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Monday, November 30, 2015

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Isaiah 64:1-9

Christmas is traditionally a time when people go home to be close to family.  Unfortunately, not everyone is able to go home for the holidays.  There are often obstacles in the way that keep us from going home.  Home may be too far away.  We may be too busy to go home.  Or it may be too painful to because we don’t get along with our family or we may be overcome with grief as we think of loved ones who have passed away.
Even so, Christmas is still a time when we long to go home to the place where we feel at peace, where love is freely given and freely received.  Ultimately, our Home is with our Heavenly Father.  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas over the next few weeks, I want to challenge you to think of “Home” in its broader, spiritual sense.  Consider how Jesus came to overcome whatever keeps us from being at home with God.
Sometimes Home seems too far away.  I think of our brave soldiers serving oversees.  This must be an especially difficult time of year for them.  They feel the same longings we feel to go home for Christmas, but their duty to our country will not allow it.  For them, home must seem especially far away this season.
In a similar way, there is a deep spiritual longing in the heart of humanity to be at home with God, but sin separates us so far from Him it seems impossible to go Home.  Throughout history, men and women of faith have sensed this obstacle and longed to find a bridge between God and humanity.  People have gone to great lengths to cross this chasm, but all human efforts fail.  The prophet Isaiah wrote of the Jewish longing to be at home with God in Isaiah 64:1-9.  This was written over 500 years before Christ was born and laments how sin separates humanity form God.

Isaiah 64:1-9
1Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
    How the mountains would quake in your presence!
As fire causes wood to burn
    and water to boil,
your coming would make the nations tremble.
    Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!
When you came down long ago,
    you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.
    And oh, how the mountains quaked!
For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!
You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
    and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Yet no one calls on your name
    or pleads with you for mercy.
Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand.
Don’t be so angry with us, Lord.
    Please don’t remember our sins forever.
Look at us, we pray,
    and see that we are all your people.

Christmas Materialism
God did look and see His people.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Savior.  God loves us so much He sent his son Jesus to bridge the gap that sin places between us and God.  Jesus already did everything necessary to make a way for us to go Home spiritually.  In order to overcome the obstacle of sin that keeps us from being at Home with God we must:  believe in Jesus, repent of our sin, and invite Jesus into our life. 
Unfortunately, few people consciously recognize that they are lost and far from Home.  We mistake the temporary trappings of this world for things of eternal value.  And so, as Isaiah said in verse 7, “No one calls on [God’s] name or pleads with [God] for mercy. Therefore, [God has] turned away from us and turned us over to our sins.”
The Christmas season often heightens our pursuit of worldly things.  It is a time of great excitement and expectation.  Retailers play off this to increase sales and make more money.  A friend of mine told me a funny story that illustrates the effect the Christmas hype can have on people.  He said he once stood in line to see Santa Clause with his little boy.  Of course, it was a long line with many children eagerly waiting to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas.  They must have stood in line for nearly an hour.  Then, just before Ken and his boy got their turn, Santa stood up and said, “I’ve had enough of this!”  He ripped off his beard and hat, threw them down, and walked off the job.  Ken just stood there dumbfounded with his jaw on the floor.  He didn’t know what to say to his son.  Would his image of Christmas and Santa Clause be shattered?  Then, his son looked up and said, “Dad, what’s the matter with that elf?  He’s not doing a very good job filling in for Santa!”
The excitement builds as we wait for Christmas to come.  We wait and wait and finally we get our turn at Christmas and then we are disappointed.  Christmas was not all it was cracked up to be.  Why?  Because we can’t find true peace, joy, and happiness in a fat man dressed up in a red suit. 
Sometimes, even visiting family for the holidays isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Maybe we have fond memories of how great Christmas was in the good ole days.  And maybe it seems things can never be as good as they once were.  The music just isn’t as good, the food isn’t as tasty, the presents aren’t as special, the laughs aren’t as funny, the relatives aren’t as friendly…  Could it be that sometimes we even substitute family for God?  And when we do, we are always disappointed.
That’s not what Christmas was meant to be.  Christmas is the celebration of God’s love revealed to us through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born to remind us and invite us to come Home to God.  Jesus lived to show us the way Home.  He died to overcome the obstacle of sin that keeps us away from Home.  He rose from the grave because not even death can keep us from being at Home with our Father in Heaven. 
1.     Repentence
The key to overcoming sin is repentance.  Jesus has already broken the power of sin over us, but we must repent—that means to turn away from sin and turn to God.  But how do we actually repent.  First, we must ask ourselves in all honesty, “What do I put in the place of God?”
  I have a good friend who is a die-hard Tennessee Volunteers football fan.  He used to spend all his time tracking statistics on his team, watching games… He even lost sleep over whether or not they would beat Georgia!  But one day a few years ago as he was praying, he realized that he was being foolish.  He spent more time on a silly college football team than he did on his family.  He was even more passionate about the VOLS than he was about God.  When he came to his senses, my friend asked God to forgive him and he repented.  That means he changed the way he lived his life.  He’s still a Tennessee Volunteers football fan, but instead of being a fanatic sports fan, he’s a fanatic God fan.  And football never comes before God or the things that are truly important in life.  

2. Ask Forgiveness
Once we are aware we have put something before God, we must ask forgiveness.  It’s OK to ask for forgiveness in general… because we may never be fully aware of all the things we put before God.  But we should also reflect deeply on our life and then ask for forgiveness for the specific things that God reveals we have put before Him.  

3. Let God Change You
Next, we must let God change our behavior.  It is good to be sorry for our sins, but just feeling sorry is not enough.  There must also be a change in our behavior.  Change comes as a result of a personal encounter with Jesus.  I hope then, you will pray for more and more personal encounters with Jesus that you may be changed.  And pray for God to open your eyes more and more so you can recognize how you have already encountered Jesus in your life.  These divine encounters have profound, life-changing effects on us.  They help us to truly repent and come Home to God.
We change as a response to God’s love.  I think about the lady who was caught in the act of adultery in the passage from John 8:1-11.  She was caught red-handed, dragged from the bed by an angry mob, and thrown at the feet of Jesus.  According to the law, she was supposed to be stoned to death.  The mob demanded an answer—should they stone her or not.  You remember Jesus’ response.  He said, ““All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.  When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.””[i]
The Bible doesn’t tell us what became of her after this, but an early church tradition says she went on to become a saint.  If that’s true, she didn’t become a saint to impress Jesus.  He had already seen her at her worst and he loved and forgave her anyway.  She became a saint in response to the great love of Christ that forgave her and spared her life when she was still a sinner.
The same is true for us.  We don’t try to be good people to earn God’s favor.  Isaiah said, “When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags.”[ii]  We can’t impress God and we don’t have to.  God loves us in spite of our sin.  His love for us is demonstrated by Christ who gave up the glory of heaven to be born as a helpless baby in a rickety old manger.  He lived a perfect life and was crucified for our sins so that we can be washed clean—as white as snow. 

 So how do we respond to all this?  Well, we could disregard it and keep on falling for the same old hype the world offers every year.  We could place our hopes in the temporary pleasures the gifts of this world bring. 
Or we could spend our time preparing our souls for the coming of Christ.  One day, we will face Jesus and look into the eyes of the man who hung on a cross for our sins.  If Christ came to take you Home to heaven today, would you be ready to go or would you keep clinging to the temporary things of this world?  The season of Advent is a very fitting time to prepare our souls to go Home to be with God.  Won’t you look into the eyes of your Savior today and say, “I’ll be Home for Christmas this year?” 

Thank You Jesus, for the great gift you gave us on the cross at Calvary.  You have made a way for us to truly come Home for Christmas this year.  We long for Home—the place we’re always certain to find hope and joy and peace.  Reveal to us those things in our lives that we have put before God.  And help us to know that no sin is too big for you to overcome.  Urge us to repent and to always put God first in our lives so that we will be ready to be at Home with God this Christmas.  Amen.

[i] John 8:7b-11
[ii] Isaiah 64:6

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