God Through Us
Thank God for Christmas!
You know everything changes when you surrender yourself to the Real Gift of Christmas.
Welcome to Southside Church on the weekend before Christmas Day!
You know many people come to this time of year filled with joy because of all the festivities this season brings.
The lights, the music, family, the food…has anyone already had too much food?
However, there are also many people, who enter this season feeling like the sights and sounds are an amplifier of what is broken or lost in their lives.
Broken promises. Broken relationships. Broken dreams.
While many people are celebrating the joy of relationships, others are reminded of how broken their relationships are.
While many are celebrating the wins of life, others are counting their losses.
All they can see is the lost job, the lost loved one, the lost hope all equaling lost potential.
Sadly, some today are dreading Christmas.
If that is you, I want you to know you are not alone; there are many people who feel that way.
In this season promoting the joy of Christmas cheer, many find it hollow - as they evaluate who they are and where life has brought them.
It is easy to be stuck in the spiral of despair that comes from focusing on your brokenness and losses.
However, the real HOPE at Christmas isn’t found in the sights and sounds or in having perfect families and lots of wins in life.
The true Gift of Christmas is found in the Gift God has given each of us!
The Christmas season was originally established in the Christian calendar to encourage us to set our sights on the HOPE, PEACE, LOVE, and JOY.
We are the ones who made it about tinsel and bells, trees and smells, and family gatherings where we compare our plunder acquired from Amazon and Black Friday.
However, the early Church established ADVENT as the four weeks leading to Christmas day, with the hope we would be reminded of God’s amazing love for us, so much love that He sent His one and only Son to be with us.
To become a sacrifice that opens the door for God to live in us.
Guiding us to reframe our understanding of who we are in the midst of our circumstance.
God did not leave us abandoned in our brokenness and lost situations of life!
He came to meet us at our point of brokenness and He will join us in our lost situations guiding us to new understanding and perspective.
When we accept the gift of God in faith, believing that Jesus is the Savior of the world, THEN HOPE IS BORN!
Jesus is the GIFT of Christmas!
However, this amazing gift did not arrive in a recognizable package.
Think about this, every character in the Christmas story had to take huge leaps of faith to accept the gift of God!
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to believe the child placed inside of her was truly from God.
Think of the courage she had to have to go public with this news!
Becoming pregnant as a virgin who had not yet consummated the marriage with her betrothed was not only embarrassing, but it was potentially deadly.
If Joseph pressed the issue and brought this into the public for a trial, then stoning in the center of town could have been her reality.
Yet she accepted this news and began to share it with her family in faith!
Joseph had to accept that God was, in fact, the father of this baby.
He had to be willing to join with Mary in faith, knowing that he would have to endure the Nazareth and Bethlehem gossip column for the rest of his life.
This is equivalent to us taking a stand for Christ, knowing that others would make YOU the focus of their gossip or post nasty-grams about you on social media.
Mary and Joseph were real people.
Yet they both had to accept, IN FAITH, the gift of Christmas!
Think about this, their willingness to surrender to this baby as the true gift changed everything in their lives.
We tend to gloss over these BIG BOLD steps of faith taken by the first individuals to accept Jesus as the gift.
However, they were not the only ones that took BIG BOLD steps of faith.
When Jesus was born, God went public and delivered His baby announcements in a very unconventional way to an unexpected group of people!
A group of Shepherds - just outside the town of Bethlehem - where Jesus was born.
I have to say the shepherds are my new favorite characters in the Christmas story.
Over the last year, I have learned more about the shepherds that completely changes my perspective about their encounter with the gift of Christmas.
Much of my learning has come from doing a historical study of Israel in my preparations for Southside Church’s trip to Israel next October.
If you want to go to the land where Jesus was born, where he walked, preached, died and rose from the dead then you need to sign up now. https://southsidechurchva.org/event/1679770-2020-10-11-experience-israel-trip/
We are taking signups now through February 1, 2020.
The group is forming and if you want to deepen your faith by studying the historical context of the Bible then lock in your reservations.
The biblical stories will come alive when you see the real places where they happened and learn their historical context; it will rock your world!
That is what has happened to me as I look at the shepherds.
When looking at the BIG announcement through the historical and geographical context it changes everything.
So to better understand this big BIRTH announcement!
We first have to understand the setting. The place Jesus was born is in Israel in a little town called Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is a real place, back then it was known as the town of David,
It is important to note here that Mary and Joseph were in this location because Caesar had called for a census in the land.
Bethlehem was the place Mary and Joseph were required to go to register in the census because they were both from the lineage of David.
When they arrived, there was no room for them in the local Holiday Inn, so they were forced to find shelter with the animals out back because Mary was in labor.
It is believed that the animal shelter was a type of cave. Perhaps a birthing cave.
Just outside this little town, there were fields. This is where we pick up the story of the shepherds.
Luke 2:8-40 (NIV) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
In this place, these shepherds received the first announcement, given to the entire world, about the Birth of God’s son!
This announcement did not come from a telegram or post on their Instagram feed.
It wasn’t a text with a link to a baby registry. NO, it can from an Angel!
Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Ok, I have to stop here and ask, how many of you would be afraid if an angel of the Lord appeared to you in an open field?
Hey, let’s do something fun that we have never done at Southside before.
I want us to take out our smartphones and take a live poll right now!
Take your smartphone, open your camera, and point it at the QR code on the screen.
You will get a pop up that says open in browser, click that popup and go to our live poll!
Here is my question:
If an angel of the Lord appeared, would you:
- Pass out and fall on your face
- Scream and run away
- Take a selfie for Instagram
Have fun with the results -----
I’m sorry, if I was in a field and an angel of the Lord showed up, I think I would be freaking out.
Obviously, the Shepherds were, because the angel had to say – Do not be afraid.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
The Angel is saying - I am breaking into your regularly scheduled sheep-watching program to bring you a special report.
I am announcing to you today the long-awaited anointed one of God who will fulfill all the promises of the prophets from your history has arrived!
This is not just a local report, or a regional news story, NO this is news that impacts humanity on a global scale, and YOU are the first to know!
Think about it, the biggest gift given to humanity first announced to shepherds!
God did not announce His deliverance through nobility or through a religious structure!
This message did not come to the kings of the world or through the religious order of the day - it came to common shepherds!
The kings and religious leaders during this time were full of themselves and God will never work through people who are full of themselves!
God is looking for anyone who would bow their knee in humility and accept His gift of Jesus wholeheartedly.
God chooses to enter the world through common means and reveal His purpose to common people!
Because He knew they would be willing - to fully embrace the plan, God had to reframe their lives, restore their hope, and regain what had been lost.
The Angel goes on and delivers what I believe is some of the most compelling news ever!
Luke 2:12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Another version of the bible calls it swaddling.
This news would have been completely understood by these shepherds because it is believed by Jewish Scholars they were Levitical shepherds.
Let me explain what a Levitical shepherd was.
Bethlehem is 6.4 miles from Jerusalem; Jerusalem is where the temple is located.
The Passover festival was the one time of year when the people would sacrifice a spotless lamb to celebrate their deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
The priests who worked at the temple came from a tribe in the Jewish family knows as Levites.
These Levite priests would sacrifice the paschal lambs brought to them by each family.
A critical task for the Levitical Shepherds would be to breed and care for the Pascal lambs that would be offered each year as a sacrifice during Passover.
Commentary on the Passover meal of Luke 22:7 “ Peter and John would purchase an approved lamb and take it to the temple to be slain. Then they would take the lamb and the other elements of the supper to the house where they planned to meet, and there the lamb would be roasted. The table would be furnished with wine, unleavened bread, and the paste of bitter herbs that reminded the Jews of their long and bitter bondage in Egypt (see Ex. 12:1–28)”.
Bethlehem was the location the nation of Israel established for Levitical shepherds to birth and raise these paschal lambs that would become the Passover sacrifices.
So Levitical shepherds residing in the fields just outside of Bethlehem would oversee the birth of lambs in birthing caves outside of the city, known as stables.
As a part of their task, they would take all of the unblemished lambs and wrap them at birth in a special cloth to protect them.
Now the cloth was special because it came from the High Priest in the temple.
The priestly garments were considered holy so they could not simply be discarded once worn out.
Therefore, they would take the undergarments like a tunic, after they had been worn, and tear them into strips to be used as swaddling for the unblemished lambs.
They would give these strips of swaddling to the Levitical Shepherds to wrap all the newborn lambs who were set aside as Pascal lambs.
With this in mind, listen to the words of the Angel again.
Luke 2:12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
The message from the Angel would have been so clear to them.
The one who had been promised, the Messiah to be known as Emanuel “God with us” had been born!
This special child was wrapped in the garments of the priesthood at birth.
The shepherds would have known this one to be a holy baby, just like their pascal lambs set aside for the deliverance of God’s people.
Then while the shepherds were in shock and awe over this revelation, the Angel was joined by an army who proclaimed the Majesty this Child represents!
Luke 2:13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
The Levitical shepherds received news of a newborn King, announced by the army of heaven, who was born to reclaim hope and restore all that was broken or lost!
Do you have an area of your life that seems broken where you need hope reclaimed?
Do you have something that was lost that needs to be restored?
These shepherds wasted no time…
Luke 2:15-16 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
This was a life-altering moment for these shepherds. Seeing first-hand the baby who was the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets.
They surrendered to the truth delivered in the BIG announcement and they willingly presented themselves to the Gift of God.
This baby changed them.
I can relate to this idea about a baby changing everything because two years ago on December 13 a baby entered our world and it has changed our life.
I know Pastor Jerry doesn’t fully understand why Dr. Spaur and I can so easily talk about our grandchildren and show pictures.
However, my thought is if I have to hear Pastor Jerry talk about his hot wife, then he can put up with our baby pics and videos!
Plus watch the video of Ryan I sent the staff last week, it was sent the night before his second birthday!
Is that not cuteness on overload…
This is my grandson who brings joy to my life; I can’t stop talking about him.
I thank God for the gift of Ryan, yet I can say with all candor I am more grateful for the Gift of Jesus who was given to us all.
Without Jesus, there would be no hope for little boy Ryan, and without Jesus, all of us would be lost.
The shepherds were not only won over by Jesus cuteness they were keenly aware of His purpose.
To become the perfect sacrificial lamb, to be sacrificed on our behalf, to atone for our sin, and to restore all that is lost and broken.
Jesus is the true gift of Christmas and when you humbly bow your knee before the gift, you will be forever changed.
Your view of yourself will be altered, the lies you believed about yourself will be rewritten, you can be restored to the true original version of the creation God has made you to be.
You will be redeemed, which means reclaimed, purchased back, completely restored.
And you gain a guide to help you navigate all of life’s situations and circumstances.
This encounter with this baby changed the shepherds. To the point, they couldn’t stop talking about it.
Luke 2:17-18 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
What do people hear you talk about ----------- does it create amazement?
The shepherds were lit up, they were forever altered, they understood God is for you, God is with you, God wants to live in you to work through you!
God wants you to be so amazed by your encounter with Jesus - that through you Jesus can amaze the world!
As I reflect over this past year 2019!
I can see how we have been taking our amazement about Jesus and sharing it in our world through service…and people can’t seem to stop talking about it.
- Amazing mission trips to the Dominican, Panama, NYC, and Kilmarnock
- We partnered with local elementary schools to do clean up days where Southside Church showed up en masse.
- We served Breakfast for teachers at TWO of our partnering schools
- We delivered meals to needy families at a partnering school
- Record attendance at our three Trunk or Treats creating amazement about what God is up to in our campuses
- Middle and high school students took their thanksgiving holiday to bake and rake leaves for senior adults
- Our leaders over Homeless ministry served lunch Thursday in Richmond and every month the greet and feed at a park
- A senior adult who drives an uber is helping a woman who was homeless find shelter
- Our special needs ministry that opens their arms monthly through Buddy Break giving much-needed respite to parents and families
- The food pantry at our Chester campus feeding those in need weekly
- All of those who signed up to serve as greeters and early childhood splash workers for our Spectacular Christmas
- Everyone who packed a box for Operation Christmas child
- All who have already signed up for Bring a Meal - Pack a Meal
Many of you have been involved in spreading the amazing Love of Jesus this year.
And people are amazed about what they have seen and heard through many of you!
Why do we do this?
Because we understand God is for us, He is with us, He lives in us to work through us, and the result – people are amazed by what you say and what you do!
Don’t miss our upcoming opportunities to amaze the world this new year!
Future amazements to come –
January – Sports Complex Welcome team, Snack shack volunteers
February – Football Sunday outreach – NFL stars sharing their faith
February - respite night for foster care parents
There are so many opportunities for us to tell the world about Jesus the true gift of Christmas.
This year as we encounter the gift of Christmas, let us bring Him our broken situations and areas we feel lost.
Jesus desires to reframe our perspective and leave us amazed!
Let’s be like the shepherds and have an encounter with Jesus so life-altering that we are compelled to tell everyone - so the world can be amazed as God works through us!