Responding to God’s Christmas Flyer with Expectation – Simeon & Anna’s Example.

Stores seem to be advertising for Christmas earlier and earlier. The decorations, the sales, and the Christmas preparations begin long before Thanksgiving.  How many pre-Thanksgiving Christmas flyers did you receive? These flyers tell us to be expectant and prepared because our shopping hopes will soon be fulfilled. You may lament this pre-Thanksgiving Christmas advertising and want to return to “the good old days,” but realize that the first Christmas was actually advertised, and prepared for, centuries before the actual day.

When Jesus was born that first Christmas, he came to a people who were expecting God to send a savior, a.k.a. Messiah, because prophets had advertised the Messiah for centuries (the term “Christ” is just the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”). Certainly some had given up waiting, and others did not really believe God would act, but there was a general expectation in Israel that God would one day fulfill his prophecies and send a deliverer.

The Jewish people expected the Messiah to establish God’s kingdom and restore Israel just as the prophets advertised. This Messiah would be very unique and set apart for this purpose. These numerous prophecies gave a certain amount of specificity to the Messiah.  For instance, the Messiah would be a descendant of King David because God promised David that he would always have a descendant to rule Israel. The Messiah, therefore, was often referred to as the “Son of David.” The people expected the Messiah to not just restore Israel as a nation-state but to reestablish the close relationship between God and his people in an everlasting way. Some of the prophecies that advertised the coming CHRISTmas centuries prior:

Isaiah 9:6-7  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Micah 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

These Messianic expectations form important background to the Christmas story because the Messiah (Christ) is constantly mentioned by the angels, shepherds, Magi – everyone. The Christ-child arrived after centuries of advertising and many devout believers anxiously awaited that day to arrive.

We are told of two such devout believers in Luke’s version of the Christmas story: Simeon and Anna. These old saints are often overlooked in the Christmas story because we do not meet them until over a month after Jesus’ birth. Nevertheless, they exemplify the anxious expectation that preceded the birth of the Christ. Continue reading

Advertisements

Questioning our Individualism and its Affect on the Church – Ephesians 4:1-16

In my last post, I pointed out how the individualistic assumptions of our Western culture affect how we read the scriptures. Below, I share a sermon outline that intersects with that subject. This sermon examines Ephesians 4:1-16 and how our individualism affects our view of the church and church leaders.

Introduction: The individualism of our culture often bleeds into the church. For instance, American Christians tend to have a “lone ranger” mentality. We often think our spiritual growth and health only involves God and us. Sure, we view the church as a means to serve our spiritual needs, but if the church does not serve us in the way we want, we go shopping for another church or retreat into a purely individual religious experience. In a similar way, Christians often talk about pursuing God’s “calling.” Unsurprisingly, this calling is thought of in individual terms, as if God directs an individual to pursue some ministry or task apart from connection to others.

The influence of these cultural assumptions on Christians and the church makes for unhealthy and unbiblical ideas and practices. The Bible’s assumptions and instructions differ from our culture’s as Ephesians 4:1-16 will demonstrate. This passage calls us to be unified to a local body and dependant on the diverse gifts and roles within that body to grow us into Christ-likeness. Moreover, we are called to serve through the local body and Church leaders equip Christians to carry out that ministry. Pastors and church leaders are just one part of the body, and Christ is the true head whom every member follows. Continue reading