Christmas Eve & Christmas
Advent Conspiracy – Love All
Sycamore Creek Church
Merry Christmas, Friends!
ACT I – Worship Fully
Hear a classic Christmas story from the gospel, the good news, according to Luke.
Luke 2:1-7 NLT
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.
This Christmas season we’ve been inviting you to join a conspiracy, an Advent Conspiracy. “Advent” literally means “coming”, preparing for the coming of Jesus, and “conspiracy” literally means “to breathe with.” So we’ve been inviting you to breathe with four characters from the Christmas story: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi.
Mary (Luke 1:46-55)
Mary is a wonderful character, isn’t she? She’s essentially an unwed teenage mother with the courage and faith of someone way beyond her years. An angel comes to her and tells her that she’s going to have a baby. She asks how this can be since she is a virgin. She is told that God will overshadow her and that she will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. After hearing this crazy news, she says, “Whatever God wants. I’m his servant.” Then she sings a song of praise about it: “Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46-47 NLT). Mary teaches us this Christmas that Christmas begins and ends with worship.
Joseph (Matthew 1:18-24)
I love Joseph. He makes the whole story believable to me. He finds out his fiancée is pregnant, and his first reaction is to end the relationship quietly. He’s a good man. He thinks Mary must be in a world of hurt, and he doesn’t want to add to that. He’s focused on her well being even though he thinks she has hurt him! But then “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit’” (Matthew 1:20 NLT). So Joseph goes ahead with the marriage despite what his friends and family must be saying: “She said what about how she got pregnant? What will people think? You’ll be ruined.” Joseph teaches us that Christmas is about obeying without regard to cost.
Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
Joseph and Mary aren’t the only ones who receive a visit from an angel. The shepherds do too. The shepherds are the fringe element of society. They hang out in the wilderness taking care of their sheep, protecting them from wolves, bears, and thieves. They probably don’t shower very often and probably smell like it. But angels come and proclaim the good news about Jesus to the shepherds. Luke tells us, “When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (Luke 2:15 NLT). Have you ever wondered who was watching the sheep when the shepherds left? What about all the wolves, bears, and thieves? To go and worship Jesus, they were putting their livelihood on the line. The shepherds teach us that Christmas is about leaving our busyness to worship Christ.
Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)
If the shepherds are on the fringes of society, then the Magi are at the center. They’re the wealthy and well educated. They’ve seen a star that tells them that a new king is born. So they go to where you’d expect a new king to be born: King Herod’s court. But what they don’t know about King Herod is that he’s a pretty nasty dude. He’s killed some of his own family to secure his place of power. When they show up at King Herod’s court, he doesn’t know anything about this new king being born, so he tells the magi to go and find this king and come back and tell Herod so that he too can go and worship. Yeah right. Go and kill him is more like it. Matthew tells us, “But when it was time to leave, they went home another way, because God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod” (Matthew 2:12 NLT). The Magi teach us that Christmas is about confronting directly or indirectly anything that gets in our way of worshiping Jesus.
Join the Advent Conspiracy by worshiping fully this Christmas!
ACT II – Spend Less
Matthew 2:13-18 NLT
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up and flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to try to kill the child.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah:
“A cry of anguish is heard in Ramah —
weeping and mourning unrestrained.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted — for they are dead.”
Christmas in our culture ends up being two competing worship events. There’s a cultural Christmas that all of us have been participating in over the last month. Shopping, buying, eating, and partying. Let’s face it, this is a worship event. It is an encounter with a god of stuff that demands that we respond with everything we’ve got – our time, our talents, and especially our treasure. It is a love story, a love story with the god of stuff. And ultimately it is a story of the bondage to a lot of expectations that we’d probably rather not be in bondage to.
Then there’s the worship event that worships the God who became a baby. This too is a love story, but it’s a very different love story. It’s a story of freedom, freedom from the bondage we have to everything including stuff. Freedom to worship and love God and others fully.
In the passage I just read we saw that Herod was not willing to see Jesus’ birth as a love story. He could only see it as a story that threatened his own story of power. Well, actually Herod was right. Jesus’ story of love does threaten Herod’s story of power. Here’s the catch, in just the same way, it threatens our culture’s love story of stuff. And that means it threatens our worship event of the god of stuff.
We need God—the God who is Emmanuel, God with us—to come again and break us from this bondage that we are in to the god of stuff.
Join the Advent Conspiracy by spending less at Christmas!
ACT III – Give More Presence
John 1:1-14 NLT
In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. He was in the beginning with God. He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make. Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
God sent John the Baptist to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world.
But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan — this rebirth comes from God.
So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us.
John tells the Christmas story in a much more poetic fashion. He refers to Jesus as the Word, the Word or reason or thoughts of God come to dwell with us. This is what Christians call the “incarnation.” “In” means “in” and “carn” means “flesh.” So the incarnation means God coming in the flesh, and that means God giving of God’s very own self relationally.
We read at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God” (John 1:1 NLT). Jesus, the Word, is both with God—distinct from God—and is God—unified with God. This is what Christians call the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one God in three persons who are in an eternal community of loving relationship. The incarnation is about Jesus coming to invite us to join in the dance of loving relationship with God. He does this in three ways.
First, God gave God’s very own presence. John tells us, “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us” (John 1:14 NLT). Jesus wasn’t content to stay in heaven and send us tweets, but to come and dwell among us. God became more tangible, approachable, and understandable. God doesn’t give presents so much as God gives presence.
Second, in Jesus, God gave personally. John tells us that, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12-13 NLT). This is family language. The Son of God became a human so that humans might be come sons and daughters of God. This is the offer of a personal relationship with a heavenly family characterized first and foremost by love.
Third, in Jesus, God gave a costly gift. We read, “But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted” (John 1:10-11 NLT). A gift always takes the chance of being rejected. A gift can only be received. And because we’ve read the rest of the story, we know that lurking in the background of the manger is always a cross. This baby was born to eventually die. Jesus gave a gift that cost him the luxury of heaven for the suffering of the cross. In Jesus God became friends with us so that we might become friends with God
Join the Advent Conspiracy by giving less presents and more of your presence.
ACT IV – Love All
2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT
You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus Christ was. Though he was very rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.
What were the riches that Jesus had? Certainly the richness of heaven. What was the poverty he took on? Was it the poverty of taking on flesh with all its discomforts, pains, and sufferings? And by this heavenly switch, Jesus extends to us the riches of heaven.
In this giving of presence, Jesus’ friendship with us models for us friendship with the poor. If we follow Jesus’ way we will share our wealth (Time, Talents, Treasure) with others, especially the poor. Now in one sense all of us are poor. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). We all have spiritual needs that only Jesus can meet. We can see our own poverty at this time of the year when we try to worship the god of stuff to meet those needs rather than the creator of the universe, the God of love. We need to be saved from our own poor, blind, and imprisoned Christmas, the love story of stuff.
But in another sense, God has a special love for those who are literally poor. Jesus was born to a poor family. The first to hear the proclamation were the poor shepherds. The good news is for all people, even us, but especially for the literally poor. God is still moving into the neighborhood, and the poor in our world will or will not experience this God through how we choose to celebrate Christmas. And so this Christmas we’re inviting you to exchange consumption for compassion. Spend half as less and give the other half away to meet real basic needs in our world.
We do that several ways here at Sycamore Creek. Many of our small groups have made a commitment to serve the poor in some way in our community. Actually what they’re really trying to do first is just build relationships, to become friends with the poor just as Jesus became friends with us. We also have a team of people that heads to Nicaragua twice a year to do medical clinics for people who can’t afford to see a doctor. Our next trip is in February, and I’m going on that trip. You can still join us. We offer $500 scholarships for anyone who needs the help to afford it.
Last, this Christmas Eve we’re taking an offering that will be entirely given away. Half of it will go to meet local hunger needs by buying food for the Church of Greater Lansing’s food drop in February. About 20 churches deliver over 2000 boxes of food to people right here in Lansing. It takes money and also time and energy to pull this off. Half our Christmas Eve offering will go to meet the money needs, but you can also sign up to help both before the event and on the day of the event. The other half of the offering will go to meet global needs: medicine for our medical mission trips to Nicaragua and clean water projects in Sierra Leone. Spend less this Christmas so you can give generously. Exchange consumption for compassion.
Join the Advent Conspiracy by loving all, especially the poor and outcast of our society.
This Christmas, join the Advent Conspiracy. Breathe with God.
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