Advent 2021
Week 2:  God Doesn’t Want to Blast Us;
He Wants to Bless Us
Luke 2:1-7      12-5-21

It’s the holiday season which, as everyone knows,
means that I get to tell holiday jokes.

For example, a group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby bragging about their recent tournament victories.

Eventually, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse.

“But why?” they asked.

Because,” he said,
“I can’t stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

We all know the Christmas story so well that we may need to step back and ask why God needed to go to all the trouble of coming to us through the manger.

God had never abandoned the people He’d given paradise to, the people He’d led out of Egyptian slavery, the people He’d freed from Babylonian captivity.

But not long after each of these, the people grew complacent and then distant.

They stayed faithful for a while, but soon were making a mess of things again.

That’s true for us as well.

Removed from God, we perpetuate our hurts, habits and hang-ups that cause us and those around us so much misery.

Removed from God, we become blind to why we keep sabotaging our relationships, to when we start reenacting our unhealthy behaviors, and to what triggers our old, familiar fears.

Then to compound things, our distance from God disempowers us to overcome those same worn-out attitudes, because we aren’t connected to God healing and wisdom.

So, through Jesus God was trying a radically new and personal way of drawing close to us.

Maybe you were taught that God is out to catch us and punish us for messing up.

But it is just the opposite.

God doesn’t want to blast us; He wants to bless us – and now God tries to bless us by walking with us through the real human journey we take.

One thing that strikes me about the familiar Bethlehem passage that Terry just read is that each of the people who stayed home, hidden behind their protective walls, missed the miracle of the Savior.

Advent is a period of anticipation for the coming Messiah, but it is not a period for passively waiting for God to break through our walls.

Herod stayed in his thick-walled palace, and he remained a fearful tyrant until his dying day.

The innkeeper stayed cozy inside and was oblivious the God’s decisive action of history happening right in his backyard, and we never heard of him again.

The priests stayed wrapped up in their pomp and finery and missed the coming of the Savior, even though they knew he would be born in Bethlehem.

God came to all those people, but he was only received by those who traveled the hard road to the manger:
Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and that Magi.

God’s Goal for Us: That  We Grow in Godly Character

God’s purpose is for us to grow in godly character – and all the raw material we need for our growth is right here in our life.

Ephesians 4:23-24    However, you were taught to have a new attitude. You were also taught to become a new person created to be like God….

Now, are we ever going to complete the journey and become fully like God?

Of course not, but we find our life purpose, experience God’s empowerment, and live with joy as we consciously and actively move toward that goal.

And God will use our life circumstances (the good, the bad and the ugly) as the raw material to build a godly character.

God gave me a little opportunity this week to work on inner peace – in the big scheme of things this is small, but it was important for me

Looking at my calendar, I could see that I would have more to do late in the month than I would be able to manage.

So, I needed to get ahead of things, and by last Wednesday I had this week’s sermon, order of worship and PowerPoint ready.

That included preparing slides for two new songs.

Plus, I was already starting on next week’s sermon and order of worship, and I even had Christmas Eve’s service ready to print.

That’s a lot of work.

Then at 1:00 Wednesday afternoon, poof, because of a mistake I made, I lost all of that work from my computer.

In an instant it was all gone and because of what I had done, it was not retrievable.

There was a time that I would have slammed by computer shut and bitched and complained for the rest of the day, but I decided to use that very frustrating experience to practice inner peace.

There really was nothing else to do than to start over, and I could either do it with a bitter attitude that would magnify my anger and annoy everyone around me, or I could just go about it matter-of-factly.

I’m glad I didn’t get all wrapped up in self-recrimination or anger, first, because it would have only upset me more, and, second, because right about then Terri and Priscilla called to update me on Terri’s appointment at UCLA and I really wanted hear what Terri’s doctors said, and I really wanted to be present for the two of them – and my anger and frustration would have shut me down.

There are big issues of world peace and social justice, but sometimes it is in the small, personal circumstances where we have to practice.

Advent is reminding us that through Jesus we have God up close, personal and involved, because growing character is a collaborative effort.

We begin our part by stepping out of our self-protective shells to receive God’s truth.

Some of us have spent a lifetime constructing and defending our self-protective shells, so venturing outside can be frightening.

Even if they’ve become our prison cells, at least they feel safe and familiar – maybe even comfortable.

Maybe you know someone who is so threatened that they lob shots through their cell’s bars at anyone who ventures too close.

Cross them or get too close, and you get a load of their sarcasm or anger.

Or maybe you can think of someone who has built their identity around their defects or the hurts done to them.

They are stuck in a rut … but the only difference between a rut and a grave is its length.

But rather than risk change some just say, “It’s just the way I am.”

Ephesians 4:22b  The person you used to be will ruin you through desires that deceive you. 

Here’s the bottom line: There is no growth without change; there is no change without loss; and there is no loss without pain.

That’s why I’ve so often said that the Truth will set you free, but first it might make you miserable.

God came in the flesh and then left the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out . . . if we will participate.

GROWING IN CHARACTER

What is spiritual growth?

Ephesians 4:22    … take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces His character in you.

Paul teaches that since the time of the Holy Spirit, there are two aspects of spiritual growth:  A working out, that is our responsibility, and a working in, which is God’s role that leads to a life of changed attitudes and behaviors.

Two Aspects of Spiritual Growth

Philippians 2:12-13    continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling [our part], for it is God who works in you [God’s part] to will and to act according to His good purpose.

We’re not talking about eternal salvation – that is already a gift given.

This is about what we do with the great gift of life we have here and now.

It’s like we’ve been given the pieces to the puzzle – our gifts, our hardships, our sense of life purpose – and then with God we work out how we will arrange them.

We God, we co-create our life.

We don’t know much about Joseph, but I’ve often marveled that he could be dad to the Son of God.

Imagine the compassion and clarity he must have had to raise Jesus.

We see that from the beginning.

The Bible says that Joseph was from Bethlehem, so at some time he must have moved out of town and into the countryside of Galilee.

I would guess that he still had family and friends in Bethlehem, right?

But it seems that no one welcomed him or made it easy for him to return to his old haunts with a pregnant fiancé in tow.

After all, the Bible does not report that he stayed with uncle Aaron or sister Moriah.

No.

He was forced onto a hard journey, leaving his work in Nazareth, and leading his wife on a donkey over thirty miles of rough road just to endure the rejection of family and friends who left him to sleep in the barn behind the inn.

Joseph, it seems, behaved honorably, despite this rejection.

The Roman decree only required that males return to their hometowns for the tax . . . so he could have avoided the issues and left Mary in Nazareth.

But it was because he took that hard journey without hiding Mary that Joseph found the Christ.

I’ve found that we all want to meet Christ, we all want to grow, but we don’t want to take the journey.

The first Christmas:

The ones who actually received the gift were those willing to come outside of their safety and onto the journey.

A woman I know used to be close friends with another woman here in the Valley.

They exercised together.

They shopped together.

They had long, heartfelt discussions together.

But eventually they drifted apart because my friend had emotionally and spiritually moved on, but the other remained stuck, repeating the same old, familiar discussions about the same old problems over and over.

A dozen years had gone by, but she had managed to avoid facing the underlying, painful issues that led to her part in a lonely marriage, to a long series of friendships turned bitter and to her repeatedly excusing and rescuing her grown-up, but irresponsible, children.

She talked of health, but wouldn’t face the pain of exposing her flaws that needed healing.

How many people do you know who are stuck in a rut like her?

That is not the life God wants for you, so His Christmas gift is a way out of your rut.

You might even think that too much in your life is against you.

Well then notice that the Christmas gift came through an arrogant act of the Roman authorities demanding that peasant people disrupt their lives, leave their crops and their homes to pay an unjust tax.

Yet God actually used this abuse of worldly power as the opportunity for divine salvation by fulfilling Hebrew prophesies of where the Messiah would be born.

God’s promise is greater than your problem.

So, Advent is a period of expectation and waiting for the long-promised Messiah.

But it is not passively waiting.

The ones who actually received Christ were those who to ventured outside of their safety and onto the journey.

Here are the first two steps to getting onto the journey.

FIRST, ADMIT YOUR WEAKNESS

We are as sick as the secrets.

It is a lot easier to get angry at someone and stay resentful than it is to talk through a disagreement.

It is a lot easier to lick our wounds and feel victimized than to take responsibility.

It is a lot easier to privately repeat an addictive pattern than to get into recovery.

But problems grow in the dark and shrink in the light.

So God’s first step is this:   Don’t repress it, confess it.

Whatever you can’t talk about is already out of control in your life.

The root of all sin is pride, not admitting that we fall short, not admitting our need for God.

God Wants Us to be Humble

James 4:6  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

So let Advent first be a time when you admit to God and yourself a place where you keep stumbling.

Say, Lord, here is a dark place that I’ve been pretending is not a problem.

Here is a part of my life where I keep getting it wrong.

One recurring problem I keep repeating in my life is                                                                                                  

 

SECOND, GET “IN FRONT” OF YOUR DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR

Usually a destructive habit does not happen at random.

Usually something gets us going.

I know a woman whose temper lashes out at her family when household chores build-up to a breaking point.

When she loses it, life is rotten for everyone around her.

But after confessing that anger is a life-long issue for her, one she learned from her father, she was able to recognize what triggers her tantrums.

In her case it was that she kept overbooking her schedule.

She couldn’t say no, so she just kept heaping one commitment on top of another until the pressure inside her exploded onto everyone around her.

Much of her anger issue was managed as she learned to take more control of her time.

If you want to avoid being stung, learn stay away from the bees.

  • An attitude or situation that triggers my problem behavior is                       

 

  • One thing I can change so that I don’t set-up the conditions for my behavior is

 

God is offering you a Christmas present this year, a chance to transform your life to free yourself to become a new person.

He asks that you become humble and courageous.

Humble by confessing where you have fallen short.

Courageous by trusting that God loves you so much that He’ll transform you from the inside out.