12/24/2015 – Christmas Eve message

Mark Wheeler

Luke 2:1-20

“Shepherds Celebrate the Savior”

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

We so deeply need what only You can offer, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and heal our hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkest moments. On this eve of the celebration of Your birth, we praise You with the conviction that You were born for us and for our salvation. Amen. The Christmas Eve Candlelight service had new meaning for Martha. She was standing near the baptistry waiting for her turn to be baptized as a confession of her faith in Jesus. She thought back to the previous Christmas season when her primary interest focused on preparing for Santa Claus’s visit to her children, shopping for gifts, and the stress of the usual holiday festivities. This year was different. Martha’s neighbor had invited her to assist with VBS [that Summer]. And later she began attending Sunday School, where she understood the Gospel for the first time. And now she was ready to take her first step of obedience as a follower of Jesus. What a change in the significance of this season as Martha joined other believers in celebrating God’s gift of eternal life through His Son! In the secular worldview, Jesus’ birth is unimportant. If it actually occurred at all, it was nothing more than the birth of another figure of history. Last Wednesday I watched the Bill Murray special called A Very Murray Christmas. In one sketch a very scantily clad Miley Cyrus sang “Silent Night”, followed by Bill Murray and George Clooney and a dozen women in ballet tights singing about how “Santa Claus wants some Lovin’”.  Secular-minded people celebrate the holiday season – but not the birth of the Savior of the world. Christmas is God’s priceless gift of Himself.

 

 

Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, 2:1-20 …. —-

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

After four weeks of anticipation and waiting, Christmas is finally here. The air is so thick with excitement that we can almost taste it. And this passage is probably one of the most familiar of all Christmas accounts. Every time I read it, I’m reminded of Linus Van Pelt explaining the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown – not quite as high-class as Handel’s Messiah, but powerful none-the-less.

 

This passage contains three narratives around the birth of Jesus: The setting of Jesus’ birth itself (2:1-7), the angelic announcement of Good News of Jesus’ birth (2:8-14), and the celebration of the shepherds and the angels (2:15-20). In putting Jesus’ birth first in an historic context, Luke not only links Jesus to a real world political setting but also references back to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was a descendant of King David (cf. Micah 5:2), a very important link for the early church. As if he wants to contrast the political powers of Rome’s ruling eliteCaesar Augustus and Governor QuiriniusLuke then immediately transitions to a manger near a small inn in the tiny inconsequential village of Bethlehem: by giving a simple, straightforward account of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, once in Bethlehem, how Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger in the most humble setting possible.

 

In your own life experience, where do you mostly find Jesus? Do you look for Jesus in all the familiar places and circumstances, or do you look for him in the least likely ones?

 

Luke then shifts his focus to the countryside where shepherds were tending flocks by underscoring the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ birth, in depicting the angel’s announcement of it to the shepherds, and the glorifying praise by the heavenly host (2:8-14). The announcement of the angel specifically mentions three astounding titles for this humble baby to carrySavior, Messiah, and Lord — encompassing the highest honorifics known at that time, both human and divine. This is significant because it foretells that Jesus was sent by the Father to become one of us, in order to embody for us this “good news of great joy”— to redeem us from our sins and show us the way to the Father.

 

In response to this “good news of great joy,” the shepherds then hurry off to see for themselves this newborn babe. They find him just as the angel has described. And after they share with everyone there what they have been told, they return “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20).

 

But, of course, the Christmas story is only half of the story: because Jesus, who was sent by God — just as the herald angel was — has also sent us into the world to share this “good news of great joy” with all people. Just as Martha was invited by a neighbor to help with VBS and to attend Sunday School, we’re called to make an impact in other people’s lives with the love of God by telling them who Jesus is: the Son of God, who was not only born to be one of us, but suffered and died to redeem us from our sins, was raised from the dead, now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and will one day come back to take us to be with Him forever!

 

As we celebrate Christmas with our loved ones this year, take a moment to reflect who Jesus is to you — Is He Savior, Messiah, and Lord of your life? If He is, are you celebrating His birth, His incarnation, and are you then willing to be His messenger in sharing this “good news of great joy” with others who have never heard or experienced God’s love and forgiveness?

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 33-40.

 

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 37-45.

 

12/13/2015 – Advent 3 – Matthew 2:26-56 – “Seeking Faithful Obedience”

Click this link for an audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/f9XMxdizIug/

 

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 2:1-26-56

December 13, 2015

“Advent 3: God’s Grace Revealed: Seeking Faithful Obedience”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of grace, God of glory, how we praise You and thank You for sending us Your gift of eternal life. Glory to God in the highest! Amen. 

About a month ago Paris, France, and a number of French Parisian suburbs were shot-up and bombed. And the world, including America, surrounded France with love and support – and prayers. Ten days ago a very similar thing happened in a Los Angeles suburb and while support and love went their way, at least from American society the social media was filled with criticism and words even of hatred about how worthless it is to pray for these people.

It was a fascinating cultural flip from our response to France and our reaction to San Bernardino.

 

As we move another week closer to our celebration of Immanuel, God with us, divinity in humanity, the birth of Jesus the Messiah, I wonder how our prayers change. We’re told to pray without ceasing, but with all the holiday hoopla it can be hard to obey that command. In fact, it’s hard to obey almost any of the biblical commands for justice and love and peace and joy when we’re fighting traffic to get the last of this year’s special toy, or imbibing at the office “holiday party” with a little too much enthusiasm.

As we recognize the nearness of Christmas (just 11 shopping days away), what does it mean to obey God?

 

I had a doctor appointment last Wednesday, and my doc reminded me that he has told me for several months to join a gym. And then he said, “With January 1 just a few weeks away, maybe this can be one of your New Year’s Resolutions.”

But even as he was talking I remembered that I’ve told him before that I would join a gym; and I also remember my 8th Grade Sunday School teacher, John Winterling, telling me that “delayed obedience is disobedience.” When I find an excuse to delay obeying God, I am merely disobeying God today.

What is it in your life that you “delay obedience” until a more convenient time? Is there an area of faith/life that we tell God, “Maybe tomorrow,” or “I will when <something> happens?

 

We are now on our 3rd Sunday in the season which prepares us for Christmas. We have been invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us. We watched as another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, willingly listened to and believed God.

Today we watch Joseph and Mary from a different angle – we have been using Luke’s Gospel, today we read from Matthew’s Gospel – and see what they teach us about seeking faithful obedience.

 

Listen to how Matthew 1:18-25 enters into the Christmas narrative: 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Let me stop there for a second. Pretend this was the first time you ever heard this story. You know it’s about Jesus, because Matthew says so right up front: this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. But — what? Before they came together she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit? How many unplanned teenaged pregnancies have been announced like this before?

So, because Joseph was both law-abiding and decent, he planned to divorce her quietly. Yeah, they weren’t even truly married yet, but in their culture by the time the couple got to this point in their wedding plans, they were as good as married, so “divorceis the right word. But Joseph wasn’t gonna make a big fuss, he’d just divorce her “quietly. I don’t know how one does that. The wedding day is planned, the guests are invited, the party is already underway, the DJ is hired, the church is reserved … and somehow he’s gonna make all that disappear without drawing attention to that fact. But let’s give him credit for trying.

Joseph shows us the value of Facing Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY!

Are we able to meet these upsetting, disappointing, expensive surprises with GRACE? I have watched Jack Berry do that time after time. One time, about 10 years ago, our Mariner’s Fellowship group went up to Hwy 16, near Sacheen Lake for a dinner theater production, and Jack missed the driveway entrance to the parking lot and his SUV went into the snow covered ditch. And what did Jack do? He got Jean out of the truck, went into the theater, called AAA, and had a very enjoyable evening. Jack reached Sainthood in my book that evening. And he showed me what it means to Face Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY.

 

Let’s continue this story, starting now in Matthew 1:20: 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” …

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Joseph heard from Mary already, but now an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him the same thing. He might still say, “No way! I’m outa here!” But he doesn’t. Instead he demonstrates how to Trust God’s Word COURAGEOUSLY! Why do I say “courageously”? Because he and Mary still had all the town talking. The village gossips were still yakking at the supermarket. The men were still speculating at the barber. The school kids were still asking questions on the playground. And they all had their judgmental opinions!

Are we able to trust God with COURAGE? Anyone who has been in this church family for long has seen person after person trust God through scary life circumstances. I’ll bet most of us can think of someone, maybe the person sitting right across from you this morning, who trusted God through financial struggles, through marital difficulties, through health scares. // And, we’ve all not trusted God at all.

Can we put that COURAGEOUS Trust in God’s Word into practice this season?

 

After the baby Jesus was born, Luke tells us, in the manger in Bethlehem, we come to the next Christmas narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Look with me starting in Matthew 2:13: 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. …

This story is related to the last in that, once again, Joseph trust’s God’s Word; but this story of trust involves obedient action. Joseph exhibits how he Heeds God’s Warnings IMMEDIATELY!

He might have figured he could buy a gun, or take a Karate class, or just hunker down in a bunker and hide – those are the things I might have done. But Joseph wastes no time in Heeding God’s Warning. This is trusting God’s Word, but it is doing that with active obedience, right now!

 

The last part of this Christmas narrative, which is actually several months, maybe three years later, is told starting in verse 19. Listen to God’s Word: 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. …

Joseph does the admirable thing – he Follows God’s Word CONSISTENTLY. We are told that after King Herod died an angel of the Lord told Joseph to take his family back home. He left for Egypt IMMEDIATELY; and now he again hears God’s Word and obeys it without any delay leaving from Egypt! But, even better than merely having an IMMEDIATE and COURAGEOUS trust that results in Faithful Obedience, Joseph also listens to God’s Word in Scripture, for Matthew reminds us that the Old Testament prophets allude to the Messiah being from a place like Nazareth (which was the actual home of Joseph and Mary before they went to Bethlehem for the census)!

It is important to Follow God’s Word CONSISTENTLYnot just when it’s convenient, or seems like a good idea, or won’t be too much of a change in my lifestyle, but CONSISTENTLYday in and day out, Monday through Saturday as well as Sunday.

This, of course, means Faithful Obedience, notdelayed obedience”, notpartial obedience” (I’ll go only so far; I’ll trust God with my check book but not my retirement account!), not disobedience in any fashion! Faithful Obedience!

 

How well do you obey God when unexpected events bring disappointment or pain?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something that is far bigger than you can achieve without His miraculous power?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to act with courage in a dangerous situation?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something urgent?

 

This is why, on this Sunday, we Seek Faithful Obedience above all else. Glory to God in the highest!

 

Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:

“Lord, help me to obey You with grace, trust, courage, urgency, and consistency. Amen.”

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 15-32.

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 27-36.

12/06/2015 – Advent 2 – Luke 1:26-56 – “Learn to Express Grateful Praise”

Here’s the link to the audio version of this message: https://pogoplug.com/s/x_BLvwtPA60/

Mark Wheeler

Luke 1:26-56

“Advent 2: God’s Grace Revealed: Learn to Express Grateful Praise”

December 6, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord, above all else, I want to be used by You in Your saving work. Show me Your will and help me to do it. Amen. 

Bud Cook worked in a manufacturing plant. George Dempster was a young man trying to discover his vocation. John Winterling owned his own business building and selling campers and boat trailers and racks. Steve Collins was an engineer with a major oil company.

These names mean nothing to you, but to me they each in their own way turned my world upside down. God used them to help me know Jesus personally, and to trust Jesus with my life.

There have been scores of others, some of whom are sitting in this room with us today, but I chose these four men because they represent a variety of levels of education and life skills and career directions. And God used them all in powerfully meaningful ways to introduce me to Jesus. They are/were ordinary individuals who had extraordinary willingness to be used by God in His saving work.

You could all make your own lists, and they would also be filled with ordinary Janes and Joes who were willing to listen to and obey God.

Do you think your name might be on someone’s list? Are you willing to allow the Lord to work through you to bring others into a saving relationship with Him?

 

Last Sunday we officially entered into the season which prepares us for Christmas, and we were invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us.

Today we watch another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, as they willingly listen to and obey God.

 

In The Gospel according to Luke we discover another story of preparing for the birthday of our Savior. In the middle of Luke’s unique story about the birth of John the Baptist, he interrupts himself with the story of the unmarried Virgin Mary’s announcement of her pregnancy!

 

Listen to how Luke 1:26-29 begins this interruption: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

Put yourself in Mary’s sandals for just a minute. She’s engaged to be married, but not married yet somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years (that was normal marrying age for women in the Middle East 2,000 years ago); from the “dogtown” neighborhood of the Hillyard section of the nation of Israel. We know really nothing about her family background (except that Matthew tells us she comes from the distant lineage of David, a shepherd-boy turned King). And an angel of the Lord presents himself to her and speaks amazing, incredible, unbelievable words of blessing and affirmation!

Her reaction? “Greatly troubled” and “wondered what this means”. The JB Phillips translation says she was “greatly perturbed” and wondered what thiscould possibly mean”.

But notice, Mary did not simply dismiss this. Mary was OPEN to hearing from God. She wasn’t expecting it – but she certainly did not reject it out of hand. Mary was as “ordinary” a young woman as young women get – meaning she did not carry clout, her name did not evoke awe, she had no money or influence. But, Mary was OPEN to hearing from God. And she invites us to Be OPEN to hear from God.

 

Listen as Luke 1:30-33 continues the Zechariah-and-Elizabeth-story interruption: But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Again, remember who Mary is: engaged to be married, but not married yet, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years; and this “angel” tells her she’s gonna be pregnant! – But even more than being pregnant out of wedlock, she’s gonna be pregnant with Jesus (YeshuaThe Lord saves), the Son of the Most High!, the King of all kings! Whose Kingdom will never end!

Wait! What? Me?! No way!

But, being OPEN to hearing from God leads to being ready to LEARN God’s plan!

In the shock-and-awe of this angelic announcement, Mary LEARNs God’s plan. And as “ordinary” a girl as Mary was (at least from our limited human perspectives), God was going to use her in the most major way imaginable. If we want to understand God’s will in our life choices and directions, we need to be ready to LEARN God’s plan.

 

Luke 1:38 gives us Mary’s well-known response: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary does the most difficult thing I can conceive. She makes a HUMBLE commitment. Why do I say that that is so hard? Two reasons:

  • an unwed, unexpected teenaged pregnancy is always a difficult place – the circumstances are less than ideal, the burdens seem overwhelming, the fear is crippling, and in her day it could have meant being put to death! And still, she made that commitment!
  • She made this commitment with HUMILITY! I do not find it too hard, most of the time, to make the right decision. But to do so showing HUMILITY is super difficult. Especially if there’s the potential for debate about it. I will quote the Bible and Church tradition and God’s ideal – like as if I’m the only one who has a total grasp of God’s righteousness.

Mary shows us that by actually being OPEN to receive a Word from God and really LEARNING His will, we can make a HUMBLE commitment to obey. The angel left her because there was no need for him to stay following Mary’s beautiful HUMILITY (“I am the Lord’s servant”) and devoted commitment (“May your word to me be fulfilled [in me]”).

 

Remember that this whole story of Jesus’ conception is an interruption in the middle of the story describing the birth of John the Baptist, and Luke masterfully concludes this interruption in Luke 1:46-49 with Mary’s EXPRESSION of grateful praise: And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,    for he has been mindful  of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name….”

Are we able to do that? This might be the proof of faith. In the middle of life’s most difficult moments, can we still lift our voices and our hands in praise to God?

When the power goes out in the bitter cold weather, can we still sing God’s glory?

When the diagnosis is in, and it’s not hopeful news, can we still proclaim perfect hope in Jesus?

When another mass shooting hits the airwaves, or the school or care center just down the street, can we still declare our praise to the sovereign God of the universe?

Let me quote from a Facebook Friend in CA; Joyce was in my youth group at church 40+ years ago when I was still in HS and she was in Jr Hi. She wrote this on Friday:

“The stress of the never ending escrow, the sickness caused by the stress, the inability to live life as usual due to the circumstance, the desire to make changes that are put on hold due to the never ending escrow. Not being able to decorate, shop or celebrate the season in normal ways because we live out of boxes. The sadness/stress/concern about many loved ones mental and physical state. And not to mention the recent events in the world…..the only comfort/strength I rely on is our Father in Heaven. Standing strong in His name. Amen.”

Joyce is an ordinary woman, a wife and mother, with an AA degree, working for a construction company. And God uses her to share His grace and mercy. Joyce has Learned to EXPRESS grateful praise!

 

When Jesus walked this earth, He chose 12 ordinary men to listen to Him, to learn from Him, humbly commit their lives to Himvery ordinary men, rugged fishermen, educated government employees, quiet leaders, anti-government activists, literally people from across every spectrum. And, because they were willing to be used for God’s Kingdom purposes – they did listen and learn and commit – and to the end, they  each learned to EXPRESS grateful praise to their Lord and Savior.

Eleven of these twelve went on and turned the world upside down expressing that grateful praise and telling others about Jesus. The one who didn’t regrets his decision into eternity.

 

Are you OPEN to hear from God? Are we as a church?

Do you know your part in God’s larger plan? As a church, are we LEARNing that?

Are you HUMBLY committed to God’s will? Is LPC?

Are you praising God for using even you in His work? Let’s EXPRESS our praise together!

 

Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:

“Gracious Lord, thank You for choosing ordinary people like me to accomplish Your will. Amen.”

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 17-24.

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 17-26.