Here we are for the fourth Sunday of advent celebrating Christmas and all that means to us. I hope that you were able to tune in last week, Emily preached a great message on joy. We’re going to be landing on Hope today. I wonder if hope is something that you’ve thought much about, it’s been the theme of our service today, there’s been a fair bit about it. I wonder what you’re hoping for, if you had to write a wishlist perhaps, that maybe includes plans for the future, what would you be writing down? What are you hoping for in your life in the future?
Perhaps at Christmas time, who are you hoping for? I’ve got my Father Christmas top on, we’re all hoping that Father Christmas turns up, or at least I certainly am, and brings us all those presents that we’re after. I was having a bit of a laugh, I discovered that not everyone refers to Father Christmas as Father Christmas. This might not be news to you but it’s news to me. I found this map that tells us all the different names that Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, has in different countries. I find it quite funny. All of this red, we’re in the red, Father Christmas, we know where we stand. I don’t exactly know where that is up there, I’m guessing that’s Iceland, it says Christmas Lads! This bit here, I’m not that great at Geography, I think Finland is one of these, it says Christmas Gnome! And in Russia here Grandfather Frost, that’s pretty good. Saint Basil down there (Greece) and the Christmas Goat (Finland). It changes everything doesn’t it if you’re writing your Christmas list to the Christmas goat.
What are you hoping for this Christmas? And who are you hoping for this Christmas? There’s the great verse:
What a great verse, maybe you’ve not seen this verse before. I wonder who it’s talking about. Of course “in his name” is talking about the name of Jesus. Isn’t it brilliant that hope has a name and that name is Jesus. The name Jesus means rescuer or deliverer or saviour. Actually Jesus’ full name is Jesus Christ. Christ meaning messiah or anointed one. Who is it, whose name is it that the nations will put their hope, that you and I can put our hope in today? It’s Jesus Christ, our rescuer, our deliverer, the anointed one, the one who is authorised to rescue us. In his name the nations will put their hope.
What can you hope, what can I hope, what can we hope for Jesus to do? In the verse before this, some great words here:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.Matthew 12:21 NIV
I love the way this is phrased, until he has brought justice through to victory, I can picture Jesus grabbing hold of justice and bringing it through, bringing justice through for us until it is evident, until it is winning, until justice is acting on our behalf. I wonder what justice means for you today? Justice, I think, means fairness, it means putting wrongs to rights and this is what we can hope for Jesus to do in our world. That he can put wrongs right. I think about my life, I love life and I love God has made me to be – but I’m also really aware of my fallen humanity. It feels like I’m carrying wrongs within me. I like the fact that in Jesus I can have this hope that He will work in me and he will put those wrongs to right.
I can believe with you today that whatever you are facing, whatever wrongs you think you are coming up against, you can hope in Jesus this Christmas time that He will turn those wrongs into rights. He will bring justice through to victory on your behalf. That’s my hope for you, for me, for us this Christmas time. We’ve already heard in our service a great carol called O Little Town of Bethlehem. I don’t know if you spotted in the last couple of lines of the first verse, it reaffirms this thought of our hopes found in Him. It says “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”. I love the fact that we have hopes and fears here. All those hopes that you have for life, for your future, for next year, for Christmas, you can bring those hopes to him. Even your worries and anxieties, your doubts and fears, also they can find a rest in Him. I love that our hopes and fears are met in Jesus. Wherever you are today, wherever you are tuning in from, Jesus is the hope of the world, this is our theme for this advent Sunday, hope. My prayer for you is that you will discover Jesus and the hope that He brings in a new way. If you get a chance over the next few days, dig out your bible and look at Matthew 12:20 to 21. These verses are actually about a prophecy about Jesus, it’s quoting Isaiah. “In his name the nations will put their hope.” God bless, if I don’t see you before Christmas, have a great Christmas and I’ll see you again in the new year.
Today we are going to be looking at Joy. Joy what does that actually mean? I’ve heard it sung J O Y J O Y surely that must mean Jesus first, Yourself last and others in between. There we are sorted, preach done, we’ve had a christmas jingle and we have had a definition of Joy. So that’s it, done. No of course not.
The dictionary definition of Joy often seems to reflect around happiness which is what we might immediately assume Joy is happiness. The dictionary definition would probably say great happiness or great delight. But we understand that actually there is something deeper about joy when we think of it in a spiritual context, there is something much much deeper when we look at it spiritually. So often we find ourselves quoting a little verse of scripture that comes from the old testament that says
From which we get this sense that joy is something that can empower us, that can give us the ability to move forward when things are tough. We can take great courage from that, great strength from that The joy of the lord is your strength. It suggests that there is far more to joy than perhaps just great happiness. The verse that that comes from in the old testament, in the book of Nehemiah, a little bit before that i thought was really interesting. It says:
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy some choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8.10 NIV
Don’t you just love that bit that comes before. I thought wow! That’s a great verse for Christmas especially after the year that we have had where many of us have experienced a sense of grief. But here we are, let’s take this to heart, let’s go and enjoy some choice food and sweet drinks. Let’s remember those that don’t have anything prepared and let’s enjoy this time of year. Joy, the joy of the Lord is your strength.
It’s all very well me saying that, where can we find joy? Where is it that we find joy? I know from my own experience that there has been in coming into that close relationship with my father God through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that I have come to experience and really understand this deep and intimate joy and it’s beyond anything i could have imagined, beyond anything that I could have expected in my life before I knew Jesus. It’s God himself who invites us into this close intimate relationship, He really longs for that with every single one of us, He wants that close friendship.
If you look at the verse in Jeremiah 33:3 God says:
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.Jeremiah 33.3 NIV
It’s an invitation here to come into a relationship with Him, to come into dialogue with Him, to ask Him questions: where is it that I can find joy? Where is it that I can come to know and understand these great mysteries? It’s in God himself. It is through the work of Jesus, what He did in dying on the cross that we can come to have that relationship with God. But more than that there is a third person in the relationship, not just God, not just Jesus, there is also the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is in the work of the Holy Spirit that we discover this real deep-seated joy, this spiritual joy that I was talking about. It is in relationship with the Holy Spirit, we need to allow Him to be in us, to work with us, to work in us and in doing so I believe we will find joy. Why do I think that? There’s a verse in Galatians that talks about something called the Fruit of the Spirit. The Fruit of the Holy is something that is produced through the work of the Holy Spirit and that can be in us.
Lets have a look at the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The ingredients are: water, glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, amino acids, fatty acids. I once saw this and it said “if you saw this, would you give this to your children to eat?” For most of us we would look at it and think Wow, that’s a lot of chemicals, it doesn’t look very good, all those ingredients, not too sure”. Let me tell you, that is the ingredients of a banana. All of those are what make up a banana. That’s the ingredients. And what fascinates me about the fruits of the Holy Spirit is that we think of it so often as being the different bits of the ingredients but actually I believe that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is something that is complete. In a sense, the bits that we look at almost think of as individual fruit is actually the ingredients. Let’s have a look at that verse properly now :
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
Isn’t that amazing, here we have it Love, Joy and Peace. So when we get the Holy Spirit in us then we can start to express this fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is what can come out of that. This is where we find joy, it is in the Holy Spirit that we find Joy.
How do we express that Joy?
I wonder how do we express it? To be perfectly honest I would say that our expression is individual as our personalities, we express it however we are uniquely made and according to our unique personalities, that is for us to explore how we express joy so I don’t really want to ask that question, how do we express joy? More so I would like to ask the question not how but what happens when.
What happens when we express joy?
Thinking about personalities and character and things like that did make me think about Jesus himself. There is a verse in John 1:4-5. These are verse we often come across particularly at this time of year. In verse 4 it says:
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.John 1:4 NIV
In Him was life, that was the expression of who He was, that life that came out of Him and is the light to all mankind. That was Jesus’ expression. I would encourage us to express joy as much as we can because we know that it is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, a part of that life is Joy. But what happens when we express that joy? If we are talking about light, this next verse really does illuminate that.
The light shines in the darkness has not overcome itJohn 1:5 NIV
This verse has become something that has been a real encouragement to me personally in recent weeks. It started on the occasion when our Jemimah was poorly. She wasn’t well and it was a very difficult time, it wasn’t at all easy. There were moments when I thought “what’s the point”, I don’t know if you ever have moments when things can get tough and you just think “what’s the point?” I did have a few moments like that where I felt that sense of darkness pushing in and pressing in on us. And then a friend contacted me and put the situation into a spiritual context for me. It led me to this verse, “The light shines in the darkness has not overcome it.” I was so encouraged by that image that actually darkness cannot overcome light. It reminded me of a story that I heard in primary school. I feel like probably everybody heard this story in primary school, I heard it several times in primary school. It is a folk tale but it is something that reminds us of the power of light:
There was a gentleman who had three sons and he decided rather than the usual tradition of giving his inheritance to the oldest son, he decided he would give the inheritance to the one who was perhaps the most intelligent, the cleverest, the wisest. He decided to test them and gave them each a penny. He told them to go to market and purchase something with that penny – obviously in the olden days when pennies were still worth something – that would fill his barn. The first son comes back from the market the next and his purchase is as many feathers as a penny would buy him. He tosses them into the barn in the hope that they are going to fill the barn but of course they don’t, there’s not enough to fill the barn. The second son sees the first son make the mistake and thinks that I can do better than that. He goes off to market and comes back with a bail of straw. For a penny! I wish I could still buy a bail of straw for a penny that would be good. I deal with straw every morning, straw does not go far. I’m forever trying to make straw go further than it actually does go because I’m trying to be as economically as possible in sorting out a horse’s bed. On this occasion the straw did not fill the barn. The youngest son had watched the two older sons and he had an idea. He went off to market the following week and he came back with a candle. He then took the candle into the barn, lit the candle and the light filled the barn. And of course he was the one who received the inheritance.
That’s just a simple story but light is so powerful, it can fill dark places. Lets just remember that verse again: The light shines in the darkness has not overcome it. The actual word in there ‘overcome’ can be translated in two different ways, it can be translated to overcome but it can also be translated as understood. “The light shines in the darkness has not understood it”. The darkness can’t comprehend the light, it doesn’t understand how the light works. I find that so encouraging at this time where perhaps there might be moments where we might feel that the darkness is pushing in or things might be worrying us or that there are pressures on us. Remember that the light, the light of Jesus, overcomes that. Is so much more powerful than it, that darkness does not even understand it. It is a really powerful image that we can see just what a difference light makes. I want to encourage you with that today because in the context of joy, if we can grasp hold of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, that walking closely with the Holy Spirit so that joy comes out of us, I believe that it is like the light of Jesus that light then illuminates out of us and can impact the world around us. I really want to encourage you that in the same way as Jesus’ light shines, let your light shine before others. Allow joy to become that expression through you this Christmastime because I believe that it will make a difference in other people’s lives. It will be like the light overcoming darkness. I’ll read that verse again:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 NIV
And we don’t do this for our own glory, we don’t seek to express joy for our own glory but to glorify our father in heaven. Let’s be so full of joy this Christmas that we make a great difference in the lives of those around us.
We find ourselves in this season of advent. I love this time of year, it’s really exciting and fun. I have youngish kids and they love it. There are some scary things too. The average westerner has 7000 calories on Christmas day, that’s quite something when you should only really have 2500. Do you know who the hardest person to buy presents for at Christmas is? It’s Dad! When I was growing up every year I would buy my Dad a roll of Sellotape, to this day I don’t know quite why.
You know I love Christmas, but I don’t really love the cards, they make nativity look cute. You’ve got fluorescent figures; you’ve got Mary dressed like some kind of blue nun. What an impractical outfit for giving birth. You’ve got grinning cows and the ox and the ass look so happy. The hay smells like Chanel no. 5. And the 3 wise men in the same place at the same time, what a miracle. You’ve got this whole scene where it’s like the animals are happy, the straw is perfect, the manger looks wonderful but it just wouldn’t have been like that. This is no Disney princess film where it’s all wonderful and finishes so beautifully. This would have been difficult, it would’ve been hard, it would’ve looked quite different. You see, because of our brokenness and the way that we’ve messed up, the King of the world Jesus comes from the highest heaven to lowest earth. He’s born as a baby. Do you ever think what does that actually look like? The God who threw the stars into space becomes a baby for you and me. You know when babies are first born they can’t get proper eye contact at first, they can’t move their arms properly at first, there are lots of things that they can’t do. The saviour of the world became a baby boy for you and me. Isn’t that remarkable.
Today I want to talk to you about the magi, you might know them more colloquially as the wise men. If you have a Bible would you turn it on or open it up to Matthew 2:1-12
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.Matthew 2:1-12 NIV
I love this passage, the wise men – more correctly the magi, it was originally the name of a Persian clan but later used widely for magicians and astrologers, a numerous class in most countries in Western Asia. I love it when Matthew Henry, the commentator, says “the stars that have been misused came to be put to the right use in leading people to Christ”. With the magi I have three things I want to talk to you about really quickly today that I think are important from this passage for us.
The first is this, focus. There was once a 100m sprinter called Leroy Burrell, he was faster than anyone else, he was ready to be world champion, he had broken the world record. He was performing in the world championships in the early 90’s. He’s on the start line and he’s looking around, he knows he’s the best. When it comes to the 100m sprint, you have to get out of the blocks quick, keep focused and keep going. Burrell bursts out of the blocks and he was leading coming up to the finish line and as he comes towards the finish line he panics and he wonders where everyone else is. So he looks sideways and as he looks sideways, three runners run past him and he finishes 4th. If he had kept looking, kept focused forwards, he would have won the race and become world champion. But because he lost his focus and looked sideways, three people beat him, he finished 4th and he never competed at that level again.
When it comes to the Magi they didn’t keep focused on what lay ahead of them. They didn’t keep focused on what was in front of them, they ceased to follow the star. Because when looking for a baby king, the natural place to go was a palace. For the magi they had the star in front of them. If they had focused on it they would have ended up in the right place but when looking for a king you end up in a palace. I wonder for some of us, how’s our focus? Are we keeping our focus on Jesus or are we looking elsewhere? In the middle of this Coronavirus pandemic that we’re all facing in different ways, where’s our focus? Let’s not pretend it’s not hard, this is such a hard season for us all. We’re all finding this difficult, we all want it to end but in the middle of it those of us that know Jesus have a chance to show what’s different when you face this pandemic with Jesus. Where’s our focus? Are we keeping our eyes in the right place? If you keep your eyes on the star, you make it to Jesus.
There is an issue on location. Why wouldn’t you go to a palace to look for a baby king? And the problem here is that God sees things differently to us. We see things down here, He sees things from up there. It’s a little bit like my favourite story in scripture, Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. When Phillip is ministering in Samaria and they’re seeing exorcisms and healings and there are loads of people coming to faith, everything is going really well. And then an angel of the Lord says “go, leave that and go to the middle of the desert”. It makes no sense, what a crazy thing to do. But Phillip’s obedient and he goes. He goes to the middle of the desert and he meets a eunuch. And this eunuch needs explaining from the scriptures. This isn’t just any eunuch, he serves Candace the Queen of Ethiopia, he serves her. And what happens is that Phillip leads this eunuch to Jesus. Then this eunuch takes the gospel to Africa for the first time. Africa now the most on fire continent for Jesus. So what happens is that God sees it up there, Phillip sees it down here. But Phillip trusts enough to go God’s way and ends up meeting a eunuch who takes the gospel to Africa.
Much the same in this passage, God sees things differently, our humanity takes us to a palace but Jesus wanted to meet the magi in the stable so God chose to lead them there. But when man’s wisdom took over from God’s guidance the whole thing got messed up. You know many of us are looking for God in the wrong place. Jerusalem is only 9 miles north of Bethlehem, I’ve been to both, they’re close together, you could run between the two. The wise men had a long intellectual history but they missed their goal by 9 miles. They had miscalculated by just 9 miles. I wonder for some of us, particularly in this season where we are finding it so difficult, that life is so hard, that we’re not always sure where to turn, are we finding God in the wrong place? Are we looking for God in the wrong place? Are we missing him because we’re looking in the wrong space? Are we depending on other stuff? Are we depending on science or the political leaders when actually we should be focusing on God at this time? Where is our focus? Are we in the wrong location?
What obstacles are getting in our way?
When they followed the star again they found their way to Jesus. The obstacle in their way was their common sense. Their common sense took them to the palace, but then in the end they followed the star again and that led them to Jesus. If we persevere even when it’s hard we can make it to Jesus. God’s with us in the middle of the storms we are facing.
I love an old story I was a few years ago of two Iranian pastors. You know Iran has the fastest growing church in the world, isn’t that amazing. There were two Iranian pastors that were effectively Bible smugglers. They would smuggle Bibles to different places in the night in the hope to not get caught. You get caught with one Bible you can lose your life. If you get caught smuggling them, you’re stuffed. These two pastors left at 4am to take 200 Bibles to a remote village. As they are driving along the road, the steering wheel of the car locks and they end up pulling over to the side of the road because the car won’t drive anymore. They pull over in the middle of nowhere and then suddenly they notice outside the passenger window that there’s a guy stood there. He whacks on the window, so one of the pastors winds the window down. The guy outside says “you’ve got Bibles inside”. The pastors are trying not to lie but they don’t want to lose their lives so they say “why would you think we’ve got Bibles?” The guy outside says “you’ve got Bibles in this car, you’ve got 200 Bibles in this car”. The pastors say “what would make you think that?”. The guy outside says “me and my friends have been praying every day for two years that the Lord would bring us 200 Bibles. The Lord told me that if I stood here out on the road here in the middle of nowhere that He would bring us 200 Bibles”. Isn’t that incredible. The pastors give him the 200 Bibles. The community there then have the opportunity to access the word of God. The ultimate obstacles of fear and secret police and other things are overcome because our God is more powerful than the other things that we face.
For some of us it is so easy to miss the star and miss the way to Jesus because our focus is in the wrong place, we are looking in the wrong location or the obstacles are too much for us. With the magi, they find their way to no ordinary king, they find their way to Jesus. This baby boy born in a manger grows into a man giving food to the hungry, health to the sick, life to the dead. He eventually dies upon a cross taking every wrong thing upon himself that you ever could do, ever might do, that you needn’t be punished for it. That you would be set apart from your brokenness. Life in all of its fullness now and life in all of its fullness for eternity. This Jesus gives us the opportunity for a personal relationship with the living God. That’s what Christmas is about.
They come to the baby with three gifts. They come with gold, frankincense and myrrh. We all get those Christmas cards with gold, Frankenstein and myrrh but actually it was frankincense. Why gold? Gold is a symbol of kingship. Christ is the king of kings. Here in the manger is the king of kings. Secondly frankincense, frankincense is a symbol of prayer and communication. The king has not left his people to get on with it. The king has come to communicate with his people. Myrrh is about death and burial. The king came in order to give his life for every one of us.
The invisible god becomes visible in Jesus. Sometimes we leave him as a baby. To understand the significance of the birth of Jesus, to understand the significance of Christmas, you have to move from the cradle to the cross. And it’s on that cross that Jesus gave his life so that we could live. You see the real gift of Christmas is Christ. As my friend says “if you take Christ out of Christmas you’re just left with M&S”. My challenge to you this Christmas is don’t miss the Christ in Christmas. The Sadducees and the Pharisees missed it, they needed only to walk 5 miles to get to Jesus.
You can be religious and not know the truth. The Bible means library, there are 322 old testament messianic prophecies – how, where, what, how he would die, even the number of coins for betraying him. Jesus fulfils all of these prophecies the messiah, the saviour of the world, his very name means saviour redeemer. Christmas is about the birth of the saviour who changes everything for every one of us.
King Herod missed it too. Herod was a king, but Christ was THE king. For some of us at Christmas we start chasing the things of the world, what’s that really about? In the coming years, if COVID has been a wave, what’s coming after is going to be a tidal wave. The coming years we’re going to struggle economically in this nation, but I tell you something, God is still good. Jesus still reigns and he still gave his life for you and me.
When I received this gift of Jesus, when I received this gift of Christmas, it changed my world. People started saying that you’ve been brainwashed, I needed brainwashing, I needed changing, I needed to know that something was greater than me, I needed to know that hope has a name, and it’s name is Jesus. On his promises and on what he has done for me, I will build my life and put my faith. The gift of Christmas is really Christ. We receive stuff that we really don’t need whilst God offers us the gift we can’t live without.
They call him Immanuel. It means God is with us. It’s not a prayer but a statement. So ultimate, so inclusive, God has got to us in this way. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. The greatest promise in the bible is that He is with us. Right now, with all that we are facing, with all that is going on in the middle of the pandemic, we can pin this advent season to the absolute truth that hope has a name and that name is Jesus. Hope has got to us by giving his life on that cross but before that by coming from the highest heaven to the lowest earth as a baby who was born at Christmas time. That the baby chose to be man changes everything.
My question to you is, this Christmas do you know Jesus? This Christmas do you know life in all its fullness? Maybe you have been a follower of Jesus for many years but are you focused on him or are you distracted by that around? The magi could so easily have got to Jesus by following the star, by keeping focused, by keeping going. Instead they took their focus off the star and ended up in a palace. Because you go to a palace when you’re looking for a king. Common sense kicks in. The reality is that their intellect was their obstacle, they let their common sense take over from actually following the ways of God. Which sometimes can feel like foolishness to the world, but they’re the right ways to go. This Christmas time are you focusing on Jesus? Are you following him? In the middle of this pandemic are you standing on the rock of ages or are you standing on shifting sands of culture changing around us. Are you clinging to hope, because hope is Jesus. There is an old hymn that says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”. This Christmas season, those words seem more relevant than ever. Let’s pray.
“I wonder if you are watching this and you have never chosen to surrender your life to Jesus. Today would be a great time to do this. There will be different ways to do it, but I would love to just pray for you now. If you have never chosen to follow Jesus, you have never known what it is to surrender your life to Jesus, perhaps this Christmas season is the time for you to do so. Maybe you have strayed, maybe you have known Jesus but have walked away, this is a great time to recommit, dust yourself down, say Lord I am going to go for it with you and I’m sorry that I have walked away from you. Whether it’s the first time or a recommitment, perhaps you would pray with me now. We say:
Lord Jesus I surrender my life to you.
Lord I ask you to come into my heart.
Please forgive me for my brokenness.
Set me free from all the stuff that I have done wrong.
Might I know you today as my best friend but also as my King.
Might you journey with me this Christmas season and for the years and months beyond.
Might I today know life in all of its fullness.
Might I know that forever too.
If you prayed that prayer, do be in touch with someone in the Church. But secondly, maybe for some of us who have just taken our eyes off of Jesus, we’ve just been messing around a bit in this season, we have been so overwhelmed by how hard this year has been, we have forgotten that our primary focus needs to be on the Lord just like those magi we have let other things kick in and distract us when our primary focus needs to be on the Lord. This Christmas time let’s just take a moment to remind the Lord he is our primary focus.
Lord, I pray for each of my friends.
I pray that they would turn their eyes to you.
I pray that they would focus on you this Christmas time.
Lord we’ll have nice food, good family time, great presents but our focus this Christmas time is on you.
I pray Lord, that unlike the wise men that we would not be taken of course by the distractions around us but we would stay focused on you, that we know you better, love you more and go deeper in our relationship with you.
Finally I pray for Festival Church, that it would grow, I pray that it would bring hope to its communities and I pray Lord Jesus that it would do all that it could to share your hope with all those around it. Lord, would their ministering words work some wonders making You known in an incredible way. As we step towards a new year, would 2021 be an amazing year for this wonderful family of churches, we pray. Amen
God bless you friends and go for it. Happy Christmas.
Hello everyone! My name is Kerry and I have the privilege of speaking to you this morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I am on staff at Festival Church as Operations Manager, and I am part of the Senior Leadership Team of Festival Church.
I am married to Joel, who has been on the team putting together Online Church these past few months. I like baking, reading and all things Disney. I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the Festival Church sites – Chester, Derby, Llandrindod, Prestatyn and Towyn get closer and work together over this past season!
Today is the first Sunday of Advent and we have 4 themes for 4 Sundays: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Our Carol Service on the 20th is all about HOPE, today, we’re looking at LOVE.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without love. In fact, Christmas wouldn’t even exist without God’s love! In John 3:16-17 we read:
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through himJohn 3:16-17 NIV
Christmas only happens because God gave his son, Jesus, so that the world could be saved. And doesn’t it feel that we live in a world that needs to be saved today?! I’m not just talking about Covid, or politics, but I’m talking about each and every one of us as individuals.
You see, every human being was created by God – to love and to be loved by Him. But along the way, the entire course of humanity ignored God and we went our own way – it’s what we call “sin”, and it separates us from God, and from the real meaning of life – to love God and to be loved by Him.
God SO loves you, more than you could ever imagine. That’s why he sent Jesus, to save us from that separation, so that we could know God again. Jesus died for our sins, in our place, so that our broken relationship with God could be restored. And he didn’t just stop there – he rose again so that death was conquered – so that every person who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and know God forever, even after our human bodies have passed away.
And that is what we celebrate at Christmas, the birth of Jesus, who came to this world to die, so that we could be saved. And Jesus only came because of God’s love.
As I was thinking about what to speak to you all about today, Joel asked me the question “what does love mean to you?”. I started thinking about what love means to me at this time of the year especially, and how I show love to others. I found that many of those ways also reflected God’s love for us, and so today I’d like to share 4 of those ways with you.
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. We prepare for the festive season, we buy gifts for those we love, and we make plans to help us show our love. I’ve already started preparing for Christmas are:
I got all my decorations out at the start of November – I didn’t but them up then, they only went up yesterday! – I wanted to see what I had and what I needed, we’ve moved house this year as well so it was a case of thinking about where everything we had was going to go, which was fun and I’m excited about that.
Writing lists of who to buy for, lists of what gifts I’ve already bought – I love buying gifts and thinking about what each person would really like to receive for Christmas!
I’ve start buying the Christmas food in ready – this week I bought our first can of Christmas Pringles to start the food collection
Around Christmasstime, we have to do some preparations and think ahead to help us do the things that show love to those around us.
In the same way, God has already made preparations for us, because he loves us!
We even read in Psalm 139 that God prepared for us before we were even born:
For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You
when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. Psalm 139: 13-16 NIV
God has a fantastic plan for each and every one of us, and his plan is the best plan – because he loves us!
We also read in this Psalm what our response to God is, and how we can prepare our hearts for him:
I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14 NIV
Praise prepares us for God. Let’s make a practice of praising God – for who he is, for what he has done and for what he has given us.
This past Thursday, Americans all over the world celebrated thanksgiving. Aside from the historical day that it represents and that they celebrate, I think it’s great that thanksgiving is always just before advent – that giving thanks is the start of the preparation for Christmas.
Today, let’s make sure we prepare:
Let’s prepare to show love to those around us
Let’s remember and thank God for how he loves us, and how he prepared a plan and a wonderful life for us
Let’s praise God, because praise prepares us for God.
The next thing I thought of when it comes to showing love at Christmas, is my home. I absolutely love making my home look Christmassy, and making it feel welcoming.
This, for me, means rearranging the furniture so that there’s a comfortable space for my guests to sit and a comfortable space for the Christmas tree, it means adding a wreath on my front door to welcome them before they even step into the house, getting some nice Christmas snacks in for them to nibble on while we chat, setting their name at a place setting for dinner with their name. All of this, for me, is about making a space to welcome guests into my home, so that my home can be a place they feel safe, where they have the freedom to just be themselves, a place where guests belong and feel loved.
So my next point is make space to welcome.
And again, this is something that God does for us – Psalm 18:19 says:
He brought me out to a spacious place;
He rescued me because He delighted in me.Psalm 18:19 HCSB
God has prepared a place for us, and he brings us out into that spacious place – what the Psalmist is talking about here is that God gives us freedom – freedom from the sin that holds us back and the sin that keeps us away from him.
Just like I want to make a space in my home for people to feel loved and accepted, and free to be who they are, God wants to do that for us, in our whole lives. He wants to love us, He wants for us to be free from our sin, and for us to know him, exactly as he made us to. Giving someone space gives them freedom.
As well as making space for the people we love in our lives, we also need to make space for God – we need to let Him in to every area of our lives so that he can give you space and freedom. If we don’t welcome God in, he can’t give us that freedom.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
Making space for Jesus and welcoming him into our lives is where the change really begins – it’s from Jesus than we learn to live freely, in that freedom-space he gives us, and to live lightly, not weighed down or tired out by the burdens of the world.
So, firstly we need to prepare but we also need to Make Space – make space to show love for others, makes space for Jesus in our lives, and to remember that the freedom and space we were made for comes from God.
Christmas is likely to look quite different for a lot of us this year, with the big question being “will I get to see my family?”
For me, a big part of Christmas is being with our families – that usually looks like Christmas Day with one of our parents and spending the couple of days after Christmas visiting the other families and family members.
At Christmas, we want to be with the people we love. And it’s no different for God – he wants to be with you, at Christmas and every other day of the year.
In Isaiah 7:14, we are told that one of the names of Jesus will be Immanuel, which means “God with us”. God does not want to be a distant concept or something we only think about at Christmas and Easter – he loves us! And just like we want to be together with those we love, he wants to be with us.
This is perfectly summed up in Acts 17, from the Message translation.
Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! Acts 17:26-27 MSG
And lastly, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without presents!
As Festival Church we have decided that we want to bless our neighbours this Christmas and we have put a plan in place so that every neighbour of our physical churh buildings will get a selection box and a hand written Christmas card that will invite them to our carol service on the 20th. I would recommend that you get involved in this as well, we’ve got loads of extra Christmas cards so that you can buy a gift and give a card to your neighbours.
I absolutely love giving gifts. If you’ve heard of the 5 Love Languages – one of my main love languages is gifts. That basically means that the way I show my love and the way that I feel loved, one of those ways is by giving and receiving gifts. I also feel loved when others give gifts to me. You see, Christmas presents are no fun if the person you give them to doesn’t accept them.
We show our love to others at Christmas by getting them gifts, and, again, God shows his love for us in the same way, but we can’t experience this unless we accept, or receive the gift that God offers.
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 HCSB
Grace and the love that God gives us is a gift from God, but needs to be received by faith.
God is offering us a wonderful gift – grace. Grace is that God wants to be with us, He loves us and Jesus died for us, even though we ignored him and were separated from him.
God is standing and extending that gift out to us. He’s prepared it, long ago, before you were born. He got the space ready for you – freedom is waiting. He wants to be with you, at Christmas and always, and today, he is just waiting for you to receive that gift, for you to reach out and accept it from Him. The verse we just read says that it “needs to be received by faith”.
It brings me back to the verse we read at the start:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
To receive that gift of love that God has for you is simple, you need to believe in Jesus, to reach out and accept that gift of love that he offered by dying on the cross to take away our sins, and to know God.
I would like to ask you now to do something that I know many of you have been trying so hard not to do over these past few months. I’d like you to think about someone you love, who you have not been able to see because of Covid.
It’s uncomfortable thing I know, it actually even hurts. It is such a wrench, deep in our hearts, to not know when we can see that person next, it might even bring us close to tears. How long has it been since you saw that person? 8 months? 9? It seems like forever doesn’t it?
Do you know, what you feel when you think of that person, how much you miss them, how much you long to be with them, how you’re counting the days, God feels for every single person on this earth. Except God hasn’t just been waiting 8 months – he has been waiting for eternity, since the beginning of time, before you were even born, to meet you.
He wants to know you. He wants to love you. A million times more than you long to see the people that you are missing, God longs to be with you!
And all we need to do is accept the gift he is offering – to accept his love.
So, if you are someone who already knows Jesus today, you’ve already accepted that gift, why not start the Christmas season in preparation – by praising him for everything he has done. Praise him for the plan he has for your life, praise him for the freedom he has brought you into, praise him for being close to you always, and praise him for the amazing gift of love that he has given to you.
And if you’re someone today who hasn’t said yes to Jesus yet, if you’ve not accepted that gift that he is offering to you, I would encourage you – receive that gift today. Know that he already knows you, he knew you and who you were going to be before you were even conceived, and he wants you to know him. He has a spacious place – a life of freedom waiting for you. He is longing to lavish his love on you more than you could ever imagine – he’s done with the separation, he wants you to know him, and to accept the gift of love that he is offering.
So if that is you today, I would love to help you pray a prayer for you to let Jesus know that you want to accept everything he is offering you. I’m going to pray, and I’d love it if you would repeat it after me:
Dear Lord Jesus
I know that I am a sinner,
That I have lived my life away from you.
Today, I ask for your forgiveness.
I believe that you died for my sins and rose from the dead.
I turn from my sins
And invite you into my heart and life
I accept the gift of love that you have offered me.
I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Saviour.
Thank you Jesus
If you prayed that prayer today, we would absolutely love to hear from you.
Fill in this form to let us know that you’ve committed your life to Jesus, and so that we can get in touch with you, to let you know what your next steps in this amazing life of following Jesus can be. We also have a gift that we’d love to send you to help you on your journey, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a gift would it?
God loves you! He prepared for you long ago, he makes a space of freedom for you. He wants to be with you, and he wants you to receive his gift of love today.
Festival Church (England and Wales). Registered charity number 1188521.