Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Yesterday, while writing this message, I did a silly experiment.
I used the voice recognition app on my smart phone, and asked where is Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Burbank, IL. It told me where! No surprise. Then I asked: “OK google, Am I a good preacher?” I was not expecting an answer… but it did give an answer, but it was not a specific answer. It said:
A good preacher must be:
- PREACH TO THE MONDAYS NOT TO THE SUNDAYS
- PREACH TO THE BACK ROW
Since most Lutherans sit in the back row, we may not be able to do much about that, but may be shout louder or be more engaging. In some mosques, it may be advisable to sit in the back rows, as those who sit in the front row maybe covered with saliva as the preacher becomes loud and agitated.
So, I thought maybe the second point is what we desperately need as a church…preach to the Mondays not the Sundays. It is easy to preach to the choir, but maybe boring… and to many people, the notion that God became a baby in the womb of a virgin is unfathomable; beyond our human comprehension.
Many people may believe that a fish with air lobes crawled out of water millions of years ago, and evolved into a man, but cannot believe that God who created the universe from nothing could become a baby in the womb of a virgin. No wonder that faith is a mystery.
St. Paul expresses this in 1 Timothy 3: 16: “Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit.”
Hebrews 1 may add to this… and by the way, our culture has lost touch with the Bible … many are biblically illiterate to the extent that words like Hebrews become gibberish for some people… I remember a guy who asked me in Michigan when he heard the word He-brews: What does the Bible or God have to do with brewing coffee??
Back to Hebrews, it said in Hebrews 1: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
Billy Graham tells the story of a woman who prayed for her husband who was in the U.S. military and went to Europe in WWII. As you know, there was no Facebook or smart phones then to communicate…so every night, she would bring her young son to the portrait of her husband at the fireplace, and pray for him with tears in her eyes. One night, her young son innocently asked: “Mom! Won’t it be awesome if dad would step out of that portrait and gave me a hug?”
God did that in the incarnation, when the Word of God became a baby in order to wipe our tears, and give us joy. The Father sent Jesus to change things and make us a new creation.
A few years ago, we baptized an Iranian woman who was often depressed…she was divorced twice, and her two Iranian children, now young men, are spread between Europe and Turkey… looking for asylum and a safe haven.
When she asked to be baptized, after I saw the joy in her eyes…I asked her: What is the most important thing you experienced in Christ… and I was surprised to hear her answer: “I was afraid of death before I believed in Christ, and I used to worry a lot about it… because in Islam we are warned about torture in the grave and later hell…now I know that I am going to heaven to live with Jesus…I know that heaven is a place full of joy.”
People could see the joy in her… as she smiles to everybody and cracks jokes.
Yes, Christmas is about God changing us. It is about being born again. The Gospel is about hope and change. Yesterday is gone, and we have a new life in Jesus. God had planned that for thousands of years and it was all fulfilled in the fullness of time…on a night like tonight.
Jesus foresaw the fruits of his sacrifice and went willingly to the cross… Jesus foresaw the joy you will have in Him and He willingly gave his life for us, to free us from the bondage of sin and death.
I was looking for a Bible verse that expresses this and found the perfect one:
Hebrews 12:2 New International Version (NIV)
(…) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Yes, Jesus foresaw the joy… He foresaw the joy His disciples would have when he would rise from the dead and stay with them for 40 days… He foresaw with joy His disciples going out of Jerusalem to the end of the earth. Jesus foresaw the joy we would have when we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. ‘
Jesus foresaw the joy when He will receive you in His arms in Heaven, in His Kingdom, where He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and willingly went to the Cross, paid for our sins with His life.
Jesus, in His love for us, seeks us the lost, like we seek a lost child… I remember when my son was four and drifted away from the hand of his mom at Walmart…for a minute we panicked and thought that we may not see him again… but how much joy we had when we found him at one of the registers.
Think about: What do we do if we lose a cat or a dog? We post a picture of the lost pet on every post and every tree in the neighborhood and pay a reward for those who find it. Jesus paid for us, the lost in the Kingdom of Darkness, with His life. On a night like tonight, the King of kings gave up His glory, became a baby in a manger, and paid for our ransom with His blood on the Cross.
Christmas is about meeting God who came down looking for us.
My prayer tonight is that you be filled with the contagious spirit of Christmas, so that you may touch the lives of others with joy, and become like stars that shine and lead people to righteousness of Christ… I pray that they may see the Christmas spirit in you and praise your father in heaven.
Rev. Hesham Shehab