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Lord's Day Liturgy

Manger Ministries

The good news of great joy is not that God is satisfied with you, but that He sent a Savior for you. The good news of great joy is not that you have produced enough, finally, for Him to accept you, but that He has accepted you in Christ, with grace and peace to you. Rejoice! Rejoice!

There is a helpful distinction, perhaps even a tension, that is worth maintaining even at the Lord’s Table. Our heavenly Father is pleased with us and still not satisfied. He loves us; in one sense He could not love us more, and in His love, He renews and refines us because we are not yet complete in Christ. He is pleased with us in Christ even as He is pleased to conform us more and more into His Son’s glorious image. There is true peace, even though we have not been made perfect yet.

The meal in front of us bears great similarity to the peace offering in the OT. It was a shared meal that recognized peace between God and men (and those men with each other) based on the sacrifices. The fellowship, the communion, was in God’s pleasure, which didn’t mean that all His purposes were perfected yet.

Consider this alt-view of the angel’s glory shown to the shepherds:

“Fear more, for behold, I bring you true news of great import, that I saw how you treated your wife before you left for work today, and this is the latest in a long line of disappointments to God. He wants you to clean it up.”

That is not evangel. Nor does Luke have any critical word that that the shepherds didn’t all quit their jobs and start a missionary effort under the brand: Manger Ministries.

Were they deserving? Was Mary? Was God satisfied with them? But was God pleased to share His blessings, favor, grace, and peace? Yes! Glory to God in the highest! There’s great joy for all the people in the Savior, Christ the Lord. (And as you have received, so give.)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

An Irritated Puddle of Retaliatory Goo

We are well into advent now, rounding third and headed home. Yet because of how the days fall on the calendar this year, the fourth advent Sunday is still six long days from Christmas. A lot of events are done, but there are more on your schedule, especially ones with the people who tend to get on your nerves the most…family. That presents a significant challenge, because with strangers, you can’t predict as well what they’ll argue about, and you may never see them again. With the ones God has chosen for your permanent “neighbors,” you’ve seen the show a thousand times.

In a week of final preparations and feasting, even for a week with siblings at home from school all day every day, Solomon provides some counsel for the prudent.

The vexation of a fool is known at once,
but the prudent ignores an insult.
(Proverbs 12:16)

Vexation refers to the spleen in the pot, foolishness is like the fire that makes the complaints simmer. Vexation is what pets your feathers backward, what puts salt in your tea. It could be about the state of democracy, it could be about the state of dinner. It could be about the commute, it could be about your comment. And because of how the proverb runs, vexation isn’t only generic grumbling in your presence, vexation may be insulting to your person.

I have said much about not being angry or ungrateful, this is about how to absorb it.

But…she’s wrong! But…others will get the wrong impression if I don’t make a public correction! But…you don’t know how insulting my brother has been for years!

The New Testament version goes even further: love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), which Peter uses as prep for the following imperative: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).

Prudence and love like this are not pushovers, just the opposite. This sort of wisdom and care is unable to be pushed over into an irritated puddle of retaliatory goo.

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Proverbs 19:11)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Christmas

The primary way that the New Testament talks about the flesh is where the “flesh” represents the sinful pull in all of us. The lust of the flesh, the works of the flesh, the flesh as enemy of the Spirit is most definitely not what we should embrace.

But “flesh” in those respects is not referring to the matter, not the muscles and nerves and blood and bones, which is also the flesh. The physical flesh is the flesh that Jesus took at (what we celebrate as) Christmas. Though He shared our weaknesses and faced temptations as a man, He did so yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). If God created that flesh and also clothed Himself with it, it can’t be all bad.

The incarnation shows that the flesh is not God. God, in the Word who was God before creation, existed without one. So we worship the Maker not the material. God is outside, before and beyond, human flesh. Christmas truth should keep us from worshipping our bodies, let alone stuff.

The incarnation also shows that God identifies with human flesh. God, in the Word, became like us. “Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things” (Hebrew 2:14). He took on our form, with the physical limits and needs and in every other respect. Christmas truth means that we don’t have to escape the flesh to please God.

As people of the truth we tend to prefer two-dimensions; three-dimensions are hard. We want our Word on a page, not in a body. Too often we have great Christmas ideas without glad sacrifices and generosity and being worn out and used up to spill grace onto others.

In your body love, be joyful, be patient, show kindness, do good, be self-controlled. Decorate, bake, clean, sing, give, cry, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in your body (2 Corinthians 4:11), just as He was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Let our celebrations not be spiritualized, but let us be filled with the Spirit to keep Christmas in our flesh.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not a Puddle under the Pine Tree

Is it possible that God finds our celebration of Christmas not too hot but too lukewarm? Is it possible that we are too half-hearted in our worship of the Word become flesh? Will we give an account for how we gave gifts, or not, in Jesus’ name?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I’ve continued to meditate the past few weeks on the awkwardly phrased phrase in Romans 2:7. The context of Romans 2 is not seasonal, in fact, it’s not just year round but all of one’s life. God judges according to what He sees the whole way down into what you’re baking, not just the drizzle of icing on a holiday morning.

Those that receive eternal life are the ones who by endurance of work of good seek for glory and honor and immortality (Romans 2:7).

Though not limited to the advent season, it at least applies. So, are you wanting not just the glory of a great Christmas, are you wanting the glory from God in reward for having greatly honored Him this Christmas?

This does not mean that you must buy the most gifts you’ve ever bought, it does not mean you must spend the most money you’ve ever received in a stimulus check. It does not require a modern-day missionary journey to every relative’s house. It does not demand the turkey to be stuffed with duck to be stuffed with chicken. If these are opportunities for you, great. If your opportunities are other, also great.

It does mean that you must not be selfish (see Romans 2:8). It means that you must not collapse into a puddle under the pine tree, but rather endure. Seek the glory of God in the highest, and He will glorify those with whom He is pleased.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Free to Love Christmas

Most of us who are parents grew up in families that focused our seasonal celebration on Christmas day, while many of your families now think about Christmas day as the cap to your celebration of Advent, the four Sundays and/or the all days between now and December 25th.

Whether or not you are a big Advent and/or big Christmas person/family, do rejoice in the Incarnation of God’s Son and love Jesus Christ? If yes, how do you show it?

I first remember learning these categories about six years ago from a book titled The Things of Earth. These two approaches will help you answer the question.

Consider your love for God and His Son by way of comparison and by way of integration. Usually we hear more about the comparative side; that’s where the Christmas guilt usually gets applied, while the integrated aspects may be happening, even if not so obviously pursued or passed on to our kids.

By comparison “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). Love God with all your heart. If you had to choose, Christ or Christmas, there must be no contest. If you chose Christmas (and any of your favored traditions), you would have chosen an idol no matter how good the name. You shouldn’t love the gift more than the giver, you shouldn’t love any giver more than God. At the least, when we assemble to worship, we test the hierarchy of affections in our heart. God first.

And that same God who commands our love to Him above all, is the same God who gives us gifts. This God says “all are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:22). Is this a cruel temptation? Why all the work (and parties) and extras during a season in which we’re supposed to focus on the Incarnation? It’s because most of the time He wants our love for Him integrated in what we do. Love Christ more than Christmas, and then your heart will be free to love Christ as you do all the cookie baking and gift wrapping and calendar crunching.

Do not let your heart off the hook in either direction.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Seven Spirits of Grumpiness

I have given similar exhortations before, and this should wrap up and tie a nice flip-sequin bow on the recent mini-series about emotional control.

Christmas is a perfect test of our emotional control, especially when it comes to our responses. Parents are typically worn out, kids are typically wound up, and that can make for a vicious vortex of unpleasant feelings. There are unmet expectations to manage, there are unmanageable relatives coming to dinner. Your nerves are stretched as precarious as that old strand of lights you hoped could make it through one more season. How will you respond?

All of that is blessed-case scenario. Some of you are approaching Christmas for the first time without the presence of a loved one. Some of you are in isolation, or you are isolated from those in isolation. The ostensible physical protection from viruses contrasts with the obvious discouragement of hearts. How will you respond?

Kids ripping into presents too quickly is better than ripping into their siblings too quickly, and being heavy with burdens is better than never having known a full table. But these are not actually the hardest parts of Christmas.

The most difficult emotional effort is rejoicing with joy inexpressible and filled of glory (1 Peter 1:8). The angels announced good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10). It is much too easy to be dull to the King of David. How will you respond?

Emotional control for the Christian is more than casting out the seven spirits of grumpiness. If your emotional house isn’t run by the strongman of gladness and love, the unclean spirit will return and plunder your joy tank (see similarly Matthew 12:29, 43-45; Luke 11:24-26). “Let loving hearts enthrone Him.”

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Christmas Communion

Perhaps you’re curious what the fourth advent communion meditation is going to be. If you’ve been following for the previous three, you probably remember that we’ve talked about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in relation to Christmas. The gift of a Savior was the Father’s idea, the incarnation was the Son’s identification with us, and it was accomplished by the Spirit’s work. There are only three Persons in the Trinity, so what’s left?

Communion. Love would also be a good choice, so would life. But communion is what love wants and what life is.

Why is the Incarnation so glorious? It does reveal the Father’s generosity, and communicate the Son’s humility, and remind us of the Spirit’s interests. The Father sends, the Son was born, and the Spirit still says, Come. But why?

Christmas is not primarily a story of angels and stars and shepherds and a manger. The details are true, and the details point to the good news. Peace on earth! Here is good news to those who had offended God. The star led wise men to the King of Israel. Here is good news to those who were far off. There was no room in the inn. Here is good news that the Spirit makes room in our hearts for Him to dwell in us.

God was not merely making a point about His creative ability or His dramatic timing or His embrace of humble beginnings. All of those make a point about what He aimed to achieve through it all: reconciling God and man through the God-Man. We desire to be together with family because we are made in the image of the Triune God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Spirit of Christmas

It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, but God’s Spirit has a lot to do with Christ’s coming. This is the third part of our advent meditations for communion, having considered the Father’s gifting of His Son, and the Son’s identifying with flesh and blood as His brothers. Consider the Spirit’s work.

The Spirit is responsible for the virgin birth, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). As the angel told Mary,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power fo the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)

The Spirit is responsible for believers recognizing that Jesus is God in flesh. The Spirit enabled God with us, and the Spirit enables us to recognize God with us.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

Again, the Spirit enabled the Son’s birth, the Spirit witnesses about the Son, and the Spirit works to open our eyes to know that God has come in the flesh.

And it is not the first Advent only that concerns the Spirit. The Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it in the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10, 13-14), and in the final chapter of Revelation, it is not only the Bride who desires the second coming (Revelation 22:17).

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

As we come by the Spirit to celebrate Immanuel’s sacrifice of flesh and blood, we look forward with the Spirit to Immanuel’s return.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Flesh and Blood Brother

Here is the second week of Advent and we come to consider the Second Person of the Trinity. Last Lord’s Day we considered that Christmas is the Father’s idea and how His gift altered the world.

In an obvious way Christmas is about God’s Son. Christ’s birth is a celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. The birth of a Savior is the enfleshing, the incarnation, of God. His mother even laid Him in a nativity scene.

But it is easy to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season and still not get it. It is just as easy to give a Christmas gift instead of giving yourself, in other words, to give something in order to maintain distance. “I gave you something, now get off my case.” This is the opposite of why Jesus came. God in flesh and blood is God identifying with flesh and blood.

In Hebrews God says that His Son is “not ashamed to call [those who are sanctified] brothers,” and puts these words in Jesus’ mouth from Psalm 22:22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” That is Jesus, talking about His Father, calling us brothers. And then having Jesus speak with the words from Isaiah 8:18, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The conclusion is that “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Hebrews 2:12), and that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).

The Father gave His Son as a gift for us, and gave us as a gift to His Son. The fact that the Son of God became a baby is amazing, and the fact that the Son of God became a brother to us maybe even more.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Father’s Christmas

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first of four Sundays prior to Christmas. In the last few years I haven’t preached Advent sermons, but I have taken either the confession exhortation or the communion meditation for a little series in preparation to celebrate Christ’s birth. Last year during our confession you may remember #NoDiscontentDecember as a theme for our family that I shared with you all.

This year I’ll have four Advent meditations for communion, and the first three will follow a familiar pattern: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Christmas is not your mother’s bundle of joy, or ball of stress. Christmas is the Father’s idea of a world-altering gift.

Our Father in heaven came up with the idea of anticipation. That is His narrative invention. With every son born into every family among mankind, hints were given. As far back as Eden, a son would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). A Son would laugh at foolish kinds (Psalm 2:7-12). A son would take the throne (Revelation 3:21). A son would be GIVEN.

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.

(Isaiah 9:6–7)

The incarnation of the Son was the Father’s plan. Jesus did His Father’s will. The promises and prophecies, the time for waiting and hoping and anticipating, all belong with Advent, both the first and the second.

So watch how your Father in heaven did it. See His love and joy in gift-giving. See what it cost Him, and see how the world is remade by Christmas.