And we have the word of the prophets made more certain,
and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts.
(II Peter 1:19)
Would you care to make any predictions about 2017? I mean some really bold, out-on-a-limb predictions. At this time of the year we see a few sensationalist magazines with the latest round of purposely outlandish predictions. Most people don’t take them seriously, of course; it’s all for amusement. I like it when sports shows have a 'bold predictions' segment where commentators take wild guesses at what individuals or teams might accomplish in the coming season. Most people don’t take them seriously, of course; it’s all fodder for discussion.
How’s this for some bold predictions? A virgin will give birth to a son who has the power and authority of God to defeat the devil. His birthplace will be the unlikely little town of Bethlehem Ephrathah, and He will be a descendant of King David. He will preach good news, that He came to bring us peace with God. He’s going to heal the sick, make the lame walk and the deaf hear and the blind see, and He will even raise the dead. Hailed as a king as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, He will soon be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver and crucified as a criminal under much mockery. But He will rise from the dead, victorious over death, assuring us of that peace and everlasting life with God that He came to bring. He will then ascend into heaven and equip His followers to spread this good news to all nations, to the ends of the earth. Just how bold were these predictions about Jesus and the events of His life? Not only are they more specific than any predictions we’d dare to make (or at least more specific than we’d expect to get right), but these predictions, these prophecies, preceded Jesus by hundreds or years, some a thousand years or more before His coming. Do you take them seriously? And do you take seriously the One who fulfilled them?
A wall of hostility is being built ever higher in our society. You see it happening on social media, in universities, between generations, even within the church. It comes from a self-righteous idea that you must hate or unfriend or separate from anyone who doesn’t agree with you politically or culturally. This hostility is only a dim image of a much deeper, more profound hostility that exists between us, who are sinners, and God, who is holy. That hostility leaves us at odds with God. And we know it. Our conscience accuses us. We get defensive or try to make ourselves feel better by comparing ourselves with others, but none of it works. None of it changes our status with God.
So, "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (II Corinthians 5:21) He took everything wrong, ugly, and vile about us and laid it on Jesus, and He took everything right, holy, and good about Jesus and gave it to us. Because of this incredible exchange, we are not guilty as sin, but we are as righteous as Christ. This is what God has done for us in Christ, demolishing the wall of hostility and making peace with us. Repent, turn away from your sin and self-righteousness, and BE RECONCILED TO GOD. Believe the good news that because of Christ, nothing stands between you and God, that your sins are forgiven, your guilt removed. May this message of reconciliation define your new year and your life – LIVE IT WITH OTHERS.
The LORD said to the devil,
"I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel."
Everybody loves a good prequel. A backstory or origin story can answer some of those questions you’ve always had about your favorite characters. What people and experiences forged his personality? What’s the story behind his quirks? What set the stage for her to become a hero? A prequel ultimately gives you a better understanding of such characters when you see where they came from and what fired their passions.
Do you know the backstory of the One called Jesus, born of a virgin, wrapped in cloths, placed in a manger? The Christmas story begins in the Garden of Eden. We need to go back to Eden, back to the beginning of the Bible, to understand why Jesus was born, what set the stage for His coming, what defined His purpose.
What is the true wonder of Christmas? You might think of things that give you that 'Christmas feeling' – lights, decorations, celebrations, the giving and receiving of gifts, family traditions and togetherness. But for many, the Christmas festivities only mask an aching emptiness or a painful solitude. For all of us, the Christmas festivities can do no more than temporarily disguise a soul-deep need that we all have, a need that we recognize when we see that the things of this life simply don’t satisfy for more than a moment, that life is too short…that it comes to an end.
DISCOVER THE TRUE WONDER OF CHRISTMAS – God sent His Son to give us everlasting life. That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s summed up in these words: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) If you know nothing of the Bible, you want to start here. If you know everything in the Bible, you want to return here. For here we find the answer to the biggest questions in life, and here we find the solution to the biggest problem in life. God answered and solved it all by sending His Son into the world. He was born to bear our sin, He lived to die for us, and He rose from death to give us life. "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish" - and whoever includes YOU! So come, put your trust in the One who was born to be your Savior. Come and worship Him. Come and DISCOVER THE TRUE WONDER OF CHRISTMAS.
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 of great joy that will be for all the people."
What is the best news you’ve ever received? With perseverance you pursued that dream job, and after a series of interviews you get the answer you worked for: You’re hired. For years you and your spouse hoped and prayed to start a family and finally receive the news you’ve been longing for: You’re going to have a child. Through treatment after treatment you battled cancer and finally hear what you’ve been fighting for: You’re in remission.
But good news seems to be few and far between in life, doesn’t it?
What is your heart set on this Christmas season? As you examine the desires of your heart, consider this: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23) Coveting is a heart problem, a desire for things that God doesn’t want you to have. (And in desiring what God doesn’t want us to have, we ultimately reject what He does want us to have.) Many would say of matters of the heart, 'What’s the big deal? It’s not hurting anybody.' But coveting is the root of other sins. Many have coveted something or someone at the expense of their marriage, family, job, friendships, their own well-being…and their faith. Do you see that this is a far deeper issue than craving a Christmas shopping spree or a pile of gifts?
What is God’s heart set on this Christmas season? You and your salvation! This is why He sent His Son. (There’s a reason why churches celebrate Christmas on a grand scale each and every year!) What this means is that no matter what your desires have been, and no matter how often you’ve followed your desires into other sins, none of it has been too much to change God’s love and desire for you. From God’s heart to your heart, He forgives you! Now turn from those covetous desires and GUARD YOUR HEART with the good news of God’s great love for you.
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.