Editor's Note: It would be an understatement to say we regretted missing last Sunday's service due to weather. The Christmas hymns are a meaningful complement to the festiveness of this advent seasons. Likewise we were out of town for the Christmas Eve service... so my apologies for the absence here this past week. It's my understanding that we missed some special moments with our church family, including the sharing of Casie Ecklund's poem which was published in a 2008 poetry collection titled Brilliance. You may read the poem in the "comments" section at the end of this blog entry.
Today's service began with a reminder from Pastor Brad that Christmas is not a day, but a season. Beginning with the wonderful passage from John's Gospel, "We beheld His glory," Pastor then made personal for us the many ways in which Jesus comes to us as highlighted in the Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming Messiah. (Isaiah 9:6) Jesus, the "wonderful counsellor" can counsel us through hard choices. Jesus the "mighty God" can help us through the things that overwhelm us. Jesus the "everlasting father" is ever watching over us, accepting us as we are, His eyes ever turned toward us with compassion.
Following this warm welcome, the congregation shared in the selecting of Christmas hymns which we sang together. After the offering, Major Florence McArthur of the Salvation Army read the Old and New Testament Scriptures for us today. Isaiah 61:10-62:3 and Luke 2:22-40
A Two Way Transaction
The sermon began with Pastor Brad reading from John 1:1-14 which begins with these beautiful words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The verses Brad built his message around were these:
10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
"Can you imagine... being rejected by your own family?" he began. Brad cited a new problem that is occurring in Nebraska due to laws which allow parents to drop off their children, permanently, at hospitals or safe houses with "no questions asked." This past week a father discarded nine children, ages 1 to 17 at an Omaha hospital. Other parents have abandoned their teens.
The passage in John it says that Jesus came to his own people and they did not receive him. Another translation says "they did not want Him." The original Greek word is a verb meaning "take." They did not take him. They should have received Him into intimate fellowship, but instead rejected Him.
Another translation (Eugene Peterson's The Message) reads this way:
He came to his own people,
but they didn't want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
Some did want Him, accepted Him, believed... and they became who they were meant to be.
Another passage was noted here as well. "He made His home with us that we could be at home with Him."
The were two key ideas Brad outlined based on these verses. First, our acceptance with God. And second, God not only approves of us but delights in us.
Acceptance with God
Robert Frost, in his poem Death of the Hired Man, gave a definition of home that Brad never forgot. "Home is the place where , when you have to go there, they have to take you in." It is one of the priceless privileges of being in a family. It involves a special kind of acceptance, the kind we find only at home. It is an unconditional acceptance.
Too often, in the world at large we're accept "if"... If we scratch their backs, they will accept us and maybe scratch ours. We're loved not for who we are, but for what we can do.
At home, we experience an unconditional acceptance that is sometimes in spite of ourselves.
Approval from God
Jesus gives us approval from God and actually takes delight in us. Our presence in His presence brings God pleasure.
What especially brings God pleasure is when we want Jesus so much that we will do what He says. It is in this new status as God's children that He takes delight in us.
God is glad to have us in His family. We are a delight to the Lord of the Universe, of incredible worth in God's eyes.
Some of our problems come in part from a misunderstanding of what it means to be "in Christ." To be "in Christ" is a theological term which Paul uses frequently. It has been compared to being a sheet of paper which has been placed inside a book. If you throw the book away, you throw the paper away. But if you place the book in a safe place, the paper is safe as well. And if the paper is stained, splotched, dirty, you don't see the paper, you only see the book. The same is true of our position in Christ. When God looks at us, he sees Christ. He does not see our dirt.
God not only accepts you, God delights in you. Do you believe this? Love Him so much that you'll do what He says, whatever that may be.