Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's Worth The Battle

A lot of people were surprised at how crispy cold it was this morning when they awoke. The cold only served to make our little country church feel especially warm as we gathered for worship today.

Pastor Brad welcomed us in with his heart "Good morning!" and went straight into announcements which included this afternoon's Christmas program at 4:00. There will be no board meeting Tuesday in order to free up time at this busy season. Next Sunday there will be no Sunday School.

Today is the third week of Advent. The Montgomerys -- Tracey, Ali and Morgan -- lit the Advent candles and read several passages from Scripture about the coming of the Messiah, of one would would be called "God with us."

An introit by Darlene preceded a heartfelt song of worship by Chuck, Ellie and Darlene which led us into worship.

After the offering and a time of prayer, Gwen sang Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, a Christmas classic that never fails to move. Brad then brought us the message.

It's Worth The Battle

A placid, sweet Nativity scene was projected onto a screen for us as the starting point for today's sermon. We sometimes forget that the people we read about in Scripture are really people like us, people who have struggles and issues to overcome. The love we see in our images of the birth of Jesus is not something that just happened naturally. There were battles that had to be fought in order to achieve this moment of warmth and harmony.

1st Battle: The Battle for Righteousness

The first battle is a battle for personal integrity. Though we are all familiar with the story, Brad read to us again the account from the Gospel of Matthew.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

In those days, engagements were a very public matter. For this reason it was even more challenging for Joseph when his bride-to-be notified him that she was inexplicably pregnant. The two had chosen to maintain a holy stance until the wedding, and now she was pregnant and he knew this was not a child of his loins.

Brad noted here that obviously Joseph and Mary had kept their relationship pure during the time of their engagement, otherwise he might not even have known this was not his child. Brad asked, "Do you think God would have chosen Joseph and Mary had they not fought that battle for personal righteousness? Would we even know who they were today had they not fought to have a clear conscience before God?

As the Psalmist stated in Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

We were urged to be like David who wrote, "Lord, search me and know my heart so that if there is any wrong in me I can make it right." (paraphrase)

The fruit of a good conscience is freedom, joy, and peace that passes understanding.

2nd Battle: The Battle for Graciousness

When you put yourself in Joseph's shoes it is not hard to imagine what his reactions might have been when he learned that Mary was with child. You can be sure Joseph struggled over this. Rage, hurt, feelings of betrayal were undoubtedly stirred. After battling all these feelings, he chose in the end to be gracious. Rather than put her up to public ridicule, he "decided to divorce her quietly."

Joseph didn't act on whatever his first impulses might have been. Rather, he opened his heart to God and for God's help to gain a different perspective.

Brad brought this to out attention because today in many of our Christmas gatherings we will be with people who have hurt us. Yes, we may have been hurt, but how long do we make them pay for having hurt us? When does the cycle of meanness cease?

God responded to Joseph's heart anguish and prayers, and showed Joseph in a dream that Mary had indeed been pure and the child was from God.

Battle 3: The Battle for Trust

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

There comes a time when we have be willing to live by faith and not sight. Joseph was asked to trust a lot. That the baby was from God and not a secret lover was a big one. He had to trust that taking Mary as his wife was not going to backfire on him later. And here he is asked to name the baby Jesus, which means "God with us," the one who is going to save us from our sins. In his conservative rural town there were probably some people who might have gone ballistic upon hearing this. But Joseph trusted God in this, too.

We ourselves have trust battles. We trust that the Christmas story is true. We believe in the miraculous birth, and that He died on a cross for our sins. And that He rose again from the dead and has continued to reach out to our fallen world ever since. Do you believe all this?

If the Bible's account of the birth of Jesus teaches us anything, it's that our Christian faith is work. They fought battles that were not easy. Yet in the heat of battle, they felt the Spirit of God helping them along the way.

So it is with us today.

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