December 16, 2018

Stand Up for Christmas, Stand Out for Jesus

3rd Sunday in Advent

First Lesson:  Zephaniah 3:14-17

Second Lesson:  Philippians 4:4-7

Gospel Lesson: Luke 3:7-15

Sermon Text:  Luke 3:7-15


Every December, we hear tons of stories about people taking Christ out of Christmas. Here’s a sampling. In Arkansas, a parent tried to stop production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at her son’s school. Why? Her attorney’s answer: “It’s got religious content and it’s being performed in a religious venue. That doesn’t just blur the line between church and state — it oversteps it entirely.” The Hawaii Department of Education canceled an annual Christmas concert over the threat of a lawsuit. A group - Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church - objected to involvement of a church in organizing and publicizing the event, which has for years raised money for the poor of Africa. In Santa Monica, California, Nativity scenes are banned in Palisades Park where they’d been a holiday feature for decades. Atheists overwhelmed the city's auction process for display sites, winning 18 of 21 slots. Rather than get involved in the argument, the city simply banned all displays, and a federal judge dismissed a Christian group’s lawsuit to for the city to repeal the policy. Senior citizens in Los Angeles were told they couldn’t have a Christmas tree in their apartment complex because it’s a “religious symbol.” Western Piedmont Community College told students that they could not use the word “Christmas” to promote the sale of… Christmas trees. Finally, at one school in the Florida panhandle, a Nativity scene was replaced by Frosty the Snowman. 

Doesn’t it seem like more and more of this stuff is happening each year?  It does, because it is. So what can we do about that? Go with the flow. Not make waves. Shrug our shoulders and hope things change. But what good does that do?  How does that help anyone or get the focus back where it needs to be – on Jesus? The answer is that it doesn’t do any good. So as we dig into our text from Luke, focus on this thought: Stand Up for Christmas, Stand Out for Jesus.

The central figure in our lesson is John the Baptist. His God-given role was the prepare people for Jesus.  And one of the big ways he did that was to help people see their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. Some of the people came to him for the wrong reasons. What does he do? He strongly, firmly calls them to repent, to admit what they had done wrong. Repentance involves a change of heart, and a changed heart leads to changed actions. All this was for the good of the people.  He helps them see the need, calls them to repent, and encourages them to live out their lives as thankful believers.

Pause there for a second.  Isn’t that what we do every single time we are here?  Don’t we talk about our need for a Savior?  Don’t we talk about specific struggles we had the past 7 days regarding showing love, not gossiping, having messed up priorities, and the like?  We do.  We need that reminder just as the people to whom John was preaching needed it.  And what do we do to begin every service?  We repent.  We confess our sins to God and hear the good news of how Jesus paid for every single one of them on the cross. And usually, at the end of each sermon, we talk about how that repentant faith can and, we pray, will show in our lives of thanks/appreciation.  We are no different than John’s crowd.  We need to be reminded of what we were, what we, by God’s grace are, and what, with the Spirit’s help, we are called to do.  

Back to our lesson.  John called them to repent.  They did.  They were assured of their forgiveness.  And then different people ask for advice on how to put that faith into action - “What should we do?” John tells them they can serve God as the live selfless lives.  If someone needs clothing or food, give some of what you have to them.  Tax collectors, a notorious group that was hated because many of them overcharged people, ask what they should do.  “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.” John is telling them to serve others and do so honestly.  Then some soldiers ask the same question. “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”  Soldiers had lots of power, but they shouldn’t use it to benefit themselves.  Instead, they are to serve honorably and be content with what they have.

So, people who were reminded of their sin were pointed to their Savior.  Forgiveness was his gift for them. As forgiven, thankful people, they wanted to express appreciation in their lives.  They wanted to stand out from an unbelieving world and stand up for Jesus and for their faith.  Once again, has anything changed?  We confessed our sins today.  We heard the glorious announcement that in Jesus, all those sins are washed away. Doesn’t the believing heart in us ask what the people asked – how can I show my thanks and stand up and stand out for Jesus?  Yes, and to that believing heart I now speak.

Now, we could talk about that – standing up and out for Jesus – all year long.  But what would that look like considering we are smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season?  Well, focus on what John said to the different groups.  1) He called for selflessness. While lots of charities kick into overdrive around the holidays, this might be the greediest time of the year, and not just for little kids.  The thought of getting more stuff appeals to the sinner in all of us, regardless of age.  And what makes it even tougher is that commercialism this time of year feeds those desires. Must have this, can’t miss that, you won’t be able to face your friends if you don’t have X, Y, and Z.  You all know exactly what I am talking about.

But doesn’t this season also afford us tons of opportunities to show selflessness?  There are so many charities with which we can get involved this time of year.  Do an online search and you will find tons right in our own area.  When we serve in this way, we sacrifice.  We give of time, money, and energy.  That is being selfless.  It’s not about me.  It’s about serving others.  And while we can do that in the world, the best place for us to do that is in the home.  If you have little ones, consistently remind them of the greatest gift ever – Jesus.  And encourage them to have Jesus’ mindset, to think about others 1st, serving them before serving self. Esp. with a tree loaded with presents, this a great time to have this discussion.  

Adults, we can show selflessness as we reach out to those we know will struggle this season.  Maybe someone is facing Christmas for the 1st time after a spouse died. Or someone is struggling with depression. Or someone’s faith life has recently taken a hit.  When we take time to help them, esp. by pointing them to Jesus to find comfort, encouragement, peace of heart/mind, and forgiveness, we’re being selfless. For young or old, to live a selfless life modeled after the selflessness of our Savior as a way to thank him helps us stand out and helps people see what Christmas is all about.

2) John called for honesty.  As odd as it sounds, realize how dishonest the world is this time of year.  People are led to believe all is well because people are a little nicer to others at Christmas. They’re led to believe family and friends are by far the most important aspects of the holidays.  And while this seems contradictory to the last point, they are led to believe that if they just acquire enough stuff or just a little more stuff, then they will be truly happy.

All of those are lies, lies with can combat with the honest truth.  And what is that honest truth? All is only well for those who find their worth/value in the fact Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose for them. That while family and friends are blessings from God, Christmas is only complete when it is centered around the manger of our best friend, the same one who by his work brought us into the best family ever – God’s family.  That no amount of stuff or possessions will be able to fill the God shaped hole in our heart the way a perfect Savior who did his perfect work for us will.  That’s the honest truth.

And that honest truth is what we can and will speak.  Talk about it at home with family members.  Share it with a friend who is down.  Let that truth sing out as you choose music for your holiday gatherings.  Take the plunge and invite someone you know to our Christmas services.  To be open and honest about real needs and real solutions, all centered around Jesus’ manger, won’t that help you stand up for Christmas and stand out for Jesus?

And 3) John calls for contentment.  This one won’t take long.  When we are selfless, when we give of our time and money and energy, and when we share the best news anyone can ever hear, the new of a perfect Savior for all mankind, isn’t that standing out for Jesus?  And doing that in a world obsessed with self and with stuff, esp. this time of year, isn’t that standing up for Christmas, pointing people to what it really is all about?  When we as Christians lived contented lives, that does not go unnoticed.  And that gives us many opportunities to express why we are so content.  And you know the answer.  We are because in having Jesus, we absolutely have all we will ever need.

Maybe a simpler way of saying all this is to say that this season, like every season, isn’t about us.  It is about Jesus, and it is about serving others.  At the end of our lesson, some people wonder if John himself is the Messiah, the Savior.  He could have made it about him and taken the praise, the credit, and the accolades.  But what does he do?  He keeps pointing to Jesus, and makes it clear he is his servant, one not even worthy of untying Jesus’ footwear.

We are the same.  We are servants because Jesus perfectly served us and brought us into his family.  And because of that, we are willing, thankful, appreciative servants.  And how does that show, specifically this time of year?  It shows when we are selfless, putting others ahead of ourselves and serving them, esp. as we share real Christmas joy with them.  It shows when we are honest about what Christmas is all about – the celebration of the birth of our Lord.  And it shows when we make it clear in our day to day lives that we are content, for our Lord has and always will provide us with everything we need.  I pray you keep that in mind as we finish the stretch run to the holidays, and I pray God blesses you with an ever-increasing faith that wants to stand up for Christmas and stand out for Jesus.  Amen.