Is The Light Growing Dim?

Jesus was a babe in arms when he and his parents went to the Temple to offer a sacrifice and to present their child to the Lord. That day Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was also at the Temple. He had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus, he took the child in his arms and prayed this prayer of dismissal:

“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 the glory of your people Israel.”

For Simeon, and for the Christian, there is a time when, if a person has found his peace with God and is ready to die, now, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he can truly say, “Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” and then depart from this earth. Isn’t that a relevant thought for our day?

From a personal point of view, I can honestly say that I enjoy living here on earth. Life has been good to me. However, I also pray that I might realistically understand there is a time to die. A time comes for many people when the physician will look into the face of a loving wife and ask, “Shall we shut off the life support? We can keep him free of pain, but it will not be quality time.”

It seems that Simeon’s prayer teaches us that, for the Christian, there is a time to go home to God.

Moving on with our text, Simeon announces that Jesus will be a light to the Gentile world. In Christ, salvation will be for all people. No longer will God’s Kingdom be limited to Israel, though the Gospel will be for them also. Paul said it well, “I am not ashamed of the gospel. Because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16) This light is for all of us. The Christian age has come.

Let’s look at a few of these shining lights that come from our Bible, which make great changes in our lives. We will let them speak for themselves.

1. Christ talks to us about our guilt.

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. . . . When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:1, 3).

I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep.

“For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:4).

I knew my way of life was wrong.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity” (Psalm 32:5).

I gave up. I confessed my sins to you. You forgave my sin, and a big bag of spiritual garbage was taken from me.

2. I believe in Christ, yet my sin is still with me. What’s my problem?

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:8).

Could it be that you believe in Christ, but have not given him your life?

3. Christ has saved us, but there is also a new life that comes to us. Our good works do not save us; they are a fruit of our faith. As we begin to move on in our relationship with the Lord, our prayer is,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

We ask God for a new attitude. “Don’t give up on me, and keep working in my heart!”

4. I have tried to build a good family, Lord, but things are not going well.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

What place does God’s Word have in your home?

5. I am old. Many of my friends have died. I have many aches and pains. I don’t like being old. It’s lonely.

“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Psalm 71:9).

These are samples of the light that God wants to share with you. They will brighten up your life. God’s Word has many other words, as well, that will make a difference in how you live and die. Why not spend a little more time in your Bible? When you find one of these verses that speaks to you, write it down on the back pages of your Bible. Read it often. Memorize it. Remember the Psalmist’s words: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

Does this light shine brightly, dimly, or not at all in your life? Speaking to us in His Word, God can light up our lives.

Dealing With God’s Mysteries

How do you deal with the mysteries of the Christmas story? Joseph and Mary can help us with this question.

The Bible says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

We can’t imagine how Joseph must have responded to the news that Mary was with child. Virgins just do not get pregnant. But then the young man received a word from an angel, who appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is of 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.”

Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah had written, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). It is interesting to note that the name Immanuel means, “God with us.”

Though Joseph could not understand what he had been told, he received the message as God’s truth being revealed to him.

While Joseph is receiving his revelation, Mary is also hearing from an angel. Here were the words she heard: “Greetings, you are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Obviously the young teenager is frightened. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be?” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one will be called the Son of God … For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:29).

And Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.”

With these two examples before us, how do we as humans live with the Christmas revelation?” Let me suggest three ways of dealing with the Christmas Gospel and the mystery.

1. Ignore it.

One who ignores it may be like my friend. I have invited him to church many times. I have also tried to share the gospel with him in a private way but with no success. He has made it clear that the Christian faith is not for him. He is appreciative of our friendship and hopes he is not offensive to me.

This man makes sure that they have a good Christmas which is centered not in Christ but in the family. The Christmas decorations, inside and outside are very important. There will be presents and plenty of food, and they will be together with their extended family. There is no mention of Christ. The carols are not sung nor the Christmas story read.

2. Adjust the Christmas story to make it more acceptable to the culture of the day.

If you deal with it in this way, you would have to eliminate the Biblical message that Jesus is God. Jesus did not come to restore us into a personal relationship with God because humans are not outside of a relationship with God. We are all God’s children. This, of course, makes the message of the virgin birth a nice story but with no truth to it. The pastor at the church who has been theologically trained in a liberal seminary can make the necessary adjustments so that a non-Christian can come to the Christmas Eve service and not be offended.

Your adjustment of the Christmas gospel has destroyed the Christmas message. Jesus is just another biography to be reviewed.

3. Rejoice and celebrate.

When we rejoice and celebrate the Christmas Gospel, we have a Savior who has come to bring us back into a personal relationship with our Creator. We sing the carols and rejoice with the angels of old. The Christmas story is not only read but discussed before we pray. Then we open those packages under the tree.

For some it is a difficult holiday. It’s the first Christmas since the divorce was granted or the loved one was taken from the family in death.

But for others, it is a blessed night. When the family has gone home, you and your spouse have your time alone with the Babe of the manger. You pray that this Savior who has blessed you in so many ways will be the living Lord in your children’s homes.

We sing:

“God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence

Faith sees a smiling face.”

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been his counselor.”

Why Did Jesus Come?

Are you ever disappointed with Jesus? His cousin, John the Baptist, was!

If we become disappointed with Jesus, it is because we do not know why he came to earth. This is a lesson that John the Baptist had to learn.

We learn from the Bible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, were cousins. Both were told by the angel, Gabriel, that they were called by God to have special places in the building of God’s kingdom. Mary was to be the mother of Jesus, the Savior of the world, and Elizabeth, was to be the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. Neither understood these roles. However, Mary said it well: “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

John was born and lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel (Luke 1:80). And he began his ministry. Luke described John the Baptist as the “voice of one crying in the desert, ÔPrepare the way for the Lord, . . .'” (Luke 3:4).

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” He never softened the truth, neither in his preaching nor in his counseling. He even rebuked Herod, the ruler of a small area of land who had stolen his brother Philip’s wife. John minced no words in telling the leader that this was sin. This angered Herod and his wife, and so John was put into prison just waiting for the right time to be executed.

While in prison, John received reports of Jesus’ ministry. He had expected that Jesus would point out people’s sin to them and continue the same message of God’s judgement as he had done. Jesus preached to the people about their sins, but more than that He talked about the forgiveness of their sins and the new life they could have in following Him. While our Lord was not soft on sin, He ate with the tax collectors and sinners. This was unheard of to the Scribes and Pharisees.

When Jesus heard of John’s disappointment, He responded with these words, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of the commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-19).

Speaking words like these, no one could accuse Jesus of being soft on sin. However, the Savior wanted to talk about the solution to the sinfulness of the human being. He came to offer us forgiveness. He brought the good news that he would not only take our sins away, but also that the Holy Spirit would give us grace to turn from our sins and become new people.

In John chapter 8, verses 1-11, Jesus is speaking to a lady who was caught in the act of adultery. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees reminded Jesus that, in the law of Moses, this woman could be stoned. The accusers then asked, “Now what do you say?” Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time until Jesus was alone with her. Jesus then asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Why did Jesus come? To forgive our sins and change our lives. St. Paul could then write, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17).

Back to our text for this Sunday in Advent. Why did Jesus’ message differ from John the Baptist’s? They both said that the wages of sin is an unhappy life and death. However, Jesus added that the forgiveness of sins and a new life are free gifts from God. That is the good news of Christmas. If you miss this message, you miss the message of Christmas.

If it is true that we can be disappointed with Jesus, then we do not fully understand why he came to earth. Jesus had to discover his mission here among us, so it isn’t any wonder that we could have the same problem. As we walk with him through life’s experiences, we can learn little by little why he is here for us.

On October 12 of this year, my wife and I were watching the Texas Rangers defeat the New York Yankees to win the American League championship and a place in the World Series. The name of Josh Hamilton kept being mentioned. However, being Cub fans, we didn’t know much about the players involved in the game.

At the end of the game, Josh was named the MVP in the American League Ð a cherished award. The commentators mentioned that he had a rough past. We became interested in this man when they told us he had gone from being a drug addict to a sober super star. Josh then told the audience that all through the game he was tearing up. Is this going to be the night? He kept thinking about where he had been, where he was now, everything he had gone through, and how God was just faithful to bring him out of his addiction.

When Josh received his trophy, his first words were, “I give my thanks to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is making me a new person.”

We learned that Hamilton had a brief relapse in 2009. However, God was right there to pick him up, forgive him, and encourage him on his way again.

What about the future and his addiction? Josh is like all the rest of us with our sins. We take one day at a time knowing that Christ has promised to walk with us.

Why did Jesus Christ come to this earth?

He answers the question in fourteen words found in Luke 19:10. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

A Blessed Christmas to you all.

Let His Voice Be Heard

Twenty-five years ago I was to give a Christmas message to a group of business and professional men. They were well-educated and financially successful leaders in their community. I decided these men should have something a bit more heavy than a Christian moral, like getting along with your neighbor. So I chose to speak on the Incarnation.

This is a basic doctrine in the Christian faith teaching that God came to this earth in the person of Jesus Christ. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and was the God-man.

After my presentation, the men were free to ask questions. I wondered if they would be too uncomfortable to become involved in the subject. They had come from different churches, and some, I believe, had no faith at all. But one man was troubled about what he had heard and asked if I would spend a few minutes with him. So the two of us met around a cup of coffee.

He told me that it was very difficult for him to believe that Jesus was the God-man. He admitted that, while his name was on a church record, he seldom attended worship service. However, it would not have made much difference because he belonged to the Unitarian Church, which did not teach Jesus was God. What bothered him the most was that he had never heard any of his friends Ð who were members of conservative churches like Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Ð ever refer to Christ as the God-man. In fact, they didn’t talk to him about salvation, life after death, or Christ as Savior and Lord who had died for the sins of the world.

After an hour-long conversation, he said, “Well, I have a lot to take home with me. What you have presented tonight puts a whole new light on the Christian message. Maybe there is a lot more to the Christian faith than I have been led to believe.”

He had heard a voice that night that caught his attention. I offered to meet with him again, but he never called me.

The Advent Season is a marvelous time to help people understand why Jesus came to this earth. The truth Ð that Jesus is God who has come to be our Savior Ð is completely foreign to many people in our communities. They would not question his birth or that he made a real impression on this world as a great religious leader. Yet, when we begin to talk about the incarnation, they do not know what you are talking about.

So let’s take a look at one of the great Advent preachers, John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Jesus and had come to preach a message of repentance. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Repent, . . .” “Prepare the way for the Lord, . . .” He who comes after me must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John did not have an appealing appearance. He lived in a cave near the Dead Sea. The Bible tells us that his clothes were made of camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. His food was wild honey and locusts.

The people did not go out from Jerusalem and all Judea to see a man wearing beautiful robes, but to hear his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2).

The prophets had been silent for many years, and the people were hungry to receive a word from God. Now they were hearing his voice, but it was a hard voice. Listen, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, ÔYou brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ÔWe have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire'” (vs. 7-12).

It was a message that not only criticized, but also challenged. The Advent message faces us up to our sin to remind us how much we need this Savior. Yet it also challenges us to receive him as the incarnate God who wants to be a part of our lives.

While the verses quoted above are difficult to understand, we can learn much from John’s preaching. His words confront us with questions to contemplate. One of them is:

Have we quieted the voice of God to blend our amended Christianity with the culture of our day in order to make it more acceptable in our society?

If we have, the voice of God is not being heard clearly in our churches, and little is happening of a spiritual nature in our society even though the church is abounding in activity. Our good works, done to show love for God and man, without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, gives no assurance of salvation.

Another Advent question that needs our consideration is:

Can a doubting church be God’s voice in an unbelieving world?

If we are not sure of our message, then how can we expect the world to be serious about what we are saying?

When John pointed his audience to Jesus he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Will our Advent and Christmas services point people to Jesus as the One who has come from God to walk with us and die for our sins? Remember, the man mentioned at the opening of this sermon did not have the slightest understanding of what the incarnation was.

Will your Christmas center around a family relationship only, or will it also include a spiritual relationship with Christ in our midst? The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts for that great message of the incarnation when Christ became flesh to be our Savior and Lord. It is a message of encouragement and hope. Share it with others.