Week one of our sermon series: It’s a Wonderful Life. Listen to the message podcast by clicking here.
George Bailey lived in Bedford Falls. A man of big dreams and high aspirations.
Film clip: The Last Meal – (George and his dad, Peter Bailey, at the dinner table)
George Bailey looks like many of us. We are pursuing the Wonderful life! We are running fast towards our goals and aspirations. We believe that contentment can be found in adventure and success in hard work.
It’s a Wonderful Life. Really? On the news this week, we saw the latest installment of evil. 14 people gunned down in California. There have been 355 mass shootings this year. The face of evil that other countries across the world see on a regular basis is now being seen here. It shocks many Americans because we think we are smarter or should have evolved than this.
It’s a Wonderful Life. Really? 600,000 will die from heart disease this year, 580,000 will die from cancer, 55,000 from the flu or pneumonia, over 40,000 will take their own life.
To the Christ follower, the darkness of the world often saddens us. We weep with those who weep. We mourn and do not minimalize the suffering. It is real.
BUT it does not shock or surprise us. We know its source.
It is not because of a gun or because of a mental illness or because humans haven’t evolved beyond it.
It is because there is a very real and present “evil being” that is seeking to destroy God’s creation. Satan exists. We see evil and sin in this world because of satan. Christmas is a like a pinhole of light in a dark landscape.
The birth of Jesus is the beginning of a light that is spreading even to this day. Reversing a curse. Rewinding a trend. That someday will completely accomplish its mission.
Even with full lights on in the room, there is still darkness on the edges, corners. Shadows difficult places where there is no light. Could you imagine a time where darkness will be completely defeated. There will be no more shadows. Not just in the atmosphere, but in your life. No more secrets, no more suffering. No more pain or disease. No more betrayal and backstabbing. No more deficits. No more darkness.
Isaiah 2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. 3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Here we are between now and God’s ultimate restoration of all things. We live in the hallway between the resurrected Messiah, Jesus Christ on one side and the rejoining of heaven and earth forever. We live in between
The only way we can say that Life is Wonderful is to understand the whole scope of time. The whole picture. Life snippets can be exhilarating, exhausting, haunting.
Christ, the light came, so that we could have Life MORE Abundant. Jesus said while on the earth, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10”
If you are looking for a life of wonder by the scope of your adventure or the size of your bank account, you will be always chasing after an elusive prize. We often accomplish our goals of success. We land the job. We win the promotion. We graduate! We get the raise.
Yet, isn’t it amazing how life has a way of disintegrating wins. A new season rolls around and it feels like you are starting over. We find ways to spend our bonuses and raises.
Life has a way of sucking the win out of our successes.
A Life of Wonder comes from outside of the chase. It comes from outside of the destination.
Luke 1:6 Zechariah (a priest) and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
What must that be like in that day in time. Kids were everything back then. Our generation now is all about the career and personal life. Back then, if you didn’t have kids, you were over. Kids were the path to meaning and significance. You didn’t just have 1 or 2 or 3 kids. You had as many kids as you could because many kids died young. Here they were faithful to God. Living their ordinary life…not seeing anything spectacular. Not bitter. Not giving up. Just living and serving God.
8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense.
Those words are bold because I want to emphasize the normal, mundane, sort of life that They lived.
10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. 11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth…
Wait a minute, what prayer? Which prayer? Way back? Did he pray it every day? Had he given up on that request? Either way, it didn’t affect his worship. He was faithful. He continued to work his job, love his wife, and worship his God. Day in and day out. Believing God’s will to done.
The message today is, don’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, invest in the small stuff. God might be testing you, he might be waiting until the right time, or he might realize you need a ‘no’, but you can rest assured, that he has not forgotten about you. He has not abandoned the world.
He loves the world. He is heartbroken about the darkness and despair. The separation is not pleasing to him. In fact, he loves us so much that he choose to actually participate with us in its brokenness.
What an awesome God.
To choose to be with us.
When God wants to change the world he doesn’t send an army instead he sends a baby. That baby leads us to God
Romans 8:15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. 18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) 26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
When I saw that it was one way and in the opposite direction that I wanted to go in, I was disappointed and then I looked closer and saw that the street was named Love Street and that it was a one way street.
I was shocked. Love is not supposed to be a one way street! In an act of rebellion, I turned right on the street and drove one block in violation of the traffic laws. I need to confess today. Glad I got that off my chest!
Love should be a two way street meaning that both parties participate in the relationship. Both people give and invest in the relationship. Both people selflessly give and then both graciously receive.
Growing up, I was really a chicken when it came to asking girls out on dates. In fact, I told the story a few weeks ago about Erica asking me out the first time. So I wasn’t dumped a whole lot. I do remember it happening a couple of times. I was broken up with twice. Once it was done when a girl called me from the payphone at school. I think she had just found a new boyfriend at the basketball game. So sad. Looking back on it, it is so funny. At the time, I thought it was the end of the world.)
When love is a one way street, people are drained. When only one person in a relationship is offering anything, they get burned out. The other person is negligent in the relationship.
The person that is checked out is bored, full of apathy, selfish.
The situation turns worse when the other person is not only disengaged, but pursuing other lovers.
So painful. There is rejection and abandonment. There is relationship bankruptcy.
Some of my most difficult moments of pastoring is when a couple sits in my office for counseling. Tears begin to flow down cheeks. Sometimes they deny it. Other times they hold back all the details. After a while, the truth comes out and one of them admits to being unfaithful to their spouse. “I broke my vow. I fell to temptation. I messed up.”
When the relationship began it seemed as though nothing could get in the way. The sky was the limit. There was so much emotional bliss in the air that what could possibly make this thing so south? Then, time wears on. Life gets tough.
What went wrong? What was it that made this thing break down?
What temptation did I fall to? What lie did I believe about the grass being greener on the other side?
When love is a one way street, it ends in a pit. There is a depth of loneliness and despair that captivates the brightest of minds and personalities. The carnage of relationship destruction can go on for years.
This place of separation and darkness is where creation found itself before the first Christmas.
Love hasn’t always been a two way street when you look at the track record between God and humans. God designed us to be in relationship with Him, yet with the choice to love or reject him. Freewill. Throughout history, we have gone back and forth. We will serve God when things are tough and we need assistance. Then, we forget God when things are going well.
Love hasn’t always been a two way street when you look at the track record between God and humans.
There was a man, 760 years before Jesus was born, named Hosea. He married a beautiful young lady. They had a son. Things were going well. Then, she became a bit distant. None the less, she got pregnant again and bore them a daughter and then a son. All the while she would leave the home for long periods of time and become despondent and detached from the things at the house. Hosea began to wonder, “What is going on with my wife? Why is she leaving for so long? Why am I having to take care of everything?
Then, it was revealed that the two younger kids had different dads. Hosea’s wife had actually become a prostitute and pursued many other men. In fact,
Hosea 2:5 Their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way. She said, “I’ll run after other lovers and sell myself to them for food and water, for clothing of wool and linen, and for olive oil and drinks.”
Wait a minute! Hosea was already providing all those things in a committed relationship! Hosea says in verse 8
Hosea 2:8 She doesn’t realize it was I who gave her everything she has- the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, I even gave her silver and gold. But she gave all my gifts to Baal.”
Love has been a one way street. Hosea has been faithful. His wife has left him, pursuing other lovers to the point she is now basically owned by pimps and controlled by other men.
Hosea has a choice. He could leave her in that lifestyle. After all, this was a choice she made. He had been faithful. He had provided and lead the family well. She was prostituting herself out to other lovers. Such a brutal place to be. How devastated and lonely Hosea must have felt.
He was in the pit of rejection and despair.
Then, in an act of complete generosity and forgiveness, Hosea demonstrates the love of God.
Hosea 3:1 Then the lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” 2 So I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine.
WE have been negligent in the relationship. WE became bored and impatient with God. We are full of apathy. We are selfish. The situation gets worse when we not only disengaged from God, but we pursue other lovers like our career, our education, family.
We have rejected and abandoned God. The one who first loved us. We broke our vow. We fell to temptation. We messed up. What went wrong? What was it that made this thing break down? What temptation did we fall to? What lie did we believe?
There is relationship bankruptcy.
It is in the middle of this dark relationship bankruptcy that God responds in the most unique way. He responds with generosity. He responds with a gift.
Christmas was the epitome of God’s generosity. Only God could respond to complete betrayal with Love.
Our natural response to rejection and loss is to be fearful, controlling, stingy, miserly, after getting burned, we protect at all costs, we do whatever we can to eliminate risk.
God’s response to our rejection is the opposite. Instead of responding with pompous ego and flaunting self righteousness, God responds with humility. The incarnation. (spirit becomes man), Immanuel (God with us), God responds with more vulnerability. He directly and personally gets into our world and relates to us with all of his attention.
The Advent of Jesus is the new beginning. The Messiah has come. The dawn on the horizon.
This is Christmas. The celebration of His Gift to us!
Over the next 2 ½ weeks we are going to spend a lot of time and energy celebrating with parties and food and lights and vacation………the coming of the messiah!
Most of all we are going to give gifts to each other as a symbol of the generosity that God first extended to us when he came to earth. His Gift of salvation and reconciliation with him!
Today, we remember what God has done for us. We remember who Jesus is to us.
If you are here today and are not in a personal relationship with God, maybe you are simply struggling with life and this Christmas season, wondering how you are going to make it,
Luke 2:10 “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Let’s not waste this opportunity today to thank God for his Gift! Let’s pray this morning and thank Him for coming to us.