(I will deliver this message to the residents at the 55+ community this Sunday where I minister each week).
Christmas Day will be different this year for many people around the country. Perhaps more to the point, Christmas Day will be different this year for many of us here at Ashwood Meadows. Some of you are living through what I am about to say. Others of you know someone who is living through what I am about to say. Please share this message with them. I’ve struggled with messages like this one. How can I say what I believe God wants me to say, and to say it in such a way as to bring hope and comfort to those who, during this very special season, feel hopeless and comfortless?
December 25 is going to be a time of mourning and not joy for many of us here at Ashwood Meadows. It will be a day of longing for the past and not looking with hope toward the future. It will be a time of stress and not the peace possibly only through the Prince of Peace. Circumstances forced some of you to leave your homes and move in with a group of strangers. And as you prepared to leave your homes, memories of the last 20-30-50 years flooded your mind. Memories that became part of the warp and woof of chests of drawers and couches and dining room tables and lamps and curtains and pictures on the walls and linens and bath towels – even the smell of the home . . . . You had to leave all those memories behind because you could only take a few of those things that would fit into your little apartment.
Many of us who woke up this morning on December 25 were assaulted by the memory of the one we lost this year. And then, of course, 2022 brought to some of us health issues that rocked us and still rock us, to our core. Those health issues might have even shattered our confidence in a God who knows who we are, and much less cares.
Sometimes – maybe even most of the time – there are no answers to our questions of, “Why?” We read the Scriptures for help, and none comes. We cry toward our Daddy in heaven, and He seems silent. Like Job, we sit in ashes and throw dust on our heads and wonder why the world goes on spinning and the birds go on singing.
Yes, Christmas is different this year for many of us in this room and in this building.
But – and this is the crux of my message this afternoon -- in all the difference, one thing remains the same. One thing, despite our upheavals, our melting down, our confusions, our anger, our losses – one thing remains as unchangeable as – well, as God’s truth. It is that ONE THING that God designed to be the foundation, the solid rock, of life itself.
How can I illustrate what I am about to say? Let me try to do it this way:
One plus one equals two. We all take that mathematical formula for granted, we never think about it even as we employ it to balance our check book, or to calculate in our heads how much of a tip to leave our server in the restaurant.
But without that foundational mathematical truth, construction workers could not have built this building. Electricians could not have wired each apartment. We could never have flown to the moon and back if we were uncertain that one and one always, and in all circumstances, equals two.
There is another fundamental truth that we hear – and even quote – so often that we take it for granted. It is a spiritual truth upon which all other truths rest. It is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have ever lasting life.” Now let me paraphrase that truth, incorporating other truths written for us in the New Testament: “God so loved the world that He gave us His Son to die in our place, to pay for our sins, to purchase us with His own blood our souls for eternal life.
Here it is on a more personal level: God so loved you. And me. And our family members. And those whose shadow never falls across the threshold of a church door.
John 3:16 is the basis of Christmas – even if it doesn’t feel like Christmas. The unshakeable truth that “God so loved the world that He gave” – like one plus one equals two, forms the foundation of so much in life.
Indeed – and may the Holy Spirit burn this truth into our spirits: John 3:16 IS the foundation of our hope in the future, and it is the reason for our confidence that our past – especially our past sins – that our pasts have all been forgiven and forgotten by our Father who art in heaven.
And one more thing; John 3:16 is the reason for our confidence that at all things in our past work together for God to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
That first Christmas – God told us through the prophet Isaiah 700 years before it happened – that first Christmas would be a time when those who walk in darkness would see a great light; It would be a time when those who live in a dark land would see light shining on them. (Isaiah 9:2-3)
That is the message of that first Christmas – and every subsequent Christmas since Mary and Joseph laid their newborn baby in that manger.
That is the message of Christmas this afternoon. Light breaking into the darkness and hope shattering despair. It is in remembering that message, it is in holding onto that essential and eternal truth of John 3:16 and the real message of Christmas that we will find the remedy – the certain antidote – for the sorrow and sense of loss so many of us face this Christmas.
God wasn’t lying when He told us through the prophet Jeremiah: “I know the plans that I have for you. Plans for your good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
And that promise – as does EVERY OTHER PROMISE OF GOD – that promise of Jeremiah rests squarely on that Baby lying in a manger, which is the all-embracing illustration of John 3:16.
Christmas is God’s immutable, unalterable PROMISE of hope. It is, for all who long to know Jesus, for all who long to love Jesus, Christmas brings an explosion of light and life and courage to face tomorrow.
Christmas is not about the presents under the tree. Christmas is about the PRESENCE of Immanuel, of God-With-Us in a manger made from a tree, and of Christ who died on a cross made from a tree.
Christmas is not about the shopping and the parties and the glitter. It is not even about family, for if that is all Christmas is about, then we are ever in danger of losing the stability, the constancy of God’s ‘One Plus One.”
Christmas must be about Jesus. All else must, must, must – all else must pale to insignificance, because time comes for all of us – not just once in life, but again and again, when health issues supplant all the buying and the parties and the glitter; the time comes again and again when family is gone, and memories linger and prick at us until our hearts bleed.
Listen! When life happens, and if Christmas had not been ALL ABOUT Jesus, then it will be hard – very hard for Christmas to suddenly BE about Jesus, and about life and light and hope and a promise of the future.
John 3:16 also is the root for God’s promise in Isaiah 7:14 in which God tells us the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Immanuel, which means, God with us. And it is why Isaiah continued in chapter nine of his prophecy: . 6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
I hope you caught that essential promise in Isaiah’s prophecy about the Name of the One born in that manger. That promised blazes like a roaring flame through darkness and scatters shadows like a tuft of soil in a tornado.
That first Christmas – and every Christmas thereafter – brings us the Child whose name would be called – whose very essence and character would be: “Wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Immanuel – God-with-Us would be named ‘Wonderful’: the word in Hebrew means one who is miraculous, who is marvelous.
Do you need Someone miraculous, someone marvelous in your life? Someone who is utterly trustworthy? Christmas is the reminder that God sent His son to deliver us from the vise-like grip of the lie that we are on our own, that we are without Someone miraculous and wonderful to hold our hand.
Immanuel, God-with-Us is our Counsellor. Do you need guidance today? And tomorrow? How often do you find you need direction? How often do you wish for someone to come alongside and say, “This is the way, walk in it”?
Then come to Jesus. His first advent 2000 years ago was designed by God to clear away the confusions and doubts – if only we come to Him, if only we WALK with Him.
Immanuel, God-with-Us is our Mighty God, a powerful warrior-champion Do you need a someone like that in your corner? Then turn to God who came to us in that manger and grew into a man. Turn to the omnipotent ruler of the universe who declared of Himself (Isaiah 44:7-8) ‘Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me . . . . 8 ‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’”
Christmas is the reminder that God sent His Son to be the warrior-champion to always be in our corner, to fight for us those battles with darkness and fear, and confusion and loneliness.
Immanuel, God-with-Us is our Everlasting Father. Remember what you have learned about that term, Father, when applied to our God. Do you need a loving, compassionate, merciful DAD to embrace you, to pull you toward Himself when you are frightened or lonely or sad or yes, even when you are happy or overjoyed and you feel like dancing?
Our Father who art in heaven is not a temporary father. He is not a foster father. He is not a ‘come and go’ father. He is an everlasting DADDY. Christmas is the ineffable and decisive declaration that our everlasting Father is devoted to all who come to Him by faith through the blood of His Son – the same Son whom Mary wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the wooden feeding trough on Christmas day.
Immanuel, God-with-Us is our Prince of Peace:
What is troubling you? What is causing sleepless nights and frustrated days? Come to Jesus, whose first advent 2000 years ago God designed to bring us supernatural peace of heart, quietness, tranquility of spirit and soul.
Oh, if only I – and probably many of you, too – if only we will take Him at His word, who said to us again and again:
“ . . [D]o not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Some of you know the hymn, “I know Who Holds Tomorrow.” It was written in the 1950s by Ira Stanphill. But most of us do not know the story behind the song. Stanphill's wife grew tired of his ministry during its height, when the Lord was fruitfully using the man for the Kingdom of God. She left him to pursue a career of her own in entertainment. Sadly, she was killed in a car crash a short time later. Stanphil wrote these lyrics during that very difficult time in his life. Here is part of the lyrics:
I don't worry o'er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I'll walk beside Him
For He knows what lies ahead
Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand
As I said at the beginning of my message, we need to remind ourselves what Christmas is all about. Not a tree or presents or parties or colorful lights. Christmas is not even about family, as Ira Stanphil so sadly learned.
Christmas is Jesus. Christmas is Immanuel -- God with Us. Christmas is God come from His throne to lie in an animal feeding trough on a cold December day so that you and I could have life, even an abundant life. Even when the circumstances of life have turned our lives inside out.