Christmas has come. We’ve celebrated the birth of Christ, but we are still waiting for him to come again as he promised. The birth of Christ is only part of the story. The story continues and is marked at every turn by commitment and sacrifice. Every good thing worth having comes through commitment and sacrifice. Listen to the extended story of Christ’s birth and childhood.
Slides – Luke 2:21-42
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
Many people want their spiritual life to be spectacular—to be filled with passion and miracles and signs and wonders. They want worship to always be special; maybe that’s why so many only attend church on Christmas or Easter. People want spirituality, not religion; they want to feel God’s love, but they don’t want to practice religious disciplines. But that’s not the way things usually work in real life. We don’t usually have a spectacular spiritual life if we don’t practice the daily commitment of religious discipline. Furthermore, the signs and wonders of God’s intimate and powerful presence in our lives usually happen when we are in the midst of our daily spiritual habits.
Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people like you and me, but the Bible also describes them as godly people. They prayed. They worshiped. They study God’s Word. They were committed to their religious duties. It was in the midst of this religious life that the Angel appeared to Mary and the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus. It was in the midst of a godly religious life that the Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to remain committed to Mary, for she was pregnant with the Son of God. And after the child was born, we see Mary and Joseph continued their religious duties. They circumcised Jesus when he was 8-years-old, they followed the purification rites according to the Law of Moses, they continued their regular religious duties and even traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem every year. They also trained Jesus to be a faithful Jew. By the time he was twelve and they took him to the Temple in Jerusalem, he had been studying the Bible (The Torah actually, which was the jewish Bible) and practicing his religion faithfully and knew the Word of God as well as the religious scholars. Practice makes perfect; that's true in you spiritual life as well as anything else. And it was true for Jesus too.
In our text this morning, we also see the religious commitment of an old man named Simeon. He was righteous and devout. And there was a widowed prophet named Anna, who was 84-years-old. It says, “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” A very “religious” woman, but her determined, daily commitment to religious practice (and also Simeon’s) led to a spectacular, once in a lifetime spiritual experience. They both get to see and hold and pray with and bless the baby Jesus.
Things Worth Having
Things worth having are worth waiting for, working for, fighting for, and never giving up on. The biggest, most important blessings in life come through commitment. We celebrate the special moments of life—when a youth graduates from high school, a young couple get married, the birth of a child, etc. We flood Facebook and Instagram with pictures capturing these special milestones. But these moments in and of themselves are nothing if not bathed in deep, daily commitment. It is not the marriage ceremony or the pictures that matter; it is the love that the bride and groom have for each other that compels them to remain by each other’s side in good times and bad time, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health their whole life long. We anticipate the glorious birth of a child with a young couple, but the true glory is in the old women and men like Anna and Simeon who have lived a life of deep commitment and sacrifice, raising children and grandchildren, serving their friends, their church, their community.
Over the last month, I’ve shared about many different kinds of prayer. We can experience some very special and intimate spiritual time with God through many different types of prayer. I want to share one more. It is called covenant prayer. A covenant is an agreement. It is a promise between God and His people. Throughout the Bible, God has promised to care for His people. And God calls His people to be committed in our relationships too--with people and with God.
A relationship can only go as far as our commitment to one another. That’s why a man and a woman decide to get married and promise to love each other until death. It assures the couple they can trust each other at the deepest, most vulnerable levels of life because they can trust their partner will not abandon them no matter what.
The same principle applies in our spiritual lives. If you want a deep spiritual life, if you want to experience the spectacular power and loving presence of God in your life, you’ve got to be deeply committed to God. If you want real answers to the deep questions of life that go beyond those trite clichés, you’ve got to be deeply committed. If you want true healing from terrible scars, freedom from heavy chains, or true hope in the midst of hopelessness, you’ve got to be truly committed to the Healer, Liberator, and Source of all Hope. Why would God cast His pearls before swine who would only trample them in the mud and then break out of the pen to run away to some other field?
Our deep commitment to God is an essential act of prayer that opens up true and deep communion with the One who makes life worth living, who brings answers to our most important questions, who shows us questions we never even thought to ask, and grants us true peace as we walk through life in the midst of His perfect will.
How Will you Be Committed in the Coming Year?
Our Covenant Prayer with God encompasses many areas. There is the covenant of holy obedience. God is the rightful ruler of all. He deserve our obedience, not because of anything He has done for us, but because He is Lord of all. Will you make a covenant to put obedience to God above yoru family, you nation, your career, everything? Will you obey even if it makes you look strange or cost you?
There is the covenant of time. We you make your time with God your first priority? Prayer, worship, study, and service are important but not necessarily urgent. There are always other commitments that try to steal your time, claiming to be more urgent that your devotional time. And the truth is, the sky is not going to fall if you skip church or your prayer time or reading your Bible. However, over time, we grow weak as we neglect the important religious exercise of prayer, study, worship, and service. You will always reap what you sow. And for years, decades, centuries, Americans have been neglecting these critical elements of religious life. That's why we and our families and our communities have grown so spiritually weak. Will you make a covenant with God to be faithful with your time?
There is the covenant of place. We all need to worship, study, and pray in private. But we cannot only do these in private. We must also be part of a community of faith. You cannot be a Christian only in private. Christianity is a communal experience. Will you make a covenant to be part of the Body of Christ--to worship and serve the Lord in the Church? Where will that be?
There is the covenant of preparation. Will you covenant to come to worship prepared to be in the presence of the Lord? So many people complain, "I don't get anything out of worship when I come to church." Often times, those are the same people who stayed up extra late on Saturday night and who barely made it to worship on Sunday, who came in late, who sat in the pew the whole time thinking about what they would do for the rest of the day. They weren't prepared to worship the Living God and they weren't fully present while they were here. No wonder they didn't feel fed. Do you realize, in worship, you are in the presence of the Lord of the universe. He is so deep we cannot fathom Him, so infinite our finite minds cannot comprehend Him--even if we spent years preparing to visit with Him. And yet, we do so little to prepare to meet Him! We should at least begin preparing our heart on Saturday evening, get to bed on time, rise early on Sunday with plenty of time to spare, and be prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit's assistance the whole time to prepare us to meet our Lord in worship. Will you make a covenant with God to be prepared to meet Him regularly?
There is the covenant of resources. Jesus said, where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. What you spend your time, energy, money, and resources on show what are your priorities. Will you make a covenant to put God first with your financial giving, your time, and your other commitments? For what you are truly committed to makes all the difference in what you receive spiritually. We receive our greatest blessings through commitment and sacrifice.
Your Covenant Commitments for 2019
I invite you to consider your covenant commitments for 2019. I pray you will be fully committed, willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God, and thus receive the full blessing God wishes to grant you.