Sermon Options: December 29, 2019

December 5th, 2019

A DAY OF THANKSGIVING

Isaiah 63:7-9

In the United States, the last Thursday in November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day. However, I would suggest that we also unofficially make the last day of the year a day of thanksgiving. On December 31, we spend a lot of time looking forward to the new year, and we should do that. Nevertheless, we should also look back to thank God for all he has done for us during the year. We said thank you to those who gave us Christmas gifts, but we should also thank God for what he has given us all year.

Remember is an important word in the Bible. Before the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses urged them to remember who was giving them the land. Before Christ died on the cross, he gave his disciples a symbol of his sacrifice and said, "This do in remembrance of me."

Maybe you have had a bad year. Yet there is always something for which we may be thankful. A boy in elementary school arrived late to school and was reprimanded for it. Later, he discovered that he had forgotten his homework, and he was scolded again. Then he began to feel sick, and ran in from the playground to go home. As he ran, he tripped and fell, breaking his arm. While he was on the ground, though, he found a quarter. While going home from the doctor's he told his parents, "This is the best day of my life! I have never found a quarter before!" We need to cultivate the spirit of that child so that we may remember the good things and be thankful, even when much has gone wrong. What may we remember and be grateful for on this thanksgiving day?

I. The Goodness of God
Isaiah mentioned God's "great goodness," which God expresses according to his compassion and lovingkindness (v. 7). The hymn writer said, "Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done." God has done and still does so much for us.

II. The Grace of God
Isaiah also referred to the fact that God had adopted Israel as his people and had become their Savior (v. 8). He did not do that because the Hebrews were the biggest and the best, but because of his grace. When was the last time you spent time thanking God for his salvation? It is all because of his grace. Think of where you would be, and what you would be, without him, and thank him for the difference he has made.

III. The Guidance of God
Isaiah painted a beautiful word portrait of the empathetic love of God. He hurts when we hurt, he sends his angel to help us, and he even picks us up and carries us (v. 9). Only God knows how many times we have been in danger, and he has protected us. Some of us are alive to face a new year only because God has guided us out of some trouble. Certainly all of us can see the providential hand of God at work in our lives in some way.

Many times my wife and I have told our sons to say thank you when someone gives them a gift. God has given us many gifts this past year. Say, "Thank you, God." (N. Allen Moseley)

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU'RE LOW AND BLUE

Hebrews 2:10-18

Today is called "Low Sunday" in many churches. It is the Sunday following Christmas. The cantata has been presented, the finely prepared sermons delivered, the gifts exchanged, and the manger and bathrobes from the children's play put away. All the excitement of Christmas is gone already. People are traveling, and the attendance at church may be low.

But it is low in another sense as well. The sense of celebration and joy may be gone now. After all the hype around Christmas, what are we supposed to feel or to do? According to Hebrews 2, after the party comes the cleanup. The Sunday after Christmas is a good time to learn to get on with life. Things are back to "normal," whatever that might be. We learn to participate in God's purposes for his people. Those purposes extend through periods of special events like Christmas and also the day-by-day existence of living, like today. After the party, here's what to do.

I. Consult the Author
Jesus is the "author" of salvation. He wrote the book on salvation! Jesus came as "God with us." This is the central conviction of the gospel message. In Jesus, God came to live among humankind. He lived with us and became vulnerable to our hurts and problems, and he died out of love for us.

During this season of the year Jesus can be Immanuel for you—God with you. Many people find this season to be a lonely time. But if God is with you, you will not find the loneliness so unbearable.

II. Lean on the Brother
Jesus is also called our brother. He was not a stronger brother of mythical proportions who could never be hurt. He was a man among men, and he accepted humanity's limitations.

Most of us enjoy old Christmas movies and have seen Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life several times. Many people have an image of Christmas that is straight out of Hollywood. The only problem is that the Hollywood version is all sweetness and spice, whereas the real events surrounding the birth of Jesus included murder and political intrigue.

When you are low you can lean on this brother who accepted humanity in full and who loves us still. Despite the tragic events in Christ's own life, he brings a word of love as an older brother. We can lean on him.

III. Trust the Victor
Jesus is a victor who made atonement for our sins. He is the Christ. Our word Christ is from the Greek word Christos, which is the same as the Hebrew word Mashiach. They both mean "Messiah." The Messiah was the "one who is anointed." Over long centuries of defeat and humiliation, the Jews began to look for one particular Messiah who would lead their nation out of tragedy and pain. The Jews could not agree who this Messiah would be, however. When Jesus came, some people thought he was the Messiah, while most did not.

The important thing for us to realize is that Christ came to save us from our most pressing problem—our sin. One person put it this way, "Man's greatest need is not for a new political or economic order. His primary problem is his sin. He is alienated from God, bearing the burden of this guilt and loneliness, facing a frightening future. He needs to be liberated from the tyranny of his sins, reconciled to God, and given a hope that transcends the circumstances of this life." This, in a nutshell, is what the gospel message is all about. We can consult the Author of life. We can lean on our elder brother. And we can trust the Victor over tragedy and death. (Don M. Aycock)

WHEN DANGER THREATENS

Matthew 2:13-23

Sometimes celebration is quickly transformed into tragedy. During the long holiday celebration commemorating Christ's birth and the birth of a new year, how many lives will be lost, how many bodies maimed in accidents? How quickly joy can dissolve into sorrow!

Thus it is for us as we move from the story of the nativity to the terrible account of Herod's murder of Bethlehem's infant sons, often referred to as the "slaughter of the innocents." Twenty or thirty children were probably killed that day, but even one was too many. And all because King Herod was obsessed with eliminating any real or potential pretenders to his throne; he had several members of his own family, including his three sons, murdered for the same reason.

Matthew wants us to understand that despite Herod's evil intentions, God is able to overcome the best efforts of those who would do us harm. God is able to protect his people.

Yet it was important that Joseph respond to God's direction. Three characteristics of authentic faith are demonstrated here that allowed Joseph to lead his family to safety with God's help. As we seek God's guidance and protection in our own lives, we need to understand these necessary actions.

I. Faith Acts Promptly
When Joseph was warned by the angel to seek safety in Egypt, he didn't decide to "sleep on it" or consult the experts or otherwise delay. Matthew tells us he gathered the family "during the night" and set out for the safety of Egypt (v. 14). Faith doesn't delay unnecessarily. Once we understand what God would have us do, we need to act on it.

Immediately after the costly battle at Gettysburg, Lee's Conferderate forces were in terrible shape and in full retreat. Crossing the Potomac to return to Virginia, the Southern army was split into two parts and vulnerable to an attack by Meade's Union army, which was superior in number thanks to prompt reinforcements. Yet Meade could not put his forces into action; he delayed, studied the situation, delayed some more, until finally he was ready to move his army into action. Unfortunately, by the time Meade was ready and the Union artillery began its attack, Lee's army had completed its river crossing and was safely back in Virginia. The result of Meade's delay may well have been to add considerable time to that already bloody war. We must be ready to respond promptly to God's direction.

II. Faith Acts Obediently
In reponse to God's command, delivered through the angelic messenger, Joseph obeyed the directions precisely. It would have been tempting to choose another, more convenient location—perhaps somewhere Joseph or Mary had family, certainly not in an entirely different country with its own language and customs. But there is no record of Joseph's raising the first objection; if God told him to go to Egypt, that's where he went.

How often we may be missing God's best for us by trying to second-guess his will and purpose for our lives. Faithful obedience to God allows him to work effectively in our lives, protecting us from dangers of which we may be unaware, and leading us into new and exciting opportunities we've never dreamed of.

III. Faith Acts with Trust
If it took faith to gather his family and escape into Egypt, I suspect it took even more faith to return to the land that held such danger. When the angel sounded an "all clear" and instructed Joseph to return to Israel, there must have been some real questions about the wisdom of such an action. But without hesitation, Joseph trusted God to protect them and provide for them, and the family set out to return to their homeland.

Have you ever sensed God's leadership into a particular course of action, but you just can't see how it will work? Does it seem too outlandish, too dangerous, too much of a risk? Some of the most exciting things that will ever happen in your life may be the result of God's asking you to walk where you can't yet see—but he can.

When we set out in faith—faith characterized by promptness, obedience, and trust—there are no limits to what God can do in and through us. As we begin a new year, with new opportunities and new challenges before us, that's an important truth for us to understand. (Michael Duduit)

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