Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hope from the Manger (Luke 2:1-7)

Hope from the Manger
A Biblical Reflection on the
Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre

Pastor: Dr. Joe Alain
Hebron Baptist Church, Sunday, December 16, 2012

In light of the events this past week, I’m going in a little different direction this morning than I had originally planned. However, this has not been a typical December. Frankly, it’s been a little overwhelming lately with all of the sickness, suffering, and tragedy in our own fellowship and community and in our country as well.

After the massacre of 20 children this past Friday at a Connecticut Elementary School, people are asking a familiar question, "Where Is God?" Many will be looking for answers and in moments like this, there are no easy answers. What we do know is that God is with the suffering. He identifies with the hurting. The President quoted Psalm 34:18 Friday, a verse that reminds us where God is in times like this. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." To the answer, "Where Is God?" He’s right where he’s always been, in the midst of those who hurt and who are suffering.

The Nativity story in Luke 2:1-7 is a reminder to us that God and the hope that He brings is often found in unexpected places. Of all places, God chose to manifest His presence in a manger, a feed trough. Years before, the prophet Micah prophesied, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, where Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz, where the tomb of Rachel lies, where David the shepherd was anointed as the king of Israel, Bethlehem – this is the place where Jesus was born. But unlike today, Bethlehem in the days of Jesus was not on anyone’s travel itinerary.

But that all changed when Christ was born in Bethlehem. God often appears in unexpected places. But more than God appearing in a small village near Jerusalem, "the Word became flesh" in a manger! What a place for God to make an appearance! Not the more accommodating lodgings that must have been there for the apparent influx of visitors (Joseph and Mary were not the only ones traveling to Bethlehem) for a tax census, but a shelter for livestock, a stable perhaps a simple cave with a feeding trough! Neville Callam stated that by God becoming flesh and dwelling in a manger, he invested the manger with the quality of magnificence. Wherever God dwells, there is his majesty. "We may discover that God is often found in unexpected places."

Jesus was born in the midst of hardship, of suffering, in a society that knew violence and that was well-acquainted with death, yet God’s presence, His glory, his light was there in the darkness. To the question, "Where is God?" He’s in the midst of the darkness bringing light, he’s in the midst of the suffering and the pain, bringing hope.

Max Lucado noted that there was an eerie irony for the Connecticut tragedy coming just before Christmas, noting that the Bible says that Jesus Christ’s birth was followed by an order from King Herod to slay boys under 2 years of age in the city of Bethlehem. Matthew records the incident and the words of Jeremiah describing the tragedy. In light of this week’s events, the pain expressed is palpable. "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matt. 2:18). Jesus lived in a world familiar with violence and suffering. And lest we forget, death on a Roman cross was the supreme act of suffering and violence, a death Jesus endured for us.

The God who was manifested in poverty, in a world of injustice and suffering, in a world where violence was commonplace, this God in Christ who has fully identified with us, who has suffered for our sins, invites us to lay our suffering and pain before His throne of grace that we might receive help in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16). The Psalmist cried out to God in his pain, and we can too. "Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer, from the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I" (Ps. 61:1-2).

To the question, "Where Is God?" we say, God is right where He’s always been and right where you are in your time of need. Whether it be Connecticut or Denham Springs, God is Emmanuel, God is with us. All we can do in times of tragedy is pray, and that’s enough. Pray that God makes His presence known in the pain. We’ll never understand, and even if we did, as the song Homesick reminds us, it wouldn’t lessen the pain.

"Help me Lord cause I don’t understand your ways
The reason why I wonder if I’ll ever know
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
Cause I’m still here so far away from home."

We trust God not because we understand everything. We walk by faith and not by sight, and we know that ultimately God will write all the wrongs. This too is our hope because God has come to us.

But there’s another question that the media is not asking and won’t ask? It’s really a question only Christians can ask for it is Christians who also have the answer. And that question is not "Where Is God?" but "Where Is the Fear of God?" For it is the absence of the fear of God that gives permission for such violent acts to occur.

To have no fear of God is to open one’s life to innumerable hellish evils. To have no fear of God is to shut yourself off to the truth. It is to give in to your depravity. Without the fear of God, we are left adrift morally. Without the fear of God, we are our own moral compass, but the problem is our compass does not point true.

Lacking the fear of God, today we’re devolving to a state that is similar to the one described in the recurring refrain in the book of Judges. "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Prior to that anarchic assessment, we are given the real reason why it was occurring. It is said that after Joshua and his godly generation passed from the scene, "another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10).

Is it any wonder that many people today have no system of morality? No conscience? Generations are growing up without God and without truth. They do not know the Lord. There is no fear of God because there is no knowledge of God. And it is the fear of God that leads to obedience to God. Solomon said it well in the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, the book chronicling his search for meaning in life. The final analysis? "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13). The order here is not insignificant. Obedience flows from the fear of God, not the other way around.

Listen to Isaiah’s words, "He [i.e., the Lord who "will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, v.13] will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure" (Isa. 33:6). Where does wisdom and knowledge come from? The key, Isaiah says is "the fear of the Lord." People perish for lack of knowledge, but this knowledge that we need comes from, and can only come from the fear of the Lord.

Where does respect for life come from? We realize that God is the creator of all men, we respect that all men are created in God’s image. We understand, we have knowledge of, God’s prohibition against taking the life of another human being. But where there is no fear of God and truth is suppressed, so is true knowledge and respect for life. And when respect for life ceases, men will do violence to one another without care or conscience. "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death" (Prov. 14:27).

Aside from the loss of truth and morals, when there is no fear of God, men mock accountability before this God they do not fear. God’s judgement has become an inconvenient truth. There is no fear of the fact that we will give an account to God one day. If there is no God and no standard of truth, then men say, "what’s the difference?" We live in a culture of death where there is little respect for life, because there is so little fear of God.

Men’s consciences have become calloused through unbelief. We don’t fear God as we should. Because of that we live in the dark for we have refused to walk in the light of truth. As men sink deeper into their depravity, they mock God not realizing that they are destroying themselves. This is why all people stand in desperate need of Christ. We need the one who was born in Bethlehem, the one who came to save us from our sins and our selves. The only cure for our depravity is the cross of Jesus Christ!

When a tragedy like what has happened this week in Connecticut occurs, the first thought is that there must be some mental disturbance at work here. "Normal people don’t kill scores of children" we say. And actually, in all cases like this, there is a mentally disturbed person, although still a morally accountable one. Obviously, a person who could gun down children is suffering a disconnect from reality at some level. But I contend that at the core of this demonic disconnect is the fact that the person has chosen the path of darkness.

Now consider that when you refuse to fear God, when you do not live your life by truth, when you walk away from the light, where else could you end up, but in some state that is less than reality. People without God, without truth, without light, they are not in touch with true reality. It’s only a short step to complete delusion.

You may recall the story of the demon-possessed man that Jesus dealt with in Mark chapter 5. Here is a man who when Jesus found him was living in the graveyard, out-of-control, not in his right mind, he had no clothes on, he was completely out of touch with reality. But when Jesus healed him, the man was clothed and sitting in his right mind. I believe that story serves as a modern parable for our society. Without God, without truth, people are "Walking Dead." Without God, without morals, without purpose, life becomes chaotic and confusing.

Emptied of meaning in life, pretty soon people lose touch with reality. Add to this mix the fact that we live in a narcissistic age. It’s not hard to see how some people are callously cold to others. Remember the demon-possessed man wanted to die! Apart from God and truth, there’s no feeling, only death. When you lose touch with reality, people are not real, death is an illusion. Life becomes just like one endless video game where people die and are spawned again to life. But when Jesus heals us of our sinful condition, we are in our right mind, we have peace, we have purpose and meaning in life, the darkness turns to light, and the self-hatred and hatred for others is replaced with love.

What does all this mean for us? What are we to do in light of this culture of death that we live in? What can we do?

1. We can pray for those who are suffering today Whether they are in Connecticut, or Syria, or Baton Rouge, or Denham Springs, we who know the Lord, who fear Him, who trust Him, can press in and pray for God’s comfort and strength to be upon people who desperately need Him. We can pray, "God make yourself known as Emmanuel to these people who are grieving."

2. We can loveWe can hug our kids (that’s a good thing), but even more than that, we can and we must raise our kids with truth. We must as parents and grandparents stay close to the light of God, for the darkness is always seeking to encroach upon us. There are no guarantees that if you raise your child right that everything will work out fine. But, it’s pretty much a given that if you don’t raise your child with any sense of God and truth, they are going to have to figure it out themselves. And the human compass is defective. It doesn’t point true.

3. We can be messengers of hopeIn this tragedy, there is a call to the church to be the church, to be about our mission. If you haven’t noticed, our culture as we have known it is dying from within, dying on the doorsteps of the churches, churches that have lost the power of God, because we’ve lost the power of the Gospel. We can’t take for granted that people will grow up with the biblical values that we have. We must be messengers of hope, sharing Jesus for He alone is our only hope.

And this is where the manger offers abundant hope. For the Christ of the manger is the Lord! In the babe in the manger, we see the creator, we see the God who redeems us from our fallen condition and empty lives. We see the one who is the way, the truth, and the life to all who will follow Him. We see the one whom angels proclaimed: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2:11). And because of Bethlehem, we say "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012 Sermon Text (Luke 1:26-38)

Join us this Christmas season as we celebrate the greatest gift of all, the gift of God's Son and our Savior Jesus Christ. This Sunday I will be sharing a message based on the Annunciation Story, the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she will bring forth a son, the Lord Jesus. See you this Sunday as we worship the living Christ, the real joy giver and reason for this glorious season.

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Christmas – When the Inconceivable Became Believable

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:26-38

Here Are Some Questions for Thought:

* Why is the Christian’s belief in the supernatural actually a belief based on a rational decision?

* What does Luke’s perspective of Jesus tell us about the character of God? How is his perspective on the birth of Jesus different from Matthew’s view?

* How is Mary’s journey of faith instructive for how we hear and respond to God’s calling?