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DO WE AWAIT CHRISTMAS IN THE DARKNESS OR IN THE LIGHT?
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
27 NOVEMBER 1988
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 John 1:5-7
Preparation Verse: (John 15:4)
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
When I came here on the 3rd of January, I surprised many of you by continuing Christmas, or at least the true spirit of Christmas, into the month of January, and we continued throughout the entire month.
And then several of you would, from time to time, bring it back again. And I
have heard a "Merry Christmas'' as recently as this past Thanksgiving.
This is the way that it should be; for if the true spirit of Christmas is alive in us throughout the year, then we will all be better Christians.
As we have said, the true spirit of Christmas is the birth of Christ, and more specifically, the birth of Christ in each of our hearts and souls.
And we can experience this glorious event, this rebirth, over and over again if we are willing.
With this thought in mind, we shall enter the Advent Season.
But what is the Advent Season, and what does it stand for?
The Advent is the expectancy of the coming of Jesus Christ.
But some may say, "He has already come. Why are we still looking forward to his coming?"
Because He will come again!
And right now He is here because the Holy Spirit is here to comfort us, if we will accept Him.
Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the fact that without Jesus Christ there is no real Christmas or Christmas Season. There is much going on, but very little of it has anything to do with Jesus Christ.
This past Friday was a secular holiday of sorts. It is not printed on calendars, but it is most definitely printed on the hearts and minds of many, many people.
It is called "Black Friday,'' and it is the busiest shopping day of the entire year. In fact, merchants judge the entire Christmas shopping season by the volume of business they do on this one day.
I also find the name "Black Friday" to be very significant, for within it is expressed the true difference between a Christmas with and without Jesus Christ.
Note what John tells us in the first chapter of his 1st Epistle, verses 5-7:
5. And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;
7. but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Before we explain the meaning of these verses in the context of today’s
sermon and that of the Bible, let's look at another verse, Luke 16:13, and hear
what Jesus is telling us:
13. "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
What is mammon? It is money and other material possessions.
For if we, in the pursuit of celebrating Christmas, place most or all of our emphasis on the purchase of gifts for others and the obligation that we are under to do it, then according to Scripture, Jesus Christ is not part of the celebration.
There are many people who just can't afford this kind of celebration and actually enter a state of depression because of it.
And if the way we celebrate a holiday causes others to suffer, then the way we celebrate it is wrong, for we bring darkness into their lives instead of light.
If the central focus of our celebrating Christmas is on the receiving of material gifts, then we have lost sight of Jesus Christ and why He came and why He will come again.
The greatest gift we could ever receive from another person is for them to love us as Christ loves them.
In order for someone to give this kind of love, they have to spend much more than all of the money in their pockets; they have to give their very life.
For if we are not prepared to love each other to the very limit of our lives, then we have not fully received the true spirit of Christmas, and it's time we go back and receive it.
This turning away from God is nothing new. It has been going on ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
King Ahaz was a king of Judah who would not listen to the word of God, but sought what he desired from Assyria.
Thus the prophet Isaiah speaks against him, and within this double prophecy is the announcement of the world's first Christmas gift.
Let’s take a second look at our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 7:10-19.
10. Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying,
11."Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or as high as heaven."
12. But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!"
Ahaz's seeming piousness is not real, for he has sought a gift of military strength from the king of Assyria, and this answer is to put off the prophet Isaiah; but Isaiah and God are not fooled.
Neither is the Lord fooled when we pretend to be pious at Christmas but are really seeking after worldly possessions and worldly activities.
Thus the prophet Isaiah answers Ahaz and us as follows:
13. Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?
14. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
This sign we know refers to Mary and Jesus; but the world as a whole has not accepted this sign any more than Ahaz accepted it in his day.
And the prophet goes on and says:
15. "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good.
Note that this child did not have to choose between good and evil, but he refused evil and chose good.
16. "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.
17. "The Lord will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria."
18. And it will come about in that day, that the Lord will whistle for the fly that is in the remotest part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.
19. And they will all come and settle on the steep ravines, on the ledges of the cliffs, on all the thorn bushes, and on all the watering places."
The Lord did call and the nation of Assyria and Egypt did clash in the year 701 BC, and Judah was reduced to a state of poverty.
This double prophecy was given so that the people in the day of the birth of Jesus might recognize Him, and that we would accept Him today, because both portions of the double prophecy have come true.
And if we have accepted Jesus as Messiah, then we should trust in Him and live like it.
But as we look around at the way we celebrate His first coming, there is considerable doubt as to whether or not we have truly accepted Him.
We seem to have the idea that the only way we can express our love for each other is through physical gifts.
There is nothing wrong with showing a portion of our love with a gift; but if we fail to show our love by giving of ourselves, not only of our possessions, it is not the kind of love that Christ has given to us, and we are missing the most beautiful part of Christmas.
Now I want you to put yourselves back into the time of Jesus' birth, and consider the ways of the people and the laws of God.
A woman was to remain a virgin until marriage; if not, she was to be stoned to death.
A couple was to be engaged to each other for about a year before actually being married; and in some cases girls were betrothed to their future husbands when they were still quite young. It was not like it is today. There was no dating.
With these thoughts in mind, let's take a second look at our New Testament
lesson for this morning, Matthew 1:18-25.
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
19. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.
There were very few people in Joseph's day who would consider doing what he is considering. Most men would consider their own pride, and thus publicly proclaim what this woman had done to him. In essence, he would show no love or compassion.
But because Joseph’s thoughts and considerations showed both a deep godly love and compassion, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Note the following verses:
20. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21. "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
The angel of the Lord is asking Joseph to go even further than he had previously considered. He is to go ahead and marry Mary, and stand beside her and love her in the face of all of the ridicule of the people that was sure to come; and as we shall see, he did just that.
And why did it take place in this manner?
22. Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying,
23. "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us."
And the name Jesus means "Lord of salvation"; for Jesus is God, and He did come to save all who would accept Him.
What about Joseph?
24. And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife.
25. and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
We should all ask ourselves:
"Do I have that kind of love?"
"Does my love extend to the whole of creation: to all our fellow human beings, to all the animals, and to the world in which we all live)?"
"Do I love without exception?"
If we are not sure, we should seek God's help in acquiring it.
And in that love, wait patiently for the Lord to do all that he says He will do.
Watch for His second coming, knowing that all the evilness in the world will one day be wiped away, and then we will be with Him forever.
In the meantime, truly love each other.
Stand against the evil in the world, and do what you can to protect the innocent from being harmed.
See through each other’s faults, and give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.
For without this kind of love, we are in the darkness; but we can choose the light.
This is what God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord.