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Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Father and a Son


Does it feel like Christmas?

I was talking with several people this past week about this and a few of them mentioned that it doesn’t feel like Christmas to them.

They are not where they would like to be or are usually at Christmas time.

The family is all grown up and live far away some as far away as heaven.

Here (Chicagoland), there’s no white Christmas this year.

Some were so busy that Christmas just seemed to pass them by or got lost in all the busyness.

So, does it feel like Christmas to you?

The question behind that question is what is Christmas supposed to feel like?

I’ve come to the realization that all my feelings of what Christmas is supposed to feel like are mostly transitory. The presents, the white Christmas, the wonder and amazement in a small child’s eyes – these are all momentary, for me any way, of what Christmas is supposed to feel like.

You see, there were some years there are no presents, no white Christmas, and, of course, children do grow up. These feelings are fleeting and ephemeral. In other words, they don’t last.
That is why I chose to base this Christmas message on a somewhat unusual Scripture passage – Hebrews chapter 1.

Even before Jesus Christ was born, there was a Christmas Anticipation. It wasn’t based on a snowfall or anything fleeting like that.

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.

God had been speaking to “our fathers” for a long time about a coming savior.

The savior would be an offspring of Eve Genesis 3:15

The savior would be a descendent of Abraham Genesis 12:3 and 18:18

The savior would come from the Israelite tribe of Judah Genesis 49:10

The savior would be a prophet like Moses Deuteronomy 18:15-19

The savior would be the Son of God Psalm 2:7

The savior would be born of a virgin Isaiah 7:14

The savior would be born in Bethlehem Micah 5:2

The savior would save his people from their sins Isaiah 53

These were all promises made to our fathers – our fore-fathers, actually. And it was these promises that formed their anticipation of Christmas.

These promises, these prophecies, were handed down from father to child through thousands of years and hundreds of generations.

These promises were most important when so many fathers and children were in exile from their homeland. That anticipation takes the form of a beloved Christmas carol for us today.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Anticipation for something that never happens is a cruel punishment. Our God is not cruel. He loves us with an everlasting love. One of the most awesome proofs of that love is that Christmas moved from anticipation to actuality.

1Long 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. 

Then, God spoke to our fathers. Now, God speaks to us by His Son. Jesus Christ speaks to us through words and action. Jesus speaks to us out of His humanity. Jesus was born.

On Christmas.

He became a man. He was the Son of God. And through His Son, God the Father speaks to us.
Christmas anticipation is culminated in Christmas actuality. But there are so many who are skeptical, at best, of any kind of Christmas authenticity.

Christmas is authentic as a father’s love. Ah, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? So many people today are missing their father’s love. Some call it a “father wound.” Some just call it reality today – with 17.8 million children not having a father at home. It’s not hard to look at the “Father’s Love at Christmas” with cynicism.

I can appreciate that. But there is a Father’s love that can be trusted, can be counted on, and that knows no bounds. In fact, it was the Son’s mission to convey that Father’s love to us.

Jesus was born on Christmas. And though many see today as the end of a long season of preparations, presents, and provisions, today is really just the beginning! It was the beginning of Jesus’ mission to bring us the message of God the Father’s love and it was the beginning of Jesus’ mission to bring us back to God the Father.

Today we mark the birth of Jesus Christ – who was born to be our substitute. Our sin, inherited from Adam and Eve and the sin we’ve committed during our lives, was paid for by Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life that we could not live. Jesus Christ then died on the cross to forgive our sin. He rose from the dead to give us new life (now and when we, too, will rise from the dead), and then Jesus’ mission was completed when He ascended into heaven with the promise that He will return one day to bring us to heaven, too.

Mission complete. Or very nearly so.

Until Jesus comes back, there’s something we have to do, now that we are saved from our sins. Let me, for a moment, speak directly to you fathers today.

Dads, this day can be a new day for you. You have what may be an historic opportunity. You could change history today. Think of it as a Christmas Act…

from a father to a child.

Dads, take the opportunity of having your children around you this day to first, pray for them. And second, tell them you love them and that God loves them through Jesus Christ.

I know some of you will feel uncomfortable because you feel you don’t know how to do that. I know how you feel. That’s why I lead a men’s Bible study each week; to learn more about God’s love for us, how to be men after his own heart, and how to share that with our kids. You can join us – we meet again Thursday, January 5 or Saturday, January 7.

But let me tell you a story about how a dad did this and made a huge impact on America.

“To my knowledge, no biographies have been written about the life of George McCluskey. But he was a man who decided to make a shrewd investment. As he married and started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer for his children. You see, he wanted his kids to follow Christ and to someday establish their own homes where Christ was honored. After a time, he decided to expand his prayers to include not only his children, but their children, and the children after them. Every day between 11 a.m. and noon, he would pray for the next three generations.

“As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into full-time ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls married a minister and the boy became a pastor. The first two children born to this generation were both boys. Upon graduation from high school, the two cousins chose the same college and became roommates. During their sophomore year, one of the boys decided to go into the ministry as well. The other didn’t. He knew the family history and undoubtedly felt some pressure to continue the family legacy by going into the ministry himself, but he chose not to. In a manner of speaking, this young man became the black sheep of the family. He was the first one in four generations not to go into full-time Christian ministry.

“He decided to pursue his interest in psychology and, over the years, met with success. After earning his doctorate, he wrote a book for parents that became a best-seller. He then wrote another and another, all best-sellers. Eventually he started a radio program that is now heard on more than a thousand stations each day. The black sheep’s name? James Dobson, without a doubt the most influential and significant leader of the pro-family movement in America. His ministry is the direct result of the prayers of a man who lived four generations ago.” (Steve Farrar, Point Man, pages 154-55)

This day – Christmas Day – is not just a birthday of a baby born 2000 years ago. It marks an event that changed the history of the world. It is also a day that can change your life.

Moving from anticipation, to actuality, to authenticity – Christmas is a day that a Father loved, a Son was born, and you are saved. It is also a day that you are put in a position to change the lives of a generation of children – change them with the Authentic Christmas Message.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Time is Here


Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year
Christmas 1991 was the first Christmas Nancy and I celebrated as husband and wife. After talking about how we wanted to celebrate Christmas in our new family, one of the things we decided was that we would decorate our Christmas tree with one ornament a year. Each year we would find one special ornament, and only one, and hang it on the tree. It also had to have the year clearly marked on it.
That first was a traditional ornament that depicted a couple in 19th Century garb skating together on a snowy pond with the words, “Our First Christmas Together 1991.”
It didn’t matter that neither one of us skate, nor do we live in the 19th Century (however, I did have a mustache at the time), it was the perfect ornament for our first Christmas together.
The tree that year looked a little goofy with only one ornament on it (plus white lights and a simple garland). But we were looking ahead to the time when the tree would be filled with ornaments as we filled our home with children.
1996 was the sixth ornament for our tree and our first Christmas as parents. Nancy is a great mother, as I knew she would be. So the ornament that year reflected her new role as mother. (You can see R2D2 next to it, that was 2005′s ornament).
Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share
Our tree now has a diverse collection of ornaments – from footballs to Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB gun.
My favorite is the ornament from 2001. It was our 11th ornament and our house was now full of those children that were just hopes 10 years before.
Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there
Our tree now is full with 21 ornaments. The 2011 ornament was picked democratically – but also evidence of a family with three growing boys and one grown boy outnumbering the lady amongst us!.
In our family, Christmas is just about our most favorite time of year. We look forward to the time we get to spend together – playing hockey in the driveway, basketball in the gym, monopoly in the dining room, and baseball on the Wii. We also love the time we get to spend together at church. I’m usually preaching Christmas morning. When we first were married, Nancy had to sit by herself in the pew. Now that the boys are old enough to help with the service, carrying the cross or lighting the candles and taking the offering, she is again usually sitting by herself in the pew.
But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because we are still all together, sharing memories and making new ones, since Christmastime is here again.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Merry Christmas!
Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year…
Christmastime is Here lyrics by Lee Mendelson
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