Life, Because of Christmas.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year.
I know... those of you who know me know that I often gripe about Christmas.
The sad truth is... I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas.
I love the lights and decorations.... but I hate it when it has gone overboard and it becomes gaudy.
I love the music... so long as that is not ALL I hear from Thanksgiving on!
I actually like going into the stores at Christmas time... but I get so tired and annoyed at the rudeness of people when they are shopping.
I love some of the Christmas shows on TV and at the movies...
But I hate when no talent writers rip off a story line from shows like A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life and re-write it in some cheesy, low-budget story just to put another show on TV.
While a lot of advertisements are grossly deplorable and the desperation to sell gets annoying, it still seems as if all of America and much of the western world finds a way to be brighter, be cheerier, be more generous than any other time of the year.
And the whole Christmas scene sure helps us pass through the darkest days on the calendar, those around the winter solstice.

But far more important to me than the flurry of exciting activities and decorations which lighten the season is the true meaning of Christmas... the Incarnation.
  “God with us!”   God becoming human to live with us, walk . . ., sweat . . ., work . . ., attend worship . . ., deal with difficult people . . ., struggle with all the issues of humanity including physical suffering and death.
He knows firsthand what we go through!

Jesus also lived in a time when the world was upside down and governmental power was international in scope. Do you realize that Jesus' country was occupied during his lifetime? Rome ruled the known world and was occupying Israel and ruled with an iron fist. It was in the midst of this Roman occupation that Jesus taught that his nation was ordained by God to rule the world. Well, actually, that is NOT what he taught at all, but that is what most of the people THOUGHT he was teaching! You see, they thought he was going to rise up and overthrow the Roman government!  What they could not understand was that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.  

Somehow, it seems that we have forgotten that part of His message. Jesus taught many things as he walked this earth, but the key to his call to us is that we are to also to be God’s love incarnate. As Jesus came to live God’s love among us, so we are to do the same, live God’s love among everyone else
We seem to get all messed up in this area... but the fact is, the judgment of God about our lives will be based on whether we displayed that love by whether we the hungry, welcomed the stranger,healed the sick,and visited those in prison. That's what the Bible says!

We hear man's judgment all the time and man's definition of what what God expects...
But just listen to what Jesus had to say about how we will be judged.

Mat 25:31-46
(31)  When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
(32)  And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
(33)  And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
(34)  Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
(35)  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
(36)  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
(37)  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
(38)  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
(39)  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
(40)  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(41)  Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
(42)  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
(43)  I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
(44)  Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
(45)  Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
(46)  And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

That “final exam” described here in the Book of Matthew takes us way beyond any belief system which we follow in our religious life.
True, radical believers and followers of Christ not only welcome the stranger, they feed the hungry and clothe the poor and care for the sick and imprisoned.

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16).
So, what then is faith?  It seems that for many, faith is boiled down to their fear of ending up in Hell... so they choose Christ.  But I submit to you that this is not faith at all. Faith cannot be built on FEAR.  So many of the religious crowd base their faith on these fears...
Fear for our souls burning in Hell. Fear of the consequence of disobedience. Fear of being wrong.

No.... NO.... A thousand times NO!
As I preached last week, the Christmas message is all about FEAR NOT!
The angel told Mary, "Fear not!"  The Angel told Joseph, "Do not be afraid." And the night of Jesus' birth, the angels told the shepherds, “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy...” 

Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear imprisons, cripples burdens and binds. Faith is far more simple than that.
It is trusting God.

There was a little girl named Annie who desperately wanted a pony.
For weeks, Annie prayed for a pony for Christmas. She did it each night before she went to bed. Even though the main focus of her prayers was to bless her parents, neighbors, friends, and even the strangers in her town, she slipped in her desire to get the pony.  Her parents having only enough money to rent a small apartment for the three of them had no way to afford a pony or renting a place where it could be boarded.  But they didn’t have the heart to challenge Annie’s earnestness and faith that she’d get the horse.

Finally Christmas morning came.
Annie gleefully jumped out of bed and ran into the living room to check out her presents.  She found a doll buggy and a new doll under the tree.She put the doll in the buggy and went door to door on her floor in the apartment building, showing everyone what Santa had given her.

Her parents were stunned. Annie said nothing about there being no pony.
She was just full of joy to have the new toys. When she got back from her trip to the neighbors, they talked to her. “Annie, we’ve always told you that God answers your prayers. But he didn’t answer the one about your wanting a pony.”

“Oh but God did answer my prayer,” Annie said. “He just said 'No.'" 
That’s faith.
Faith does not question, and still believes and rejoices, even when the answer is no.