The Death of a Rich Man

A few weeks ago I attended an annual luncheon in our communityÊwhere good friends gathered to enjoy a delicious shrimp meal and goodÊfellowship. The program is always a delight when a very gifted person,Êwith a wonderful sense of humor, presents some of the happenings inÊour community during the past year. It is filled with humor, and youÊlaugh until your sides hurt. Though the speaker uses a lot of humor,Êthere comes a time when he shifts gears and is very serious. He reminds us of the community leaders who have died since last we met, and talksÊabout the contributions they have made to our area. It is just one moreÊreminder of life’s brevity.

Another year has ended. Already one year of the new millennium isÊhistory. Wealthy is the person who can have a full life and then be ableÊto say at the end, “I am ready to go home. Come, Lord Jesus.” Simeon,Êthe man in our text, was one of those rich people.

We know little about him. The Bible only tells us that he wasÊ”righteous and devout.” He could have been a rabbi. The text implies heÊwas old, and that he had been given a promise he would not die until heÊhad seen the Messiah. Then came the most exciting day of Simeon’s life.

Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the ceremony ofÊpurification. Forty days after the child was born, the ceremonial lawÊrequired the parents to present him at the temple and offer a sacrifice ofÊtwo doves or young pigeons. When Simeon saw Jesus, there was noÊquestion in his mind that he stood in the presence of the Messiah. ItÊwas then that he took the child in his arms and spoke these famousÊwords known to us as the Nunc Dimittis:

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,

According to Thy Word.

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation

Which Thou hast prepared before the face of allÊpeople.

A light to lighten the Gentiles;

And the glory of Thy people Israel.”

Let me stop here and tell you of my experience with this hymn. OurÊfamily attended church each Sunday morning and evening. At most ofÊthe Sunday evening services, we used the Vespers as our order ofÊworship. At the close of the service we sang the Nunc Dimittis. ItÊbecame repetitious, and I am sure that, as a sixteen-year-old boy who hadÊbeen to church twice that day besides attending Sunday school, I gaveÊthose words little thought. In fact, I could have been critical and said,ÊThese words lose their meaning when we sing them over and over. WhyÊdoesn’t the pastor choose some other hymns for the closing. But heÊdidn’t. Little did I realize sixty years ago that, while we were singing thisÊsong, the Holy Spirit was instilling the truth of the hymn into my heart.Ê

Now that I am 76, it is one of my most precious passages of Scripture.ÊOne day, when I am about to die, I pray that Simeon’s words will be myÊwords, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace, because my eyes haveÊseen your salvation.” Take me home, Lord.

When I hear people criticize some of the liturgical parts of ourÊservice as being meaningless because of their repetition, I am tempted toÊsay, Go careful, my friend. You don’t know what meaning these wordsÊwill have in your life as the years go by.

Having spoken these words, Simeon handed the child to Mary andÊsaid, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many inÊIsrael, and will be a sign that will be spoken against, so the thoughts ofÊmany hearts will be revealed. A sword will pierce your own soul too.” It was a prophecy of what would happen in the years to come.Ê

Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a controversial person. ManyÊwould be blessed by Him, while others would fall. While he did notÊknow the meaning of the “sword piercing Mary’s heart,” he describedÊclearly that day when Mary stood beneath the cross and watched herÊSon die for the sins of the world.

Simeon was an old man who was ready to die. What a beautifulÊpicture he leaves behind. If you had asked him, Where are you goingÊafter death, he would have had a quick response. I am going to be withÊthe Lord, for I have met my Savior.

Standing by the bedside of dying people has always been anÊemotional experience for me. It is in this setting that we especially seeÊthe preciousness of life. Most always I find myself wiping away a tear,Êwhether or not I know the person well. When the man or woman hasÊlived his or her life without Christ, it is sad. Let the medication wear offÊand they are restless. But stand by the bedside and watch the believer inÊthose last hours, and you know what it means to have victory in Christ.ÊTry to answer the dying person’s question, “Why doesn’t He come now and get me?” Fear has been removed and there is a longing for theÊheavenly home.

Simeon presents us with the death of a rich man. Who is the rich man? Is it he or she who has many possessions? Is it the person whoÊlives in a huge house, drives an expensive car and travels to many partsÊof the world? Certainly money, and what it can buy, can enrich our lives and bring us satisfaction. But there is more to being a rich person thanÊhaving financial wealth.

Let me tell you about a rich woman, 80 years old, who came to ourÊdoor on December 12 with a Christmas box of candy, cookies, and bread. It was bitter cold. She was on her way to the doctor for a blood testÊbecause of a heart problem. She lives in a comfortable home and hasÊmore than the necessities of life, but is by no means rich in the financialÊsense of the word. The following are some of the possessions which putÊher in the category of being rich. She lives with the memory of aÊhusband who loved and cared for her until his death a few years ago.Ê

They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.ÊTheir marriage was blessed with six children. These kids love her andÊmake frequent visits to be with their mom. Those who live in distantÊparts of the country send her airplane tickets making it possible for theirÊmother to visit them. While her health is not the best, God has blessedÊthis woman with long life. She has a strong commitment to Jesus Christ,Êwhich motivates her to love Him by serving people. Can you believe it?Ê

At eighty years of age, she is employed by a large supermarket, serving as itsÊhostess. She walks up and down the aisles greeting people, helpingÊthem to find things on the shelves, and making their shopping a moreÊpleasant experience. She also has marvelous opportunities to share herÊfaith with people when the situation is right. While she is in no hurry to leave her family and a host of friends, she lives with the assurance that,Êwhen death does come, there awaits her a heavenly home. I am thoroughly convinced that, when her children stand by her bedside and death draws near, they will hear her whisper, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, because I have seen my Savior and he lives in my heart.”

The old year is about gone. We have experienced God’s presence.ÊWhen we sinned, He forgave us. When we were weak, He comforted us.ÊWhen we were confused, He directed us.

We face the new year withÊgreat confidence, for He has promised to be with us always. If that is your faith, you too are very, very rich.

I Came to Teach Father Joseph That God Moves in Mysterious Ways

There are two ways to celebrate Christmas. You think ofÊChristmas as the birthday of a religious leader who made a greatÊimpact on the world. This is the non-Christian understanding of theÊday. Or, as a Christian, you confess the festival where weÊcelebrate God’s coming to earth in the person of a baby to redeemÊthe world and offer salvation to all who receive Him as their Savior and Lord. When Christmas only marks the birth of another greatÊperson, there is little mystery about the day. But when we think ofÊChristmas as God’s coming to earth in the person of the ChristÊChild, we stand in awe asking, What does this really mean, andÊwhat happened that day in Bethlehem when Jesus was born?

If there was anyone who did not know what was happening, itÊwas Joseph. Jesus’ genealogy says, “And Jacob was the father ofÊJoseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is the Christ.”Ê

The Bible describes Joseph as “a righteous man” who wasÊpledged to Mary. The pledge can be compared to our engagement.ÊThe period was generally one year in length. During that time, theÊcouple was committed to each other, but there was to be noÊsexual activity. When the year was up, they came togetherÊpublicly and began living as husband and wife. It was while MaryÊand Joseph were in that time of the pledge that she was found toÊbe with child.

Now, what did this mean to a young couple? Joseph was aÊcarpenter and had little formal education. Such theologicalÊlanguage was too much for him to understand. So he began making plans as to how this could be handled. He loved Mary andÊwanted her to have the least embarrassment possible, so JosephÊconcluded that he would divorce her quietly.

But then God sent a message to Joseph through an angelÊsaying, “Joseph, son of David, (note the reference to theÊgenealogy) do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,Êbecause what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will giveÊbirth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus, becauseÊhe will save his people from their sins.”

With these words the Christian understands this is not justÊanother birth. This is God’s way of coming to earth to offerÊsalvation to all people. It tells us that God is not limited to our wayÊof doing things, and He moves in wondrous ways His mission toÊperform.

The miracle, the mystery of that birth, makes us stand in awe.ÊGod has entered into this world to offer us salvation. That is, weÊcan be restored into a personal relationship with our Creator byÊgrace through faith in this Christ child.

Life teaches us God’s ways are far beyond our understanding.ÊOnce He took a shepherd boy named David and made him Israel’sÊgreatest king. On this occasion, He took an unknown maiden andÊmade her the mother of Jesus in the flesh, the God incarnate.Ê

Who can explain the mystery?

Many have asked, “Can we, as intelligent people, believe inÊmiracles?” It was C.S. Lewis who asked, “Are miracles possible?”ÊA miracle is an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention.Ê

God has acted. The event is not contrary to nature, but only whatÊwe know about nature. If we do not believe in miracles, there is no possibility to be a Christian. Christianity is based on God’sÊmiraculous work.

The birth and resurrection of Jesus are two of these miraclesÊthat have often sent me away from the pulpit feeling I have done aÊmost inadequate job of presenting the glorious truths of Christmas and Easter. How can we explain these miracles? The answer isÊvery clear. We can’t, but by God’s grace we believe them, and they become the solid foundation of our faith.

To celebrate Christmas is more than a review of the history ofÊJesus’ birth. Celebrating Christmas is a spiritual experience.ÊChrist has come to open for us the door to heaven.

Where does Christmas find you tonight?

As a little child? You are blessed because someone has toldÊyou the story of Jesus and you have sung about Him in theÊChristmas carol, “Away in a Manger.” I pray this story of JesusÊwill always be the truth which shapes every part of your life. JesusÊsays to you, I’ll always be with you. I love little kids and want themÊto grow up and be great people of God.Ê

As a youth? You are growing up and life is unfolding for you.ÊThese new experiences of life have you thinking. That ChristmasÊstory and the Christ child is kids’ stuff. I am beyond that now. Jesus says to you, Listen to me. You can’t get along without me.ÊLife without me leads to a dead end road. You’ll make the wrongÊchoices if you’re going to depend on what you and some of yourÊfriends think. Return to me. You’re not that far away. ChristmasÊcan be seen through the noise and glamor of a party. That is not what God wants for you. He can show you what true happinessÊand abundant living is. Turn to Him.

As a business man who forgot about the Christ child? HisÊthinking became very confused. He lived beyond his means. OnÊSunday he worshiped in the church, but on Monday he stole from his clients, and today he sits in a prison. There are many whoÊcondemn him, but Jesus sits by him in his cell and says, I came to forgive your sins. There is still hope. Life can begin again. That’s what the angel meant when he said to Joseph, “He will save hisÊpeople from their sins.” Christmas can be experienced through theÊbars of a prison cell.

As a retiree? He was successful as a law eforcement officer.ÊHe rose to high ranks in the Iowa Highway Patrol. Then, just whenÊhe and his wife were going to have those golden years together, theÊdoctor informed him he had a fast-growing malignancy. As I stoodÊbeside his bed the other day and asked him how it was going, heÊsaid, “I am just trusting the Lord and leaving it all in His hands.”Ê

Christmas can be experienced anew as you lie on your death bedÊlistening to the angelic host as they continue to sing, “Fear not.ÊThere is born to you this day, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”Ê

And you can respond, Come, Lord Jesus, and take me home. As a person at the end of the road? Let me close this sermonÊby telling you of the Christmas Eve I didn’t get home until early Christmas morning. I had preached to thousands of people at ourÊfour Christmas Eve services. It was a great experience to see all ofÊthose people singing “Silent Night” and listening to the choir singÊthe anthems telling of Jesus’ birth. My heart was filled withÊthanksgiving to God for the opportunity to bring this message to soÊmany people.

It was now past midnight when I was leaving the church. As IÊpassed a lounge, out of the darkness a voice spoke. I froze.ÊSomeone was going to rob the church! The person knew there wasÊa huge offering somewhere in the building and he was going to haveÊit. So many thoughts went through my head, I hardly heard theÊvoice of a man who said, “Pastor Larsen, do you have time to talkÊto me?” There he was. I hardly recognized him for it had beenÊmany years since I had him in my confirmation class. He had walked away from Christ and the Church. Now he was divorced,Êseparated pretty much from his two wonderful children, had little toÊdo with his father and mother, and he had battled alcohol. To use his words, “My life is a mess, but tonight, in the service, I gave myÊlife to Jesus.” We sat down in the lounge and talked about theÊhope we have in Jesus Christ. We prayed together, and after a bigÊembrace, we left the church.

No, it was not the emotionalism of the Christmas Eve serviceÊthat had caught him, and in a few days we would see him no more.ÊLarry continued to grow in his faith. One day he married a Christian lady, and together they serve the Lord. There is a newÊsong in his heart and a new smile on his face, because he knowsÊnow the meaning of the Christmas story Christ had come to save him from his sins and make him a new person.Ê

You know where you are in relationship to Jesus Christ on thisÊChristmas. Interpret the meaning of this Christmas Gospel whereÊyou are, and there you will meet the Christ Child. God moves inÊmysterious ways His wonders to perform.

I Came to Teach Grandpa Solomon How Temptation Can Be Overcome

Thirty-three years after His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus began His deathÊwalk, from the upper room somewhere in Jerusalem, where He hadÊinstituted the Lord’s Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane. What didÊthey talk about on that final walk? Continuing our study of Jesus’ genealogy, He could have said, I came to show Grandpa Solomon, and allÊthe people of the world, how the temptation to walk away from God canÊbe overcome.

Where does Grandpa Solomon come into the Christmas story? In Jesus’Êgenealogy we read, “David was the father of Solomon, whose motherÊhad been Uriah’s wife.” Solomon was one of Jesus’ relatives who hadÊnever learned how to say no to temptation. So, let’s review the life of Solomon and see how his fall into temptation had something to do withÊGod sending Jesus to earth.

Solomon was a person whom we might call a “poor little rich boy.” HeÊwas rich in material possessions, but was lacking in some of the basicÊneeds of life. Notice how the genealogy is written: “David was the fatherÊof Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” There’s a lot of background in that verse. You recall that David brought an end to Uriah and Bathsheba’s marriage by raping Bathsheba and having Uriah killed.Ê

There was no way those two acts could have left a good taste inÊBathsheba’s mouth. Even though David was the king, you have to wonder if Bathsheba really loved him. Would some of these emotionsÊhave been projected to Solomon? Might she have thought, I love you,ÊSolomon, but I cannot forget how I was raped by your father, David. It could not have been too pleasant living in the palace. David hadÊseveral wives, and from these marriages came several children whoÊfought constantly, to the point of murder. Their jealousy and hatred towards each other made it an extremely dysfunctional home, which hadÊits effects on Solomon. However, time passes on, and the day cameÊwhen David, directed by God, anointed Solomon king of Israel. (I KingsÊ1:28-30)

For the most part, it was a peaceful time. Solomon asked God for wisdomÊto rule his people justly. The temple was built under his leadership, andÊat its dedication, Solomon offered the prayer. He placed strong emphasis on the religious life of his nation.

However, Solomon had two main weaknesses. He was tempted withÊsexual desires, and had built a harem which consisted of one thousand members. Many of these women had come from foreign countries andÊhad been given to the King by other political leaders. They requested Solomon build altars for them to worship their gods, and to please them,ÊSolomon honored their request. This apostasy angered God, and heÊbrought punishment on Solomon.

Solomon always wanted to go first class. Consequently, his luxuriousÊstyle of living made it necessary for taxes to be increased. This angeredÊthe people, and was the beginning of the division of Israel which tookÊplace after Solomon left the throne. Solomon’s weakness is notÊunfamiliar to most of us. He did not know how to resist temptation. HisÊmany needs had to be met, no matter how great the price.

This weakness was found among Jesus’ disciples, and so He made it theÊtopic of conversation as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane whereÊJesus would be tempted to turn away from the cross and forsake the mission for which God sent Him into the world. He knew well that the purpose for coming was to give His life as a ransom for many, as a payment for humankind’s sins.Ê

Now in the appointed hour, was Jesus to follow the example of HisÊancestor, Grandpa Solomon, and become unfaithful? Jesus pointed outÊto the disciples they would all fall away that night. Judas had already leftÊthe group to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Peter would notÊbelieve it, but Jesus assured him that, before the night was over, heÊwould deny Him. Jesus’ ability to say “no” to temptation stood inÊcontrast to the disciples’ inability to resist Satan when he tempted them.ÊJesus demonstrated to them how temptation could be overcome.

Soon they were at the garden. There Jesus told them to wait while HeÊwent further to pray. Why did he pray, “Father, if it be possible, removeÊthis cup of suffering from me. However, not my will, but yours be done”? With these words, Jesus told how temptation can be resisted. He cameÊto teach and empower us to resist temptation. He assured us that weÊwould be tempted in our daily walk. There was no escape from beingÊtempted, regardless of our age. Therefore, He taught us to pray, “LeadÊus not into temptation.” At Gethsemane Jesus shows how resisting temptation can happen.Ê

First, there must be a personal relationship with the Lord. Note howÊJesus turned to His Heavenly Father in that crucial hour. He would notÊhave been able to speak so freely to His Father if there had not been thatÊpersonal relationship.

Second, Jesus showed that He was in constant communication with HisÊFather. It was not just in the crucial hour that Jesus turned to His Father,Êbut when the strong temptation came, the first One He turned to was HisÊFather. This teaches us that to resist temptation, the personalÊrelationship permits God to rule our life, and this means in the nitty grittyÊthings of every day living.

Now, let’s get practical. One day you learn you are pregnant, married orÊunmarried. If you are married, you might think, We can’t have anotherÊchild. We can’t afford it. We already have two children. We are too oldÊto be parents again. Think of it, if we have this child, we will be old whenÊhe or she graduates from high school. We’ll talk with our doctors aboutÊan abortion. Neither of us believe in abortion, but there are someÊexceptions.

If you are unmarried, you can’t think of having a child. You contact theÊfather of the child and both of you agree it would destroy your lives, robÊyou of your education, and perhaps you never did intend to marry. ItÊwas all a mistake. You have both been taught that abortion is sin, but God will understand that your case is just a bit different. This is not aÊmade-up story. Today many will battle this temptation. Just remember,Êwhoever you are, Christ came to empower you to resist the Tempter.ÊTurn to Him and He will empower you to do God’s will.

Maybe there is peer pressure which encourages you to participate in theÊlife of the season’s parties alcohol and drugs. Think of the temptationsÊthat confront our young people when it comes to following the crowd.ÊBut let’s not think these temptations are over when we hit the magic ageÊof 30. What shall I do? “Turn to Christ,” is the Bible’s answer. He willÊsee you through the ordeal, whatever it might be.

It’s Christmas again. We haven’t seen some of our family for years.ÊThink of it! A family feud which happened ten years ago has kept sÊapart. But then the tempter says, You’re not wrong. Wait until those inÊthe family who wronged you apologize. Then you can go to them. What should you do? Turn to Christ and let Him direct your path. You’ll haveÊthe best Christmas in ten years as a family if He is permitted to empowerÊyou to say “no” to the temptation of keeping this division in the familyÊgoing.

And now it is time to hear the Christmas story. You remember how theÊSunday school teacher told the class about Jesus’ birth. He was born ofÊ

a virgin. You accepted it hook, line, and sinker. Wow! What a miracleÊthat was. Then you went off to school and heard people make fun ofÊsuch a teaching. It never happened that way, both the professor andÊmost of the students agreed. You wondered, Is God’s Word true? Can itÊbe accepted as it stands in a day where people are better educated?Ê

What do I do with the temptation? The answer is, Turn to Christ. BringÊthese questions to Him. That’s why Jesus came. He wants to help us in our hours of temptation. Don’t say that Jesus really doesn’t know yourÊproblem with temptation. Listen to what the Bible says, “Since then weÊhave a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priestÊwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who, in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin” (HebrewsÊ4:14-15). Jesus has walked in our shoes. He knows what temptation is.Ê

He wants to help us resist the evil one. When you worship the ChristÊChild, hear Him say, “As I look through my genealogy, I see the namesÊof those who have fallen into sin. For this reason I came, to save themÊfrom their sins and to enable them to resist temptation. I also want to beÊyour Savior and forgive your sins, as well as teach and empower you notÊto let the tempter rule your life as he did my grandfather’s, King Solomon.ÊThere can be victory over temptation in Christ.

I Came to Atone for Grandpa David’s Sins

As we read through the genealogy of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1,Êthe name of David stands out as one of the best-known members ofÊour Lord’s earthly family. Here are the specific words:

“Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of KingÊDavid” (vs. 6).

If one of your relatives had been the president of the United States,Êwouldn’t you have mentioned him often in your conversation? Let one of our relatives rise to prominence, and we like to talk about him or her. Recently a nephew became one of the trumpet players in the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.Ê

When we are visiting with our friends who are interested in classical music, we tell them about our nephew’s chair in the prestigious orchestra.

Well, even though He was sinless, I believe Jesus thought much aboutÊDavid and mentioned him often in conversation.

David was a born leader who rose from shepherd boy to King of Israel.ÊHe was a gifted musician, and his music brought peace and solace to King Saul’s troubled soul. He was a poet whose poems (psalms) God continues to use in bringing us spiritual insights during devotional times.Ê

But David was true man, and that meant he had inherited a sinful nature which revealed itself in many ways.Ê

Like all the rest of us, he stood in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. If David was referred to from time to time by Jesus, I think it could well have been one night when Jesus sat around the campfire with His disciples.Ê

Within the last few days they had visited Jericho, and while there Jesus had a meeting with a tax collector by the name of Zaccheus. There were things about this man who caught the attention of Judas. PerhapsÊit was because Zaccheus was a very rich man, and Judas loved money.

Judas asked, “Why did the people in Jericho have such feelings of hatred for Zaccheus?”Ê

Jesus told them Zaccheus’ reason for living was to acquire a largeÊamount of money. In order to get this money, he was dishonest in the collecting of taxes, and the people knew it. To them, Zaccheus was a common thief who had taken money which rightfully belonged to them.

Wouldn’t he rather have had less money, but enjoyed the love and respect of his neighbors?another of the disciples asked Jesus. Then Jesus pointed out that money was top priority in Zaccheus’ life.ÊMoney was his god. He had not yet learned that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

The disciples asked, “Would you mind telling us a bit about the conversation you had with Zaccheus when you went into his house?”

In the quietness of Zaccheus’ home, Jesus talked to him about his sin ofÊstealing from the people. At first the tax collector was defensive of his behavior. While his charges were legal, they were morally wrong.ÊBut finally God opened Zaccheus’ eyes, and he repented.Ê

When Jesus saw his penitent spirit, He announced his sin was forgiven and he too was one of God’s children. He taught Zaccheus that he had come to seek and to save the lost.

It is strange how we can become victims of our passions. For Zaccheus,Êit was money. For us, it might be some other sin that has possessed us. For Jesus’ relative, David, it was women and sex.Ê

We all stand in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. We are acquainted with David, who is listed in our Lord’s genealogy as the man who committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered. He was confronted by God’s prophet, Nathan, who told the king of his sins. When David heard God’s voice speaking through Nathan, he confessed, “I have sinned against God.” Then it was Nathan’s joy toÊassure him that God had forgiven David’s sins.

On what basis was David forgiven? It was because more than aÊthousand years later Jesus came to this earth to suffer, die, and be raised as a payment for the sins of Zaccheus, David, and all the rest who would turn to Christ.Ê

This is the same offer that comes to you and me today.

In this Advent season, let us never forget why Jesus came to be bornÊin Bethlehem’s manger and die on Calvary’s cross. The Advent is a time when our hearts are prepared to meet Christ. It is a time of self examination. It should be a time when we pray that God’s Word will speak to us, as it did to David and Zaccheus, pointing out our sins and showing who we are and how much we need God’s grace.

Listen to the carols we sing during these days. Philip Brooks wasÊsinging the Advent message when his carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, includes these words:

“Cast out our sin and enter in be born in us today.”

Charles Wesley sounds the same note in his carol, Hark! The HeraldÊAngels Sing:

“Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled.”

That time of repentance is necessary if we are going to appreciate the glorious message of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with Him who meets us in the Christ child.

As the fire was about to go out that night, and it was time for Jesus and His disciples to retire for the evening, one of the disciples might have asked, Was there a change in Zaccheus’ life after you forgave him his sins? Then Jesus reminded them of the words Zaccheus spoke, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay them back four times the amount.”Ê

This is what happens when a person’s soul is freed up with the Gospel.ÊAnd that is why Jesus came. That is why we have Christmas.

I Came to Assure Grandma Ruth that She Can Trust Me

What do you suppose Jesus and His disciples talked about when they walked in the Judean hills and around the sea of Galilee? What do we talk about in the social hours with our friends?

My conversations often revert back to my family from whence I came. Many people spend a lot of time working on their genealogies. Some go off to Europe to find out where and how these people lived. If you enjoy history, our families can provide us with some fascinating stories.

Because Jewish people consider the family very important, I believe Jesus enjoyed talking with His disciples about some of His ancestors. Perhaps that was the reason Matthew included the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel. I am going to assume this was true and use this genealogy as a basis for four Advent seasons leading up to Christmas.

I am anxious that these sermons emphasize that our Christian faith is rooted in history. Myron Augsburger, a Mennonite theologian, tells of hearing about a young man in India who came to Christ while reading the genealogy recorded in Matthew 1. When asked how this happened, the young man replied, “For the first time I have found a religion that is rooted in history. Others come from mythology. I am also anxious to let the Scriptures teach us that Jesus’ family was made up of all kinds of people. There were the prominent and the insignificant, the faithful and

the unfaithful. Each of His relatives stood in the need of God’s grace, but it was through this family that God entered the world in the person of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth.

In this sermon, I take you to Matthew 1:5. “Salmon, the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth. . . .”

Now let your imagination go so that we might get into the story of Ruthand her mother-in-law, Naomi. One day Jesus introduced the disciples to His close friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The disciples enjoyed the visit and Martha’s good food, for she was a marvelous cook. A few days later, one of the disciples said to Jesus, “There is certainly a difference between those two sisters, Mary and Martha.” Mary seemed content to sit and listen as Jesus spoke to them, but Martha was all over the house and seemed irritated that her sister was of no help in preparing the meal.”

Then Jesus laughed and said, “You got it right. They are both wonderful people, but Martha reminds me of my ancestor, Ruth, and her mother-in-law, Naomi. They were nervous people who had a lot of fears. Life was hard on them. There are so many people like them. This is one of the reasons I have come to earth. I want them to experience the peace that only I can give to them. I want them to know that, no matter how difficult the times may be, I am with them and they can trust me. I will see them through the rough days.”

This statement caused the disciples to say, “Tell us about your relatives. We were fascinated by Martha and would like to hear more about Ruth and Naomi.” Then Jesus told them the story that is recorded in the Bible.

Naomi was married to Elimelech. They had two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. There was a famine around Bethlehem where the family lived, so Elimelech decided they were going to the land of Moab where they could at least find something to eat. The thought of leaving her homeland must have been difficult for Naomi, but Elimelech had spoken and that’s the way it was going to be. Shortly after arriving in Moab, Elimelech died. Then heir two sons went out and married Moabite girls, Ruth and Orpah. This also was difficult for Naomi to accept, because she knew that Jewish law said, “No Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). To increase the tension in her life, her two sons died. Now Naomi was left in a foreign land with two daughter-in-laws of another religion.

This was too much for Naomi, so she decided to gohome.She would return to Bethlehem and her people. On the day of Naomi’s departure, Orpah and Ruth accompanied her. As they walked along the road, Naomi felt it was wrong for them to leave their home land. There would be no life for them in Bethlehem, so she said to hem, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me. I am too old to have another husband. No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:8f).

After listening to Naomi, it made sense to Orpah to remain in Moab. So she bade Naomi farewell and went on her way. But Ruth felt differently. It was then she spoke those words, which have become familiar to many of us, “Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-18). When Naomi saw Ruth’s determination to go with her, she said no more.

Naomi’s frustration of leaving her husband and two sons, together with having two daughters who were not acceptable to the Jewish people, was too much for her. Her frustration and nervousness developed into bitterness. Did you notice her words spoken with anger toward God, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me.”

Some of that same nervous anger came from the mouth of Martha the day Jesus and the disciples visited them. She was disturbed with her sister, Mary, and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”

Frustration causes us to vent our anger even against God. Here Jesus says, Ruth, Martha, and all the rest of you millions of people, trust me. I am with you in these trying circumstances.

The days passed and both Naomi and Ruth saw the loving, caring hand of God upon them. While Naomi was having her problems, Ruth also had her anxious moments. There were haunting questions that caused her to fear. What would these Jewish people do to me? Would I be allowed to marry and have a family of my own? I wonder how my people are back in Moab? Wouldn’t it be natural for a young person like Ruth to wonder what the future held for her?

Well, God showed her that He could be trusted. It wasn’t long before Ruth married Boaz, and from that marriage came a son named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, who was Israel’s greatest king and Jesus’ most prominent relative according to the genealogy.

Then came the day when the sun shined once more in Naomi’s life. “The women brought the good news to Naomi, ‘Praise be to the Lord. Your daughter-in-law has had a son.’ . . . And they brought the child to her. Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him” (Ruth 4:16). Naomi experienced the faithfulness of God. He could be trusted.

From this story Jesus says to us, You trust me, too. Remember during this Christmas season, this is why I came to earth. Ruth and Naomi did not have the full picture of God’s love. I had not yet come to be the Savior. But you live in an age where God’s plan of salvation has been completed. Our Father has made it clear that He wants to live in a personal relationship with us. In your hours of anger, frustration, and nervousness, leave your cares with me. Don’t run from me. I can handle them. I can be trusted. It is only by trusting me that you can have perfect peace, a peace which passes all understanding. The problems in life may be severe, but Christ is with us.

The Christmas season is packed with emotion. The hurts can be severe. I think of the parents without their child who was killed in an automobile accident; or the mother whose husband has left her alone to care for three children. The list goes on and on. Don’t let your hurt and frustration turn into anger. Turn to Jesus and listen as the angels sing, “Don’t be afraid, for there is born to you a Savior who is Christ, the Lord.” Through your tears sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”