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Category Archives: Christmas

The High Cost of Christmas—The Story of Joseph

Each year I check out the Christmas Price Index published by PNC Wealth Management. They detail what it would cost to give the gifts listed in the song, “12 Days of Christmas.” This year, the gifts would cost $38,993.59 as single gifts, and $170,298.03 as the song indicates with multiple gifts each day. You will pay 0.2% more than last year.

But what if Christmas cost more than money? What if your choice of gift cost you your reputation, standing in the community, business prospects, and hope for career advancement? What if your choice of Christmas gift left you the subject of rumor and innuendo?

Imagine that you take in an alcoholic relative and the rest of your family thinks you’re foolish to give them another chance. Perhaps you decide to sponsor a Syrian refugee in your home and your neighbors don’t want anything to do with you because they think you are friendly with terrorists. Possibly a group starts to boycott your business establishment because you set up a Nativity scene in your lobby. Maybe you bring a pregnant teenager into your home and the rumors start to fly that you are the one who got her pregnant.

What if Christmas cost you your reputation, standing in the community, business prospects, and hope for career advancement, and left you the subject of rumor and innuendo? That is what it cost Joseph to celebrate the first Christmas (Matthew 1:18-25).

Matthew 1:18-19 explains that Joseph was a righteous man. As a businessman aspires to be a C.E.O., as an athlete aspires to be an all-star, so a Jewish boy aspires to be a righteous man. It meant he demonstrated an uncompromising obedience to the Torah, the Old Testament law.

Joseph had the reputation for being a righteous man. But he also had a very big problem. His fiancé was 3-4 months pregnant, and he had no idea who the father was. Since they both lived in a small town, people would naturally assume he couldn’t keep his pants on. Before too long, the rumors would start flying.

As a righteous man devoted to the Torah, Joseph had no choice but to divorce Mary. The only question was how—publicly or privately. If he did it publicly, it could result in her being stoned for her seeming infidelity (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). If he did it privately, it would break his heart but save Mary some of the embarrassment. All he knew for certain was that if the wedding took place, he would lose his reputation, standing in the community, and any hope of business prospects. All Joseph would be left with were rumors and whispers.

At this point, an angel appeared to Joseph to calm his fears (1:20-23). Mary had not been unfaithful to him. Rather, God was performing a great miracle by fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 7:14 through Mary. God himself was coming to earth. He was sending the Messiah to save the world from its sins.

Being the righteous man he was, Joseph wasted no time in obeying God’s instructions (1:24-25). He immediately took Mary as his wife and named the new baby, Jesus. Joseph chose commitment to God over the opinions of other people. Righteousness was more important than reputation.

The story of Joseph reveals the high cost of Christmas. Embracing Christmas may cost everything we hold dear. Like Joseph, we should be willing to sacrifice our status, careers, possessions, convenience, reputation, and freedoms for Jesus.

This year, strive to be like Joseph. Cultivate a trusting heart that takes God at his word. Cultivate a sacrificial heart that is willing to forsake everything to follow Jesus. Cultivate a committed heart that chooses obedience over convenience.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 8, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Savior is Jesus’ Special Office

I found the following in my files. I’m not sure if I wrote it or found it in a source that I’ve long forgotten.

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In Matthew 1:20-21, the angel tells Joseph that his fiancé, Mary, will have a son with a divine origin. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Savior is Jesus’ special office. He saves people from the guilt of sin, by washing them in his own atoning blood. Jesus saves us from the penalty of sin, by forgiving our sins. He saves people from the dominion of sin, by putting in their hearts the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. Jesus saves us from the presence of sin, when he takes us out of this world to rest in him. He will save us from all the consequences of sin, when he gives us a glorious body at the last day.

Jesus saves us from sin for evermore. This is salvation.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2019 in Christmas, Scripture

 

God uses nobodies – The Story of Mary

“I’m nobody special.” “I’m not gifted.” “I’m not important.” “I have nothing to offer.” “God could never use me.”

Have you ever said those words? Then you are in good company with Mary. If Luke 1:26-38 teaches us anything, it is that God specializes in using nobodies to accomplish his plan and purpose.

Mary was probably no more than 14 years old. She was a virgin and inexperienced in the ways of the world. She was engaged to be married. Like most peasant girls, she was probably illiterate. Chances are that she had not traveled very far outside of her home area.

Mary lived in the town of Nazareth, a corrupt village halfway between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon in the province of Galilee. If there was a bright spot in Israel, Nazareth was a far away as possible. It might not be the end of the world, but Mary could see it from there.

And yet Mary was the object of God’s special favor. God sent the angel Gabriel to explain that God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Gabriel explained that she would give birth to the one whose kingdom would never end.

Mary responds with the simple, yet profound question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary knew enough about biology to know this would require a miracle. She believed the “what” but did not understand the “how.”

Gabriel explained that Jesus’ birth would be accomplished by the creative power of the Holy Spirit. As confirmation, Gabriel told Mary her aging relative, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant, proving that nothing was beyond God’s power.

Mary could have responded in a variety of ways—“I won’t do it!” “I can’t do it!” “If I have to.” “If I can do it my way.” Not choosing any of these options, Mary said simply, “Yes, Lord.”

Mary had no credentials other than her availability. She had no reason to be chosen other than her willingness to serve. God sovereignly chose her and she responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Like Mary, we should cultivate a humble heart, an ongoing poverty of spirit that is open to God’s grace, and desperately longing for it. We should cultivate a believing heart, a willingness to take God at his word and trust his power and promises. We should also cultivate a submissive heart, an attitude that says “Yes” to whatever God asks us to do.

Regardless of our gifts, abilities, talents, or lack thereof, God can use each of us to accomplish his plan. In fact, he specializes in using nobodies to achieve his purposes.

This message was preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 1, 2019. It is part of a collection of sermons on the people and events of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Coming this fall to First Central

Below is a letter mailed out to the congregation of First Central Bible Church profiling four events and programs coming this fall to the church.

 

Christmas devotionals

Jack Gilbert was able to capture two videos from our Christmas Eve service at First Central Bible Church. In one, I am reading the book, The Littlest Magi, to our children. In the other, I am sharing a devotional, “How do you wrap an indescribable gift?” Thanks, Jack.

 

 
 
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Celebrate the Son!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2018 in Christmas, Isaiah, Scripture

 

How do you wrap an indescribable gift?

Christmas gifts are part of our celebration of the season. We often wrap packages creatively to add to the festivity. Sometimes, we take the Matryoshka doll approach. We wrap small packages in successively larger boxes. Maybe you wrap a globe to look like a basketball. You camouflage an educational gift to look like a toy.

In 2 Corinthians 9:15, the apostle Paul referred to Jesus as an indescribable gift from God. If you were God, how would you wrap an indescribable gift?

Jesus came wrapped in prophecy. Isaiah 7:14 tells us that Jesus would be born of a virgin. Isaiah 9:6 said that this child would have a significant future. He would come from the family of King David, according to Isaiah 11:1. Micah 5:2 identifies his birthplace, the city of Bethlehem.

God also wrapped Jesus in history. According to Galatians 4:4, Jesus was born at a certain point of history, when everything was ready.

Jesus also came wrapped in mystery. Luke 2:9 explains that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by angelic messengers. Luke 2:14–17 gives more clues about this mystery. This is the incarnation—the glory of God in human form.

Imagine that your parents or spouse or a friend spend all year long looking for the perfect gift for you. They pick out something they know you will love. It is something you will exclaim, “It’s what I always wanted.”

They wrap the gift creatively. It has shiny paper and beautiful bow. It has a tag with your name on it. They place the gift prominently in front of the Christmas tree where you can’t miss it. But rather than open the package and enjoy the gift, you leave it sitting under the tree. You push it to the side. You ignore it.

God has given the best gift of all to you and me. The gift came wrapped in prophecy, history, and mystery. To enjoy the gift, we have to receive it. In John 1:12, we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

God offers each one of us the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness. He offers us the gift of becoming part of his family.

This Christmas, let me encourage you to receive his gift. It is as easy as A-B-C.

  • Admit you are a sinner.
  • Believe the message that Christ died for your sins.
  • receive Christ as Savior and Lord.

This is the synopsis of a message shared at the Christmas Eve service on December 24 at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA.