Monthly Archives: December 2015

After Christmas – What?

Peninsula Community Church

After Christmas, What?

December 27, 2015

Luke 2:17-20 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After all the gifts have been opened, the food has been eaten, the tree has been taken down, and the family has gone home; the reason for the season still remains. We must never forget that He is the reason for the season and He will always be the reason for our celebration, not just at Christmas but all year long.

In the Christmas story, there was great expectation, hope, and joy. Beyond Mary and Joseph, there was no one more impacted by expectation and joy than the shepherds who were in the field doing what they always did. They were watching their sheep. They were living life as usual and they were doing the ordinary things that ordinary shepherds always did. In the story, we do not see anything that caused them to stand out or a reason why they should be chosen to receive the news of Christ’s birth. The shepherds were certainly not special, but they were chosen and they acted in obedience by responding and acting on the news they received.

As we read the story of the shepherds, we find that when they left the manger, they left with incredible joy and overwhelming excitement. Through this we are reminded that the joy of Christmas does not end in the manger or at Christ’s birth. It is just the beginning. For that reason the spirit of Christmas, the expectations of Christmas, and the message of Christmas should be in our hearts all year long. In the passage before us today we find four ways to keep Christmas alive in our hearts.

The first way to keep Christmas alive in their hearts is to continue proclaiming the good news of what has occurred. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. The point here is that the shepherds were active in retelling the story of what they had experienced. The event moved them so much they could not help but tell the story. They continued to tell their story and they shared the message of Christ’s birth to everyone they encountered. They could not contain all they had experienced.

The message must be shared because the story of Christmas gives us hope and it is a treasure to be shared. It reminds me of a story I recently read about Luigi Tarisio. Most of you probably have never heard of Luigi Tarisio. In fact, I had not heard anything about him until I read his story this week. Tarisio was a collector of very rare exquisite violins. In total, he owned 246 violins which were worth millions of dollars. The problem was that these precious treasures were hidden away and were never shared with anyone else. One of the treasures he possessed was a priceless Stradivarius that “sat speechless for over 147 years.” After his death, these priceless artifacts were found and when the Stradivarius was finally played the beauty of the music overwhelmed the hearers and they wept at the beauty of the sound. The sad thing is that the music had remained silent for so long when it did not have to be.

This story reminds us that we can have the greatest of all treasures in our heart and yet refuse to share that treasure with others. The treasure we posses is the message of Christmas which is a message of hope, of forgiveness, of great grace, and the promise of a new life. It would be so wrong of us to have such a treasure in us and then refuse to share it with others. The music of hope needs to be played. The music of hope needs to be shared. The music of hope needs to be experienced. The Stradivarius violin is at its best when it is played and we are at our best when we share the hope of the Christmas message.

The fact is what the shepherds did, we all can do. You need no authority, no permission, and no special training to witness for Christ. Simply tell what you know to be true. Talk about Jesus. Tell  others who He is and what He has done for you. Share your story and then invite others to come to Christ just as you did. Good news is for sharing. That’s what the shepherds did. That’s what all of us are called to do. This is the first way we can all celebrate Christmas all year long.

The second way we can keep Christmas alive in our hearts is to live with a sense of wonder.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. The fact is all who heard the message of the shepherd’s experience were amazed at what they heard. For some, they were filled with awe and wonder at the hope presented through the message of Christ’s birth. Imagine the exuberance they had as they retold the story of hearing an angelic choir in the middle of the night. They received such an elegant announcement only to find the Son of God in a feeding-trough surrounded by cattle and sheep. How amazed everyone was that God chose the shepherds to be the first evangelists? Can you imagine the emotions of the shepherds who found the Christ child sleeping in an environment that was so familiar to them. They knew in that moment that He had come for them.

The kind of wonder that that is expressed here is the kind of awe that comes from seeing God at work in the world. To have the divine stamped upon it causes one to wonder. It can be the most simple of things or it can be the grandeur of God’s creation. The creation of the universe out of nothing causes us to be filled with wonder. To take a hand full of dirt and make man is a thing of wonder. The fingerprints of God cause wonder and amazement all year long. But here is the amazing thing, the wonder of God continues. With all of the amazing storied of Christmas the wonder of Christmas continues and it is still in our hearts.

The third way we keep Christmas alive is to do as Mary did and ponder these things in our hearts. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Mary pondered the news of Jesus’ birth and the events that followed in her heart. The word “treasured” carries the idea of counting things up, almost like making a check list of things to be remembered. The word “ponder” means to review the events and then to go beneath the surface to understand what it all means and why it happened the way it did.

No doubt Mary went back to what happened to Zacharias and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist. I am sure she thought about what Gabriel said, and how Joseph responded to the news she was pregnant. She must have recalled the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She recalled all the events of the birth itself, including the surprise visit of the shepherds. She certainly had plenty to think about. There is no doubt that she continued to ponder the thought of why God had chosen her, and I’m sure she pondered what was ahead for her newborn son.

This is the perfect time of the year to ponder all that God has done. There is no better time than at the end of December to ponder what God has been teaching us? What better time to look back over the last twelve months and consider the ways of God in your life? Consider how God has been working in your life this year? How has He been working in the world around you? Continue to ponder the ways that God is at work in you and through you as you journey into the new year. To continue to ponder these things keeps the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts.

The fourth way to keep Christmas alive in our hearts is to continue to glorify God.And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” The shepherds were profoundly changed by what they experienced. It is amazing what difference a day makes. On the day before Christ was born, the shepherds were in the fields tending their sheep. On the day after He was born, they were back in the fields working, only this time their hearts were filled with praise to God.

The word root word in “glorify” originally meant to have an opinion. Later, it was used to ultimately to estimate the true worth of something. We glorify those things in which we see value. To say the shepherds “glorified” God means that after seeing Jesus in the manger, they were overwhelmed by God’s power, His grace, His goodness, His wisdom, and the amazing miracle of His birth. They simply couldn’t stop talking about what they had seen and heard. Through this experience the value of Christ in their eyes was off the charts.

It is interesting to note where they did this. They did not glorify God in the temple, though that would have been appropriate. No, they returned to what they had been doing. They went back to the tiring and unappreciated work of caring for sheep. Within forty-eight hours of their visit with the baby, they were back doing what they were doing when the angel found them in the first place. It was time to go back to work. And so they did. And so must we. But for the shepherds, life would never be the same. Oh yes, the work was the same but they were different. They went back with a new zeal, a new joy, and a new love for God in their hearts.

We too must go back to what seems to be the humdrum of our daily routines. And as you go back to what is normal for you, glorify God and praise Him in all you do. That is what the shepherds did. Christmas didn’t change their circumstances, but it changed them deeply and profoundly. And because it changed them inwardly, it changed the way they approached their daily work. Yes, they still had to deal with cranky sheep and sometimes they had to step in sheep manure, but that hardly mattered now. Things were different now that they had seen the Christ child.

Have you experience the Christmas miracle? Have you seen the evidence of Jesus in your life this year? If you have, then go back to what you were doing before and take the memory of Christmas with you. Glorify God and praise Him as you go about your daily routine and you will find your days filled with joy. Go back to your job. Go back to school. Go back to what you were doing but go with a praise upon your heart. Go with the awe and wonder of Christ’s birth within you. Your circumstance may not change but your heart will. You will see life from a different perspective and you will witness a change in your heart.

And as you journey through this new year ahead of us, continue to proclaim the good news that Christ is born, be filled with the wonder of the greatness of God. Ponder and think on the things that you have experienced and have seen God do in you. And, finally keep glorifying God the mundane, every old day life experiences. In so doing, others will be touched and you will be changed in the process.

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Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Its a Wonderful Life – Part 3

Peninsula Community Church

Its a Wonderful Life – Part 3

December 20, 2015

Luke 2:25-32 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been using the movie Its a Wonderful Life as a basis of discussion for our Sunday morning messages. So far we have looked at the question of What if Jesus had Never Been Born. Last week, we looked at how disappointment and discouragement can impact our lives. This week, I would like to close the series by looking at three Biblical lessons that resonate throughout Its a Wonderful Life that exemplify the Christmas story.

One of the lessons we learn is that the story of Christmas teaches us that God chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. You see it is hard to live a wonderful life when we are trying to be something we are not. It is hard to live a wonderful life when we are looking at the successes of others and miss what God is doing in and through us. In preparing for this message I came across a quote by Jimmy Stewart. When he was an old man he was interviewed about his reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this is what he had to say. “Today, after some 50 years, I’ve heard the film called ‘an American cultural phenomenon.’ Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life.” How true that is.

Throughout the Christmas story we find that God used ordinary people to accomplish His will. He used Mary, a young teenage girl. He used Joseph a innocent young man. He uses Simeon to bless the family and to bless Jesus the Christ child. You see we don’t have to be exceptional or extraordinary but we have to be available to be used by God. We don’t have to be perfect but we have to be willing to do the best we can. We can be certain of one thing, God chooses the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. Simeon was an old man who did nothing extraordinary except live a righteous and dedicated life in Jerusalem. And yet we find him positioned to bless the family of Christ. He is directed by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple. There he met the mother and father of Jesus as they fulfilled the ordinary customs of the Jewish law. They brought Jesus to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. In the intersection of ordinary events, God brought their lives together. The text tells us, “Simeon took Jesus into his arms and he praised God.” Simeon then blessed Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. The ordinary met the extraordinary.

One of the story lines of Its Wonderful Life is that George Bailey was always focused outside of Bedford Falls. He was discontented with his place in Bedford Falls because he always thought that his success would be achieved outside of Bedford Falls. He felt that only by leaving Bedford Falls could he be successful and complete. What he forgot and we often forget is that God uses us right where are. Listen to what Colonel Potter from the M.A.S.H. television series had to say. “I’ve spent 18 Christmases away from Mildred. It took me 15 of them to realize I was making myself miserable by wishing I was someplace I wasn’t. If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.”

The idea here is that we can waste our life away wishing we were somewhere else or doing something else. Notice Simeon bloomed where he was planted. By being patience and obedient he witnessed the arrival of the Messiah. In this intersection of lives God blesses Simeon and he had the privilege of blessing the family of Jesus and Jesus Himself. Can you imagine the excitement of Simeon to know that he would have a role to play in the life of the Messiah? He would be the first one to bless this baby. This ordinary man was one of the first people to honor Christ as the Messiah.

The second lesson teaches us that to have a wonderful life we must put others first. One of the overarching qualities in George Bailey’s life is that he continually put others first. He often did this to the point of personal sacrifice. In 1919 when he was twelve years old he was sledding with some of his buddies. His little brother Harry liked to tag along with the older boys. When he took his turn on the ice, Harry’s sled went too far and slipped into a hole in the ice pond. He would have drowned if George had not jumped in to save him. But in saving him it cost George the loss of hearing in his left ear. Through out the movie, we find George putting others first. We see him using his own money to help others and to keep his bank solvent. We see him having to change his plans when his father dies and his brother heads off to college. This is not to say that we have to live in abject failure to be be successful, it is a matter of our attitude and our heart.

The Christmas story is really a story of putting others first. Jesus modeled this as it was Jesus who left the glory of heaven to become a man (John 6:38), who would be subjected to everything a human was subjected to. He was tempted but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus came to give Himself so we could be free. He came to die so we could live. How awesome is that? He lived as a servant and He came to serve others (Mark 10:45) and not to Lord over them (Matthew 20:25-28). That is selflessness and that leads to a wonderful life.

This leads us to our third lesson. To have a wonderful life we must confront temptation with our values and our integrity. We must settle our moral values because without our values being settled we will be tempted to be diverted from the truth. In the movie, Its a Wonderful Life, on several occasions George Bailey was called upon by Mr. Potter to compromise his beliefs, his character and his values. George could have had the financial blessing of Mr. Potter but in so doing he would have had to give up his rights to who he was and to what he had been called to do. Mr Potter’s motivation was not to help George as much as it was to control George and eventually have control of the whole community.

The struggle presented here is not so much between good and evil, but between good and better. It is a struggle between the ambition to do good and the challenge to do God’s will. Bailey was a man of great ambition, someone who wanted to travel to distant lands, build expansive bridges over large bodies of water, and lasso the moon for his girlfriend. Instead, he would merely give her a drafty old house, four mouths to feed, and a life in a small town with little money. He was tempted with offers to give her a higher standard of living, but that would mean abandoning the call on his life and compromising his integrity.

Think about this the baby Jesus held by Simeon would face severe temptation when he became an adult (Matthew 4:1-11). We learn from the story of Jesus that He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin. You see, temptation is not a measure of your weakness; temptation is a measure of your strength. You will find that the basis of all temptation is to compromise our integrity and to lessen our trust in God to keep us and guide us. You see, for Jesus to turn the stones into bread was not merely a temptation to satisfy his hunger after forty days of fasting, it was a temptation to abuse the powers God had given him for his own purposes. Jumping off the pinnacle of the tabernacle wasn’t a temptation just to draw a bigger crowd, it was a temptation to build a ministry on miracles rather than on the grace and mercy of God. The temptation to have dominion over the world was a powerful temptation to take a shortcut to glory and power. Jesus was offered short term authority for long term disappointment if he would only bow down to Satan. Jesus was offered something good (food, followers, power), but it was at the price of the perfect will of his Father in heaven. And it should be noted that all that was offered to Him, He already had. He did not have to compromise His beliefs or His values.

Real temptation is the kind that George Bailey faced, and it is the kind that Jesus faced, and it is the same temptation we are faced with. It’s when we are confronted by the devil, only the devil isn’t dressed in a red cape with horns. A wonderful life comes by overcoming the temptations to receive good things when God wants you to have better things. You see, God wants us to look at life and answer the question, “What does God want from me? What is God’s will for my life?” I don’t know what the answer is for you, but I do know that if you’re not deliberate and intentional about asking the question you’re likely to accept any offer that is pretty and pleasing to the eye. God wants you to understand who you are, what you’re all about, and what God’s will is for you. If you can discover those great gifts, you will deliver a death blow to the Mr. Potters in your life who dangle tantalizing trinkets in front of your eyes.

We will always have Potters in our lives. But we can resist the Potters and accept the Christ, the chosen one. He is Messiah and he has a plan. What is yours? If you don’t know what that is then this is the time to find out. Sometimes it is as easy as being faithful to what you are doing now. Be the best at what you do. Be the best administrative assistant. Be the best attorney. Be the best father, mother, sister, brother, or husband. Let God use you. Watch for those opportunities that God provides for you. The fact is we minister best when we don’t even realize it. How does this happen? We seek God! We seek to honor God with our lives! And we seek to be a people of peace, love and grace. That is the message of Its a Wonderful Life and that is the message of Christmas. May we live it and may we make a difference today.

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Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Its A Wonderful Life – Part 2

Peninsula Community Church

Its A Wonderful Life – Part 2

December 13, 2015

Isaiah 9:2-7 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Last week we began a series entitled Its A Wonderful Life and we focused on what if Christ had not been born. Today I would like to look at another aspect of this discussion. The key theme that runs through the movie is that George Bailey had reached a point in his life where he believed that the world would be better off without him. For that reason we find George standing on the bridge just outside of time where he he is considering taking the plunge because he wants to end his life. But before he can do so we find Clarence, an angel, jump in the stare first so that George would rescue him.  You see George was his guardian angel and was assigned the task of helping overcome his problems. He gives George the opportunity to visualize what life would be like if he had never lived.

What led him to his decision to take his life in the first place? You see he faced disappointment, discouragement; and he felt he was on a path of failure or at least he thought he was. Let me ask you a question? What kinds of things disappoint you? My guess is what disappoints you may not disappoint someone else. Disappointment is often triggered by unmet needs and desires. There is no doubt that disappointment can be painful, regardless of the magnitude or size of the issue leading to the disappointment. Disappointments cause us to fear and doubt and as a result we can lose hope. The writer of Proverbs reminds us that Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12). You know how it is when disappointment comes we find ourselves sick to our stomachs and life seems to spiral out of control and suddenly we wander around life with doubts and regrets. We begin to live in the “what ifs,” “should haves,” and the “could haves.”

Disappointment can be defined as being not settled. Webster defines disappointment as, failing to meet the expectation of or hope of something. It is being frustrated with an event in your life. To be disappointed is to be defeated in expectation. So, when we say that something is disappointing we are saying that that particular issue failed to meet our expectations.

Discouragement means to cause one to lose confidence or enthusiasm. The literal meaning of the word discourage is to “express reversal.” You know how it works. An event or an action happens to you and it causes a reversal of how we feel. Instead of confidence and safety we feel unsettled and life feels as if it is out of control. We begin to look at life in a totally different way and we begin to look at others differently as well. And way too often we begin to look inwardly and begin to cast doubt on our worth at some level.

Last week we read from Paul’s writings to the Romans where he stated that we know that all things work together for the good of those who are called by God. That is a very real statement and it is a reality but our faith is tested when good does not happen. We question God’s love for us. We feel like a failure and we feel that we have lost hope. Does anyone know what I mean?

If you will let me relate a personal experience with you. It began at Christmas 2004. I was on staff at a Baptist church in Virginia. During a one year period we faced not one but multiple levels of disappointment that resulted in discouragement, fear, and at times anger. The first news was that the senior pastor of our church was resigning and would be leaving the church by the end of the year. We received the news the Thursday before he made the announcement to the church. You see in the Baptist church when a pastor leaves and a new one comes in, most likely the whole staff can be changed. We were devastated because we thought we had a better relationship with the pastor and we were concerned because we thought we might have to find a job within a month at Christmas time.

One week later we received a phone call from our son to let us know that he had been living with his girlfriend, she was pregnant and he could not marry her because he had to get a divorce first. We knew none of this until a 45 minute conversation on the phone. In March they hired the new senior pastor who was the youth pastor. He was 17 years my younger. I had been overlooked and to top it off they asked me to mentor him and help him be a better pastor. I agreed outwardly but inwardly I was devastated, disappointed, and so discouraged. It was only three months later that we found ourselves in the hospital where Michelle stayed for over a week and had every test under the sun ran on her. It was here that the original diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis was made. We felt a darkness overwhelm us and we we so discouraged. Once again outwardly we put on a good front but inwardly we were crushed and devastated. Michelle and I know disappointment and discouragement.

As we dig into our text this morning we find that the Israelites were also in a state of darkness and discouragement because they had faced great disappointment. The nation had walked in sin which led them into captivity. They were being brutally assaulted by their captors. The future hope of being great nation was lost. Their discouragement and disappointment was being revealed as darkness. Their emotions and their life was now darkened. But Isaiah gave them hope and that is the hope we have today.

When we consider disappointment and discouragement we must consider a couple of factors. First of all disappointment happens. It occurs when our expectations are not met or we receive news that is not expected. Disappointment is a reality of our lives. It can be minor or major disappointments or it can be a series of disappointments that negatively impact us. These disappointments lead us to discouragement and fear. Disappointment comes as well when we work hard at something and the results are not what we expected.

Disappointment can be self inflicted because we have false expectations and an over confidence in the action of others and our own ability. If you are alive today, you have faced disappointment. Our children, our parents, our friends, our employers, our co-workers, and our bodies can disappoint us. They fail to live up to our expectations or they do dumb things that cause us to react negatively to their actions. The circumstances of life can also cause us to reach this level of disappointment.

One of the reasons that disappointment effects so much is that we fail to understanding that life is  not always fair. Life will deal us lemons. We also live with the misconception that people will treat us the way we want to be treated and do things the right way. It doesn’t matter whether you are born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon, or no spoon at all. It’s not the circumstances by which you come into this world, but what you make of them once you arrive that really matter.

In connection with this we must know that all of us are impacted by disappointment. It happens to the best of us. It rains on the just and the unjust. Here is the truth, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Matthew 5:43-48 “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Secondly, we must understand that our disappointments and discouragements can lead us into darkness. Disappointment can blind us to the realities of life. Disappointments can cause our hearts to be closed off and our minds to be shut off from truth. Disappointment can cause us to focus so much on the problem that we miss the bigger picture. One of the problems with disappointment and discouragement is that we become myopic in our vision for life because disappointment overwhelms us. In essence, our emotions and dreams can be darkened and the light of hope can be extinguished.

In all of this we must remember that Christ has come. As we see in our text today, Christ came to shine his light into our hearts. The Israelites were led into captivity. The Assyrians were rising in power and many of their leaders had died. They were living in a turbulent time and they were filled with disappointment and failures. They did not have an easy life. They were in turmoil and they were disappointed with their circumstances and they were discouraged by the events of their life. But they had a promise. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. A child has been born and the world’s problems are on His shoulders. Know this, He is not surprised by the things that you are experiencing today.

For us today that promise has been fulfilled. He has come. He is here. Therefore we need to turn to the one who is the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, and the prince of peace. He has it all under control. He is at work and when we turn to Him a light is shone into the darkness. We receive hope. We receive life. It reminds me of a familiar hymn written so many years ago, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

How are you doing today? Has your heart been darkened by disappointment or discouragement? You can rise again from the darkness of ruined lives. If you hang in there the light of God’s love will shine brightly again, so that while the circumstance of your life may not change, your heart can. Your outlook on life can. You purpose in life can be reestablished. And as George Bailey realized life is worth living and your life has value because you are a child of God and the light of hope has been shined into your life.

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Its A Wonderful Life – In Christ

Peninsula Community Church

Its A Wonderful Life

December 6, 2015

Luke 4:16-21 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I love Christmas and one of the things that I love most is the variety of Christmas movies during this season. Some of my favorites are The Grinch that Stole Christmas. I love both the cartoon version and the one with Jim Carey. I love the Muppets Christmas. I also love all of the great movies on the Hallmark channels. I also love the movie Elf and the Miracle of 34th Street but one of my all time favorites is the movie Its a Wonderful Life.

I am sure that most of you have seen the movie, but if you have never seen it or it has been some time since you have seen it let me give you a quick overview. The movie stars Jimmy Stewart who plays the role of George Bailey who lived in the small town of Bedford Falls all of his life. He has always had aspirations of leaving the town and going to college and then becoming a success somewhere, anywhere but Bedford Falls. Unfortunately, life dealt him one blow after another and he never saw his dreams fulfilled. George was well loved by everyone in the community. He was a giver and cared about others so deeply that he sacrificed his own desires for his family and for the community.

After his business partner loses $8000 from the bank they ran, there is a real possibility that he could be arrested and their could be a major scandal in the town. In a desperate move, George goes to the other banker in town. This banker owned and therefore controlled much of Bedford Falls. Mr Potter was an old frustrated man who always had a disdain for George’s way of doing business. But in an effort to save face, George asked Mr. Potter to borrow $8000 and to use his life insurance policy as collateral. But with about $500 worthy of equity on it Mr. Potter’s response was to say that George was worth more dead than alive. The feeling of despair overcomes George and he begins to imagine what life would be like if he had never been born. In his desperation, he goes to a bridge outside of town where he attempts to take his life. But an angel intervenes and shows George what his life would have been like if he had never been born. Of course as the movie goes on we find that George realizes that things around Bedford Falls would have been quite different if he had not been born.

As I thought about this, I began to imagine what it would be like today if Jesus had never been born. Think about it “What if He had Never Come?” First and foremost, if Christ had not been born we would not know God. Secondly, we would not have access to God and we would continue to be dead in our trespasses and sin. Thirdly, we would have no hope and no future.

Also imagine with me for a moment what this season would look like if we no longer celebrated Jesus’ birth. There would be no Christmas decorations. There would be no Christmas Music. There would be no Christmas gifts. There would be no holiday. To top it off the world would be so different. You see many of our hospitals were begun by Christian organizations. Most of your Ivy league universities began as theological seminaries. It has been churches that fed the poor and cared for the homeless. We find it was pastors who fought against slavery. The fact is even from a social mindset, Christ had an impact greater than we would ever imagine.

But, the reality is He did come. And He came as the light of the world. He came to fulfill the promise that a Messiah would come and set us free from the power of sin. One part of this and it is a big part was that Christ bridged the gap between man’s sin and God’s holiness. Have you ever wanted to get close to someone but could not because you did not have the right connections. Through the years I have had the privilege of meeting so many in the church world that were pretty awesome. Each time it seemed that I had someone that was a go between that helped that to occur.

You see before the birth and death of Christ there was a wall of sin that separated God and man. Because of man’s sin there was no human means to achieve a relationship with God. But because of Christ, the wall of sin has been removed. Jesus bridged the gap between God and man. Through his birth and death the great question of life has been answered. How could a holy God who never sinned reach a unholy man who sinned and broke fellowship with Him? After the fall of man in the Garden, God never came to walk with man again, the way he did before the fall. Man’s sin had separated them and now there was a need to bridge that gap. Man needed a solution. He needed an answer. That answer was Jesus.

Prior to the coming of Christ you may remember that to have forgiveness you had to go through a mediator, the priest assigned to offer sacrifices on your behalf. And as we saw in Jesus day, the very act of forgiveness had been decimated by those who were caught up in the sin nature themselves and thus they began to charge exorbitant rates for the sacrifices to “help” people out. The whole act of forgiveness was based in man’s sinful response to issues of life.

Because of Christ’s work, the wall that separated man from God was broken down. Ephesians 2:11-22 – For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,

Colossians 1:21-23 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister

Jesus made a way for our forgiveness so that we did not have to rely on someone else’s faith or their ability to stand in the gap. We can now have direct access to the father. Have you ever felt unworthy to speak to God? Have you ever felt that your sin is too great and that God would refuse you based on the condition of your heart and your soul? God recognized that condition and He sent Christ to cover that sin, take that sin on as His own, and to receive us in spite of our sin.

Look at our passage this morning. And this is where it gets personal for us. This is where the rubber meets the road. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. He came to proclaim liberty to the captives. He came to recover the sight to those who were blind. He came to set at liberty those who are oppressed. He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. He came to give us the greatest gift of all times.

I don’t know how you came to Jesus. Different people come for different reasons. Some of you came because it just made sense to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It just seemed right.

Some of you came because you got into a difficult problem, and the only way out was up: you found him there waiting for you. Some of you came because you felt so burdened by guilt and sin and the past that you reached out and found Jesus there with mercy and compassion ready to forgive you. To God be the Glory! He came!

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Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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