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Gift Return December 25, 2015

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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John 1:10-11

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us the gift we needed most.

Function:  That the hearers humbly rejoice in the gift they so desperately needed.

Structure:  Sermon outline by Phill Tague as part of his Socks and Underwear Advent series.

 

Gift Return

 

I want to begin tonight by sharing with you the story of a king.  This story was first told by the nineteenth century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  The king had everything.  An exquisite palace, immeasurable wealth, a vast kingdom.  In kingly terms, he had it all.  But something was missing.  He wanted someone with whom he could share it.  He wanted a queen, a woman he could love and share his kingdom with, share his life with.

Now, on the surface, this wasn’t a problem.  He was a good man, with a reputation for being just and kind.  And there was certainly no lack of suitors, no lack of women willing to be his queen.  But therein lies the problem.  How could he know what these women were after?  How could he know if they really sought to share life with him, or if they were just after his stuff, his power, his wealth, the crown?

This troubled the king for some time, until one day as he wandered around the villages of his kingdom, he spotted her.  Just a young, simple peasant girl.  There was nothing remarkable about her, nothing that should have made her stand out.  But for whatever reason, she caught more than his eye that day, she captured his heart.

The king went to his advisors and told them of his situation.  “Shower her with gifts, my lord.  She is stuck in poverty, her needs are numerous.  With the snap of your finger, you could remove it all, you could change her life and win her affections.”  The king knew they were right.  But he still had that fear.  If I do all of this, how will I know that she loves me, and not my stuff?  And again, the question ate at him.

Then he had an idea of his own.  The king took off his crown.  He took off his royal robes.  He dressed himself as a servant and left the palace.  He went down into the village where she lived, to be a simple peasant.  To get to know her and to give her a chance to get to know him.  He gave up his rights, he gave up his throne.

Now maybe you would like to know how that story ends.  But it doesn’t.  Kierkegaard never wrote an ending.  The ending wasn’t the point.  The point of the story was the king’s unconditional love.  That he loved her so much he was willing to give up everything for her.  That’s why you’re here tonight.  That’s why we’re celebrating tonight.

John begins his gospel by telling us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Jesus, the King, was in His kingdom, but He gave it all up.  He laid aside His crown and His throne and He came down to us.  He came down to the one He loved.  We heard from Luke earlier, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

The King, the Lord of the universe, became one of us.  Became as ragged as us as He was wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.  Immanuel, God with us.  But despite being such an incredible gift, it wasn’t always well received.

At the 6 o’clock service here tonight we looked at gifts, specifically the difference between the gifts that we want, and the gifts we need, like socks and underwear.  But let’s face it, sometimes we get gifts that we don’t want at all.  I’m not sure who tracks this stuff or how, but American Express reported that we return on average, one gift per person per year.  I want you to take a moment now, turn to someone sitting near you and share with them one gift that you’ve either returned or regifted to someone else.  And be careful not to mention something they gave you!

Pause

Masses of people rejected Him because He wasn’t the Savior they wanted.  He wasn’t what they were expecting.  He’s sacrificed heaven for them, but He’s just not what they want.

John also wrote, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.”  Christ, the King, the Savior came to His own people, to the children of God, but they rejected Him.  It is as N.T. Wright once said, “This is the central problem which dominates the whole gospel story.  Jesus comes to God’s people, and God’s people do what the rest of the world do: they prefer darkness to light.”

But John’s very next verse says, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  It’s a free gift.  Just like those you unwrap from family tomorrow.  They’re gifts.  They’re free, they’ve been given to you.  Just like when you were born, and your parents lifted you up and said “You are my child, I love you, and I will care for you.”  You didn’t have to do anything.  It was a free gift.  And yet, just like any gift, we can reject it, we can return it.

Today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.  Every man who’s procrastinated buying a gift for the special woman in his life will hit the stores, looking for something to get her.  And probably a few ladies were hitting those last minute sales as well.  But if you went shopping today, what did you hear?  The radios playing Christmas music, and I mean, real Christmas music.  Not just “Grandma got run over by a reindeer,” not, “Christmas Shoes,” but real Christ-centered songs and hymns like “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”

Our culture which continues to drift away from the good news of a Savior, our culture is for the most part still okay with the story of this little baby boy.  It’s a cute story, it hits home, it reminds them of warm feelings from their childhood, traditions, celebrations.  It brings them some happiness.  You’ll hear Christmas music because most people like the Christmas Jesus.  But for many it’s only because it’s a baby.  This Jesus is non-confrontational, this Jesus is non-demanding.

People like cute babies.  But this baby grows up.  This same Christmas baby boy is the man who cleansed the temple with whip in hand.  He’s the same man who said multiple times “repent or perish.”  This is the same man of whom Isaiah prophesied:

But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

 

The baby boy whom we celebrate tonight is the same crucified man.  This is Jesus, whose own people did not receive Him.  Instead, they beat Him.  And come Good Friday, you won’t see that in stores.

Many Romans hated Jesus because they hated His followers.  They hated the Jews.  These soldiers had to live away from their families to patrol and police an unruly bunch.  Get rid of the Jews, we get to go home.  They rejected the Son of God because they hated the children of God.

We see this still today.  Many people even in our own community won’t give Jesus a chance because they hate Christians.  They reject Jesus’ free gift because of His kids.  Dan Kimball wrote a book a few years ago called “They like Jesus, But Not the Church.”  It’s on my shelf downstairs, you can borrow it if you’d like.  But here are two real quotes from people he surveyed:

Before my friend became a Christian, you could talk to him.  It was normal…but after his conversion, you couldn’t talk to him anymore.  Every conversation was about condemning something about my lifestyle.  All he did was keep telling me the things I was doing wrong…you ask why I don’t go to church?  Why would I want to become a negative person like most Christians are? – Maya

 

The church is a group of judgmental mudslingers.  They seem to really like picking fights with others.  Whether it is homosexuals, or other religions, or even with each other.  That’s the weirdest part.  Jesus said to love one another, but you’re always hearing how the church even fights among themselves and with other denominations.  But this isn’t anything new.  Look at the Crusades.  The church has always been an angry bunch. – Gary

 

These are bitter words, angry words coming from angry people.  But where are they getting their opinion of Christ?  From us.  From Christians, even if it’s often only based on one person.  Their opinion has nothing to do with Christ or what we find in His Word.  They want nothing to do with the church because it’s full of hypocrites and annoying, judgmental people.  Maybe you’ve seen that reaction, maybe you’ve felt it.  And you know what?  In some ways it’s true.  Because the church is full of sinners.  Sinners desperately in need of an unexpected gift, a needed gift.  We’re imperfect, but don’t let the poor wrapping job keep you from the greatest gift ever.

Then there were many of the Jews, God’s own chosen people.  They rejected Christ and His gift of salvation because He wasn’t what they were expecting, He wasn’t what they wanted.  They wanted deliverance now.  Save us from the Romans, save us from oppression.  One day they’re cheering His arrival in Jerusalem and just a week later they join the masses chanting “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”

Many today fall into this trap.  They think “If I just follow Him, if I just do what He says, He’ll fix my life.  My life will be good, and easy.”  So when they start trying to follow Him, they run into issues.  “Why is my life still hard?  Why isn’t He working in my life?”  And so they dismiss Him.  Just like the Jews did, even though they had Isaiah 53 telling them what He’d look like, what He’d do for them.

What kind of Savior would allow me to lose my house to foreclosure?  What kind of King would let cancer attack my body?  What kind of Lord would let divorce tear up my family?  Why isn’t He saving me?

But He is.  Just not in the way we always want it to be.  Theologian D.S. Carson once said:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist.   If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist.  If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician.  If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor.  But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.

 

God knows what we need even when we don’t.  God knows of our sin, of the depths of our despair and corruption.  And He knows what it takes to overcome it.  Not to deliver us from temporary pain, although sometimes He does, but to deliver us from permanent destruction.  He says in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Let me give you an illustration.  You’re staying in a nice hotel.  When, in the middle of the night, the fire alarm goes off.  You’re annoyed, agitated, groggy.  But you get out of bed anyway, and you do smell smoke.  This time, it’s not just an alarm, it’s an emergency.  And so you grab what you can, including that ridiculously expensive bottle of water on the counter.  You know, the one they bill you $4 for if you even so much as look at it.

You’re making your way towards the fire exit when you hear a little girl screaming.  Instinct takes over, and you head for the voice.  You find her, alone, afraid, in a room where flames have already begun to eat away the wall.  Surely, this is as good a reason as any to pay $4 for that bottle of water.  So you hand it to the child, and then you leave.

What good would that be?  Sure, she’s not thirsty anymore, but what good is that if she’s left there to die?  See, Matthew tells us “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Christ didn’t come to make us comfortable.  He didn’t come to make life easy for us, to take away our pains and our temporary trials.  He came to save us from ourselves, from sin, from death, and from the devil.

In the first chapter of John’s gospel he mentions that Christ’s own did not receive Him.  He doesn’t use that same Greek word again, the word “receive,” paralambanw, until chapter 14, when Jesus says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Christ will receive us unto Himself.  What will that look like?  What delight will there be that day?!  The next time He comes, as He’s promised, won’t be as a baby boy in Bethlehem, but as King, a King ready to claim what is His.

A King who has fallen in love with a simple peasant, who took off His crown, who took on the nature of a servant.  The story had no end because it’s our story.  And it’s not over.  The end isn’t mine to write.  It’s between God and the people He so dearly loves.  Merry Christmas!

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