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

Away in a Manger, 20 December 2020

Away in a Manger
Luke 2:16-20

Series Big Idea:
Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Baby Jesus in the manager is now LORD of lords, calling us to surrender.

Around 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Our Advent candle this week is
peace (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. It’s a little ironic that we lit the peace candle between our two angel songs that terrified the shepherds in their fields!

The Messiah has many names. In that one verse, Isaiah mentions several. What is your favorite name for God? Our Advent series is called
Carols and our song of the day, Away in a Manger, features one of the most important yet often ignored word…LORD.

There are countless images that depict the birth of the Messiah. In addition to paintings, we have three-dimensional models we call…
nativity scenes or…creches.

For as long as I can remember, our home has always had a nativity scene. It’s tradition for us to set up Mary, Joseph, the animals…and hide baby Jesus until Christmas morning. It’s part of the Advent celebration, the waiting for the coming, the arrival.

We’ve noted before how
many nativity scenes are historically inaccurate. After all, the wise men or Magi from the east arrived later, perhaps two years later! Matthew chapter two records that event. If you have a creche at home, you might want to move the wise men…to your backyard!

Side note: there are many myths about the Christmas story that are completely unbiblical…but that’s probably for another time!

Two weeks ago looked at the beginning of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel account of the life of Jesus the Messiah and the shepherds’ encounter with the angels. Verse sixteen continues…

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16)

Obviously the manger is featured in Away in a Manger.

Away in a manger no crib for a bed
The King of kings had no thousand-dollar stroller. He was not born in a hospital—modern or ancient. There was no mention of his birth in the Jerusalem Daily News. He was not placed in a $700 crib…but rather a manger…a food trough. How royal!

Nativity scenes often show the manger as a wooden vessel with straw, but first-century mangers may have looked like
this (cement). I took this picture in Israel. Would you put your baby—or grandbaby—in that? I suppose if you had no other choice, you would.
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head
Obviously Jesus was little…and apparently His head was sweet! How can you argue with that?
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay
That’s a beautiful image, isn’t it? Stars shining down upon a baby sleeping on a pile of hay.
Away in a Manger was published in the late nineteenth century. For years people thought it was the work of Martin Luther, it is now believed to be an American song with music written by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and James Ramsey Murray (1887).
In 1945, Richard Hill suggested Away in a Manger might have originated in "a little play for children to act or a story about Luther celebrating Christmas with his children," likely connected with the 400th anniversary of the reformer's birth in 1883. This might explain why it was called Luther’s Cradle Song.
The cattle are lowing the Baby awakes
Quick quiz: lowing means
  1. a. The position of the cattle’s head
  2. b. Another term for grazing
  3. c. A sound cattle make
The correct answer is C. But the Bible says nothing about cattle! I’m not sure it says anything about animals other than animals ate from mangers…and shepherds tended sheep. Maybe cows were present. Maybe not. According to the song, the cattle make a noise, wake up the baby…
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes
This is the line I question. It’s a quaint notion, but most babies cry when they are suddenly woken. But I wasn’t there! If the point is Jesus never cried, it’s blatantly false. He was fully human and babies cry!
There is a heresy called Docetism which states Jesus was God but not human. I can’t explain it, but
Jesus is fully human and fully God. Last week we noted John 1:14…
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Jesus being human is vital for several reasons. First, his death and resurrection would certainly be questioned if he wasn’t human. Second, his perfect example of what it means to be human would be lost. Furthermore, his humanity allows him to understand what it’s like to be sick, tired, tempted, angry, and joyful.
Speaking of Jesus, the book of Hebrews declares,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
This is wonderful news. Not only is God with us, Emmanuel, but He understands all of the dynamics of life on earth. He’s been here! He’s faced all of the challenges we face.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
What a beautiful promise! We can have a relationship with God. We can pour out our hearts in prayer. We can be real with God.
We are to respect God, but we don’t need to be overly formal. Religion often keeps God at a distance, requiring special places, words, or rituals in order to get His attention.
He’s right here. He’s with us. He’s not out to get you. He’s not sleeping. He knows life is hard. He grieves when we grieve. He shares our joys and sorrows. He loves you. He proved it by dying for you! How are we to respond?

I love Thee Lord Jesus look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle 'til morning is nigh

We love Him because He first loved us.

It didn’t take the shepherds long to love Jesus. They were the first evangelists, proclaimers of good news.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17-18)

There are so many dimensions to the Christmas story. We’ve mentioned the manger. There was Joseph. Jesus. The angels. The shepherds. Those who heard about the birth from the shepherds. And, of course, Jesus’ mother.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

We looked at Mary’s tragic and triumphant life two years ago during Advent. She experienced the joy of bringing the Messiah into the world, but she endured shame as an unwed mom, gave birth in an inadequate place, would watch the horror of her son’s death, and after he rose from the dead, departing earth weeks later. This was a moment she would treasure, though, as she held God with skin on in her arms.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

We have followed this pattern ever since. We gather to glorify and praise God. We worship with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He deserves it. He is worthy!
Be near me Lord Jesus I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me I pray Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there
Jesus is called “lord” more than 700 times in the New Testament (though I didn’t actually count!)! The Greek word for Lord is kurios, meaning supreme in authority, controller, Master, God. It is not a casual or passive term, but one demanding devotion.

Jesus is not only Savior, but also Lord.

We have a problem with Lord. As I’ve often said, there are vampire Christians who only want Jesus for his blood. They want to use Jesus as Savior, grateful for the cross and the get-out-of-hell-free card they imagine obtaining, but they aren’t followers of Jesus. They may give him an hour on Sunday, but the rest of the week is theirs to live however they feel…whatever makes them happy. After all, we’re Americans and we have the right to do whatever we want so long as we don’t hurt anyone, right?

Not if you have Lord.

You follow a Lord.
You obey a Lord.
You submit to a Lord.

If every Christian truly made Jesus Lord, the Church would look so different. The world would look so different!

You may recall the angel declared Jesus is Lord to the shepherds.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

It’s not enough to call Jesus your Lord. Jesus said,

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

My favorite scripture in the Bible says,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

All your heart. All your ways. Do you trust the LORD? Can you prove it? God can be trusted. He’s not a control freak demanding your obedience, but a loving Father who knows what’s best for us, even when we sometimes don’t understand at the moment what He’s doing. Most of us trust God in some areas. He is lord in certain “rooms” of our house, so to speak. But usually we don’t trust God in the areas in which we do not know Him, the rooms in which we’ve never let Him in. We think we’ll trust God after He proves to be trustworthy, but we really need to reverse it. He is trustworthy. He does know best. He is at work in the universe and He wants a relationship with you. But first you must let go. You must surrender. That can be scary, especially for those of you who have had trauma and trust issues with humans. But I promise you, Jesus can be trusted. The consequences of making Jesus Lord are not only immediate, but also eternal.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Those are sobering words, and they were spoken by Lord Jesus. Calling Jesus Lord does not make Jesus Lord.

So What?

Jesus may be your friend.
Jesus may be your Savior.
Is Jesus your Lord?

We don’t make Jesus Lord. He is. We choose to surrender to His control…or not.

Where have you not fully surrendered to the Lord Jesus?
What’s holding you back?
What next steps do you need to take to more fully surrender to Christ?

When you surrender your life, you discover your life (Matthew 10:39).


Away in a Manger is a classic Christmas carol. It draws our attention to a little baby asleep on the hay, but that baby didn’t stay in the manger. He grew, taught, healed, modeled for us what it means to be human, forgave sins, died a brutal death, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and he’s coming back. Advent is about celebrating his first visit to our planet…and awaiting his second coming soon. He will rule and reign forever and ever. He is the King of kings. He is the LORD of lords.

As we sing this song today—and as you hear it throughout the season—I encourage you to focus on Lord Jesus…and make him your Lord.

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

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

O Come, All Ye Faithful, 13 December 2020

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Joy is the result of focusing our attention upon Jesus the Messiah who is worthy of our adoration.

Last week we began our Advent series, Carols. This season has its own soundtrack, a diverse collection of songs ranging from the silly (Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer) to the sacred (last Sunday’s theme, O Holy Night). Today we’re going to look at a seventeenth century song originally written in Latin, Adeste Fideles. We know it as O Come, All Ye Faithful.

What do you think about when hear the word “faithful?” Couples promise on their wedding day to be faithful to one another until death. We sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as we worship our trustworthy LORD. lists these definitions for the adjective

  • - Strict or thorough in the performance of duty
  • - True to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
  • - Steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant
  • - Reliable, trusted, or believed
  • - Adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate

Then it lists the definitions of the noun

  • - The believers, especially members of a Christian church or adherents of Islam
  • - The body of loyal members of any party or group

True. Steady. Loyal. Reliable. Trusted. Believed. Accurate. Do these words describe you? Do they describe us? If so, come. O Come, All Ye Faithful.

The root of the word faithful is…faith. There is a belief, a conviction behind the faithful. The faithful are full of faith. Are you?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible involves a boy possessed by a spirit. He would be thrown to the ground, foam a the mouth, gnash his teeth, and become rigid. It’s a disturbing situation. John Mark writes about his encounter with Jesus.

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20)

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.
“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22)

“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

This is one of my personal prayers—
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

Put another way, LORD, help me trust You more. Give me faith. Strengthen my faithfulness and loyalty to you.

The challenge to faithfulness is distraction. This is true for a married person whose eyes wander. It is true for the religious person who explores another faith. It can be true for Christians who become more devoted to the things of this world rather than the things of God.

One of the most famous Christmas carols begins
O come all ye faithful
Are you among the faithful? Are you a fully-devoted follower of Jesus Christ? Based upon my aforementioned prayer, I want to be, though I sometimes fail. The next line describes the manner in which God’s faithful people are to come.
Joyful and triumphant
Our Advent candle this week is joy. We are taught by the Declaration of Independence to pursue happiness. I want to be happy, but it’s hard to sustain. It comes and goes. It’s usually based upon circumstances, many of which we cannot control.
I am very happy today because my Michigan Wolverines did not lose to that team down south yesterday!
Unfortunately, a loss in the future is inevitable and I will be unhappy!
But joy is different. Happiness is external, where joy is more internal. The Greek word,
chara, means gladness, calm delight. We can pursue joy. We can choose it. C.S. Lewis said,
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
He called joy “the serious business of heaven,” noting, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is,” wondering, “whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” In our text last week, we read,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Nehemiah famously said in the book (8:10) that bears his name, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Joy is found in the LORD, not shopping malls or Hallmark Christmas movies! C.S Lewis wrote,
“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.”
The faithful are joyful and triumphant. Although it didn’t look like it as Jesus was crucified, he was actually winning, destroying sin and death forever. He is the victor, the champion, the greatest…and being with him, being for him, being faithful to him allows us to be joyful and triumphant.

Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you want joy, you must get close to the LORD. The message of today’s carol is just that…get close to the LORD, come and behold God in a manger.

O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of angels
Obviously, we are not instructed to fly to Israel and visit Bethlehem, though you can. It’s a real city. The message is for God’s faithful to come and worship.
O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
What do you adore? What do you worship or honor or admire? What do you think about, spend time on, give your money to, focus your energies upon? “You are what you love (James K. A. Smith).”
The original Latin version of O Come, All Ye Faithful may have been written by St. Bonaventure, John Francis Wade, John Reading, King John IV of Portugal, or anonymous Cistercian monks somewhere between the 13
th and 18th century. We are more certain that the English translation was done by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley in 1841, with three additional verses added by William Thomas Brooke. First published in Murray’s Hymnal in 1852, Oakeley originally called the song, “Ye Faithful, approach ye.” The musical tune has been attributed to several musicians.
My favorite part of the song has always been the dynamics of the chorus. After joyfully singing the verses, there is a hush when the chorus begins,
O come let us adore Him, then getting louder each time until the crescendo of the song’s subject, Christ the LORD. Our response to knowing God is worship and adoration.
The second verse reflects the second chapter of Luke we examined last Sunday.
Sing choirs of angels Sing in exultation O sing all ye bright Hosts of heav'n above Glory to God all Glory in the highest
What a site that must’ve been for the shepherds who witnessed it.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)   

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)   

There’s a difference between Advent songs and Christmas songs. We are in the middle of Advent, the season of waiting for the coming, a time of anticipation. We are expecting the return of Jesus soon, though we also reflect back upon those who were waiting for his first coming. Perhaps the most famous Advent song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The title says it all. Come, LORD! We are waiting, we are anticipating. We are waiting until December 25…waiting to open presents, waiting for Christmas dinner, waiting for the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. O Come, All Ye Faithful is best sung on that day, especially the third verse.
Yea Lord we greet Thee Born this happy morning Jesus to Thee be all glory giv'n Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)   

Eugene Peterson captured this so brilliantly in
The Message when he translated,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. (John 1:14,
The Message)   

Emmanuel, God with us. Flesh and blood. One of us. God with skin on. Amazing!

So What?
Once again, our response to knowing God is worship and adoration. When we ponder who He is and all that He has done, how can we not praise Him? How can we not come and adore Him?
I know some of you love to sing…and others would just as soon skip to the sermon! Worship is so much more than singing songs. It is one way we adore the LORD, and the angels set a great example on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Last week we talked about posture, particularly the humble act of kneeling. I’ve been in places where the awe of God has caused people to clap, raise their hands, kneel, lie on the floor, dance, weep, and shout. I’m not talking about putting on a show, drawing attention to one’s self, being a charismaniac, or feeling peer pressure to perform for others. I’m simply talking about our response to God.

There’s a powerful scene in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is having dinner at the home of a religious Pharisee.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)

This disturbed the host who was quick to label her a “sinner,” as if he wasn’t! Jesus used it as a teaching moment.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

Then Jesus said to her,
“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49)

Jesus said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

She was faithful. She was full of faith. She came to adore Jesus.

She also had many sins. She received great forgiveness. She expressed great love.

That describes some of you. You know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel, and you’ve experienced the thrill of forgiveness, the outlandish—some call it reckless—love of God. You can’t help but sing, shout, wail, dance in response to all God has done for you.

Some of you are more…reserved! It may be culture. It may be tradition. It may be your personality. That’s fine. But perhaps it’s because you’ve simply lost the awe, wonder, mystery, and majesty of Almighty God. You’ve forgotten the price paid for your salvation. You’ve reduced your faith to some beliefs in your head rather than a transformation of your heart. I want to encourage you to take time this Advent to read, reflect, and become captivated by the joy of the Messiah, the wonder of the season, the love that came down at Christmas. We are told to remember because we so easily forget, we get comfortable, things become familiar and we lose our passion.

We’ve all sinned—a lot—and our reflection upon the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb should lead us to fall to our knees, to be joyful and triumphant, to come and adore Him! He is worthy!

O Come, All Ye Faithful

One more thing…

Worship and adoration is more than singing songs on Sunday morning. It’s how we live our lives, what we do with our time, talents, and treasures. We worship through our generosity, kindness, love…heart, soul, mind, and strength. Family, go worship the King!

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

O Holy Night, 6 December 2020

O Holy Night
Luke 2:6-14

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Jesus brings a thrill of hope to a weary world, prompting us to fall to our knees in worship.

I love music! There are few things I enjoy more than playing, composing, and singing music. Whether it’s nurture, nature, or both, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandpa could play virtually every instrument in the orchestra. My dad could, too. I’m a third-generation musician, and our son, Trevor, carries the baton today.

Music is powerful. It can energize us during a workout, bring tears to our eyes, or relax us before we drift off to sleep. A song can excite a crowd at a concert or transport us back to nostalgic moments of childhood. Perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever heard is that some Jewish rabbis believed when God created the universe, He sung it into existence! Imagine our world the result of a song!

Although it will be unusual this year, I love Christmas. I like buying gifts for family and friends (especially when I find a deal!). I enjoy the parties…especially white elephant exchanges! Christmas cookies are amazing…especially gingerbread! But perhaps my favorite thing about Christmas besides people is the music. No other holiday has a soundtrack so robust, whether it’s “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” or “Silent Night.”

What is your favorite Christmas carol? Comment online.

Most of you are familiar with the Christmas story, but this year we’re going to look at it from the perspective of composers who put the scriptures to song. We begin this morning with what might be my all-time favorite Christmas carol: “O Holy Night.”

In 1843, the church organ in the French city of Roquemaure was completely renovated. To celebrate the newly finished organ, the parish priest had the local poet, wine merchant, and mayor, Placide Cappeau write a poem. Cappeau was an interesting fellow. A fireworks accident blew up his right hand at age eight, and he was known to “enjoy the bottle,” so to speak. This French poet was moved by Luke chapter two…

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

This is a familiar text to anyone who’s ever attending a church at Christmastime. What would it be like to be an eyewitness of this moment? This is what Cappeau considered as he wrote his poem.

We’re in the season of
Advent, a season based upon the Latin word “adventus” or “coming.” It’s a time of preparation for the coming of the LORD Jesus Christ. We look back at those who were anticipating his first entry into our world. Timing is everything, they say, and Dr. Luke includes this detail that “the time came for the baby to be born.” Imagine waiting hundreds of years for something. The Messiah had been prophesied throughout the pages of the Jewish Bible, and Luke records this historic moment.

What are you anticipating? Maybe it’s a COVID-19 vaccine or recovery from the virus. Perhaps you are waiting for a prodigal son or daughter to come home. Children can’t wait to open those presents under the tree. God’s timing is perfect. I often say He’s never late but rarely early! While we look back at the first coming of Jesus, we look forward to his return. He is coming—soon—but rather than a baby, he will coming as a king…the King of kings, the LORD of lords. I don’t know anyone who likes to wait, but I know Jesus will be worth the wait!

Luke continues…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

This was unremarkable. The land was likely filled with shepherds and flocks. But then something incredible happens!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)

Angels are real. They are found throughout the Bible.

Have you ever encountered an angel? I’ve heard stories of angels appearing as ordinary humans, only to suddenly disappear. This is not one of those occasions! This angel appears along with the glory of the LORD. It was terrifying! For the shepherds, this was not a silent night, but a scary night!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

This would’ve been enough to get my attention…but there’s more!

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Imagine the sights! Imagine the sounds! This is what Cappeau was pondering when he wrote his poem.

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

What a night.
What a light.
What a sight.
What delight!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

This is an odd phrase to the modern reader. To “pine” means to long for something. The world was filled with sin and error. Hope was scarce. The world was pining or longing for something…for someone.

'Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

The Messiah changed everything! No person has ever had such a transformational impact on our planet. I can’t even imagine life without Jesus. The next phrase might be the most fantastic lyric in this or any other carol.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

Could there be a more relevant declaration in this moment, in 2020? Our world is weary. It is broken. It is suffering in so many ways. I love Cappeau’s line “a thrill of hope.” Pastor Keith spoke of hope last week, also the theme of the first Advent candle.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Followers of Jesus can experience a thrill of hope…and rejoice! Pastor Keith said hope is “holding onto promises earnestly.”

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

What thrills you? Some people like watching thriller movies. I love the thrill rides at Cedar Point! But there’s nothing more thrilling than hope, especially in the midst of despair.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

In the distance…up ahead…yonder…breaks a new and glorious morn. It’s coming! It’s around the corner. Get ready!

The prophet Jeremiah wrote in 586 BC

I well remember them,
and my soul is
downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are
new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will
wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose
hope is in him,
to the one who
seeks him;
it is good to
wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
(Lamentations 3:20-26)

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!

The shepherds were terrified when they heard and saw the angel. I’m quite sure their knees hit the ground. We’re not a culture that’s used to bowing, to kneeling, to stooping down. Posture matters.

If you’re physically able, fall on your knees right now, wherever you are. How does it feel? Do you feel a loss of power? Do you feel in control? Is it a humbling position?

My frequent prayer—especially this year—has been for our nation and its leaders to fall on our knees, to cry out to God, to be awestruck by His power and wisdom and humbly recognize our own frailty and inadequacy. I don’t care who the mayor, governor, or president is, I pray for them to fall on their knees. And I want that for you, too…and myself. Kneeling is not comfortable, but it’s effective! It will shift your perspective in a hurry.

Ever since the pandemic began, I’ve been praying that this might be the moment God uses to get our attention, to spark a spiritual awakening, to prompt a revival, to free us from the bondage of our idolatry of money, sex, and power and instill in us awe and wonder of the LORD God Almighty.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but politics has not been the answer. Education has not been the answer. Entertainment has not been the answer. Science has not been the answer. The economy has not been the answer.

Only Jesus is the answer. Only the Messiah can bring real hope. Our desperation and God’s awesome presence should cause us to fall on our knees.

O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Cappeau captured the scene so vividly from Luke 2. What a night. What a holy, divine night!

There’s actually quite a bit more to the story of “O Holy Night.” Composer Adolphe Adam was approached to compose music for the poem. Adam was a Jew! He was asked to write music for a poem about the Messiah and it was composed within a day!

On Christmas Eve, 1847, the song was sung and was so well-received that it spread throughout the community. When the church leaders learned about who wrote it, they tried to shut it down! Religion can destroy just about anything! Fortunately, it couldn’t stop this song. It eventually made its way from France to England and a man named John Sullivan Dwight brought it to the USA. Dwight was a Harvard graduate and a minister, but he had panic attacks whenever he preached. He resigned as a pastor and created a journal of music. He took the French poem and translated it into English in the mid-1850s. Do you know what was happening in our nation in the mid-1850’s? There was a little debate going on about the issue of slavery. Let’s return to the song.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace

Jesus taught us to not only love God, but to love others…even our enemies. Most of us see law as a heavy or negative word, but what would happen if love was the law? The gospel or “good news” is peace.

Hope. Love. Peace. Could we use a little bit of that today? Family, this might be the moment our world has been anticipating. We serve the God of hope. Our trademark is supposed to be love. We follow the Prince of Peace. We have what the world needs more than a vaccine! We have life…the way, the truth, the life! We have Jesus! We need to share Jesus, proclaim Jesus, follow Jesus!

As if the song couldn’t get more relevant, the next line says,

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother

Do remember Dwight, the man who translated the French into English? He was a strong abolitionist. He recognized the sin of slavery.

And in His name, all oppression shall cease

The Black Lives Matter organization will not solve racism. Laws won’t change wicked hearts. Sin has invaded all of our lives…but there is power in the name of Jesus. There is salvation in the name of Jesus. There is healing in the name of Jesus. Demons tremble at the sound of the name of Jesus. In His name, all oppression will end. Prejudice. Racism. Injustice. Slavery. Bondage. Sin. Death.

So What?

How shall we respond?

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim

In 1870, there was war in Europe, On Christmas Eve, a French soldier leaped out of his trench and started singing this (in French). This led a German soldier to start singing a German carol. In the midst of the conflict, they had three days of peace. O Holy Night brought peace in the midst of the war. Maybe it’s exactly what our world needs today.

There’s one more story. In 1906, a man named Marconi invented…the radio. The technology was so primitive it only transmitted morse code signals! Reginald Fessenden was trying to increase the range of the radio. On Christmas Eve 1906, people were listening for morse code but, instead, heard the Luke 2 passage read and then Fessenden playing this song on the violin…the first song ever transmitted on radio!

This song was requested by a forgotten priest
Written by an irreligious poet
Put to music by a Jewish composer
Translated into English by a minister unable to speak
It interrupted a war
And became the first song ever heard on radio!

Some of those men knew the story of Jesus, but they didn’t know Jesus. Do you? Family, this season is a reminder of the thrill of hope that our weary world desperately needs. It should cause us to fall to our knees in worship, in adoration, in praise. Christ is the LORD. O praise his name forever! He is here. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Hallelujah! Let us worship Him…every day!

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

Isaiah: Hope, 1 December 2019

Isaiah: Hope
Series—Away in a Manger
Isaiah 40:3-5, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Isaiah 60:2-3, Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, Matthew 1:20-25

Series Big Idea:
The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

Big Idea:
Isaiah’s people were exiles in need of hope, not unlike our captivity to sin and need of salvation today.

It’s finally here! The turkey has been put away, the credit cards are maxed out, The Game is over, and Advent has begun, this season of expectant waiting and preparing for both the celebration of Jesus’ first arrival to our world and his promised return. The word “advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “coming,” and we’re spending this month focused on the first and second comings of the Messiah.

Throughout our series
Away in a Manger, we’re going to look at the nativity of Jesus from the perspectives of various characters in the story, covering the five themes of Advent in the five Sundays of December. Today’s theme is hope and our character is a prophet who wrote about 700 years before the birth of Jesus, yet his predictions were spot-on, giving tremendous credibility to both the Holy Bible and our faith.

Do you like music? Do you like Christmas music? I love Christmas music, though I always wait until I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade before I listen to it. One of the things that makes Christmastime so special is how it engages all of our senses: we hear the carols, eat the gingerbread, touch the ornaments, smell the pine tree, and see the lights. Perhaps the greatest soundtrack of the season was composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel…The Messiah. How many have attended a performance of it?

If you’re familiar with it, you surely recognized our scripture reading today from the book of Isaiah, whose name means “the salvation of Yahweh” or “the salvation of God”:

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (2 versions)

Most every year at this time I think about doing a sermon series on Handel’s Messiah. Interestingly, it covers more of the Good Friday events than the Christmas story, so maybe this spring…!!!

Back to Isaiah, he made at least nineteen different prophecies that were fulfilled centuries later by Jesus the Messiah.

(You can find a chart of them

Although Handel tied it together with chapter 40, it says in chapter 52

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. (Isaiah 52:13)

Jesus said,

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Paul said of Jesus,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Perhaps the most famous prophesy related to Advent states,

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin
will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

This was echoed by Matthew when he wrote his gospel or “good news” about Jesus.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)

I might add “Immanuel” is one of my favorite words for Jesus. He came and become one of us. Although it occurred two thousand years ago, God came to earth. He laughed and cried, knew joy and hardship, was tempted in every way, and understands pain of the most horrific kind. While Jesus is physically beyond our planet, he knows suffering. He can relate to whatever trial you are facing today. He was with us, he is with us by the Holy Spirit who lives in every follower of Jesus, and one day soon he will be with us again when he returns, the second “coming” which we remember during Advent.

When Isaiah wrote his prophecies, the people of God had become unruly and disobedient. Their sins brought death and destruction and their abandonment of God brought about devastation. Isaiah understood the only way the people could experience peace was through repentance, turning away from their sin and rebellion and returning to God.

I believe that message is spot-on in our nation today. Other than Christmas, it seems the only time we hear the name of Jesus outside of a church gathering is when it’s used as a swear word.

(When did it ever occur to someone to use Jesus as profanity? Why not Pinocchio or Hitler or even satan?)

We are a divided nation, an anxious nation, a fearful nation. Is it any wonder? Life apart from God will always break down eventually. We’re simply not wise enough our own. We were created for relationship with God and one another, yet it seems like every day we’re bombarded with another message stating it’s all about us.

In Isaiah’s day,
foreign nations such as Assyria and Babylon overtook God’s people and eventually led them into exile. That means they were taken from their homes and land. Imagine being kicked out of your home this afternoon, maybe sent to a different city, state, or even country. Some of you know what displacement is all about.
People that experience exile for any length of time hope for survival and rescue. When we read the news today—whether we’re in our homes or not—it’s obvious we’re not following God. Our cities are filled with abuse, violence, corruption, human trafficking, addiction, exploitation, divorce, pornography, disease, debt, depression, and other signs the enemy is experiencing some victories.
What we need is hope!
When we were preparing to distribute goodie bags with Saturate Toledo, I reminded our teams not to worry about soliciting. We weren’t soliciting. I told them they were delivering good news. They were hope dealers!
Isaiah offered hope to those in exile, proclaiming the coming of Messiah. One of my favorite prophecies is found in chapter 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

That’s what Jesus did, and today we re-present Jesus to our world. We are to be his hands and feet, proclaiming good news to the poor…and rich. We are called to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

We do that through Cherry Street Mission.
We do that through Kairos Prison Ministry.
We do that through Dinner Church.

We are hope dealers!

We aren’t the hope, but we deal it, we deliver it, we proclaim it. Jesus is the hope of the world!

Hollywood’s not the hope.
Government’s not the hope.
Our school systems are not the hope.
Science isn’t the hope.
Jesus is the hope of the world! He was. He is. He will always be.

Listen to these hopeful words from Isaiah:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Could we use that today?

Could you use a Wonderful Counselor?
Could you use a Mighty God?
Could you use an Everlasting Father?
Could you use a Prince of Peace?

Hope came about 700 years after Isaiah prophesied these things. His name, Jesus, means “God saves.” About 700 year after Jesus was born, a group of monks sang a song which would become “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Here’s a little background on the song from Eric Metaxas:

“I want you to imagine yourself in a monastery in the 8th century. It’s December 17th and you’ve gathered with your brothers for Vespers, the sun-set prayer service. As with all Vespers, at the heart of the service is the chanting of select psalms, each of them preceded and followed by what is known as an antiphon, a sung or recited response. What sets December 17th apart, and the six nights that follow it, are the seven antiphons used only on these nights. Each one is a name of Christ – specifically, they are Messianic titles from the book of Isaiah: Sapieta (wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix (Root of Jesse), Clavis (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring), Rex (King of the Nations), and Emmanuel.
Because each of these titles is preceded by the word “O,” they are known as the “O Antiphones.” If this sounds familiar, it should. I have just given you a glimpse into the origins of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” – the greatest Advent, or should I say, Christian Hymn of all time. While I asked you to imagine an 8th-century monastery, the O Antiphons predate the 8th century. The Roman philosopher Boethius, who lived in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, alludes to them in his writings. It’s reasonable to suppose, as one scholar put it, that ‘in some fashion, the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early church.’
But it’s what they teach us, and not just their antiquity, that gives them their power. The composer and musicologist Robert Greenberg has noted that if you take the first letter of each of the Messianic titles in reverse order, by December 23rd, you have the Latin phrase ERO CRAS which means, ‘Tomorrow I will come.’”
While yesterday in exile may have been bad and today may not seem to be much better, we have hope knowing that if not tomorrow, soon, He will come again. The second Advent is closer than we may realize even if we feel like exile has lasted far too long from our vantage point of life. If we feel like we are still in exile, may we join with the monks and the many throughout the ages who have sung the song of advent hope: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.”
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Wise Men, 27 November 2016

    Wise Man
    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 2:1-12

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: The wise men waited, listened, and journeyed to follow Jesus, setting an example for us to follow.

    Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-2; 9-12


    For years, people have been warning us, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Is it me or has it taken people a decade or so to finally realize that applies to Facebook? There are so many bogus new reports, urban legends, and flat out lies about people proliferating.

    Perhaps one reason so many people believe lies is they don’t take time to listen.

    (silence) Do you hear what I hear?

    As the Peanuts song declares, “Christmastime is here.” It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the most stressful time of the year. For many it’s the most depressing time of the year. For merchants it’s the most profitable time of the year. And for many Christians it’s the most offensive time of the year as their religious holiday is hijacked by Santa and sales at the mall.

    But let’s set all of that aside. Christmas is our celebration of Christ’s birth, but it’s more than a day. It truly is a season. It’s a season we call Advent.

    Advent is a time of waiting. It’s a time of anticipation. It’s a time of preparation, watching, and listening. Advent is here. Each week we will look at the First Christmas through the eyes of a different character in the story. Today that is the wise man.

    Hide and seek.

    Did you ever play hide and seek when you were a kid? Of course! The best players played hide and go listen. Listen for the sounds of the hiders under the bed, in the closet, or behind the curtain. Listen for the giggles and whispers.

    Listening is a lost art. Unless you’re a psychologist paid to listen, most of us struggle with keeping quiet, being fully present, and hearing what another is communicating.

    Our understanding of the First Christmas has been terribly distorted over the years. Like Facebook myths, there are myths surrounding the wise man (not “the wise guy!”):

    - There were three of them. The Bible never says how many. It says there were three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Eastern tradition says there were twelve!

    - The camels. They’re in my nativity set. Are they in yours? They may have been present at the First Christmas, but they’re not mentioned in the Bible, either.

    - They had names. Well, of course they did have names, but we don’t know their names. Tradition says they were named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, but the Bible does not tell us their names.

    - They were kings. Do you remember that song “We three kings of Orient are/bearing gifts we traverse afar/field and fountain/moor and mountain/following yonder star…oh, star of wonder, star of might/star with royal beauty might/westward leading/still proceeding/guide us to thy perfect light.” It’s a great song, written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., but he took some liberties in calling the wise men kings, or telling us there were exactly three. Magi were not kings, but rather religious advisers.

    Listen…to what the Bible says about the wise men, also known as Magi:

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    We could do an entire message on the star. Who would travel after seeing a star in the sky? One must remember the skies were brighter and clearer. There were no skyscrapers, car headlights, or even streetlights. When the sun went down, the only lights were candles. Star gazing was a big deal, and it was believed the heavens and the earth were intricately connected. Halley’s Comet appeared in 12-11 BC, but that was a little early for the First Christmas. It may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction with each other. N.T. Wright notes

    Since Jupiter was the ‘royal’ or kingly planet, and Saturn was sometimes thought to represent the Jews, the conclusion was obvious: a new king of the Jews was about to be born.

    We’re not really sure about the star. It may have been a natural phenomenon, a comet, planets, a supernatural astral light, or even an angel. We do know astronomers and astrologers often went together in the ancient world. These men made a journey to Jerusalem.
    This word “Magi” can refer not only to wise men but also magicians, astrologers, or experts in interpreting dreams. Today we would probably call them “spiritual” men.

    And who did they ask in Jerusalem? The mayor? The chief of police? The director of the Chamber of Commerce?

    Three decades later Pilate’s soldiers will call Jesus, “King of the Jews.” His crown will be made of thorns. His throne will be a cross. A bright star will be replaced by midday darkness. But that’s a story for another time.

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: (
    Matthew 2:3-5)

    “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler 
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (
    Matthew 2:6)

    Herod was listening. He had heard the prophecies of a king, a king of the Jews. Of course Herod was disturbed. He was the king of the Jews. He ruled over Jews and Gentiles. He wasn’t ready to have his kingdom divided. The Messiah came not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles. The rule and reign of King Jesus will ultimately extend to every nation, tribe, and tongue.

    Jerusalem is disturbed, too. This may mean the actual residents of the city or the Jewish leadership aligned with Herod. The religious people may have been threatened by Jesus from the very beginning, the one they will crucify many years later.

    Note the prophet Micah gave this prophecy seven centuries earlier.

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

    Obviously Herod was not serious. What king goes to worship a child? What king worships another king? He wanted to snuff out the competition! He feared no attack from the west because that was the heart of the Roman Empire. He was more afraid of attacks from the east. It should be noted as he became older, Herod became increasingly paranoid as his ten wives had many children who competed for his throne.

    Is Jesus a baby? We’re not certain, but it could be up to two years after his birth. We do know after he was born and presented in the temple, he was raised in Bethlehem, a city six miles south/southwest of Jerusalem.

    (Heather was there earlier this month, yet another reminder that our faith is not based upon fantasy or dreams, but rather upon historical events, real people, and real places).

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (
    Matthew 2:9-12)

    The Magi followed a moving star! Maybe it
    was an angel guiding them? A supernatural message delivered a life-saving message to them in a dream.

    These gifts were standard items to honor a king or god in the ancient world. In fact, it is recorded that these three were offered to the god Apollo in 243 BC by King Seleucus II Callinicus. They were also very prophetic. Gold is, of course, a precious metal. It represents the kingship of the Messiah. Frankincense is a perfume or incense, a symbol of Christ’s priestly role (also possibly used as an arthritis remedy). Myrrh is anointing oil often used to embalm the dead, a prophetic image of the crucifixion.

    No names.
    No camels.
    No kings.
    No stable.

    But they had been listening.
    They had been watching.
    They had been waiting.

    So What?

    I want to challenge you to pay close attention throughout this series to what is said—and not said—in the text.

    The Magi traveled with gifts to honor Jesus. Although they may have been wealthy, their journey was surely a sacrifice. Although they may or may not have ridden on camels, they certainly didn’t take Delta Airlines, Amtrak, or even the interstate. Their route may have been nine hundred miles, taking several months!

    What about you? Today we must be listening—and reading the Word of God. We must be watching—for signs, for his activity in our world. We must be waiting.

    The Jewish people waited thousands of years for the Messiah. The prophecies of his first arrival to our planet were well known, even among Gentiles. Can you imagine waiting thousands of years for Jesus? Yes we can! The Messiah is coming…again! Soon.

    Are you ready? Are you willing to come to Jesus? He traveled a great distance to come to us. Are you willing to offer your best gifts to him? He gave everything to us, even his very life.

    The Magi came to worship Jesus.
    We have come today to worship Jesus—with singing, the study of God’s Word, and the giving of our tithes and offerings.

    Wise men—and women—still listen…they still look…they still seek the Messiah as they await his return.


    “God of Light and Love we know You are speaking. Help us to have ears that hear. Help us listen for your Voice. Help us listen to each other. Help us to hear the pain in the words that aren’t spoken. Help us be Your listening ear so that we may lead others to You. Amen.”


    Some ideas from, The NIV Application Commentary, and Matthew for Everyone by N.T. Wright.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Birth: Real Woman of Danger, 21 December 2014

    Big Idea: Mary was real, raw and dangerous.

    Key Scripture: Luke 2:6-20


    In January of 2003 the Discovery Channel began airing a show called MythBusters. It has continued as one if its oldest and most popular shows. Originally from Australia, it has become a global phenomenon testing various popular beliefs and Internet rumors to see if they are true. The myths are ultimately rated “buster,” “plausible,” or “confirmed.”

    It’s one thing to hold beliefs about sunburns, explosions, traffic patterns, or boarding airplanes. It’s quite another to entertain myths about the Bible and, ultimately, God. One of the most frustrating things for me as a follower of Jesus is hearing so-called Biblical quotes that are simply not, such as:

    God helps those who help themselves.
    Jesus turned water into grape juice instead of wine.
    Eve gave Adam an apple in the Garden of Eden (all we know is it was a fruit).
    I’m good and, therefore, will go to heaven when I die.
    Always pray with your eyes closed.
    Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.
    Suffering is always the result of sin since true believers are rich and healthy.
    The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.

    This Advent season is filled with its own myths:

    Three kings from the Orient visited Jesus at his birthplace.
    Jesus was born on December 25.
    Jesus never cried.
    Jesus’ birthday has been celebrated for about 2000 years.

    True: Christmas is from “Christ’s mass.”

    We’re in the middle of an extended series on Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seems that she is possibly overrated by Catholics and underrated by us Protestants. She is arguably the most important female to ever walk this earth, not only for giving birth to Jesus but also for enduring the consequences of being pregnant out of wedlock, raising the Messiah, and witnessing His brutal death. She was specifically chosen by God to be Jesus’ mom for reasons we don’t entirely know, but good reasons nonetheless.

    The center of God’s will is not the safest place to be, but often the most dangerous. Mary is often depicted as a sweet, innocent, almost angelic figure. The real Mary, however, was dangerous. She was dangerous to Augustus and Herod, claiming her son was born to be king. She had a dangerous mission that threatened the Jewish society and the Roman Empire. Rather than a somber-faced girl in a baby-blue robe, Scot McKnight says, “Mary was a muscular, wiry woman whose eyes were aglow with a dazzling hope for justice and whose body evoked a robust confidence in the God who was about to turn the world upside down through her son.”

    To fully understand the story, we need to understand the context. We’ve sanitized the account, making it so quaint and comfortable. Imagine North Korea. A tyrant ruler dictates what people can and cannot do. There was no movie to shut down, but Caesar Augustus was literally considered “son of God” in the lineage of his dad, Julius Caesar who was officially declared to be a god. Augustus brought peace to Rome and was considered its savior. His rise was considered good news or “gospel.”

    While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

    Guest room is more accurate than an inn. It was likely in a relative’s home. There’s nothing in the Bible about a stable. The manger may have been in an open-air living area like a patio.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

    This is familiar language to the shepherds who knew Augustus as savior. They were now confronted with two kings; Augustus and Jesus.

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

    Augustus didn’t exactly have angels announcing His birth.

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

    They needed to do something to respond to the celestial symphony!

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:16-20)

    “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

    “What does it mean that Mary was treasuring and pondering? These are standard words in Judaism for thinking about events in one’s life so one could make sense of and narrate what God was doing in history . To ponder is not to withdraw into silent meditation, as we might mean when we use the word “ponder,” but to deliberate in order to interpret. Instead of imagining Mary sitting quietly meditating in some corner all alone, while everyone else was singing and dancing and clapping and dreaming of the end of Augustus’ rule, Mary was actively figuring out what in the world God was doing in the world. Mary pondered the tale of two kings: Augustus and Jesus. And she composed the story of Jesus in her head in order to proclaim it to others.” (Scot McKnight)

    She would tell the story orally, a tale of two kings. What we read in the Gospels most likely came from her lips. She got the word out.

    So What?

    Perhaps the greatest myth of all in the account of the birth of Jesus is that somehow the characters are super-human. They aren’t real. It’s fantasy. Jesus was God so therefore never pooped or cried, Mary floated above the earth like an angel, effortlessly giving birth without a whimper or tear. Joseph—well, Joseph just stood there watching while his wife and step son get all of the attention. The animals smelled like Febreze. The night was silent and perfect, tranquil and sweet.

    Last week we examined the journey to Bethlehem. After 80 miles or so on rough, rocky roads Mary’s attire was not clean and tidy. She may have been sick from the pregnancy and/or the travel. She may have had arguments with Joseph during the days they traveled. As an unwed, pregnant woman Mary undoubtedly received sneers and glares from those in her small town

    It was likely cold, dark, uncomfortable, and harsh. Sure, the angels provided an incredible soundtrack and they had some unexpected visitors, but this was not the scene depicted on Hallmark cards. Joseph was real. Jesus was real. Mary was real.

    Real by Nichole Nordeman

    “It matters that Jesus had a real body. For Jesus to be really human he had to be born, as the apostle Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Galatians, of a woman and not just through a woman. God didn’t just use Mary as a “rent-a-womb” but actually became DNA— Mary’s. The theological expression at work here is “incarnation,” and the underlying principle is this: What God becomes, God redeems. God becomes what we are—with a real body— so we can become children of God. That’s why Jesus’ real body is important for our faith.”

    “For Mary there was another issue. When Mary held that newborn little body in her hands, Mary witnessed the living reality of the promise Gabriel had made to her nine months earlier. She was holding the promise-come-true. The real body she held proved to her that what God said really would take place. For theologians, the birth of Jesus is about the “incarnation.” That is, that God became real human flesh. Yet, for Mary the birth of Jesus was about “coronation.” I doubt Mary thought in the terms theologians use today. I doubt she wondered if her son was God and human or the God-man or what about his natures and person— how they were related. That’s the stuff of theological discussion. For the real Mary, that live body named Jesus may have been a messy, fussy, physical little body, but that real body was an undeniable witness to the truth that God could work miracles.” (Scot McKnight)


    There are many myths in our world. The reality of Mary and Joseph are not among them. They were real people like you and I that laughed and cried, were sick and scared, played and prayed while living in a dangerous world.

    The reality of Jesus, His birth, His death, His resurrection, and His future return are also not mythology. Jesus is real. He came once to show us what it means to be truly human, serving and sacrificing, reconciling us to our heavenly Father. He is real. His love is real. It is my prayer for you this Christmas that you would experience King Jesus and prepare for His imminent return.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    O Holy Night, Carols, 2 December 2012

    O Holy Night (Cantique de Noël)
    Lamentations 3:18-26

    Big Idea: Knowing Jesus provides a thrill of hope in our weary world if we are willing to wait.

    Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is about expectant waiting and preparation. For generations, the Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We are awaiting His return. We are in between His first and second visits to our planet. We look back and forward.

    In some traditions, December 25 is the beginning of the festivities, while for most in our culture it is the climax. This is the month of preparing for Christmas Day—shopping, wrapping, parties, baking, …and music!

    Just for the record, I believe Christmas music should begin when we see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade. That is the signal to me that the season has officially started.

    Anyone that knows me even casually knows that I love music. I’m a third-generation musician and I love everything about music. I suppose that’s why Christmas music is so meaningful to me. It is the soundtrack of the season, but more than that, its lyrics convey the true meaning of Christmas.

    I’m not talking about “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” or “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas.” I’m thinking more about the Christmas carols.

    I have a confession to make. I love music, have over 20,000 songs in my iTunes library, and listen to music daily, but I rarely pay attention to the lyrics.

    Sometimes, that’s a good thing, for song lyrics are often misunderstood, something known as mondegreen. Consider these examples:

    Deck the Halls

    Deck the halls with Buddy Holly
    Deck the halls with boughs of holly

    The First Noel

    The first Noel, the angels did say, was to frighten poor shepherds..
    The first Noel, the angels did say, was to certain poor shepherds..

    God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

    dressed ye married gentlemen, let nothing through this May
    God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay

    We Three Kings

    We three kings of
    Oregon are, bearing gifts, we travel so far.
    We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar

    Silent Night

    Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,
    round young virgin…
    Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, ‘round yon virgin…

    Joy To The World

    Joy to the world! The Lord
    has gum.
    Joy to the world! The Lord is come.

    During the next four weeks during our preparation for Jesus’ birthday celebration, we’re going to look at four classic Christmas Carols, their lyrics, and their biblical message. It is my hope and prayer that as you hear these songs, you’ll not only hum the melody, you’ll think about the timeless message.

    O Holy Night

    This week’s carol is
    O Holy Night. It is one of my all-time favorite songs. I have more than 30 different recordings of it.


    Here’s a bit of background to the song. In 1847, a parish priest asked a French wine seller, Placide Cappeau, to write a poem for Christmas. His Jewish friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, added the music. What is fascinating is that neither Cappeau nor Adams were Christians, but God used them to tell the Christmas story like no other.

    On Christmas Eve in 1906, a Canadian inventor, Reginald Fessenden, did the first-ever AM radio broadcast which included a reading of Luke 2 and him playing this song on the violin.


    O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of the dear Savior's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was born; O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

    Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
    Now come the wise men from out of the Orient land. The King of kings lay thus lowly manger; In all our trials born to be our friends.
    He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger, Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

    Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace.
    Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, With all our hearts we praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, His power and glory ever more proclaim! His power and glory ever more proclaim!


    The word “holy” means set apart, sacred. Although God is holy, the song title refers to how sacred and distinct the first Christmas was.


    We could spend all day dissecting the lyrics, but I want to focus on one sentence.

    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
    For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

    We live in a weary world. Anxiety, fear, disease, uncertainty, and depression are everywhere. Such was the scene 2000 years ago.

    The Roman Empire ruled and oppressed the people, especially the Jews that were longing for the promised Messiah to come and deliver them.

    If that weren’t enough, imagine Mary and Joseph traveling between 80 and 120 miles to register for the census—on foot, or possibly with the aid of a donkey. Some of us complain when we’re in the car for 2 hours. Imagine their journey!

    Is your world weary? For many, this season is one of celebration, but for others it can be downright depressing. They say that the holiday amplify your emotions, be they positive or negative.

    Notice the words that surround “the weary world.”

    “A thrill of hope” and “rejoices.”

    There is a thrill of hope in the midst of the chaos of the holy night.

    What a paradox!

    The Bible records another scene of a weary world. The date is 586 BC. The Holy Temple has been destroyed. The city of Jerusalem was a wreck. The people were distraught. Jeremiah was lamenting. In fact, he wrote an entire book filled with his mourning, wailing, and weeping called…Lamentations.

    So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lamentations 3:18-20)

    Can you picture his weary world?

    Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: (Lamentations 3:21)

    This sounds promising. Notice that it is not on the front of his mind, but he will call it to mind. He remembers there is hope. What is it?

    Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22)
    They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23)

    Notice how he shifts from talking about God to praying to God. Great is
    Your faithfulness.

    I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:24-26)

    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
    For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

    This season we are preparing for the arrival of Jesus, celebrating His first arrival and awaiting His return.

    When your world is weary, Jesus can bring a thrill of hope that causes you to rejoice.

    Jesus brings us what we need.

    This is not always what we want, but He provides for our needs. He is our portion as it says in verse 24. Scholars have debated what this word “portion” means exactly, but many believe is refers to the Israelites in the desert when God provided their portion of manna for that day. They needed God every day. Hoarding would result in rotten manna. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God already has everything you need for tomorrow. He is already there. You can be here, today.

    Our family hymn is Great Is They Faithfulness, taken from this passage of Lamentations. One of my favorite lines is “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” That’s what He offers. He is our portion and will provide what we need today. We have hope for tomorrow, too, but we must wait for it.

    Jesus brings us the hope to keep going.

    It is the thrill of hope in a weary world. Notice the next line of the song says “for yonder breaks/a new and glorious morn.” A new morning is coming. God is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him (25).

    It has been said that we can live 40 days without food, 8 days without water, 4 minutes without oxygen, a few seconds without hope. People put their hope in risky places—bad relationships, a shaky stock market, politicians, sports teams, …

    Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

    Don’t ever let go…hold on to the hope, not the fear and anxiety we talked about last week (Phil. 4:6).

    Jesus brings the help we are seeking.

    Verse 26…sometimes you have to wait. The Jews waited for generations for the Messiah. We have been waiting 2000 years for His return.

    One encounter with Jesus makes all the difference.

    • - Lazarus, dead for four days, he stinketh (KJV)
    • - A woman was bleeding for 12 years
    • - 38 years the man could not walk, he met Jesus at the pool of Bethsaida
    Is your marriage a mess? Your body broken? Your finances frustrating? Your relationships wrecked?

    Because Jesus is here you can have hope in the middle of the night.

    And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)

    The night is nearly over and the day is almost here.

    I was working on this message sitting in a hospital waiting room, wondering when the night would be over.

    I still don’t know, but I have hope!

    The sun/Son always rises again.

    As Tony Campolo likes to say at Eastertime, It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!

    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
    For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

    Credits: Series theme and various ideas from Craig Groeschel,

    You can listen to the podcast here.
    You can view a music video of
    O Holy Night from here.

    Worship (more), 4 December 2011

    Big Idea: one way to make this Christmas season different is to worship more.

    Welcome to
    Advent Conspiracy! We are in the most chaotic season of the year, businesses are doing whatever possible to lure us into their stores or onto their websites, credit cards are being used more than snow blowers in Alaska, and calendars are filled with parties and special events. So much for, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

    If you’re like me, you want this Christmas to be different. You want to remember the reason for the season. You want to focus on being present more than buying presents.

    Or maybe not!

    Black Friday sales were up nearly 7% over the previous year, a huge increase in the retail world. Stores that used to open at 5 of 6 AM opened at 3 AM, 2 AM, midnight, or even 10 PM on Thanksgiving Day. For many, Black Friday is a bigger holiday than Thanksgiving.

    What is wrong with this picture?

    How do we recalibrate our souls?

    Throughout this four-week series, we are going to focus on one word. Today’s word is worship. If we worship more, we are likely to gain a healthy perspective on Advent.

    When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)

    The law—the Torah—required an ancient rite after the birth of a child. Joseph and Mary took their son to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the LORD. This was about six miles from their home in Bethelehem.

    According to Leviticus 12, they were to sacrifice a lamb and a pigeon or dove. They were obviously poor because if you were not able to afford a lamb and a pigeon, two pigeons or doves were acceptable (2 turtle doves!).

    All firstborns—people and animals—were to be dedicated to the LORD (v. 23; Ex. 13:2-13).

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)

    Simeon was promised by God that he would see the Messiah. He was an old man who waited his entire life for this moment.

    Advent is all about waiting. For generations, people were waiting for the coming of Jesus. We are waiting for His second coming.

    Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32)

    What was Simeon’s response to encountering Jesus?

    He praised God! The Greek word is “eulogeo” which is where we get our word “eulogy.” It means to praise, give thanks, extol, bless, speak well of.

    Simeon worships!

    Others worshipped Jesus, too.

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    They aren't Jews and yet they are more intent on finding the Messiah than any Jew (with the exception of Herod, who only wants to find him to kill him). Consider what they went through in their pursuit of the Messiah: a journey of maybe 1000 miles, or more, by camel that probably took months to complete. They asked people where to find him. They searched the Scriptures to learn about him. As a Christian, am I even willing to do that?

    Second (Matt 2:2), they wanted to find a king and not just any king and not for their own sakes because they were already wealthy (judging by the gifts) and not for social status (according to Daniel 2:48 they were among the highest ranking officials in Babylon. "Historians tell us that no Persian was ever able to become king without mastering the scientific and religious disciplines of the magi and then being approved and crowned by them, and that this group also largely controlled judicial appointments - cf Esther 1:13" - from
    MacArthur Commentary on Matthew). The magi were looking for a king to worship.

    Historical background on Herod.
    1. Herod was a great builder who rebuilt the temple and made it larger and more efficient.
    2. Herod was a ruthless leader who killed, through military might, to conquer the region of Judea.
    3. Herod was a wealthy king who lived a life of luxury.
    4. Herod was an insecure leader who killed his own family members when he felt his empire was threatened.

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:3-6)

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12)

    They do meet the king, fall down to worship, offer their gifts, and then they disperse heeding God's call and likely taking the message with them back to their home country.  

    The most important thing about knowing Jesus, is Jesus.  Too often the message of Jesus is wrapped up in what He can do for us, but the magi weren't looking for that, the magi were looking for the Messiah so they could worship him because He is the King. You don't go to the king and say, "King, you are so great, can I have.../will you do something for me.../I need.../I want.../".  When you meet Jesus you don't ask him for things; you fall down and worship him. The magi were willing to risk months, travel hundreds of miles, ask questions, and diligently search to find the King. What am I willing to do?

    So what’s the big idea? Worship more!

    Everyone worships. We were made to worship. Some worship money, celebrities, or the person in the mirror. Even atheists worship. They give their attention, devotion, time, energy, and resources to those things that they value.

    The word “worship” actually means “worth-ship.” We worship things that we think are worthy.

    Worship is more than just singing songs. It’s a lifestyle.

    How do you spend your time? Your treasures? Show me your calendar and checkbook and I’ll show you what you value and worship.

    Obviously we are to worship God. Why? Because He told us too! Yes, but there’s so much more to worship.

    Why Worship?

    - reminds us that it’s not about us
    - puts things in perspective
    - reveals that God is in control

    How Should We Worship?

    - together
    - party (Leviticus 23)
    - give thanks
    - voice (e.g. singing)
    - time
    - money
    - obedience

    "It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful ‘in general.’ It’s a little like being married in general." -Cornelius Plantingua, Jr

    My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion. (Psalm 71:24)

    - how you love your spouse
    - pay attention to your friends
    - everything you say, do, think, feel!
    - how you act when things don’t go your way
    - giving money to help build wells to provide clean water

    Romans 12 tells us that everything is worship!


    - in good times
    - when you don’t feel like it!

    It’s often hard to worship when life is hard, but it’s often the most important thing for us to do. Not only does it declare our faith and allegiance, it reminds us that our God is greater than our current suffering.

    Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns

    Perry Noble has these thoughts about worship:

    #1 – Repentance - Where there is no repentance there may be an emotional experience, but it’s not worship!  Worship does not become worship until it IMPACTS the WAY WE LIVE!

    #2 – Intellectual – We’re called to worship the Lord with our minds by renewing it and fixing it on Him. (Colossians 3:1-2)

    #3 – Emotional- Worship is overwhelming when we realize how deeply we were entrenched in sin, how helpless we were and how incredible it is that Jesus would rescue us.  (The reality of Romans 5:8 BLOWS ME AWAY!)

    #4 – Intentional- No one accidentally follows Christ…if we are going to worship Him, it will be done purposefully!

    #5 – Relational – Worship impacts every relationship we have, it is impossible to be a fully devoted worshipper of Christ and be a jerk to your wife or try as often as possible to take advantage of the opposite sex.

    #6 – Financial – Until following Christ has impacted our finances in a sacrificial way we are not followers of Christ.  Would you like to see the primary object of your worship…look at your checkbook!

    #7 – Unconditional – (and NOT situational!)  Worship is consistent, 24/7, not just when I feel good or God is giving me all that I want.  If we worship only when things are good, we do not worship God…we worship a genie!

    What if this Christmas God invites us into a song that He has been playing since the foundations of the earth; recent findings indicate that sound waves shape the cosmos the way; one science journal said “the early universe rang with the sound of countless cosmic bells and those sound waves moved like ripples on the surface of a pond and that is how the planets and the stars are formed. And they’re still picking up echoes of those soundings today.“ God “spoke” (the ancient Hebrew sages say “sang”) the universe into existence.

    Everyone worships. We were made to worship. This Christmas, let’s worship more! Let’s seek the King as we prepare for His arrival…because Christmas begins and ends with Christ Jesus.

    Credits: special thanks to Cliff Richardson for research and input.

    You can listen to the podcast