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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.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Deserving a Different Christmas

During this advent season we focus our thoughts on the first coming of the Messiah, about the Father sending His Son from heaven to earth. The Christmas story, as told by Matthew and Luke, is a story of the Son’s contentment with His Father’s decision.

In those days many gods of men were getting a lot of man’s attention. But Jesus didn’t come out of petty or bitter jealousy. In fact, that sort of jealousy doesn’t come from above.

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16)

James wrote to believers. Christians aren’t the only ones who have these problems, but they are at least the ones who should know better. Instead, too often what we think is that we deserve better, or we wished we had better.

It’s not only kids who are discontent in December; “But I want THAAAAAT!” Big people have their “virtuous gimmes” when they see someone else blessed, and assume that those blessings are absolute, no heaviness attached. It must be better to have more money, a bigger house, an easier or more secure job. It must be nice to have more energy, to need less sleep, to be more strong. “I want THAAAAAT!”

This is not Christmas wisdom. This is not Christian wisdom. This is earthly, unspiritual, demonic, and divisive, even if it’s only in your heart.

If anyone “deserved” a different Christmas it was Jesus. Yet Jesus was content with His Father’s plan and timing to get Him glory. Are you?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

When You Can See More Cracks in Contentment

I thought it would be good to check in on #NoDiscontentDecember. Well, what I mean is I thought it would be good to give you a report about how our #NoDiscontentDecember is going, since the Higgs are the ones who committed to it; we didn’t make you do it. It’s just supposed to be sparking ideas for you and/or your family.

The first thing, now eight days through December, that I can report is that contentment is both harder and easier when you focus on it. It’s harder because I didn’t lead our family in this particular hashtag month because we were awesome at it already. We need to work on this, and you can usually see even more cracks when you’re trying to fill the holes.

It is also easier in another way, though, because it’s the plan. It’s like wearing a brace; it keeps pushing or holding things in place that are trying to get out of place. The more I meditate on contentment, the more I’m thinking about being content. The more days you run on the treadmill, the less surprising it is the next day; it’s discipline, and it becomes what you do.

Contentment also connects with a point I made last Sunday night about our lives as an apologetic, especially with our giving of thanks for the abundance of blessings we have. I’ve mentioned Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment) a few times this past year, and his book is all about Philippians 4:11 where Paul said that he learned contentment when he was brought low and when he was abounding. Burroughs entire book is about being content when being brought low, except for the final paragraph.

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: “I have learned to abound.” That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. In such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson. (228)

That’s the last thing he addressed, which he didn’t feel was quite as applicable to his audience. It’s absolutely applicable to us. We need to learn contentment in our many blessings, and seek the blessing of contentment.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Discontent December

If you could have only one thing for Christmas, and you knew you would get what you asked for, what would it be? If you could commit yourself to do one thing for Christmas, what would it be? I’m sure there are some great answers, but I’m going to share one as an example.

We decided as a family that there was too much to do in December to have bad attitudes about it. I mean, really, starting with myself and Mo, we don’t have enough time to complain about all the extra events and responsibilities, and then confess the complaining and then try to get back into the right spirit of things. With #NoQuarterNovember still ringing in our ears, we committed to #NoDiscontentmentDecember. This starts with me, in my heart, it’s something that Mo is likewise excited about (I didn’t make her agree to it), and something that we’re going to require of our kids.

If I could look back at advent season 2018, and I will look back at it one way or another, how great would it be to get the gift of contentment in our house? This is something that we can ask God for, it is something that we can commit to. Paul learned to be content in any and every circumstance (Philippians 4:12), why can’t we do it for a Christmas season?

For fun, even though it’s quite a serious ask, we’ve agreed that if one person is not quite fulfilling the hashtag, one of the others get to choose a line from the Grinch song (“you’re as cuddly as a cactus,” “you’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel,” and so on) and happily ask the temporarily incarnate grinch if that’s really how they want to ride the sleigh. This applies from kid to parent, too.

Maybe your next four weeks are more free and you have time to be envious, or bitter, or anxious, or grumpy. You still shouldn’t be.