could possibly come close today.
It’s easy for us to miss, but Simeon reveals God’s plan is both for the Jews—Israel—and us gentiles, the nations. This is so important, especially as Israel is back in the news. Jesus the Messiah is Jewish, yet he came to expand God’s family to include gentiles. For God so loved the…world. I’m so glad I don’t have to be Jewish to be God’s child.
A common question among Christians is why don’t the Jews view Jesus as the Messiah. If he was Jewish and fulfilled the prophecies, how did they miss him? There are many answers to that question, but one is simply that the prophecies speak of two different times in history…the first coming (as a baby) and the second coming (soon as the King of kings). Jesus disappointed many Jews by not overthrowing the Roman government and liberating them as they thought he would do the first time he walked the earth. As I’ve often said, we live between the two “comings” of Jesus. Christmas is the celebration of his first coming, and we are waiting for his promised return.
If you’re a parent, you know how wonderful it is when someone says something kind about your children. Imagine being Mary and Joseph hearing Simeon’s words, yet further confirmation that their baby is no ordinary boy.
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. (Luke 2:33, NLT)   
But the news was not all happy.
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)
I guess you could say Mary was warned! She would witness the torture and execution of this baby, arguably the most controversial person in history.
So What?
Simeon was able to rest in peace knowing that God’s promise to him had been fulfilled.
What about you? Is it well with your soul? Do you have peace? The prophet Isaiah said,
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)   
The Hebrew word for peace is…shalom. True peace cannot come from politicians, treaties, or deals. It can only come from knowing Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Earlier in his book, Isaiah penned these words which are commonly recited at this time of year:
For a child is born to us,
                        a son is given to us.
            The government will rest on his shoulders.
                        And he will be called:
            Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Have we seen the complete fulfilment of this? Of course not, but the day is coming.
In the meantime, I want to go back to my question…do you have peace?
This past week I read an article that suggested what people in our culture—especially young people—need is inner peace. It’s no secret that mental health, addictions, isolation, anxiety, and despair are rampant in our nation. I think it’s easy to see why, with social media and even conventional media bombarding us with distorted messages, unrealistic expectations, and outright lies that lead to discontent and even suicide. The writer of the article, Mindy Caliguire, believes if those struggling would encounter Christians who have inner peace, it could lead to transformation. She wrote, “We could impact millions!” but then asked, “Are we marked by peace?”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s Kingdom is filled with peace. Where God rules, there is peace. Where the enemy rules, there’s all of the stuff that makes the news every day. Family, we are here to bring about what is good, to help people experience God’s Kingdom now. As one person said, our mission is not to help people go to heaven when they die, but rather for them to experience heaven before they die. Heaven is where God is present, ruling, reigning. When we submit to King Jesus, we participate in Kingdom life.
Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, said,
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, NIV)
That’s Kingdom language. It all begins in our head…with our minds ruled by the same Spirit who spoke to Simeon all those years ago. We’re told the evidence or fruit of the Holy Spirit is
…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22b-23a, NIV)
There it is…peace.
Know Jesus. Know peace.
No Jesus. No peace.
This does not mean Christians can’t struggle with loneliness, mental illness, or anxiety, but rather we have hope. We know the Prince of Peace. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul also wrote these words:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15, NIV)
We get to choose who rules our hearts. We can pay attention to cable news and social media or fill our minds with the truth and our souls with the Holy Spirit. Peace rules over toxic thoughts and anxious thinking. It’s the result of time with God in prayer, reflection, Bible study, and surrender. It’s not always instant, but over time—with God—we will experience an inner peace that will speak volumes to the anxious world around us.
Listen to these words of King David from Psalm 29:
Honor the LORD, you heavenly beings;
            honor the LORD for his glory and strength.
Honor the LORD for the glory of his name.
            Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:1-2, NLT)
The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea.
            The God of glory thunders.
            The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
            the voice of the LORD is majestic. (Psalm 29:3-4, NLT)
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars;
            the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
            he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox. (Psalm 29:5-6, NLT)
The voice of the LORD strikes
            with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the LORD makes the barren wilderness quake;
            the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. (Psalm 29:7-8, NLT)
The voice of the LORD twists mighty oaks
            and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9, NLT)
The LORD rules over the floodwaters.
            The LORD reigns as king forever.
The LORD gives his people strength.
            The LORD blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29:10-11, NLT)
The LORD blesses those who seek, follow, and honor Him shalom…peace. It’s not only for us, though.

Peace is meant to be shared. Once it’s experienced, it needs to go viral. Peace on earth!
Now this prayer from Eli Pfau:

Father God, would You show me what it means to rest in You. Would the fragrance of Your peaceful Spirit continuously fill me as I seek Your face. Lord, as I lean into the peace that only You can give, draw me to Yourself more than anything. Allow me to come before You, humbled, grateful, and hopeful. I love You. Amen.
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library