We want to say thank you again for all the gifts, cards, pictures, notes of encouragement and delicious Christmas goodies. Some of them we don’t know who gave them, so thank you. We love the privilege of sharing another Christmas with you and we thank God for all of you. We have been celebrating with all our family, five sons, three daughters-in-law, two granddaughters and two more grands on the way, eating and sharing gifts and lots of love. This advent we have spent a considerable amount of time in a fairly small but densely packed part of God’s Word seeking to understand the heights and depths of what happened on that first Christmas. In this short passage the apostle John makes at least 20 amazing affirmations about Jesus. 20 ways we beheld His glory.
Our faith is born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Our faith rests on the supernatural. Christianity is a supernatural faith. A virgin birth, a God-man, a sinless life, many miracles, a substitutionary death, a bodily resurrection, an ascension, a second coming. Our faith is a supernatural faith that starts with a supernatural life born in a supernatural way and ends with a supernatural death and resurrection. To reject the supernatural is to reject Christianity and Christ.
What’s the worst gift you ever received, some gift you didn’t need or didn’t want? An ugly sweater, a music cd you don’t like, wrinkle cream. I hear fruitcake is a real crowd pleaser. One of my worst gifts ever was in college when someone gave me a gerbil in a cage for my birthday. I lived in a dorm, it smelled, it had to be fed and the caged cleaned. I had to keep telling myself it’s the thought that counts. My dear wife says she has forgiven me but she has not forgotten the year I gave her hubcaps for her van, or the year I gave her a fire extinguisher for Christmas. She totally misunderstood it as a statement about her cooking. What makes a gift especially great? It’s something you really need or want. The person knows you so well that they just nail it, like how did they know, it’s amazing. I am impressed with those people who are paying attention and listening and pick up on something you said six months ago, and they remember and there it is at Christmas. I have received some of those. The very best gifts come from a giver who really knows us well, who knows our deepest and most heartfelt needs and wants. And when this happens there is a connection between both parties. The giver and the receiver both know the gift is perfect and both are blessed in the exchange. Both receive joy. God’s gift to us was tailor-made, custom fit, it was just right, the absolutely perfect gift, the gift better than any other gift we have ever receive. If we truly knew our deepest needs we would truly rejoice over the gift God has given us.
As we come back to this same text again this week I want to encourage you to do something with this text during Advent. Read it once a day. Read it yourself, read it during family devotions or at the dinner table. Read it each day. And if you really want it to sink in, try memorizing it. Have you ever been on a really big roller coaster like the ones at Six Flags? Back in my college days I rode one of the highest wooden roller coasters at Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois. You know how it works, they start out by taking you up as high as they can and then drop you as far and as fast as they can. The really brave/foolish people do it with no hands. Last week I tried to take you up as high as I could into the heavens, as high as our finite minds could fathom the Son of God. Jesus existing without time or limit, infinitely big and powerful, creating everything from the vast universe filled with trillions of galaxies and stars, quasars and blackholes, down to the trillions of living creatures that inhabit our planet, and then sustaining everything He created every second of everyday. When a text starts out that way, you expect it to continue that way. You expect it to continue with grand and otherworldly language, magnifying the splendor of Jesus as God enthroned above the heavens, ruling and reigning on high. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word created everything that is. But then there is a twist, an unexpected turn. This week we are going to plunge to the depths in a most precipitous fall to earth. I probably can’t create that sinking feeling in your stomach as the roller coaster drops over the hill, but I hope to create profound sense of what Jesus did for us.
I have given our Advent series this year the title: The Incarnation: A Riches to Rags Story. There are a lot of rags to riches stories in the world. Some of you can even tell a story like that. Growing up in the Great Depression with little or nothing, learning how to survive without necessities. And now you are blessed and have all you need and much more. And there are a lot riches to rags stories in the world. People who started out with a lot or maybe had great successes and then lost it. We hear again and again of people winning the lottery and a few years later being worse off than ever. The same story can be told too many times in the world of Hollywood stars and pro sports, athletes making millions and a few years after retirement having nothing left. The incarnation is a story of a Great Condescension, a riches to rags story.
I want to reflect with you on how we might prepare our hearts and homes for the holidays in a way that doesn’t quench the Spirit. I have taken as our text I Thessalonians 5:16-19. Our priority as Christians and our priority as a church is to glorify God with all the joy we can throw into it. And that includes how we prepare for and celebrate the holidays ahead of us. Our text suggests three ways to do that, and behind each of those ways are three underlying reasons. Let’s explore these together through the following outline. Rejoice always because of the grace of God. Pray without ceasing because of the presence of God. Give thanks in all circumstances because of the providence of God.