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Word Made Flesh

Word Made Flesh

Christmas is over. The season of joy, celebration, and anticipation has been replaced by bills, dirty dishes, and gloomy weather. It’s time to throw the tree to the curb, return the weird gifts you have no use for, and count down the days until the kids go back to school. Christmas music is finally done playing! And now the over/under date has been set for when you’ll break your New Year’s resolution (January 17 for me this year).

It’s the same thing every year – our eyes grow big with childish delight as we drive through the Christmas village. Our hearts flutter with excitement over the perfect gift we’ve found for a loved one. The Christmas season is full of anticipation, and then suddenly it’s over. Time to move on, because a new year is starting with new goals, new work projects, new classes, and on and on.

The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” But the Good News of “God with us” does not end with His birth story. We need to keep reading. “Emmanuel” is not about Christmas, it’s about an entire life. And now, as we enter what experts call “the most depressing time of year”, we need to remember that Jesus’ story is not over. 

The Gospel of John doesn’t have a story of Jesus’ birth. Instead, he summarizes in one phrase: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14). Jesus, God’s Word, who was also God himself (John 1:1) became human and dwelled among us. There were more than three decades between the first Christmas and the first Easter – that was a long time for Jesus to dwell among His people.

In the new year, our sermon series will transition from Jesus’ coming to His dwelling. We’re calling the series Word Made Flesh, which comes from John 1:14. We’ll be digging into the Gospel of John, to meet the God who became human. Who turned water into wine and drove out the money-changers in the temple. Who confronted “good” religious people like Nicodemus and immoral outsiders like the Samaritan woman at the well, telling them both that He alone is the source of eternal life.

As we wrap up this Christmas season and move into a new year, we hope that you will join us as we continue to read the story of the life of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the God who dwells with His people.

Ways to Avoid Becoming Terrible at Christmas

Ways to Avoid Becoming Terrible at Christmas

I love Christmas. But I hate how easily Christmas can deform us. What do I mean? 

I really love Christmas. I sing Christmas songs in July. Our family seems to have a thousand traditions jammed into December. We are one of those families who wear matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. I don’t think I’ve ever had the thought, “Well, that was too many Christmas carols in worship.” I love the smells, the bells, the sweaters, the peppermint everything…I could go on. 

But I find myself often disturbed by who we — Christians — become around this time of year. Children throwing tantrums because they didn’t get the toy they wanted. Adults throwing tantrums because they didn’t get…the toy they wanted. Debt skyrocketing. Patience running thin. Depression rates increase. Family fights are the norm. It’s the hap-happiest season of all…!

Why? Partly because we’ve replaced the shared longing for Christ in Advent with the materialistic lusts of Christmas. More than that, our rhythms and idols are heightened during holy days (aka holidays). In a culture with extravagant wealth when compared historically and globally, we tend to leverage that wealth toward meeting our deepest needs of security, safety, meaning, and belonging rather than looking to Christ. This time of year can easily become the heightened worship of materialism, and so it should be no surprise that at this time of year we get more of materialism’s fruits: hurry, selfishness, isolation, and loneliness. 

Now to the key question: how do we fight this? How do we recenter our longing for Christ and His desires in a way that brings change in us for the better this Advent? The answer lies not just in a surrender of the heart but also in a change of practice. The apostle Paul reminds us that grace propels us to walk into good works (Ephesians 2:10). So what do we do?

Here are three practices that the Holy Spirit can use to help reorient the Christmas holy day into being a day that makes us more whole. 

#1 Read the Christmas Story from the Bible and Talk about It. 

When Christmas morning rolls around, we can tell ourselves that we’ve outsourced the telling of the Christmas story to a movie or a previous sermon at some point in December so that we feel like we’ve checked that box. 

What’s Christmas morning about? Is it the shredding away of the wrapping paper to find our dreams met in the items around us? Or is it centering on the Christ child once again? 

What if we put away the phones, the apps, the slideshows, and just get out the good ol’ Bible. Grab coffee and open the book. Gather around it with others or alone and read of God come to us. 

Don’t rush it. Sit in it. Ask questions of this critical moment in history. Ask God to give you a deeper appreciation or a more rich understanding.

Remind yourself that God is the greatest gift given to humankind, and allow Him to relativize how much the gifts under the tree are to satisfy our deepest desires. 

Now, I hear the pushback. Gabe, that may be fine if you’re single or married without kids. But you don’t know my kids. You’re right. I’ve got three kids under the age of 8 as I write this. I know the questions that go through our minds as parents: What if they start to have a distaste for the Bible because I require them to sit through a reading and engage? What if it ruins the day? What if I lose my temper? Can’t we just relax on this day? Geez?! 

Materialism wants us to focus on instant gratification and avoid discipline. The gospel calls us to gracious parenting with our eyes set on who the children are becoming. I want us to call our children to know the Scriptures and know the Jesus who is at the center of all this. And just because they don’t look as engaged at first when reading the Christmas story as they do when they open presents, that doesn’t mean they won’t be more grateful for those times 10 years from now. 

Think about what you want your kids to say to their kids? What you want your spouse to say about you at your funeral? What if they said, “They always brought us back to God’s word. They didn’t want me to miss the greatest gift of all. I wasn’t always grateful for it, but they wouldn’t let me give my heart to stuff that wouldn’t fill my heart.” Can you imagine? 

So very practically, here are some of the traditional texts to engage with on Christmas:

  • Matthew 1:18-25. This is the passage of how the angel came to Joseph to tell him to stay with Mary even though she was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. 
  • Luke 1:26-38. This is the passage where the angel comes to Mary and tells her she is to have a child. 
  • Luke 2:1-21. This is the classic passage of how Jesus was born and the shepherds came around the manger. 
  • Matthew 2. This is also a powerful passage of the foreigners (the Magi) who came to find Jesus, and how Jesus quickly became a refugee. A powerful reminder just how similar those early situations are to today.
  • Revelation 22:1-8. This is not as traditional in present day Christmas celebrations, but this text captures our advental longing for Christ’s second coming and the beauty of His coming presence. 

#2 Invite Others into Your Christmas Holy Day.

We can idolize the nuclear family in  western. In other cultures, extended family and even neighbors were included in holy day celebrations. Idols always destroy the vulnerable. Always. And some of the vulnerable in our culture are those who are single, whether young or older, and away from family. 

It’s fascinating that at the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph weren’t alone with Jesus. The shepherds joined them because God invited them (Luke 2:16). And throughout the gospel narrative we see again and again that Jesus himself defines the most important place of belonging not as the nuclear family but those who do the will of the Father (Matthew 12:50). Now this is in no way an excuse to exclude or avoid those who are related to us in a natural way (1 Timothy 5:8), but it is to expand our boundaries of belonging and inclusion. 

So on this Christmas, yes, call your grandma, but what about calling your Christian sister too? I’m not about making your Christmas day hectic, but maybe there’s one person you can reach out to who is in your life because you share Christ? Maybe they chose singleness like the apostle Paul encourages us to (1 Corinthians 7:7), or maybe singleness and isolation was a result of painful exclusion (James 1:27, 1 Corinthians 7:15). Regardless, we are made for community, and the church is to be the family of God in a very real sense. Who can you reach out to include this Christmas? 

Each Christmas there is someone Allie and I invite into our home that we hear is without a community on Christmas, and it is always better because of it. We don’t make any real adjustments. We just invite them into our lives to do Christmas with us, and it makes our Christmas day more beautiful. Try it out.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t add the importance of gathering with the church community around Christmas. It’s always fascinating to me that during a holiday centered on the beauty of Christ and His body, the Sunday after Christmas is one of the least attended Sundays in the year. I get there are reasons like travel and so on, but one important step in caring for the vulnerable around the holidays is to show up at church. We need each other, and if we don’t show up there – at our worship gatherings – we leave so many feeling even more alone when we need each other the most. 

#3 Be Radically Generous with Your Words. 

I don’t know how many times I have read the card on their presents for my kids, but they can’t even focus because their sights are set on the toy that is yet to be revealed under the wrapping paper. With such an emphasis on stuff during Christmas, we forget that some of the most powerful forms of generosity have to do with our words toward and for one another.

I recognize you need to figure out your rhythm with your family, but what if there was a part of Christmas day – maybe it’s even after the giving and receiving of the physical gifts – where each person shares something they are grateful for about the person sitting next to them? If you are a married couple, maybe you intentionally set time aside to speak your delight over one another?

I know, I know. Some folks are giving me the “you’re crazy” look right now. That just sounds hoaky, right? But why? We need to hear this from each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We need to hear from those closest to us that they are grateful for us. That’s even more important than whatever thing is under the tree. What if this year you did that for each person with you on Christmas morning? What if this year you just modeled the way? 

Let’s Become Better Together

Those are 3 practices that if we leaned into them during and around Christmas, the Holy Spirit would actually strengthen our bonds, encourage our faith, and train our mouths to anticipate Christ’s second coming. 

My hope is not that everyone does these exact three things. My hope is that this has given you a more biblical imagination for what God can do in and through you this holy day. It doesn’t have to be chaotic. It doesn’t have to be deforming. Christmas can be a time to give life, to form life, and to invite more into a shared life with Christ, if we are willing to allow our practices to communicate Christ at the center of Christmas once again. 

From all of us at Christ Community, Merry Christmas! 

Advent Devotionals and Books

Advent Devotionals and Books

by Rachel Gorman

If I’m honest, I want to make this Christmas season all about me. To enjoy losing myself in the endless distractions. 

December naturally lends itself to easy numbing, doesn’t it? A beautiful season—crisp cold weather, family traditions, the buying, the travel, the delight of holiday food & drink, the cozy nights in front of the fire…so much to enjoy and so much to help us forget. 

Frequently all the “good” morphs into something insatiable and results in unhealth. A morning after feeling of “Why did I eat that?” “Buy that?” I can also get so harried I begin to feel numb to some things. But to paraphrase one of my favorite thinkers—if we numb one thing, we become numb to everything. It’s impossible to pick and choose what we numb. And honestly, I don’t want to miss Christmas because I was comatose. 

I’ve found that when I choose to slow down and spend time reflecting—when all the good things are given their proper place of importance in my life—the joy in them is actually magnified, and even better than I imagined. 

My efforts to gorge on all the decadent happiness then transitions into a slow discipline of gratitude, joy, peace, and ultimately adoration of the beauty of the Maker of all the lovely things. 

These wonderful books for the Advent season have helped me reclaim my focus. I hope they will do the same for you:

  • The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp – a yearly read for me.  Food for the heart and mind.  Audience: predominantly women, but I recommend it for men, too.
  • Honest Advent by Scott Erickson – for those looking for a fresh perspective. I’m reading this for the first time this year, hoping it lives up to expectations. Endorsed by a couple of my favorites, John Mark Comer and Sarah Groves. Audience: men and women.
  • Shadow and Light by Tsh Oxenreideranother new one for me, but one I’m really excited to do with our family this year. Short readings, accompanied by Scripture, a daily Advent playlist, and instructions for lighting the Advent candles. Seems thoughtful but also approachable enough for the whole family. Audience: everyone.
  • Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Asheritah Ciuciu- lovely daily perspective on Jesus’ names as they relate to Advent. Audience: women
  • Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller – I haven’t read this one yet but with Tim Keller as the author, it’s a guaranteed win. Audience: men and women
  • Come Let us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp- I’ve enjoyed this daily devotional for several years. I appreciate how accessible it is, while still getting straight to the heart of the matter. Audience: men and women
Giving and Receiving

Giving and Receiving

One of my biggest struggles around the holidays is deciding who I should buy gifts for. Of course I will purchase gifts for my family and close friends, but what about coworkers, neighbors, and friends who are not particularly close? Cynically, I find my gift giving calculus for those individuals on the fringe of my social circle depends on whether or not I expect them to give me something. If I believe they will, then I get them a present to save myself the embarrassment of having nothing to offer in return.

A few years ago, a coworker unexpectedly gave me a gift. In response, I insinuated that I had been planning on giving her a gift at the staff Christmas party the next day. That evening I searched my house for something I could give her and ended up regifting a bag of coffee my wife had received from her workplace. I was struck at how I would rather lie and scrabble to put together a lame, last minute gift than receive a gift with nothing to offer in return. In the end, although I had given a gift, I was anything but generous.

Have you had a similar experience? Do you ever struggle to simply receive from another person without the need to immediately reciprocate? This struggle seems to reveal a lack of trust in the other person or a sense of pride in myself. I either don’t believe that the gift is truly without strings attached, or I want to have earned the approval of the other person to be worthy of the gift. Giving to manipulate someone else or as a means to curry favor is not genuine generosity. This negative view of giving and receiving can restrict experiencing authentic relationships with others and even with God. I find that I can only give what I have received. As much as I might want to be a truly generous person, if I interpret others’ gifts through a grid of mistrust or pride and not let myself experience the generosity of another, I won’t be able to be authentically generous with those around me.

One story that always convicts me of my challenge to receive well is the story of Naaman’s healing from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19). In it, Naaman wants to give Elisha lavish riches in response to his healing, but Elisha would not accept a thing from him. As the commander of the army of Aram, Naaman must surely have known how reciprocity for political favors worked and so did not want to remain in Elisha’s debt. Moreover, as one of the richest and most important men in the kingdom, to receive a gift like this must have broken down his pride. The entire narrative seems to emphasize the humbling journey Naaman embarked on by listening to his servants, being healed in a simple manner (merely washing in the Jordan river), and then being unable to use his immense personal wealth to pay for the healing. This finally breaks through to Naaman when his final request to Elisha is granted. He receives a bag of dirt from Israel so that he might pray to the God of Israel while still kneeling on Israeli soil upon his return to Aram. The only acceptable response to this lavish gift of healing is worship and an ongoing relationship, not actions growing out of mistrust or pride.

This kind of grace that breaks down our pride and builds trust can be seen even more clearly through God’s gift of Jesus for our salvation. I like how starkly the New Living Translation puts it in Ephesians 2:8-10 “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” 

God’s acceptance of us because of Jesus is not a gift we can earn and take credit for, nor one that manipulates or coerces us. Recognizing this free gift for what it is fosters worship and an authentic relationship with God. Of course, as with any good friend, we will naturally want to give gifts back to God.

Experiencing this genuine generosity from God, that expects nothing in return, will naturally lead us to be the kind of people who give without such expectations. However, this must not be from a posture of pride or mistrust, but from intimacy and thankfulness. 

As we continue through another holiday season of presents and gifts, let us focus and reflect on the true gift of Jesus that we receive without needing to pay Him back. Let’s be comfortable with receiving gifts, even when we have nothing to offer in return. Allowing ourselves to be a recipient of authentic generosity may empower our own authentic generosity toward others.

The First Songs of Christmas

The First Songs of Christmas

Songs have such power to convey meaning and evoke emotion. Christmas music is no exception.

Whether they cause you to feel jolly or jaded, these seasonal songs of celebration impact us. This year for Advent we are going to experience the wonder and glory of God’s entrance into the world as we begin our sermon series The First Songs of Christmas. We are not talking about tunes we hear at the mall. This advent season we will see the story of Christ’s birth through the songs that are sung in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel.

While the Gospels each have their own unique flavor and focus, there is something about Luke’s Gospel that just captivates me. Specifically, I love how it’s written in what one might refer to as an investigative journalism style. Luke, who himself was both a physician and historian begins his Gospel with these words:

Luke 1:1–4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Don’t you get the overwhelming sense that what you are reading is not some religious folklore but rather a historical account of things that happened in real time and space? The Christian Standard Bible translation of the verse says “I have carefully investigated everything.” The story of Christmas and the fuller story of Jesus is not mythological nor fanciful. It is historical. Luke is giving us a true account of the first Christmas and beyond.

Pastor and theologian Thabiti Anyabwalie pens these words about the style and nature of Luke’s Gospel:

“In the gospels we have eyewitness evidence admissible in a court of law. In fact, some scholars believe that Luke and Acts are companion volumes written as a legal brief in defense of the Apostle Paul.” -Thabiti Anyabwalie

Jesus was not born into a historical vacuum. The Lord of history entered into human history in real time and space. He entered into our time at the right time appointed by God. And Luke beautifully lays out the facts for us in his carefully researched account of Jesus so that his readers, including you and me, “may have certainty” about who Jesus is.

As we enter into our Advent sermon series together we are going to encounter the fruit of Luke’s research and investigative work as he introduces us to a cast of historical characters, each of whom reveal something significant about Jesus in the songs they sing and declare.

More than that, we will discover the glorious truth that Jesus is the song our hearts long to sing.

If you are looking for helpful resources for Advent, check out the list below. There are some designed for individuals as well as families. May they be a blessing to you this Christmas!

ADVENT RESOURCES:
Adults

Come, Let Us Adore Him by Paul Tripp
God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Asheritah Ciuciu
Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller

Kids

Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Guide
The Littlest Watchmen by Scott James
The Christmas Promise by Alison Mitchell
The Shepherd on the Search by Josh Helms

Advent: The Practice of Waiting

Advent: The Practice of Waiting

I am very sentimental about Christmas, and my list of favorite things is long and in no particular order. I love all of it, and I have for as long as I can remember.

But if I had to boil it down and sum up the magic in one word, it would be anticipation. The hoping and the wondering and the waiting.

On the church calendar, we call this season Advent. It’s a time when Christians learn how to hope through the practice of waiting. It’s a season of expectant longing for the return of God’s promised rescuer, Jesus.

Christians throughout the world have different ways of celebrating Advent. Some light candles. Some sing songs. Some eat candies. Some give gifts. Some hang wreaths. Many of us do all of the above.

But way before Advent became something the church celebrated, God’s people waited. Waited for Him to make good on His promises. Waited for Him to send a Rescuer. Waited for God’s promised Messiah to come and put everything back together and make every wrong right.

Isaiah frames the promise this way in chapter 9, vv. 6-7:

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.

Fast forward to the New Testament, and we’re introduced in Luke 2 to a man named Simeon, who still believed this promise 700 years later. For us, that would be like waiting for the fulfillment of a promise that was made at the beginning of the Renaissance era. That promise is old, and Simeon has been waiting his entire life to see it happen. (Tell your kids they can wait for their Christmas presents.)

What does Luke say about Simeon? He’s a righteous man. The Holy Spirit is upon him. And he’s not going to die until he meets the Messiah. That’s quite a promise.

But in Luke 2, it happens! After all these years of waiting, Simeon scoops up Jesus and holds God’s Messiah in his arms. Like He always does, God comes through on His promises.

And Simeon’s response, at the end of his life with his hope fulfilled, is basically, now I can die.

I’ve received some great gifts in my life. My favorite as a kid was an Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway Orlando Magic jersey, black with white pinstripes. Oversized, of course. It was the most incredible moment of my 9-year-old life.

But I wasn’t ready to die! In fact, I have no idea where that jersey is today. As good as it was, it wasn’t the fulfillment of my deepest longings. (Well, maybe for a second.)

But that’s how good the gift of Jesus is! The wait is over. The world’s peace and joy has come. The light and glory of God has come into the world. Now I can die.

Jesus is the last gift you and I will ever need. You can have peace in life and in death. You can find comfort in the present and hope for the future. If you have Jesus, you really can say, I can die now.

That doesn’t mean the waiting will be easy or that life will be painless. That’s why we need Advent, after all, to get better at waiting. But like Simeon centuries ago, we can do so with hope in the faithfulness of God to make good on His promises.

We have wonderful promises to believe this Advent season! Jesus will finish His redemptive work when He comes again, and the waiting will finally be over.

What are you waiting for this Advent season?