Right now. God is calling us to change our focus from a hectic season full of stress, chaos, and preparation for gatherings and get-togethers, to center our minds on the HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE that come with the Christ Child. Jesus didn’t have an easy entry into the world, as there were stresses about when and where the birth would occur and having to take care of obligations, but God cared for them.
The Angels prepared others for the coming Christ and invited the world to receive the gift God had given. We hear the story in Luke’s Gospel about the circumstances that led to Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem and how Jesus was born in a less-than-ideal situation. Still, because of that, the shepherds came to celebrate the coming of the King, and the Kingdom of Heaven arrived here on Earth.
Luke 2:1-20 (ESV)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
As we wrap up the Advent season, we look back at the last four weeks and our successes and failures in carrying out the Advent mission. Even as we worship tonight, things are probably swirling around our minds as we think about the last-minute preparations that need to be made for a “successful” Christmas. However, tonight as we look at the candles here, we are reminded that Jesus’ birth is evidence of a successful Christmas.
Even if you haven’t stopped and reflected this season, you can now use this moment to listen to the Holy Spirit. You are being told to stop worrying. At this moment, allow God to center your heart and mind on the purpose of Advent. Prepare our hearts and minds for Christ to enter our world.
Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
When Jesus comes into the world, we are gifted salvation because Jesus brings greater gifts than we could imagine. However, we keep thinking and working toward finding the perfect gifts to get everyone when we only need to look around the wreath to proclaim the greatest gifts.
We await the coming of the King, our Hope brings our focus to God’s promises for us and alters our vision from the past and present toward a focus on future glory. All our actions right now reflect a vision focused on what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us heading into the future. Hope is something we have and something that we share with the world. Instead of crossing our fingers, we look at how the story unfolded in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and throughout the Roman Empire. Then we reflect on how that mission continues into each of us right where we live, work, and play.
Hope guides us to Christ, for there is no hope if not for Christ carrying out God’s mission here on Earth and in each of us. Humanity shows us that we give ourselves over to many worldly passions, and sin pulls us away from God into lawlessness and chaos. We tried to save ourselves, but Jesus reminds us that only through the power of our Savior were we able to be saved.
The world at the time of Christ’s Birth was a world in a chaotic state. By the world’s standards, there was great peace under the rule of Rome. However, there was turmoil within the different groups in the world, as people were disenfranchised, rulers took advantage of the people, and there was a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. What the world called peace resembled chaos and turmoil.
An ordering and counting would regulate and help facilitate this peace even further. We hear of a census being taken, and Joseph and Mary, in an attempt to comply with this “ordering,” find themselves in a situation where Mary is giving birth in a place where they are not home but are in a situation where they are without peace and no place in the inn.
However, God chose to bring His Son into our world in this chaotic situation. The chaos continues today, but God sends out His church to come into the world and bring God’s peace and order.
The birth of a child naturally brings joy, but the circumstances around Mary’s pregnancy brought uncertainty that would have squashed the joy of some. Still, the joy that comes from the Lord cannot be squelched by circumstance or situation, but rather the joy that comes from the Lord strikes out against deep sorrow and shines light into the dark recesses of our souls.
Joy is not simply happiness but unbridled light that fills us at our core. It reminds us that we don’t exist simply to experience pleasure but that the Glory of God gives us a gift that we cannot simply look at and discard. The emotional state the shepherds felt when they encountered Jesus was more than a temporary euphoria but a joy they knew in their bones.
Through Joy, we are given a gift that lifts the people in our world. We enable people to look beyond their current circumstances and into a future defined by hope, peace, and love.
Through God’s love, humanity is embraced, and sin is forgiven. Love covers up and demolishes sin at its core. Where love exists, divisions fail, and love shows us how to draw closer to God. We are taught how to flee from the immorality that plagues the world, and embrace HOPE, PEACE, and JOY through LOVE. Love is a gift from the Almighty God.
The greatest of the gifts is love. Love defines God’s action that sent His Son to us, bringing salvation from sin. This gift transcended what we commonly think about love. There is more than simple emotion or feeling; love comes from the core of existence and creation. God created Hope, Peace, and Joy to connect with His creation, but sin broke that bond and relationship. Out of Love, God sought the ultimate sacrifice to make things right again with humanity.
At the Core of All the Gifts
At the core of all these gifts is the gift of Jesus Christ. Christmas celebrates the free and perfect gift through the Christ Child. The gifts of Advent call to us to stop and reflect on the presence of Christ and that Christ is also a present to each of us that gives HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. Once we receive these gifts, we are then charged to go out and share them with our neighbors.
It doesn’t require some grand showcase; it can simply be the telling of the story as found in Luke’s Gospel, the same one Linus told us in Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special. That is what Christmas is all about, after all.