Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of Freedom | Galatians 5:1 | Week 4

FILLING UP CHRISTMAS: The Fullness of Freedom   Galatians 4:4-7

I’ve been reminded, during this Advent season leading up to Christmas, that there are two kinds of people in the world:  There are those that agree with me and are right; there are those that agree with my wife and are wrong.  I grew up watching the movie “A Christmas Story,” and I happen to think it’s a brilliant film. Not everybody agrees with me.  There’s one scene in this movie that makes me laugh every time I see it.  {Ryan plays scene where Ralphie’s overly dressed little brother falls in the snow and can’t get up.}  How many of you have felt like that at some point in time?  I can’t get up!  I’m too bundled up.  I’ve got too much going on.  I think if we’re honest, we all come to that place at some point in our life where we go life feels cumbersome.  There’s a lot of weight to carry.  There’s a lot of things going on.  Sometimes they wrap us up in such a way that we can’t get up.

Last year, I decided to read a book that my English required I read and I never did!  Shhh!  It’s called The Grapes of Wrath.  Written by John Steinbeck in 1939, it’s about a family that lives in Oklahoma during the dustbowls.  They decide to move and leave because their land is depleted and their lives are depleted.  The book is about their journey on the way to California.  They have this hope that when they get to California it’s going to be greener pastures, it’s going to be a better life.  There are signs along the way in the gas stations, and there’s this hope that when they get to THAT place, eventually they’ll be able to get up.  Eventually they’ll be able to live.  Eventually they’ll find some sort of satisfaction, some sort of pleasure, some sort of freedom.  If you’ve read the book, what you know is that when they get there it’s like chasing the wind.  It’s an allusive mist that they try to grab.  They wind up feeling just as empty as when they left.  I got to the end of the book and thought I think this book is so popular because it’s well written, number one, but it’s the human story in a lot of ways, isn’t it?  We leave one place that doesn’t satisfy, in order to go to greener pastures and quiet waters, and it ends up just leaving us wanting.

A few weeks ago, I had a friend recommend a book to me entitled The Coddling of the American Mind.  The subtitle, written just this year, reads How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation For Failure.  How good intentions, but bad ideas, are setting up an entire generation for failure.  Here’s what the author sort of put their finger on:  It doesn’t matter how good our intentions are, if our ideas are bad.  It doesn’t matter how good our heart is, if we’re walking down the wrong path.  We can have the best intentions in the world, but if our actions don’t align with reality, we can find ourselves in a place that’s pretty painful and pretty broken and in want, can’t we?  When we thought we were leaving a place to go to someplace that was better, we find ourselves lying on the ground saying, “I can’t get up!”  Ralphie! I can’t get up!

Dallas Willard said it like this: “Reality is what we run into when we find out we’re wrong.”  That’s true, isn’t it?  When we find out we’re wrong, that can be a fairly painful discovery, can’t it?  When I find out that the way that I’m approaching the relationship just isn’t going to get me what I want, that’s a painful discovery.  When I find out the way that I’m pacifying my pain actually leads to addiction, that’s a painful discovery.  When I find out that the job, even though I got it, doesn’t fulfill that longing in my soul, that’s a painful discovery, isn’t it?  Did you know there’s an entire book in the Scriptures about THIS idea?  It’s called the book of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon calls it a “chasing after the wind.”  I think some of us find ourselves there this morning.  We’ve gone down some different pathways and they’ve led to dead ends.  We’ve left the proverbial dustbowl, but we’ve ended up in a place where we go I’m not exactly sure how I got here, and I’m not exactly sure what to do with it.

It’s interesting because the season of Christmas speaks into this profound truth that every human soul longs for.  If you have your Bible, open with me to Galatians 4.  It’s where we’ve been camping out over the last few weeks in our Advent series that we’re calling “Filling Up Christmas.”  We all have a tendency to fill up Christmas, the question is: Are the things we fill Christmas with leaving us full or leaving us empty?  We’ve been journeying with the Apostle Paul as he writes to this church at Galatia.  Listen to what he says (Galatians 4:4-7) — But when the fullness of time had come, {Stop there.  If you were here a few weeks ago, what you maybe remember is that God gives a promise that he’s going to send a Messiah then he waits a few thousand years to deliver.  There was a lot of time that was unfulfilled before there was time that was full.  We said that Advent is really about waiting.  It’s about entering into a season where we discipline our hearts to wait well.}  God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  {Remember, we said that God came as a child to dwell that we might become children of God.}  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  {If you were here last week, you might remember that we said God came to dwell among us so that he might ultimately dwell within us. Then he says this, which will be the final message in our series “Filling Up Christmas.”}  So  {It’s his ‘therefore’ statement because all of this is true.}  you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 

It’s really interesting because Paul is a sort of savant when it comes to freedom.  He writes about it more than any other New Testament author.  I think that Galatians is sort of his magnum opus on freedom.  He mentions it ten times in this little, short letter alone.  More times than he mentions it in any other letter.  I think if we were to sort of distill this into one succinct statement, we might say something like this:  The incarnation frees us from incarceration.  Or—because it was in my notes before I thought of that—we might say:  Jesus came under the system of the law that we might walk freely in love.

What’s the incarnation ultimately about?  Well, Paul says it’s so that you can know that you’re no longer a slave, but that you are a son.  My mind, almost immediately, went back to June 23, 2018, this year, when the nations (not only our nation) all focused on thirteen boys stuck in a cave in Thailand.  Do you remember this?  Do you remember tuning in almost every day, knowing that these thirteen boys—a soccer team that had gone on this adventure—had been pinned in a cave three-and-a-half miles back inside?  I didn’t really get it, I had to read up on it again just to be reminded of it.  Do you remember wondering how in the world that actually happened?  Three-and-a-half miles from freedom.  Then Elon Musk got involved.  He tried to develop some sort of submarine.  Eventually, TWO WEEKS later, thirteen boys rescued!  I don’t know if you remember the feeling of going no way!  They got every single one of them out.  It was as if the collective cheer of all the nations joined in and went, “YES!  We did it!”  I think Christmas is due for a collective cheer.  YES!  He’s done it!  He’s rescued us!  It wasn’t just 3.5 miles back in a little cave without food and running out of air.  It’s not just that that He’s rescued us from.  He’s rescued us from the cosmic enemies of sin and death and He has freed us to walk in newness of life, the Apostle Paul will say.

It’s really interesting, many of us know that Jesus has come and we know that He’s brought freedom, but we live like Ralphie’s brother on the ground, don’t we?  I wonder if maybe just a re-examining of what Paul means when he says we’ve been set free.  Free FROM what?  Free FOR what?  Galatians 4:1-3 — I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  {Paul’s painting the picture of somebody who’s the heir to royalty.  That has everything at their fingertips, but isn’t of an age where they can actually enjoy that because their parents have some wisdom, right?  You’re not allowed to touch that until some certain time.  It’s all yours, but you can’t enjoy all the benefits of it until you hit a certain age.  What the Apostle Paul says is that’s exactly what the law was like.  It was a tutor.  It was intended to teach us and lead us to the point where eventually we’d be able to enjoy the freedom that we would be brought.  Verse 3.}  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  {Jump down to verse 8, because Paul’s going to continue this thought.}  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Here’s what Paul is doing.  He starts off by talking about the Old Testament law, saying it was good but it wasn’t the end.  It was good, but it was a tutor.  But then, he says, okay, that type of thinking has enslaved you to those who by nature are not gods.  He’s going somewhere along the line this didn’t become neutral, it became evil.  It became even demonic, that’s what Paul says.  The Old Testament law was revealed by God and it was good, but Paul’s point is that when we use the law for that which it wasn’t intended for, it actually turns on us and becomes like a pagan religion.  Like we’re doing some sort of incantation.  Some sort of magic.  Some sort of way to get God to do what we want.  The Old Testament law was always intended to help us identify sin.  It wasn’t intended to help us prevent it.  It’s interesting because J.C. Ryle, the great pastor, said it like this:  “A painting of a fire cannot warm, and a painted banquet cannot satisfy hunger, and a formal religion cannot bring peace to the soul.”

Will you look up at me for just a moment?  I believe that the greatest danger to our freedom of life with God is not atheism, and it’s not secularism, it’s religion.  That’s what Paul’s saying.  What his anthem is all throughout Galatians is that we have freedom from legalism.  If you want a definition of it, legalism is simply the belief that I can earn favor with God based on my behavior.  And we’re hardwired for it.  If you’ve been here every single Sunday for the last umpteen years, let’s just ALL take a step back and go we might be in danger of this.  Because it’s just so normal.  It’s just the pattern of the world we live in.

I read an article from the New York Times, this week, that said depression rates amongst high schoolers are higher than they’ve ever been.  There’s some research they started to do to answer the question why?  What’s going on?  Why have we seen, since 2010, this massive spike in depression amongst high school students?  Here’s what the researchers said.  “More high school students are struggling with depression than ever before.  The question is why?  For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough and now I can stop.’  No, there’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college.  Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up.  The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”  I read that and went well, that sounds a lot like what you hear in church sometimes—it’s never enough!  Never adds up.  More, more, more, more, more….THEN God will be okay with you.  Which, friends, IS, by definition, legalism.  That’s what it is.  God will be okay with me when.  God will be okay with me if.  What Paul wants to do is say there will be no freedom where there is legalism.  What Jesus did is he steps into the system of the law that we might be free to walk in love.

I don’t know if you caught this, but he says, listen, you’ve been turning back to observing special days and months and seasons and years.  Is anybody thinking to themselves what I’m thinking to myself?  Isn’t that what we’re doing here?!?  Isn’t that what we’re going to do tomorrow?  We’re going to observe a day.  If you’re thinking that, let me put your mind at ease.  Paul is talking about maybe worshipping on a certain day of the week and thinking well now, now, I’m good.  Celebrating a certain feast and going well, now God is happy.  What he’s talking about is not celebrating, but a transaction.  If I do this, then God’s okay.  Then God’s like well, that Paulson guy was a total tool, but now…..now that he’s celebrating Christmas, it’s good.

So lean in for a moment, because the lie of legalism always tells us that there’s just a little bit more to do until God’s okay.  It’s that famous Rockefeller quote, “How much money will be enough?” and he responds, “Just a little bit more.”  God, when will we be okay with you?  Just a little bit more.  Lean in.  There is nothing left for you to earn from God.  NOTHING!  Not one thing.  If you’re going, Paulson, prove it to me, gladly.  Ephesians 1:3 — Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.    EVERY!  That’s a lot.  How many is left outside of every?  NOTHING!  There is nothing left to earn from God.  Quiet time.  Bible reading.  Prayer.  Acts of justice.  Caring for the poor.  Giving to the Food Bank.  Signing up to serve for Christmas Eve services.  Having experiences with God in worship.  Those are all wonderful, those are all great, but God’s not keeping score, you guys.  He’s not keeping score any longer.  No, no, no, no, pagan religions seek to appease God by the things that they do; followers of Jesus know, as Paul says, they are known by God and they know God.

If that’s true, if we’re free from having to earn anything from God, because He’s freely given it all, let me just tell you two things that are beautiful and true of your life right now.  If there’s nothing left to earn, God can freely enter.  He can enter the mess.  He can enter the pain.  What religion wants to tell us is if we get ourselves together enough, then God will come and then God will enter.  Religion wants to tell us if we get pretty enough and sort of put on our Sunday best, THEN, then we meet with God.   What Christmas tells us and what Jesus declares is I love the manger, the dirt, the stable, the imperfect.  I’m not coming to the palace, I’m coming to the cave, in your life and in mine.  If there’s nothing left to earn, God can freely enter.  The second thing is if there’s nothing left to earn, we can stop striving and start enjoying.  We can stop striving and start enjoying.  I love this picture of the prodigal son who goes away and comes home.  His dad’s not like okay, here’s the hoops you’ve got to jump through.  If we’re going to be okay, here’s what you’ve got to do.  No, no, no, no, he Christmases him.  He runs and meets him on the road, right?  Pulls up his coat and runs and meets him.  Wraps him in his coat, puts a ring on his finger and says come on, let’s dance, let’s sing, let’s party.  It’s no coincidence that the kingdom of God is described as a feast, as a celebration, as a party.  What I’d love for you to hear this morning is that Jesus invites us to hear the music of grace, to let our hair down, to rest in his love, and to dance.  Even if things around us feel like they’re a little bit of a mess.  Amen?

We’re free from legalism, which is such a great Christmas reminder for churchy people, like me.  But Paul doesn’t stop there, that’s not the only thing that he says we’re free from.  He goes on in Galatians 5:13.  He’s unpacked this freedom from legalism—to think that we’re right with God based on what we do—and then he goes there’s another side to this coin too.  For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh…  So what is Paul assuming we’re thinking?  He’s assuming we’re thinking, “Well, if I’m free…..live and let live.”  Eat, drink, tomorrow we die.  Let’s just live it up!  Let’s just feed our every natural desire that we have.  If I’m free, then I should be able to do whatever the heck I want.  It’s a similar thing to what he assumes that we’re going to be thinking if we read through the book of Romans (6:15) where he talks about how good grace is and then he says — What then?  Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!  Here’s what I want to point out then we’ll move forward.  If our teaching about God’s grace and mercy and the freedom we have in Him, doesn’t lead us to at least THINK, “Well, I must be able to do whatever I want,” it’s not strong enough.  That’s what Paul assumes we’ll think.  He assumes our minds would go to well then, I should be able to do whatever I want.  If we don’t have a strong enough view of grace, we’ll never get there.  Because he believes that’s where we’ll go, he steers us back just a little bit and goes no, no, no, you’re not suppose to use your freedom for YOUR sake alone.  You’re suppose to use it in order to serve and love.  Let me rewind a second.  The problem with doing whatever the heck we want is that it doesn’t actually bring us freedom.  That leaves us, like Ralphie’s brother, on the snow….I can’t get up.

If you were to go back and read the ancients on what it is that brings the human soul freedom, here’s the way Plato would have described it.  Plato, in his work Republic, described freedom as the rule of reason over the soul unimpeded by desire.  He’s suggesting that real freedom is the ability to step back enough from our natural desires to say will this lead me to life.  Will this lead me to life?  His claim was that real freedom was the ability to say no to some of the desires we have because they are not best.  He summarizes by saying, “An individual is free when his/her reasoning rules their soul in line with the Good.”  But something happened in the 17th-18th century, during the Enlightenment.  We started to redefine freedom.  Freedom didn’t become the ability to choose what’s best and the ability to choose what’s good.  Freedom was defined then as being free from anything that was oppressive that would tell me what I had to do in certain situations.  So, if the church tells me what to do that’s not real, true freedom.  Regardless of whether or not it’s good and regardless of whether or not it’s best.  If a government tells me what to do it’s not real true freedom.  The only problem with that is we all know that freedom requires limits.  So the Shawn Mendes song, There’s Nothing Holding Me Back…….that’s our anthem of freedom these days, but we all know that’s not true.  For other kids to be free on the playground at Runyon, Reid Paulson cannot be allowed to punch everybody in the face.  That’s a tough lesson to learn for a little five-year-old.  For us to be free people, those who abuse others need to be locked up.  For us to be free on the road, we need people who have a propensity to drink and drive not to have a driver’s license.  For us to be free, we need age restrictions on some activities and limits on things, don’t we?

So Paul says this:  We have freedom from legalism, but also we have freedom from licentiousness.  That’s a big word that means our natural desires.  We have freedom from the need to follow every desire and every whim.  We have freedom to step back and ask the question: Is this good?  I had a pastor friend describe it like this; I’m going to steal his verbiage because I think it’s great.  He said that freedom is the ability to choose our DEEPEST desire rather than our STRONGEST desire.  To choose our DEEPEST desire rather than our STRONGEST desire.  My strongest desire is holiday treats, I’m going to be honest with you.  My deepest desire is my health, so I’m going to start pursuing that on January 2nd.  My strongest desire is kids that like me; my deepest desire is kids who will grow up to be productive adults in the world and walk in joy.  My strongest desire is often self-protection; my deepest desire is intimacy.  My strongest desire can be lust; my deepest desire is love.  I don’t know about you, but there can be times when my strongest desire can be bitterness.  I want to hold on to this thing, I want to hold it over their head.  But man, my deepest desire, when it really comes down to it, is forgiveness, is the kingdom, is the way of Jesus.  We could probably go around the room and say my deepest desire is this, but this is often my strongest desire.  Jesus says, “I want to free you from the ability to have to follow down a road that will eventually lead you to brokenness.”  I love the way Rich Mullins put it in a song: “Surrender don’t come natural to me.  I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than to take what you give that I need.”   That’s what Paul’s talking about….the ability not just to fight for something we ultimately don’t want, but to open our hearts and our minds and our lives to Jesus.

Here’s the way Paul will say it in Romans 6:4.  This is a freedom for.  So we have freedom from legalism, freedom from licentiousness, or to just follow every whim and every desire, and we have freedom for….   Here’s the way he said it:  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  Did you know that you have freedom, because of Christmas, because of the gift of the incarnation, from incarceration….we have freedom to live?  I’d encourage you to spend some time in Romans 6, because he wants to unpack for us how we actually live.  So much of the time we end up leaving Oklahoma to try to chase green pastures and still waters and we don’t find them.  So much of the time we end up ‘I can’t put my arms down,’ I’m enslaved to my every desire.  This addiction has its claws in me.  This anger I can’t seem to let go of.  This lust is just kicking right now.  So, how do we do that?  How do we really live?  Here’s what Paul writes (6:6-8) — We know that our old self {That self that wanted to feed every natural desire.} was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 

Stop there.  If you just follow down, what Paul’s going to say in verse 18 is no, no, no, we’ve been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness.  Paul says if you want to walk in newness of life, what you’ve got to recognize is that ultimately every life has a master.  Every life has something over it.  It may be our desires.  It may be our addictions.  What Paul wants to say is no, no, no, no, no, make Jesus, who’s Lord of all creation, your master.  Surrender.  That’s what he says the first step is….surrender.  Jump to verse 11 — So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  What you think about in your relation to your desires actually determines the way that you live.  Paul says remind yourself, “I don’t need to follow that.  I don’t need to go there.”  Preach the gospel to yourself.  I’m making this decision but I’m not bound to it.  Consider, think about yourselves, as dead to sin and alive to Christ.  Know that it’s true.  Freedom was purchased by Jesus, but it must be embraced by us.  It’s purchased by Jesus, but it MUST BE embraced by us.

Paul says here’s how you do it (Romans 6:12-13) — Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.   We actualize {Will you lean in for a moment here?}…..I think we sometimes get this wrong.  Sometimes we think that freedom just happens in our head….if I believe this then I’ll be free.  There’s certainly a portion of that that’s true.  We need to consider or reckon ourselves dead to sin….this doesn’t bind me anymore.  Then we need to do something with our bodies too, because your body is a key player in your spiritual formation.  Paul says don’t present your body anymore to sin.  We must actualize our freedom through spirit-empowered practice.  I can want to be free from anger, but if I don’t start training myself to respond well when I don’t get my way, I never will be.  I can want it all day long, but if I don’t train for it, I’ll never actualize it.  I can want to be free from lust, but if I don’t put some parameters around what I view with my eyes, I will continue to walk in bondage.  Deciding to renew my mind through Scripture, spending time in prayer, slowing down, practicing Sabbath, fasting….these are all ways we present the members of our body to Jesus to say have your way.  It doesn’t earn us anything from God, but it positions us to receive the grace he’s pouring out.  Does that make sense?  What we do with our body actually matters.  This is why I think Celebrate Recovery is so important.  We have it every Tuesday night, 6:30 pm.

Here’s the last thing and we’ll close.  (Galatians 5:13) — For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.   You have freedom.  Then Paul goes on to say that when you serve, in love, you actually fulfill the entire law.  We have freedom to love.  Let me just point out, we actually do need to be free from both legalism and licentiousness in order to have the capacity to love.  We really do.  If we’re still under legalism, we’re too concerned with being right, in order to love.  Have you ever been around people like this?  They were so concerned with whether or not they were right and whether or not they were right with God that they were actually confined from the ability to do the very thing which Jesus said would fulfill the entire law.  They were walking on eggshells…..I’m not sure if I can do this.  I’m not sure if God’s okay with this.  I’m not sure if we’re going to add up.  I’m not sure if we’re going to be okay.  We actually do need to be free from legalism in order to love.  But we also need to be free from licentiousness.  If we’re too concerned with ourselves—our own satisfaction, our own pleasure, feeding our own every desires—we will be unable to really, truly see the people around us.  So when Paul writes about this, he says oh yeah, yeah, yeah.  Jesus’s coming is certainly about freedom, but it’s about freedom because it’s about love.

So Paul will say in Galatians 5:1 — For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore…     Stand firm.  Free from legalism.  Nothing left to earn from God.  Nothing!  He’s given it all to you through Jesus.  Stand firm.  Stand firm from licentiousness.  You don’t need to follow your every desire.  You’ve actually been freed to choose your deepest desire, not your strongest one.  Stand firm.  Live!  Surrender!  To the Master that wants to lead you into freedom.  Present your body to Him because it’s a key player in your spiritual formation.  And friends, you are free because of those things to really, truly, genuinely love the people around you.  Eugene Peterson said it like this:  “A space has been cleared in the thick forest and brambles of necessity from which we can freely respond to God, freely grow in the image of God, freely develop in relationships of forgiveness.  Having provided the space, we are free to take a stand there.”  Amen.

Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace // Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, And in His name, all oppression shall cease // Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within praise His holy name // Christ is the Lord!  Oh, praise His Name forever, His power and glory evermore proclaim 

Oh yeah, you may have been wondering what this is.  I think it’s one of the best gifts you’re going to get for Christmas.  In 2015, my friend Neil came up to me after a sermon I preached entitled “Chains Shall He Break,” and he gave me a little piece of a chain.  It sat on the back of my bookshelf, right behind my desk, for the last three years.  I wanted to give one to you.  {You’d be surprised how long it takes to make 700 chains like this.}  I want you to just hold it and to think about the Messiah stepping into this world and, in doing so, breaking the chains.  The reality is, though, a lot of us live still confined.  I just want to give you a few moments today to just hold that chain and to ask one simple question of God…..Jesus, what chain in my life do you want to break during this Christmas season?   I just want you to think about that.  I’ll play some music while you take a few minutes.  In the chaos of the season, would you receive this as a gift, to slow down and to ask God what He might want to do in your life?

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of Freedom | Galatians 5:1 | Week 42023-06-26T15:30:53-06:00

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of the Spirit | Galatians 4:6-7; 5:16-25, Romans 8:14; 14:7-8 | Week 3

FILLING UP CHRISTMAS: Fullness of Spirit    Galatians 4:4-7

Last week I opened up by saying one of my favorite things about Christmas is Christmas movies.  That is true.  One of my second favorite things about Christmas is the songs.  I love singing Christmas songs.  {Ryan asks congregation to share favorite songs with person next to them.}  One of my favorite Christmas songs this year is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  But there’s a song that’s not growing on me .  Every time this song comes on the radio, I think to myself, “I don’t know.  I’m not sure.”  The song is “Mary Did You Know?”  Before you hate me, here’s what’s going on in my head the entire song — SHE KNEW!  SHE KNEW!  Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?  She knew.  Mary, did you know that your baby boy has come to make you knew?  She knew.  Mary, did you know that this child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?  Yes, she knew.  Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?  She knew.  Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?  She knew.  She knew.  I am lamenting this, in our kitchen, and Kelly says, “Well, did she know he’d walk on water?”  Okay, 75% of the song, she knew!  How do we know?

If you have your Bible, open to Luke 1:30-35, that’s where we’re going to start today.  Here’s the way we know that SHE KNEW.  It’s called the Annunciation.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” {Isn’t it interesting that finding favor with God has the potential to lead us to fear?  Sometimes what God does in our life are things that we don’t quite expect and maybe didn’t chart out on our own, and every time we find favor with God, we either have the choice to operate in faith or fear.  That’s a side note.}  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—-the Son of God.

If you’re into art, you’ve probably seen a number of paintings that depict this scene, the Annunciation.  Typically, Mary is pictured as this fairly wealthy girl, who’s sitting and has her Bible open.  If you were to ask the artist what it’s open to, they would tell you Isaiah 7:14.  She’s reading the prophecy that’s being fulfilled in her — Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  The only problem with that is reality.  It’s probably not the way it happened.  In fact, this is one of my favorite paintings of the Annunciation.  It’s by a man named Henry Ossawa Tanner.  The thing I like about this picture of Mary is that she’s the simple, peasant, teenage girl that she probably actually was.  The house that she’s living in isn’t a palace.  If you could write down some adjectives that describe her face, you might write down things like a little bit anxious, but intent on hearing.  She’s surrendered, but there’s some questions, aren’t there?  I love this picture because it’s this simple moment that could have happened any day.  It could happen today.

Let’s take a step back from this story for just a moment and let’s ask what’s going on with this announcement.  Mary is stepping into a stream that’s been flowing.  God has been meeting with his people.  He meets with them in a tent.  Then he meets with them in a tabernacle.  Then he meets with them in a temple.  The tent, the tabernacle, and the temple are all pictures of places where the things of heaven and the things of earth come to this interlocking space.  Where heaven starts to invade earth.  They’re little hubs where heaven invades earth.  I think what we see in Mary is that she’s stepping into this place, this place that the tabernacle and the temple filled, where God’s presence was manifest in unique ways.  The nation of Israel would go there to meet with God.  Mary’s playing that part for the nation of Israel.  In a sense, she’s the Ark of the Covenant.  God is there.  God is IN her, literally.

Here’s my question and it might sound strange.  If I didn’t offend you at the beginning, I will offend you now.  How unique is Mary?  I mean, really.  How unique is Mary?  Sure, she’s the blessed mother.  She’s the only virgin to give birth.  I get that, and in a lot of ways, she’s unique.  But how unique is she in carrying the Christ?  That’s a great question.  Will you flip over with me to Galatians 4?  That’s where we’re camping out during this Advent season.  Where we’re journeying towards the manger.  Remember, Advent is about in between.  It’s about waiting.  It’s about looking back to the birth of Messiah, Jesus, and looking forward to the time he says he will come again to restore and renew.  We live in this now, but not yet in between.  We call it life.  Church calendar calls it Advent.

Listen to the way the Apostle Paul invites us to dwell on this season.  But when the fullness of time had come, {“The fullness of time had come” meant that there was a lot of time that wasn’t full.  There was a lot of time where there was a promise that had been given, but hadn’t been delivered on, hadn’t been fulfilled yet. So we remembered (Week 1 of the series) that the promise was often a process with God.  He doesn’t usually deliver right away when he makes a promise.  He does something in our life in the carrying us along in the waiting.}  God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  If you were here last week, we talked about this idea that God became a child that we might become children of God. Christmas is about adoption.  It’s about God calling us into his family.  Paul continues to gospel us and says this….} And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”    The first two statements are sort of in line with what we might expect or hope for, but the third statement is an anomaly.  God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.

I’m not sure if you’re having company this Christmas.  I don’t know if you’re going to host anybody or have anybody over.  Whether or not you’re having company this Christmas, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you already have company!  Because here’s the picture the Scriptures are painting.  What was true physically of Mary, carrying the Christ child in her womb, is true EVERY follower of Jesus, spiritually, we carry his Spirit in our heart.  So the Apostle John will say that Jesus the Christ took on flesh and, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in “The Message,” moved into the neighborhood.  Paul will go yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.  He moved into the neighborhood ultimately so that He would move into your hearts.  That was the end game, that was the hope.  We’ll say it like this this morning:  God came to dwell among us so that he could ultimately dwell within us.

So how unique is Mary?  Well, it’s real interesting. If we go back to Luke’s gospel and we read this account of the annunciation, the angel announcing Mary, you’re pregnant, the Holy Spirit’s the father, and you’re going to give birth to the Son, listen to the language Luke uses.  Luke 1:35 — And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—-the Son of God.   This is about the incarnation.  But if you fast forward to Luke’s documenting of the life of Jesus through the early church in the book of Acts, listen to what he says.  It’s very similar language talking to the church (Acts 1:8) — But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,  {Every first century reader would have been going whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!  Luke, do you realize that what you’re telling us is going to happen in the Holy Spirit, you’ve already said has happened in Mary?  And Luke would go that’s exactly what I’m doing.}  and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.    It’s as though he says, “And in the same way that Mary gave birth to the Christ child, so too will the church give birth to the person of Christ and the rule of Christ and the reign of Christ and the kingdom of Christ in the world.”

Mary’s not just a peasant, teenage girl who happens to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she is that, but she’s also an archetype.  She’s a picture of what you and I now carry.  The tent was replaced by the tabernacle, and the tabernacle replaced by the temple; these are all interlocking places where heaven and earth meet.  Eventually the temple’s replaced by Mary and then Mary is replaced by……..well, all of us!  Paul will write it like this in 1 Corinthians 6:19 — Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.  You and I are temples.  We’re places where the Spirit of God overlaps with his creation in humanity where God’s manifest presence dwells.  The intersection of heaven and earth is YOU!  Will you let that sink in for a second?  I don’t want to rush right by that—I’ve got a lot to cover—but maybe we just dwell on that for a second. The intersection of heaven and earth is you, if you’re a follower of Jesus.  The Spirit lives in you.

A lot of Jesus-followers sort of wrestle with the Holy Spirit.  You may have grown up in a tradition, like me, where we didn’t talk about the Spirit a whole lot.  He was sort of like the weird uncle that you wanted to keep out of the gathering.  Right?  Let’s just keep him at arm’s length, let’s keep him at a distance.  Maybe you’re new at being a follower of Jesus, or spirituality in any sense, so you’re going, I’m not sure….Spirit?  That seems a little ethereal.  How does that impact our daily life?  To you I’d say, one, I’m glad you’re here, but second, we all have a conscience.  We all have something innate inside of us that senses a right and a wrong, that seeks to guide, and for followers of Jesus, we’d say that the Spirit is similar.  But then there’s some of us, when you start to talk about the Spirit…..I’ve got my oil in my back pocket, I’ve got some snakes I’d like us to tame, some scorpions that maybe we can subdue.  And you think of charis-mullets and gold and barking in the Spirit and whatever.

What is the Spirit?  Let me give you a quick definition.  The Spirit is God’s empowering presence.  The Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence. (Gordon Fee)  Jesus thought so highly of the Spirit {catch this} and the Spirit’s work in us that he said to his disciples as he’s marching toward Jerusalem, as he’s getting ready to go to the cross (John 16:7) — Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (Holy Spirit) will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.  Now, has Jesus gone? Yes. Therefore the Spirit has come.  I think what Jesus is saying is Christmas is great, but Pentecost is better. Incarnation is mind-bending; to think about God clothed in human skin, fully God, fully man.  That is a remarkable mystery we will probably never fully wrap our hearts and our minds around.  Jesus would say yeah, incarnation is mind-bending, it’s amazing, but INDWELLING……don’t miss that.  Most religious people, even people who follow the way of Jesus, still imagine that God is somewhere else.  Even the way we talk about coming to church, we often imagine….well, God’s here.  As if, like, He’s in this place.  He is.  {Look up at me a second.}  Because YOU’RE here.  You carry the presence of God with you, everywhere you go.  Is God at your workplace?  If you’re there.  Is He in your family?  Absolutely.  What we celebrate at Christmas is that God is not somewhere else, but He has decided to make his home IN us.  He came to dwell among us so that He would eventually, ultimately dwell within us.

I’m going to encourage you to lean in just a little bit today, because I have this conviction that no transformation in our life will really truly happen and really truly take place until we realize that the divine actually lives in us and not somewhere else.  We’ve got to learn how to have relationship with God who lives in us.  Paul would say this is the “hope of glory” that the Spirit actually makes his home in us.  A lot of what Paul does in the book of Galatians in regards to the Spirit is he corrects some teaching that has gone awry and gone astray.  He corrects some lies that the Galatian church has somehow come to believe about Spirit and about the work of the Spirit.  Here’s what I want to do—I want to give us sort of a gentle corrective today and then I want to lead us on a course forward.  Does that sound good?

Ultimately, carrying the Christ child changed everything for Mary and I wonder what it’s changed for us.  Remember, what Mary carries physically in her womb, we carry spiritually in our hearts.  Flip back one chapter to Galatians 3:10-14.  Paul’s going to start what we’d say is a holy, justified rant against the Galatian church.  He’s just called the church fools, in the name of Jesus and in the love of Jesus, and he’s talking to them about circumcision and how if you want to circumcise yourself in order to make yourself right with God, why don’t you just cut the whole thing off and call it good, right?  Here’s where he goes from there.  For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse;  {He’s going to say there’s really two courses that you can take with God, whether you’re spiritual or unspiritual, religious or unreligious.  There’s two ways you can approach God.  You can try to approach God based on what you do, and the Jews had a way of doing that, it was called the law.  The better they performed, the more God loved them, the more that they reflected His image, and the more of God they had.  Here was the thought of people under the law: if I perform well, I get more of the Spirit.}  for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  {He goes, here’s the problem with the Law.  The Law isn’t bad in and of itself, you just can’t keep it.  In order to really be right with God, you’ve got to do the whole Law, all the time, all of it, all the time.  Anyone want to go, stuck that dismount?  Me neither.}  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, {He just did that same survey with the Galatian church and went, no hands in the air, hmmm, that puts us in a little bit of a predicament.}  But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law {The curse of getting right with God based on what you do.}  by becoming a curse for us {He steps into that system and fulfills it perfectly. —for it is written, “Curse is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham  {The blessing that you just receive, open-handedly.  Not because you’re amazing and you’re awesome, but because God says I want to bless you.  Blessing of Abraham.  The blessing of life and faith.} might come to the Gentiles, so that we might received the promised Spirit through faith.

Paul wants to shift their thinking from if I perform well enough and if I do enough, then I receive the Spirit to no, no, no, no, no, you receive the Spirit and the Spirit empowers you to move forward.  The Spirit is not the goal of the Christian life.  The Spirit is the source of the Christian life.  These are two very different things and Paul is beating this drum.  Spirit isn’t something you earn, it’s someone you receive.  We don’t obey FOR the Spirit, our obedience comes FROM the Spirit.  {Just lean in for a moment.}  Isn’t this the Christmas story?  The God of the universe, for some reason, chooses to be born into a cave in a back alley rather than into a palace.  That He chooses a poor peasant Jewish girl rather than a queen with some standing.  I love the Christmas story, I love this picture of the way that Jesus was born in a rented manger.  Because when I look at my own soul and insides, sometimes it’s in okay shape and a lot of times it’s just a total mess.  I’m grateful that God enters places that we wouldn’t expect Him.  {Anyone want to say Amen to that?}  The Spirit enters, the Spirit comes.  I want you to hear this—We are that Mary, we are that cave.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, this morning, You. Have. The Spirit of God. In. You.  You do.

Here’s the way Paul continues, because he wants to clarify.  He goes no, no, no, no, no, you don’t earn the Spirit, you receive the Spirit.  Flip over to Galatians 5:16-18.  He wants to say once you receive the Spirit, what starts to happen?  What does this look like?  What type of life do we then live?  And it might be unexpected.  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,  {You have these two things in opposition.  The Broncos are against the Browns.}  and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.   That system of if I’m right with God then I receive His Spirit.  You’re not under that system anymore.

But notice what the Apostle Paul does.  He speaks into something we maybe get wrong in our minds. You may have heard a gospel presentation at some point and a well-meaning person, that maybe you really deeply loved, said, “If you become a Christian, your life’s going to get way easier.”  It’s going to be amazing.  It’s going to be so wonderful, your best life now.  Paul would say, “Hmmm, I’m not so sure.”  The Spirit that now lives inside of you is opposed, is against, some of those patterns and rhythms of your soul that you’ve grown so accustomed to that they feel so natural.  So growing bitter when someone wrongs you and holding onto that and the way that feels good…..the Spirit’s going to start to point out that there’s a better way, let that go.  Harboring anger toward your enemies….Spirit’s going to start to say actually, the way is love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  That lust that tends to make you feel good momentarily….Spirit’s going to say actually, let that go and move into the ways and the rhythms of love.  Becoming a follower of Jesus will initially make things way more difficult.  That’s what Paul’s saying.  But just because it’s more difficult doesn’t mean it’s not better.  Let’s not get so involved in our cultural milieu that says automatically ‘easy’ is good, that we don’t step back enough to realize that some things in life that are worth fighting for are a fight.  Paul would say the health of your soul is just that and the Spirit’s charting a new course.

The Spirit isn’t something that gives automatic victory, the Spirit is someone who empowers us for battle.  The picture of being a follower of Jesus and being indwelt by the Spirit might be akin to stepping onto a battleship rather than a cruise ship.  Stepping on a cruise ship (I’ve heard) — it’s food, it’s entertainment, it’s luxury, it’s all-around good!  It’s great!  Paul would say no, no, no, the Spirit in you doesn’t load you onto a cruise ship where everything is just great all the time, it’s actually loading you onto a battleship, where you have everything you need in order to be victorious, but we’re engaging, we’re fighting for the health of our soul.  Paul would say it like this in Galatians 6:8 — For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  He’s going listen, we’re all pouring our energy and our time either into Spirit or into flesh.  Either into the presence and person of God in us….we’re cultivating that.   OR, we’re just going along with what we naturally want in and of ourselves.

I’m convinced that most followers of Jesus don’t know that the Spirit of God actually wants to empower you rather than just automatically dispense victory to you.  God says I want to teach you, I want YOU to step into this, empowered by Me.  So we combat lies through renewing our mind with truth.  We step into spiritual practices to reform habits that have gotten their tentacles into us, empowered by the Spirit.  Spiritual disciplines and the Spirit’s indwelling are not at odds with each other.  The Spirit loves to take spiritual discipline and infuse them with life.  I hope it’s what you’ve been experiencing as you’ve practiced Fixed Hour of Prayer over the last few weeks, that as we position our hearts to hear from God, we hear from God.  As we remember God in the midst of our day that that remembering actually brings life.

Here’s the way Paul continues (Galatians 5:19-25):  Now the works of the flesh are evident: {I think if he were writing this today, he’s go you could just open your news app and see these everywhere.)  sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  {Just a quick timeout, I need to help us unload a little bit of baggage then I’ll move on.  When we read ‘they will not inherit the kingdom of God,’ a lot of us here mistake that for ‘these kind of people don’t go to heaven.’  Which isn’t at all what Paul is saying.  Paul is saying the kingdom of God is present.  It’s a way that they live in the every day under the rule and reign of Jesus.  Paul wants to say that it’s impossible to live under the reign of Jesus, if you want to hold onto your sorcery, your enmity, your jealousy, your anger, your rivalries, your dissensions.  He says you can’t hold onto the way of Jesus AND hold onto those things.  Spirit wants better.}  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  

There’s four commands in this section.  Walk in the Spirit.  Be led by the Spirit.  Live by the Spirit.  Keep in step with the Spirit.  What’s fascinating is that one of the commands in this passage is NOT bear fruit.  It’s not.  You can’t try to bear fruit anyway, which should be great news for us.  The Bible actually makes sense.  We don’t try to bear fruit.  It’s what naturally comes out of us based on what path we’re walking.  Are we walking in flesh or are we walking in Spirit?   He says just look.  If you find yourself walking in flesh, come back to Spirit, because he’s way better and he actually wants your life.  Walking in the Spirit is God having power over us and empowering us, but the Spirit isn’t something that controls us, like we automatically lose our brain.  The Spirit is Someone who leads us.  Walk.  Stay in step.  Live by.  Be led.

Jesus will say in John 16:13 that the Spirit is like a guide.  You’ve got to be careful, because sometimes we can view a guide as sort of like a cattle driver, where a guide is behind cattle and he’s just beating them into submission.  Go this way!  Do this thing!  Come on, let’s go.  But the way Scriptures picture Spirit as a guide is not as a cattle driver but as a shepherd, who gently, sometimes quietly, sometimes firmly, comes to his sheep and says no, no, no, there’s green pastures and there’s still waters and I want to take you there.  In order to be led by the Spirit, we must have this declaration back to God — Jesus is Lord. You rule. You reign. Your smarter than me, so whenever you say something to me my answer is yes before I know what the question is.

The Spirit guides us like a shepherd, not like a cattle driver.  The Spirit guides us through our cultivated conscious awareness.  Cultivated—meaning it may not come naturally to us.  We’ve got to train ourselves to actually hear God.  Conscious meaning it’s not something that happens necessarily while we’re checked out, but while we’re dialed in.  God, this is what you’re doing.  This is the way of Jesus.  My mind is surrendered to you, it’s not checked out.  Awareness—God, you’re up to something. God, you’re doing something.  It’s why the Apostle Paul will say in Colossians 3:2 — Set your minds on things that are above… don’t check your mind out.  Set it!  This is actual, intentional participation with the work of the Spirit in our life, you guys, and it’s the way of Jesus.

I love the way—this might surprise you—that Dallas Willard says this.  It’s a long quote but I think it’s real important, so I’m going to ask you to lean in.  “The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds.  This is the fundamental secret of caring for our souls.  Our part in thus practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him.  In the early time of our “practicing” we may well be challenged by our burdensome habits of dwelling on things less than God.  But these are habits—not the law of gravity—and can be broken.  A new, grace-filled habit will replace the former ones as we take intentional steps toward keeping God before us.  Soon our minds will return to God as the needle of a compass constantly returns to north.  If God is the great longing of our souls, He will become the pole star of our inward beings.”  Dallas Willard for the win!  Oh yeah!!

He’s a shepherd, not a cattle driver.  This is conscious awareness, not checking out.  Finally, he guides us through conviction, not condemnation.  In John 16:8-11, Jesus says that part of the Spirit’s role is conviction.  So we expect that the Spirit will point out when things in our life are off.  Any loving parent would do the same.  But when the Spirit convicts it’s different than when the enemy convicts.  When the enemy convicts, he wants to bring death, when the Spirit convicts, He wants to bring life.  So it sounds different.  Conviction by the Spirit leads to repentance.  Condemnation by the enemy leads to guilt.  They’re both maybe talking about the same event, but coming at in very different ways.   One wants to lead you to self-sulking and shame, the other wants to lead you to repentance and shedding and life. {Can I get an Amen?} That’s really, really good news, and it’s so important because those things can sound so similar.  The voice of condemnation always says you’re a loser and you’ll never be any good.  The voice of Spirit always says you are loved, come home to the place of love.  We have a good God, don’t we?  We’ve just got to learn how to listen to him.

So how unique is Mary?  She’s pretty unique, but she’s also an archetype.  What she carries in her womb physically, you carry in your hearts spiritually.  He came to dwell among us so that he would ultimately dwell within us.  You may be sitting here today and this is your disposition—maybe there’s a little bit of anxiety….God, I don’t know what it means that you live inside of me?  Or maybe there’s some questions:  God, what do I do with this declaration that the Spirit lives in me?  Those are great questions.  I want to encourage us.  Maybe we respond like Mary.  Have you ever read her response?  She’s like, God, I don’t get how a virgin can be pregnant with a child, but let it be as you have said.  Before the Beatles ever coined that phrase, that was Mary’s.  Let it be.   Do you want to fill up Christmas this year?  Here’s how:  God, if you say that Your Spirit lives in me, I’m going to trust you.  And I may even step out a little bit differently into that this season.  I may start to EXPECT that you’re going to show up.

Second, I love the way that Mary ponders these things in her heart, Luke says.  It’s like she just keeps thinking about it.  God, you are present in me physically.  You’re coming to redeem.  You’re coming to save.  Mary, did you know?  She knew.  He’s entering into the world.  Mary’s Magnificat is her expression of joy.  My hope for you this Christmas season is that the Spirit might fill you with joy.  I love that passage that we prayed earlier:  May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace and believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Did you know that one of the things the Holy Spirit loves to do is to pour out the love of God into your heart?  Are you open to that this year?

Finally, and this may be difficult if you don’t have a womb, I want to encourage you to fill up Christmas by giving birth.  In the same way that Mary carries the Christ child and delivers him into the world, so too, we carry the Spirit of Christ and we get this beautiful opportunity to deliver Him into the world.  Wherever people are filled with the Spirit, they speak on Jesus.  John the Baptist, being filled with the Spirit, proclaims the coming of the Christ. (Luke 1:15)  Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, proclaims the blessing of God over Mary. (Luke 1:41)  Zechariah, filled with the Spirit, prophesies about the coming of Jesus. (Luke 1:47)  So maybe you, filled with the Spirit during this Christmas Advent season, would start speaking of Him, pointing people to Him.  Maybe you, this Christmas season, might give birth.  Maybe you could do it easily by grabbing a card on the way out and invite someone to come with you to Christmas Eve service.  I hope you do.

Born Thy people to deliver // Born a child and yet a King // Born to reign in us forever // Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. // By Thine own eternal Spirit // Rule in all our hearts alone // By Thine all sufficient merit // Raise us to Thy glorious throne. 

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of the Spirit | Galatians 4:6-7; 5:16-25, Romans 8:14; 14:7-8 | Week 32023-06-27T13:08:23-06:00

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of Family | Galatians 4:4-20; 3:28-29; John 1:12 | Week 2

FILLING UP CHRISTMAS: Fullness of Family  Galatians 4:4-7    (2nd Service)

I love the Christmas season!  One of the things that I think I love most about this time of year is those Christmas movies.  My favorite Christmas movie—judge me if you must—is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”  One of my favorite scenes in the entire movie is where Clark W. Griswold has worked for days putting up lights on his house, and he’s finally got them working.  pans to the scene where Cousin Eddy is unexpectedly there.  He’s got his RV and he’s staying for an indeterminate amount of time.  One of the things I love about this movie is it points out some of the comedy, and in a very funny way, the pain of family.  We all probably have someone in our family like Cousin Eddy, where we wonder, “Are they coming this year?”  If you don’t have a Cousin Eddy….you might BE Cousin Eddy!

The longer I’ve pastored, the longer I’ve worked with people, the longer I’ve counseled people, I’ve come to find out that Christmas, and the holiday season in general, is sort of a double-edged sword.  As Dickens writes:  It’s the best of times and the worst of times.  For some people, there’s joy and elation….oh my goodness, Christmas is coming and it’s marked on the calendar.  For others, oh my goodness, Christmas is coming and it’s marked on the calendar…..and it’s sort of in ‘red,’ do you know what I mean?  If we went around the room and shared, and if people were bold enough to say, “Hey, this is why Christmas is hard for me,” a lot of what we would see if we drilled down deep enough, is a lot of the pain and a lot of the questions and a lot of the angst around the holiday season in general, has to do with family, doesn’t it?  For some, maybe there’s a fracture in the family, so when people show up, it just reminds you that things aren’t what you wish they were or what you think they should be.  For some of us, we have a very empty seat at the dinner table for Christmas dinner, don’t we?  Some of you are coming up on that for the very first Christmas and you don’t know what it’s going to do to you?  For some, it’s just man, family’s coming!  It raises the level of anxiety because it’s sort of a wildcard.  It might be amazing, it might be great, and it might hit the fan!  Who knows?

There’s something distinctly human about longing for intimate connection among those close to us.  Norman Rockwell is a famous painter from the 20th century.  He did this painting called “Christmas Homecoming.”  It was on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1948.  You may not know this, but Rockwell got a lot of flack for painting idyllic pictures when the world wasn’t exactly that way.  He has pictures of people around the dinner table, or walking down a snowy street in Massachusetts.  He actually caught a lot of flack during his day.  Listen to the way he responded to that: “Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it.”

I guess that’s one way to go about it.  Let’s just focus on the parts that are good.  Let’s focus on the parts that we like.  In fact, there’s something biblical about that in Philippians 4:8, where it says whatever is pure, whatever is holy, whatever is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is noteworthy, think about THOSE things.  But there comes a point, doesn’t there, when we have to look at the world, not as we wish it were, but as it actually is?  We have to look at our family, not as we wish it were, but as it ACTUALLY is.  I think one of the things we see at Christmas time is that some of our deepest longings, and our deepest pain, point to our strongest desires.  Our deepest pain points to our strongest desires, so what we see when we long for a picture like this and there’s disparity between that and the reality, what we’re actually identifying—whether we can put our finger on it or not—is a God given, transcendent human longing to be close to those closest to us.  When it doesn’t happen, it’s hard!

Here’s what I want to do today.  I’m going to get to Galatians 4 in just a moment, but I want to lay some groundwork for the way God’s designed you and I, and I want to help us put our finger on here’s why that’s difficult. Here’s why that’s hard when there’s that empty seat, where there’s a fracture in the relationship.  Here’s why that’s difficult.  In order to do that, we’re actually going to go back to the very beginning of the story in Genesis 2.  I think anytime we talk theology it’s always helpful to start at the beginning of the story, so that’s what we’re going to do for just a few moments.  I want to talk about the way God’s created every single one of us, in order to zoom out and say, “Why is Christmas hard?” and then to answer the question “What can we do about it?”

The story begins in Genesis 1 and then goes to Genesis 2, where we’re introduced to Adam and Eve.  Those two names, in the Hebrew, literally mean “Human” and “Life.”  I believe that they’re actually people, but I think there’s a bigger story being told than whether or not they’re actually people.  It’s “Human” and “Life” called out from the rest of humanity to live with God in an idyllic, Edenic garden in perfection.  As they do that—Human and Life—they’re given a job.  Here’s their job (Genesis 2:15) — The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  If you ever felt like, man, I’m here for a purpose.  I’m here because God’s got something for me to do…..well, sure, that’s wired into our DNA.  And he gave them one command — And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  

If you haven’t been around the story a whole lot, here’s a spoiler alert:  Adam and Eve don’t listen.  Why in the world would God not want people to know good and evil?  Have you ever wondered that?  In fact, one of the marks of maturity the book of Hebrews talks about is the ability to discern good and evil.  Why wouldn’t God want that?  It’s actually not KNOWING good and evil that Adam and Eve are after, it’s DEFINING good and evil that Adam and Eve are after.  There’s this other tree—The Tree of Life—where God says I want to mentor you, I want to teach you what it means to be human.  I want you to walk in my way with my heart.  Instead of that, Adam and Eve go, we want to call the shots.  We want to decide what we think is right.  We don’t want to be discipled by you, God, we actually want to tell you how we think things should go.  Does this sound familiar?

When Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes are opened and there’s a four-fold fracture that happens, okay?  Their relationship with God is broken.  Their relationship with themselves is broken.  Their relationship with creation is broken.  The relationship with each other is broken.  First, Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed and in relationship together.  Fast forward two chapters—They have one son, Cain, who’s killing their other son, Abel.  {Think that was an awkward Thanksgiving?}

You and I live in the echoes.  We live in the reverberation of Eden.  Their lives start to unravel and their family starts to unravel.  We long for connection.  We CRAVE the long table with good food, and good drink, and deep conversation.  We long to feel like we’re one, yet we can often look around the table and go, it’s not what I hoped for and it’s different.  It doesn’t look like the Rockwellian picture.  That can be elusive, can’t it?  It cuts deep.  When there’s divorce, it cuts deep.  When there’s death, it cuts deep.  When there’s disagreement, man…   There’s just this resonance of Eden in us where we go, this should not be.  It should be different.

You may not know it, but Christmas actually speaks into that resonance.  Christmas speaks into that longing. We’re going to pick up in Galatians 4:4-5, which is our text for this Advent season.  If you were here last week, you were introduced to this idea of filling up the season, filling up Christmas. Here’s the way Paul wrote it to the church at Galatia — But when the fullness of time had come, {Remember, that means there was a lot of time that wasn’t full.  There were many years, and centuries, and millennia spent longing, crying out to God, “God, are you dead or are you asleep?”  The Christmas bells weren’t exactly ringing, were they?} God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  

Why do we celebrate Christmas?  What’s the big deal about incarnation?  Paul says here’s the big deal.  The big deal is that the incarnation actually leads to you being adopted as sons and daughters.  SO THAT….we could be adopted.  Just like in the first century, an adoption is a legal process that makes somebody have the exact same standing as any other child in the family.  In fact, I had somebody come up after first service and say that they had been doing research on this.  An adopted child in the first century was more strongly tied into the family than even a biological child.  They would have had to go through a huge process to disown.  It was tight.

Here’s the question — Why do we need adoption?  Aren’t we all children of God?  We should all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  Isn’t every single person a child of God?  In some ways, yes.  We breathe God’s air.  We live on God’s earth. He holds it all together.  He breathes life into every single person.  But in other ways, no, no, no, just like Adam and Eve, we live east of Eden.  Our relationship with God is fractured.  The Scriptures are really clear about this.  They would call it sin.  It’s sin that fractures and it’s Jesus who comes to make a way.  Here’s how John says it in his gospel (1:11-13).  Talking about Jesus, his friend, he says:  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  Jesus came to hold out this beautiful, divine offer to become God’s children, reversing the curse.  We might phrase it like this today:  God became a child so that we might become children of God.

I’ve had this phrase just sort of bouncing around in my head over the last few weeks and it’s simply this:  What Adam and Eve lost in the garden, Jesus begins to regain in the manger.  In fact, Christmas isn’t just about a gift that’s given, it’s about regifting.  How many of you—without a show of hands—have ever regifted a present?  Somebody gives you a present and you give it to somebody else.  This is a little bit different.  God gives Adam and Eve a present in the garden and they squander it, they ruin it.  He takes that same present to become children of God and He hands it out to you and me.  Jesus says have you received it?

A few years ago, I stumbled across a painting that just caught my heart.  It’s a painting by a nun named Sister Grace Remington.  It’s a depiction of Eve and Mary together.  You can sort of see that Mary is consoling Eve.  She has Eve’s hand and is putting it on her own belly where the Messiah dwells.  It’s as almost as she’s saying Eve, I know that things God off course, but God’s making things right; feel that heartbeat….Messiah, Jesus, is coming.  If you look down at their feet, you’ll see the serpent around Eve’s leg and ankle.  If you look closely at Mary’s foot, she’s stepping on its head.  Genesis 3:15 —- He shall crush (bruise) your head…  It’s this beautiful picture of what Adam and Eve lost in the garden, Jesus is beginning to regain at the manger.  You can almost hear Mary whispering to Eve, “Hey, Eve, God is going to do a work that’s going to reconnect us with design.”  He’ll reconnect us to Himself.  That’s what Adam and Eve enjoyed, isn’t it?  Connection with God.  Communion with God.  Life with God.  They enjoyed God.  They were designed to eat from HIS tree, to live in HIS way, with HIS heart.  It’s almost like Mary is whispering to Eve, “Eve, God’s going to make a way for that to happen once again!”

If you read through the Sermon on the Mount, you come to this really interesting part in Matthew 5:43-45, where it talks about this idea of becoming children of God.  Listen to these strong words of Jesus:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” {That’s simply the way of the world.  That’s the way things go.}  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {WHY?} so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  {When you do that—when you love your enemies, when you pray for those who persecute you—you’re sort of like a “chip off the old block.”  You’re a mirror of your Dad.}  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  Jesus points out…have you ever recognized how good God is?   Even people that are total jerks….the sun still comes out for them. When it rains on your lawn, it rains on theirs also.  He goes that’s how God looks at and loves everybody.  You become His children when you love lavishly in the same way that He loves.

As a parent, it is extremely humbling and terrifying when your kids start to imitate you.  Is it not?  We were watching a Broncos game a few weeks ago and my son, Ethan, leans over and says to me, “Case Keenum’s playing like garbage.”  And he was right!  And I’m like, how many times has he heard Kelly say that Case Keenum plays like garbage?

It’s humbling, isn’t it, when our kids mimic back to us.  God’s going, no, no, no, that’s what I’m looking for, and when you love those who hate you and you pray for those who persecute you, you’re living in my way with my heart.  You’re doing what Adam and Eve would’ve done had they kept eating from THAT tree instead of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, defining how they think things should be on their own, leading to a fracture in their lives and their family.  I love the way the brilliant theologian, Michael Heiser, put it:  “The believer’s destiny is to become what Adam and Eve originally were:  immortal, glorified imagers of God, living in God’s presence as his children.”

Paul wants to put a grand picture up—in this text—this is what God’s doing.  He became a child so that we might become children of God.  But then what he wants to do is say let me drill down and tell you what that feels like and what that looks like, and how that changes the internal rhythms of your soul, because it can be hard to put your finger on it sometimes, can’t it?  Here’s what he says:  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

It’s this Aramaic word, Abba.  It’s intentionally left untranslated, which is interesting because you may have noticed the rest of your Bible is translated.  That’s how you can read it, right?  It’s left untranslated and the question is Why?  They could have translated it “daddy” or “papa” or “father,” but they felt there was something deeper about this word.  There’s something more.  When we talk about Abba…..it means Father, but in a colloquial, intimate sense.  It goes beyond daddy, it goes beyond papa.  What Paul wants to say is no, no, no, no, no.  When we understand that we’re sons and daughters of God, something happens in our soul, something happens in our heart.  There’s this movement where we move from interacting with God in formality to being intimate with God.  We interact with intimacy instead of formality.

I don’t know about you, but I love it that God doesn’t want us to come to him properly, He just wants us to come to Him.  Like, you understand when your kids come to you and they have something planned out to say, there’s just something a little bit missing, isn’t there?  It can be helpful at times, but I think some of the most powerful times I’ve had with God are times when I said things to Him and thought, “I don’t know if I should say that.”  Where I say something to God and go, am I allowed to say that?  Or you look for the lightning.  Where we just pour out our hearts….our brokenness, our pain, our disappointment.  God, you’re not dead and you’re not asleep, but I don’t hear those bells ringing.  God, I don’t get why you didn’t come through.  I don’t get why you’re hiding.  I don’t understand why you’re quiet.    I think when we understand that we’re sons and daughters, it’s not that we come formal and it’s not that we come perfect, it’s that we come, and when we approach God, we are met with his affection.  That’s what it means to be a child of the Most High God.  His goodness and his grace and his mercy and his love are over your life.

There’s a TV show that came out a number of years ago entitled “Finding My Father.”  It was a reality television show.  The tagline for the show was this: “By finding my father, I’m finding myself.”  I thought, oh man, to understand that we’re adopted as His kids and his affection is over us changes everything!  Last week, someone wrote an anonymous prayer request for our staff and elders to pray over.  The prayer request said something to the effect of I’m in a dark season; I don’t know if I can go on living and I’m considering suicide.  I just want you to know that if that’s you and you’re in this place today, I’ve been praying for you every single day this week—at 9, at noon, and at 3, and every time in between I can remember too.  I just want you to know, I think this word could change your life.  You’re adopted as a son or daughter of the Most High God and He loves you in an extraordinary way.  He created you.  I don’t know what you’re walking through, but I know that He’s walking through it with you.  He’s not distant, he’s actually as close as he can possibly be.  His affection is over you and the access to Him is granted for you.  For all of us!  To be a child means we have His affection and it means we have access to talk with Him, to interact with Him, any time we want it.

I write my sermons on Monday, I study on Mondays, so if you were to walk into our office on Monday, I have a magnet up on the window of my office.  The magnet means ‘I love you Tuesday through Thursday.’  If the building’s on fire, please let me know, and if not, I don’t care a whole lot right now.  When my son used to be at the Early Learning Center in pre-school, every Monday Kelly would come and pick him up.  He would run down to my office window and pound on my window.  “Daddy!  Daddy!”  I’d be like, “It’s Monday, go away.”  No, I wouldn’t!  I’m not a terrible father.  I’d be like, Reid, Kelly, come on in.  You get a free pass.  You have access to me.  You’re my kids and have access to me whenever you want it.   That’s what God would say to us. I love the way Eugene Peterson put it:  “Faith is not a formal relationship hedged in with elaborate courtesies; it is a family relationship, intimate and free.”

Here’s the way Paul continues:  So you are no longer a slave, but a son…  Now, we can’t think civil rights slavery, it was a different type of a situation there, and it will actually lose a little of what Paul intends if we go there.  A slave back in this day was somebody who actually lived on the family property, who usually worked and, oftentimes, could work enough to earn their freedom.  They were part of the family.  They joined in parties.  They joined in meals.  They were sort of part of the family, and if you would have looked in a field of people working, it probably would have been difficult to tell the difference between someone who was a slave and someone who was a son.  They did the same types of activities—look up at me though—for very different reasons.

Understanding that we’re adopted as God’s kids moves us from formality to intimacy, but it also allows us to embrace a posture of desire rather than duty.  Because when we partner with God—let me make a distinction here that’s really important—you know that you do not work FOR God, right?  You work WITH God.  This is very different.  When you partner with God…..let’s say you give to the Food Bank remodel and you give a little bit, sacrificially.  It’s a prayer—God, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  You are working on the family business when you partner with God.  HIS kingdom is ultimately the kingdom that you want to live in.  It’s not, oh my gosh, we have to do this.  It’s Lord, we WANT to.  We are your kids.  When we work with God, we don’t work FOR acceptance, we work FROM acceptance.  We don’t work FOR love….like, God, if I perform good enough then am I going to be okay?  He’s like NO!  You’re okay because of Jesus.  I made you okay!  Which does something very different in our soul, doesn’t it?

Man, it’s not FOR God, it’s WITH God.  We’re working on the family business.  It’s a beautiful thing.  We’re not hirelings called to do a job that God needs us to execute.  No, no, no, no, no.  He (Paul) goes on to say, if you’re a son, if you’ve been adopted as a son or daughter, that means that you are an heir.  Slaves, bond servants in this day, would have lived with very predictable limitations.  But heirs…..heirs….heirs live with ever-expanding possibilities.  Yeah, we move to intimacy, we move to desire, and we get to choose to be futuristic rather than fatalistic.

Some of the craziest passages in the New Testament—in my humble opinion—are passages that talk about our destiny as believers. Do you know it says you will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3)?  I don’t even know what that means; luckily, Dan said he’d preach on it at some point….    What does that even look like?  In Revelation 2:26-27 it says that Jesus will inherit the kingdom that he’s purchased with his own blood.  His father will give it to him then he’ll give it to us!!  WHAT?!?  That’s a futuristic view rather than fatalistic, because of adoption.

I don’t know if you had a chance to pick up one of the Advent devotions our writing team put together for this series.  I’d encourage you to pick one up at the Welcome desk after the service.  In this devotional for this week, Rachel Cookston, one of our members, shared her story of adoption, and I want to read it to you because I don’t think I could say it any better.

Rachel Cookston — My story of adoption starts in Calcutta, India.  My birth mother had me when she was around fourteen.  I don’t know much about her background, but I do know I was found in the streets of Calcutta by one of Mother Teresa’s nuns.

Growing up I hated being adopted.  I hated being the only non-white person in my family.  I was desperate to fit in.  I developed an anguish in my soul towards the India I hated so much and I didn’t want to be recognized as different, just as American.

My family, of course, loved me and told me I was chosen.  But there was still an empty place inside of my heart that made me feel unknown.  It wasn’t until college when God revealed his beautiful love and grace to me in an unexpected way.  I was asked to go on a missions trip to India for four months, but I immediately said no.  After a lot of prayer, I decided to step into an adventure that forever changed my view of adoption.

One day, as I was walking in a small Indian village, a man came up to me begging me to take his beautiful, bright-eyed, black-haired baby girl.  I looked into her eyes and finally understood what it meant to be adopted.  I saw this little one, desperate to be loved and taken into a loving family.  She was so innocent and unable to speak for herself.

This experience broke my heart because I couldn’t do anything about it.  I couldn’t take her, but I knew in that moment how God saved me, how He saw me, how He chose me to be part of my family.  In that moment, I realized just how much God loves and cares for me.  God knew my story and he had a plan for my life.

What a beautiful story of moving somebody from fatalistic to futuristic because of adoption.  That’s what God does.  He became a child so that we might become children of God—intimate, changed hearts so that we desire His kingdom, we’re working on the family business, and that we can look to the future with hope even if the world doesn’t feel like we think it should.

You may be thinking, okay Ryan, that’s great and that’s wonderful, but I’m not exactly sure how adoption changes my family dynamic.  I’m not exactly sure how that’s suppose to create the Rockwellian Christmas that I long for, but feels slippery and elusive and like it’s never going to come.  If you read just a little bit further in this text in Galatians (4:19), here’s what Paul says:  My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth {He’s like this mother who is birthing this church.}  until Christ is formed in you.   Adoption is ultimately for formation.  That’s what God’s up to.  It’s not just a positional standing, it’s not just access, it’s not just affection.  It’s that all of those things that Jesus has purchased on our behalf, and he has, would get into us in a way that would actually change us.  That they would change our soul.  We are born as children of God so that we can be formed into the image of Jesus.

Here’s the truth of the matter, friends, Jesus knows the messiness of family.  He was born into a normal-ish family.  He made it a little different, I’ll give you that, but his family was pretty normal.  Have you ever thought about it?  His mother is present at the crucifixion, but his father is not.  We don’t know exactly why, but my guess is he had to say good-bye to his dad at some point.  He knows the pain of loss.  He knows the pain of imperfection when it comes to family.  But he also knows the healing balm necessary to repair wrongs.  Catch this—please lean in just a little bit this morning.  Being restored to God’s family lays the groundwork for restoration in our families.  It’s not a silver bullet and it’s not like just rub the genie in this bottle and it will work every time.  No, no, no, no, no.  It’s not like that.  It’s not formulaic.  But when we understand who we are in Christ, we are released to live as a healing balm in the world and around our own dinner tables.

As I’ve been celebrating Advent, something I didn’t necessarily do growing up—I always celebrated Christmas, but not Advent, not waiting, not looking toward the second coming of Messiah—I’ve been going through the Daily Office, which has texts to read each day.  One of those texts, yesterday, was out of the book of Malachi.  I never knew this passage was a Christmas Advent text.  It talks about the coming of the day of the Lord, when wrongs will be made right, when pain will be healed, when evil will be judged.  Then, out of the blue, it says this (Malachi 4:5-6):  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. {This is John the Baptist.  John the Baptist is coming as one like Elijah.}  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.  I’m going, I’m not sure how turning the hearts of parents to their kids and kids to their parents has anything to do with the restoration of all things.  That’s when my theological crush, Fleming Rutledge, spoke into the void:  “Just as Malachi reaches the climax of this extraordinary universal prophecy, suddenly he narrows the focus to the most homely, most person, most intimate circle we could possibly imagine.  The destiny of the universe is found in the destiny of families.”  Fleming for the win!  Sandwiched in between cosmic redemption and longing for hope is God saying the closest, the most intimate, the most painful, the most beautiful relationships….I’m going to weave those back together and I’m going to restore those.

As we grasp becoming children of God, we still also grasp with the resonance of Eden that resounding echo where we go, life isn’t the way we hoped it would be or thought it should be, but “he comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.”  As we start to grapple with becoming children of God and being formed into his image, in his way with his heart, we can, you can, be empowered to be a healing balm in your family.  Let me show you how.  I’m going to take these out of John 1:11-13  —  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  What might you do this Christmas…how might you fill up Christmas in a way that would actually lead to the restoration and healing and hope….in your family, in your relationships, in your friendships?  What if you pursued people?  He came to his own.  Did he know they were going to reject him?  Sure.  He knew some would.  He still puts his body and his blood on the cross for those who would reject him. Maybe this year it’s sending a text message, or sending a note, or making a phone call, or inviting somebody to come over.  What if you filled up Christmas this year with pursuit?  It might mean breaking some of those family patterns that your family just falls into every time, and you go, no, I’m going to take initiative, I’m going to risk, I’m going to step out just a little bit.

Second, what if you sacrificed? I almost chose the word love, but love has this sort of cuddly feel to it, doesn’t it?  It has an emotive feel to it.  We can say that we love something and have it not change our lives at all.  But I think when we use the word sacrifice, really, we’re getting at the biblical definition of love, but it costs us something.  Maybe this week, if you do Fixed Hour Prayer with us, one of those things you ask yourself during those times is what does love require of me?  What does it look like to really love and sacrifice?  Maybe it’s being a part of some of the outreaches that we’re doing….serving with Family Promise after the first of the year, or North Littleton Promise Posada, or the Christmas Shoppe.  I don’t know.  What does love demand of me?

Finally, what if we were people who were just known as forgivers?  Let me remind you that reconciliation always takes two, forgiveness takes one.  When we forgive, we model what is said about Jesus.  This is John the Baptist pointing to Messiah — Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  You are ALL forgiven.  You may not all be reconciled, but you’re forgiven by the Most High God.  What if we filled up Christmas this year with pursuit, with sacrificial love, and with forgiveness?  Maybe the best gift you can give and the best gift you can receive are the same thing.  Letting go of some of the garbage you’ve been carrying around for decades.

I want to end our service in a little different way today.  I want to give you some time to breathe.  I want to invite you to put your notes away and close your eyes.  I want to give you some time to catch your breath and do some business with God before we go running out of here.  This is a practice of maybe just letting go of some things. {Music is in background and Ryan is slowly walking around sanctuary.}   Would you start by reminding yourself who you are?  You’re loved.  You’ve been chosen.  You’ve been made holy.  Remind yourself who you are—you’re a child of the Most High God.  You have his affection.  You have access.  What do you sense Him saying to you in that moment? There’s some people, I’m sure, that have wronged you and it’s hard for you to forgive.  Bring that to Jesus right now, and, just in your head, what are the things that have been done to you, what are the wrongs that have been done against you, and just name them to Him.  Those people that make Christmas difficult.  My guess is, unless you’re perfect, there’s maybe some things you’ve done to others, too, that have hurt them, have wounded them….would you bring those to Jesus?  Name them, if you can.  Those people that come to mind when we think about the holidays being broken…maybe it’s the same people that have wounded us…let’s just take a moment and in your mind, pray blessing over them.  The Scriptures teach us to pray for those who persecute us, to love those who hate us.  Most of us agree with that, we just rarely do it, so would you just pray for blessing over their life?  Maybe, if you want to, you can open up your hands as a way to say God, I want to receive, but would you pray for eyes to see the way God’s blessing you, to see the way that his goodness, his grace, his mercy cover you?  You can even ask Him to pour it out even more.

Jesus, we know that living in pursuit and sacrifice and forgiveness won’t necessarily turn our Christmas into a Norman Rockwell painting, but we believe that it could dramatically change it, so God, give us your heart, give us your way.  Teach us what it looks like to be people who are restored to you and then who are restorers to the people around us.  “Risen with healing in your wings, Light and life to all you bring, We hail the Sun of Righteousness.  We hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.”  And all God’s people, together, said….Amen and amen.

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of Family | Galatians 4:4-20; 3:28-29; John 1:12 | Week 22023-06-26T15:32:47-06:00

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of Time | Galatians 4:4 | Week 1

FILLING UP CHRISTMAS: The Pregnant Clock   Galatians 4:4-5 

If you’re anything like me, I get real excited about the Christmas season, I get excited about Advent, and we put a lot of energy into it and then we feel exhausted when it’s done.  Are you with me? December 25th hits and we’re like, I don’t want to see anybody, I don’t want to talk to anybody.  I know that Jesus has been born, but I’ve drunk so much eggnog and had so many parties and I’ve seen so many people, I just need a moment to myself.  Is anybody with me?  We get done with Christmas and we’re like, hey, we can only do this once a year, because it’s exhausting.  What if we could make a few minor changes in the way that we think, in the way that we act, in the way that we engage this season, rather than ending this season feeling like we’re running on empty?  What if?  Imagine in four weeks you felt like you had more energy, you felt like you had a bigger vision for what God was up to, you’re more excited for what was coming in the future than you are right now.  I think that’s what God wants to do in our lives as a community of faith over the next few weeks.  We’re starting a series this week that we’re calling “Filling Up Christmas.”  We all fill up Christmas, we just sometimes fill it up with the wrong things.  I want to point us back to the Scriptures, over the next few weeks.  I want to point us back to the way of Jesus, in hopes of really painting for us a different picture of what Christmas might look like.

Every year when I was growing up, I had elementary teachers that had us make a Christmas chain.  Each one of the links in this chain represent one day from now until Christmas Eve.  So there’s twenty-two links on here and each one represents one day.  As a kid, I remember making these in elementary school and thinking, “It’s coming! Christmas is on its way!”  Every time we tore off one of these links, the anticipation just started to build.  Oh man, it’s one day less before that present that I have been waiting for is at my door.  It was our way, as kids, of counting time.

I have some kids at my house this year and they’re counting time.  One of them is waiting for Santa to bring him a bike.  One of them is waiting for a joke book.  My eight-year-old wants to be the funniest eight-year-old girl you’ve ever met.  On her Christmas list she wrote “jook” book.  It’s awesome.  My five-year-old is hoping for a motorcycle.  Don’t tell him……it’s not going to happen!  And they are all banding together and praying that this year that we get another dog.  Unless Santa brings it, it’s not happening, people!

It’s a way to count time and it was a way to build hope and to build anticipation, but here’s what I found, as we grow into adulthood, very rarely are we handing a chain.  Very rarely are we told, “Here’s how long you’re going to have to wait.”  Here’s how long you’re going to have to wait until that new job comes through.  Just tear off one of these every single day and at the end of it, well, then….then….what’s been hoped for and dreamed about and prayed about will come.  At the end of the chain, well, then the relationship’s going to happen.  At the end of the chain, the restoration will take place.  Very rarely in adulthood are we told how long we’re going to have to wait, are we?  And waiting gets slippery.  Having hope and continuing to walk in hope is really, really difficult, isn’t it?  It’s the very reason the church calendar begins with Advent.  Did you know that this is our January as a church?  The church calendar begins at Advent.  It begins in darkness because we all wait in life.  It’s a universal condition.  Christmas is about joy.  Christmas is about celebration.  Christmas is about the birth of Jesus.  But Advent, that leads us up to Christmas, is dark.  Advent is about waiting.  Advent is about hoping.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus.  It means arrival or coming.  It’s what Paul writes about to the church at Galatia, in Galatians 4:4-5.  He’s writing a letter to this early church….this church that’s been struggling, this church that has had a little bit of a difficult time grasping on to the unity of the gospel, that this really is all about Jesus and nothing more.  He comes to this point, four chapters into his letter, and listen to what he says:  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

When the fullness of time had come.  Which means that there was a lot of time that was un-full.  Right.  It means that every moment in time up until that birth of Jesus was lacking.  It wasn’t full.  From the very first promise of a Messiah, given in Genesis 3:15 — ….and you shall bruise his heel — it was the promise of the coming of God to wipe out darkness, wipe out evil, wipe out the enemy.  These early followers of Yahweh held onto this promise.  They were like, God’s going to do something!  God’s going to make a way.  You fast forward roughly fourteen generations and you get to David, who’s said to be the one whose kingdom would have no end, that one from David’s seed, one of David’s kids is going to reign on God’s throne.  They held onto this promise.  They didn’t know how long it was going to be, but God was moving them forward and He was pulling them along.  Then you have the Prophet Isaiah who makes this sort of enigmatic statement (Isaiah 7:14) — Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  They were like, wonderful, great, WHEN??  Can you imagine getting a chain that had 600 years worth of links on it?!?  Dragging that puppy!  The nation of Israel is going, “Alright, kids, we’re handing this one off to you.”  But they had this great hope — For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7)  Great!  When?  When?!

Have you ever felt like you’re just playing the waiting game?  Like the time wasn’t just quite full?  It’s interesting because my kids prepare for Christmas way different than Kelly and I do.  They prepare by making a chain and they’re just waiting.  They’re waiting for whatever is going to appear magically under that tree.  But Kelly and I are planning.  We’re preparing.  How are we going to afford all this?  How are we going to have five extra people living in our house for nine days during the Christmas season?  How are we going to organize all these different parties and get-togethers and eat all this food….    We’re making all the plans and they’re just sitting there like, let’s do this!  Right?

During that season of waiting that the nation of Israel waited, God was at work.  God was at work behind the scenes.  Sometimes in ways that people could see, and other times in ways that they had absolutely no clue.  While they were waiting, He was preparing.  So when the Apostle Paul writes about “the fullness of time,” God had prepared the world for the coming of the Messiah.  You had, for one of the first times in all of history, where the world was united under the Roman Empire.  You had Caesar Augustus who ruled above it all.  He was the son of Julius Caesar.  Julius Caesar was the first emperor to be deified, so Caesar Augustus was called the “son of god.”  People would greet each other, and they would exchange business in the market place, and underneath it all was this declaration “Caesar is lord.”  You had the Roman Empire expanding rapidly.  You had them building roads that made it possible to actually travel, which wasn’t possible before this time.  Roads that were so complex and so well built and well made that some of them still exist TODAY!  We’re lucky to get ten years out of ours here in Denver, right?  Redoing roads is a sport for us.  Not for them.  They did it once and they did it right!  You also had, going on at that same point in time, one central language that was beginning to pop up and was spoken all over the globe.  Not just by little tribes, but as a trade language everywhere.  It was the Greek language.  So you had a unified Empire.  You had a road system that allowed for travel.  You had a language that prepared the world to hear a message.

While we’re waiting, God’s preparing.  And he was preparing.  He prepared the world.  And he’s preparing you, too.  There was a promise that was made.  When the fullness of time came….  There was a promise that was made.  The promise was a process.  Have you noticed that’s often the way that God works?  That he could just give us the answer, but he walks us along.  God often seems like he’s sitting on his hands and taking his time.  Does it feel like this to anyone else except me?  He gives Abraham a promise and He gives it to him when he’s 75 years old, and He doesn’t fulfill the promise until he’s 100.  He didn’t give him any chain either.  He calls Moses to go to the pharaoh, but He only does it after 40 years of Moses sitting in the desert, shepherding sheep, waiting.  He anoints David as king, but David is on the run, living in caves, fleeing from Saul, for thirteen years before he actually takes the throne.  All of them living without a chain.  Like David’s not going, well, one more year.  Twelve more!  None of them.

I don’t know, if I had a question for God, one of them might be, “God, why do you make your promise in a way that causes us to embrace the process?”  Why not just make it when you’re ready to deliver?  Why not just tell us what you’re going to do and then do it?  Friends, this is what Advent is all about.  It’s about the process.  It’s about waiting.   {Look up at me for just a moment.}  God does some of his best work in your life while you’re waiting on Him, rather than when you’ve received what you’re waiting for.  He does some of his best conforming work in our hearts and lives while we wait.  But as Americans, we’re not great at waiting, are we?  We’re great at working.  We’re great at producing.  We’re great at doing.  But waiting?  No, no, no, no, no!  We do not like to wait, because we don’t like to waste.  We live in an Amazon Prime culture, don’t we?  There’s not a huge market, if we were to be like Abraham, for God to say, “I will deliver in 2043.”  Twenty-five years.  No one is signing up for that!  We usually want it and we want it quick, but God’s work is SLOW.  Let that sit on you for a moment.  Think about something that you’re waiting on.  Maybe you’re waiting on a doubt to be resolved.  Maybe you’re waiting on a healing to be given.  Maybe you’re waiting on a child to come around…or a son or daughter to come home.  A relationship to be restored.  Waiting’s hard work, isn’t it?  The process is difficult.

Listen to the way that Paul talks about God meeting us in the process.  He sort of outlines for us what it looks like for God to step in.  Here’s what he says:  But when the fullness of time had come, God…   It wasn’t that the world did such a great a job, the world made itself ready, and they were finally good enough, and they finally had their act together enough for Messiah to come.  No, no, no, no, no.  Christmas is God’s initiative.  It’s God coming for humanity.  It’s God on the move,  God on the prowl, God in the pursuit, and it’s God sending.   In the Greek, it’s this word exapostelló.  It means “to send out from.”  As painting the picture that God is on mission.  Christmas is about God accomplishing something.  It’s about God working and God moving.

Finally, he says:  …God sent forth his Son….  I think Advent is so important for us because we learn to wait, but we also learn the way that God often answers our waiting.  He typically doesn’t send an idea.  He often doesn’t send a messenger.  He usually gives us the thing that we want more than anything else, we just sometimes can’t put our finger on the fact that we want it.  He sends himself.  The promise is a process, and the provision is a person.  It’s personal in two ways.  One, it’s God giving himself personally.  This is different than any other religion, and any other system, and any other philosophy.  That God enters into the problem with his own flesh and blood, and resolves the issue of sin and darkness by taking it all on himself.  We call it “the incarnation.”  In carne….in flesh.  In meat.  Christmas isn’t just about a gift that’s been given, it’s about a life that’s been shared.  It’s about trinitarian life given to desperate humanity.  I love the way that Frederick Buechner put it:  “The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers….  Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.”

Friends, as we enter back into this story, into this waiting story, and looking back at God’s fulfillment to the nation of Israel waiting, we should go, God, this is crazy, this shocking, this is confusing.  That You would give yourself, not just a message, but You become the messenger.  Not that You’d solve the problem, but that you’d take the problem on your own shoulders.  God, this is personal.  Here’s what that means and would you lean in for just a moment?  I don’t know what type of waiting you bring in these doors; what types of hopes you have that you feel are real slippery and really loose and you’re not sure what to do with them today, will you just lean in for a moment, because the thing that Christmas declares to us, maybe above everything else, is that God cares, that God sees.  And He sees enough and He cares enough to say that you have—exactly as you are…broken and beautiful, in hope and in waiting, and in celebration, and in hills and valleys—infinite worth in the eyes of an Almighty Creator God.  The incarnation is ultimately about God’s redemption because of love.  That’s what He’s after.  That’s what we celebrate during the Christmas Advent season.   I love the way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it:  “He has become like a man, so that men should be like him.  And in the incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God.  Henceforth, any attack on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form.”  Oh, come on, that’s good!  You’ve never seen somebody that Jesus didn’t come for.  That’s what Bonhoeffer’s saying.  This is a provision that doesn’t just solve the problem, it meets the person and invites us in to relationship with God.  Hear me this morning.  Lean in.  Christmas is about God on a rescue mission.  He’s redeeming those who were oppressed, pushed down.

But there’s an elephant in the room, isn’t there?  I mean, there was at least an elephant in my office while I wrote this.  What are we suppose to do?  If we were to read our Scriptures just with our eyes closed and our news apps off, we would expect God sent his son to redeem.  We would expect that the world would look a little bit differently than it does, would we not?  I mean, if God has come to redeem, was He successful? 1 John 3:8 said that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, to destroy the works of darkness, to destroy the works of the Enemy.  Did He accomplish what He set out to do?  Because our redeemed, beautiful world feels broken!  Doesn’t it?  What do we do with that?  Yeah, sure, the world was pregnant, the world was about to give birth, the world was prepared and ready when Jesus came….born in a manger.

Here’s my question:  Is our world pregnant again?  Is our world pregnant AGAIN?  Sometimes it feels like it, doesn’t it?  There are times when God seems silent, when God seems distant.  I’ve had three friends this week tell me, “I’m crying out to God and I don’t hear His voice.”  My prayers feel like they’re hitting the ceiling.  Is our world pregnant?  In the last eleven months, I’ve said goodbye to friends and family members, and my guess is you have too.  Is our world pregnant? In the country of Yemen, 1.8 million people are on the brink of starvation right now.  85,000 kids have already died of starvation this year.  Is our world pregnant?  Are we waiting?  Are we anticipating? I went to California a few weeks ago.  The day before I arrived, there was a mass shooting in a bar, and the day I got there that same little city caught on fire, massive fire.  Is our world pregnant? Last week, they released the new updated climate report.  However you want to look at that, here’s what we can surmise…..the trajectory isn’t good.  Is creation pregnant?  Is the earth pregnant?

The book of Romans would actually say…..YEAH!  Romans 8:19, 22 — For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  (v22) For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.   Wait just a second.  Maybe….maybe creation didn’t get the memo that Messiah has come.  Maybe Yemen didn’t get the memo that Jesus has been born.  Maybe we need to just go and tell them, “Jesus has been born.”  Maybe that will solve all of the problems.  Have you ever come here to celebrate Christmas, and you’ve come just wondering what do we do with the reality, that we believe wholeheartedly, that 2000 years ago, Jesus, Messiah, King of the universe, Lord of all creation was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and YET the world LONGS for its redemption?

So, what do we do?  Do we just make more Christmas cookies?  Sing a little bit louder?  Bury our heads in the sand and “Have yourself a merry little Christmas//Make the yuletide gay//From now on our troubles will be miles away….   Are troubles miles away?  So what do we do?  What do we do?  We’ve got to be able to look in the face in the very real, everyday atrocities and injustices in life.  We’ve got to look at the dashed dreams and the distant hopes, and we’ve got to be able to look at them, look them in the eye, with the declaration, “Jesus is Lord!”  Here’s the beautiful power of Advent.  Advent doesn’t erase the realities of life.  That’s not what Christmas is all about.  That’s not what Advent is all about.  It points us to a God who has made promises that transcend and go beyond what we can see right now!

If you go and read through the New Testament, you’re going to find that the author of the Scriptures spent some time pointing back to Jesus’s birth, but they spent a LOT of time pointing forward to His second coming!  A lot of time.  Ironically, Advent is a season about standing in this middle ground.

As a high school pastor, our church bought a school bus, so I needed to get my commercial driver’s license.  I went to this brave soul who was going to train me on how to drive a school bus.  He said, “Ryan, there’s a rhythm to this.  You’ve got to look forward and keep your eyes on the road.”  I’m like, I was expecting that, I’m driving a large vehicle.  He said, “You’ve got to keep your eyes on the road, but you can’t lose sight of what’s behind you.  You’ve got to look at the road ahead and you’ve got to constantly be sort of pointing your eyes up to your rearview mirror, and your sideview mirror, and your other sideview mirror, and your rearview mirror, and look forward and look back, and look forward and look back.”

And that’s what Advent is!  It’s a looking back—Christ has been born!  The Savior has come!  We live in this messy, middle, waiting ground where we look forward—Oh, He will come again and ONE day, He will wipe every tear from our eyes.  And ONE day, He will make all things new.  And ONE day, that trumpet will sound and He will come home and He will call your name!  I don’t know how many links are left in that chain, I just know that we’re playing the waiting game.  As we pray that His kingdom would come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we enter into that redemptive story.  We play our part whether it’s in food or gifts or gospel….whatever it looks like, we play our part and we pray!

Christmas is not a time for trite, sentimental clichés.  It’s not.  It’s not a time for optimism, because optimism arises out of the denial of facts.  No, no, no, no, no.  Christmas is about hope.  Hope that persists in spite of the brokenness.  Hope that persists in spite of questions.  Hope that persists in spite of the doubt and in spite of the pain.  Waiting is a universal human condition.  We ALL wait.  The question isn’t whether or not we’re going to wait in life, the question is whether or not we’ll wait well.  Here’s the counterintuitive invitation of Advent….it’s back, it’s forward, it’s back, it’s forward.  We enter into the waiting that the Israelite nation longed for their Messiah in as we embrace our waiting.  Our waiting.

Flip over with me to 2 Peter.  Let me give you the framework — The early church is waiting for the promised second coming.  2 Peter 3:4.  Peter’s writing to a church in the midst of this waiting season, and he’s saying listen, there’s going to be people that come and teach, there’s going to be people that start to murmur….underneath their breath they’re going to say:  Where is the promise of his coming?  {Like, where is this Jesus you say is coming back?  Sure he was born in the manger, I guess we could find out some data on that, but it’s crazy that you think he’s coming again! Peter says there’s going to be people who wonder, you might even be one of those people.  They go, silliness, come on!  Let’s just have ourselves a merry little Christmas; wish our troubles away.  Here’s how Peter continues in verse 8.  How do we wait well?  How do we live on this Advent frontier?}  But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  {Anyone want to say Amen? Yeah, that’s the deal.  God just doesn’t have the right clock!  That’s the problem.  If He had the right clock, maybe He’d do things in our time!  He’s just got a clock that’s a LOT slower than yours.}  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, {He’s talking about the Second Coming.  Looking back, looking forward.}  and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 

What’s Peter’s point?  I think what he’d say to us in this Advent season, 2018, where we remember the promise is often a process, that we’ve got to trust God’s timeline.  I want to clarify, because one of the things you might hear me saying in trusting God’s timeline is we’ve got to KNOW God’s timeline.  {Look up at me just a second.}  Trusting God’s timeline and knowing God’s timeline are not the same thing.  God’s timeline is often a lot slower than ours.  St. Augustine said it this way, “If you understand, it is not God you understand.”  That’s awesome!

In all honesty, you guys, there’ve been some seasons in my life where I’ve just struggled.  God, you just seem like you’re taking your sweet time.  Do you care about me?  Do you see me?  Do you hear my voice?  What in the world is going on?  If you’re in a waiting season this Advent, welcome to the portion of the church calendar that pats you on the back and says yeah, it’s a condition we all feel at some point.  Let’s. Wait. Well.

It’s one of those seasons, isn’t it, when we’re waiting on God to deliver on what we feel He’s promised, that it can get easy to say, I’m just going to check out.  I’m going to hit cruise control.  I can play this game with God….God, if you’re not going to come through for me than I’m not going to anything for you!  Anybody else go four-year-old on God sometimes?  I do!  So Peter wants to speak into that.  He sees that coming and he’s like, I see your four-year-old temper tantrum and I raise you (2 Peter 3:11)—Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be?  That’s a great question.  In the waiting.  In God’s “non-slowness,” what type of people should you be? He says live lives of holiness.  Different–the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  In godliness—shaped more and more into his image.  So in the Advent frontier where you’re waiting, we not only trust God’s timeline, but we try our best, but we focus on our formation.  We say, God, I’m not getting what I want here, but that’s not reason for me to check out, and that’s not reason for me to cash in my chips, and that’s not reason for me to give up on you, though maybe I’ve thought about it at some point.  It’s reason for me to look a little bit deeper, become a little bit more aware of some of the internal rhythms of my life and my soul and for us to do some business together, because God shines a light on some things in the waiting that we can’t see on the mountaintop.  I don’t think the waiting actually creates anything in us, it just reveals something about us and we see it!  Something that lies dormant when life is good, we can see in the waiting, and we have to take it to God and we have to figure out, God, what do you want to do with this?

Whenever we do the right thing in spite of the cost, we stand on the Advent frontier.  When the businessman refuses to say I’m going to be corrupt in order to get ahead, that’s an Advent decision.  The person who decides I’m not leaving the marriage, even though I have this dream I’ll be happier somewhere else.  I’m going to stick in covenant.  I’m going to continue to love and sacrifice even though…..   That’s an Advent decision.  Parents who continue to show love in the face of rejection, that’s an Advent decision.  I love the way Fleming Rutledge put it: “If you know that the reconciliation of all things is the grand design of the Creator of the universe, then your own individual and communal acts of faithfulness to one another become signs of the world to come.”  We hope and we wait, and while we wait, we don’t know how long, we live in a way that reflects the coming of THAT kingdom that we long for.  When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we live in the way of THAT kingdom that we so desperately long for.

So Peter has good news if you long for that kingdom.  Verse 12 — Waiting for and hastening {Waiting is patience and hastening is persistence.  Can you see that there’s a tension here?  We wait and we hasten.  We wait and we long for desperately.  We sort of sink anchor in the moment and live in the present and we look to the future and go, what God will do, He has not fully done yet.  We’ve seen glimpses of it, we’ve seen shadows of it, but new creation is on the horizon!}  the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.   Oh gosh!  Yeah!

Some people have taken this passage to mean: Followers of Jesus, it doesn’t matter what they do, what we do, what humanity does with the world, the earth.  Who cares about the climate report?  It’s gonna burn!  What do we do with that?  If you go back to verse 6, Peter said that this is sort of a corollary, what’s going on here.  What God will do at His return is similar to what He did when He wiped out the world with a flood and destroyed a world.  The world perished at the flood.  Which world is that that perished at the flood?  The one your house is built on!  That one.  He’s not talking about the world that will just be gone.  He’s talking about an earth that will be renewed.  It’s the same thing that happened at the flood.  This time in fire.  It’s a refining, it’s a renewal, it’s a redemption, it’s what we long for.  When every tear will be wiped away; when every sad will be reversed.  When death will have no more power, no more sting.  Where the enemy will fully be defeated and destroyed.  We anticipate the day Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!  The great creed of the early church says, “he was born of the virgin Mary {Yeah, they’re looking back.  He was born in the manger, born of the virgin Mary.} AND he will come again to judge the living and the dead.”  The first coming was a foretaste, the second coming will be the culmination of it all.   So….we wait.  We wait.  We look back in adoration and we look forward in anticipation.

One of the things our staff is doing—I want to invite you to do this with us—during this season of Advent is practicing something called “Fixed Hour Prayer.”  It’s a discipline the church (different sort of sects) has embraced numerous times throughout its history.  It’s simply setting an alarm a few different times during the day to remind you to pray.  I don’t know about you, but I set those alarms sometimes and go, oh yeah, God, I haven’t thought about you.  I haven’t invited you into this.  We’re going to set an alarm at 9 am, at noon, and at 3 pm, every day throughout this Advent season.  We’re going to use Fixed Hour Prayer as a way to push us back into this….God, we want to trust your timeline.  God, we want focus on our formation.  God, we want to look back in adoration and look forward in anticipation.  It’s really simple.  You can use these Advent devotionals for one of those and read that section.  You could use the Psalms at one of those as a way to engage God.  We just want our minds to be pulled back to Him, pushed back to Him this season.

At the fullness of time, God sent his son.  When the time is full again, He will come back.  It’s what the book of Hebrews promises us (9:28).  He will appear a second time, not to deal with sin—He’s already done that—but to save those, to heal those, to restore those who eagerly long for his waiting.  If you open your news app, if you have conversations with a friend and the world feels broken…..yes, welcome to Advent.  May we be people who wait and who hope well.

Every time we come to the communion table, we do that dance of looking forward, looking back, looking forward, looking back.  We look back and see that Jesus has come and has given his life, his death, burial, resurrection, and we look forward to the time when he will come again.  The table is open to all who are followers of Jesus.  We’re going to celebrate, this morning, as a chance to look back and look forward.  {Communion instructions given.}

Let’s pray.  Jesus, as we come to your table this morning, we come with adoration.  God, you’ve come.  We come with anticipation, the story isn’t over.  Yet there’s a huge anchor that holds us in the midst of life’s trials and storms, but we know that you’re not done working, that you’re not done moving.  Jesus, we come in adoration and we come in anticipation this morning.  Would you meet us in a unique way, as we celebrate your body given and your blood shed until you come again.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Filling Up Christmas | The Fullness of Time | Galatians 4:4 | Week 12023-06-26T15:33:39-06:00
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