“Now that the gifts are opened…”

Ripped and crumpled wrapping paper everywhere… The familiar image is one I am sure many of you were face to face with this past Monday. Christmas Day seems to come and go so quickly. I hope you had the opportunity to take a breath and enjoy each moment. I hope as you sat and watched children’s faces light up as they opened those special gifts you were able to find joy in the act of giving. However, mostly, I hope you were able to reflect upon the glory of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Gifts are a wonderful tradition this time of year, but if that is all you got out of Christmas then you are really missing out. Gifts are great when they are first given but that joy doesn’t last. Presents break or get old, you grow out of those things you once loved, and kids simply lose interest in that toy they “couldn’t live without.” In the live action film version of the classic Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the Grinch yells out, “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what it’s always been about. Gifts…! You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage!” I’m not trying to be a grinch, but I think that line sheds light upon how we often look at Christmas. If Christmas is about the gifts, then what do we do once they are opened and eventually forgotten? Yes, they will be enjoyed and played with for a time but eventually the Grinch has it right: most of our gifts end up in the garbage.

Jesus says something very similar to this during His sermon on the mount. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) Again, I’m not saying gift giving is wrong. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts myself. What I think Jesus wants us to see, though, is that all of our gifts, good things, “treasures”, etc. do not last. If those items are the sole means of our joy, we must be prepared to be let down by the simple fact that the feelings they might bring for a moment soon fade away. So what then? If all of this holiday cheer is simply about gifts and treats, what happens when it is all gone? Now that the gifts are opened, the boxes and used wrapping paper has been thrown out, and the decorations soon to be placed back into storage, now what will we do? I suppose we wait for next year… and the next… and the next… Each new holiday season brings with it the promise of joy and happiness that goes as quickly as it came. January hits and we each go back to our everyday lives longing for that feeling of joy once again.

However, if we celebrate Christmas in light of the birth of Jesus, then we are able to retain that joy throughout the year. How? Simply because we recognize that Christmas is not the end of the story but only the beginning. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, the fact that God took upon human flesh and entered into His own creation. This is most definitely a beautiful thing to celebrate and it is right for us to do so. Christians, though, understand that the celebration of Christmas would not be possible without the cross and resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate at Easter. When we remember this, the joy of Christmas does not disappear the moment the last present is unwrapped. Instead, we are daily filled with joy throughout the year because Jesus was born, yes, but also because He lived a perfect life, died as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of His people, and rose again three days later defeating sin and death. This is the Gospel message that saves. Do you believe it? Do you trust in Christ’s sacrifice for your sins? Only when you understand this will the joy of Christmas remain even after all the gifts are old and ready to be thrown away.

So here we are a few days after Christmas. How do you feel? Worn out? Tired? Ready to get back to the grind? Perhaps the answer is “yes” to all of these, but are you holding on to that joy that we celebrate at Christmas? The joy that comes from knowing you have a God who loves you so much He came to earth to save you. The joy that comes from knowing Christmas is only the beginning of all that God has in store. Finally, the joy that comes from knowing that although the treasures we have on earth will rot and fade away, the treasures that await those who trust in Christ are infinitely beyond comparison. The gifts under the tree are gone but the gift of life in Christ remains.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“God In A Manger”

Driving around town looking at Christmas lights has become a tradition in my family. We wrap up in warm jackets, put on our Santa hats, grab some treats and we are on our way. It’s fun to see the creative ways people decorate their homes. As we slowly cruise the neighborhoods we always find a few nativity scenes, complete with Mary, Joseph, and a baby lying in a manger.

It is always the manger that grabs my attention. A manger is simply a wooden box used to feed animals. I can’t help but ponder the significance of what it meant for that baby to be placed in such a lowly, poor-man’s idea of a crib. This baby, who is the most important thing this world has ever seen, is put in a place fit for animals because there is nowhere else. This child deserves the most glorious crib in the most glorious mansion–even that being insufficient; yet there He lay in a dull wooden box.

Why? Why does it matter that Jesus is put in a manger (surely other children in that place and time might have lain in a manger) and what significance does it have for us? It matters because this child is unlike any child born before or after Him. This child did not come into existence at His birth, but merely took upon Himself a human body and nature. The baby in the manger is God made flesh.

Yes, I recognize this is a huge claim, one many people will disagree with; however, this is the belief of Christians through the ages because it is the testimony of the Bible. And if this testimony is true, then that manger is holding your Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth. What, then, is the proper response? Worship!

Every devout Jew knows that worship can only legitimately be given to God. To worship anything or anyone besides God is idolatry and in violation of the 2nd Commandment. God Himself says “My glory I will give to no other.” (Isaiah 42:8) The Apostle John, overcome with emotion when he is given great visions in the book of Revelation, responds by falling at the feet of an angel in worship. The angel quickly corrects John, saying, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you… Worship God.” (Revelation 22:9) The Apostle Peter answered likewise when he entered the house of Cornelius, who fell down at his feet to worship Peter. “Stand up; I too am a man.” (Acts 10:26) Peter could not abide anyone worshiping him in place of God. Yet Mary and Joseph say nothing when the magi come to visit the Christ child and fall on their knees to worship Him. (Matthew 2:11) If this child is not God in the flesh, then these “wise men” are actually very foolish. However, if He is, then they are doing what every soul on earth should be doing.

Jesus receives worship from many others throughout the gospels. How does Jesus react when people begin to worship Him? If He is only a great teacher or prophet, then His response should be similar to the Apostle Peter and the angel in the book of Revelation. However, because Jesus recognizes Himself to be the eternal God made flesh, accepting worship is proper and right.

On one occasion, Jesus’ disciples were in a boat when all of sudden they see Him walking on the water. Afterwards, we are told “those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:33) No rebuke from the lips of Jesus; the narrative just goes on with the assumption that Jesus accepts their worship. After Jesus’ resurrection, John recognizes that Jesus truly has risen again, proclaiming “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) The women also, after they encounter the risen Christ, take hold of His feet and worship Him. Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid…” (Matthew 28:9-10) Again, no rebuke or correction. Jesus accepts the worship that is due only to God. Why?– because He is God!

So the reason why the manger is so amazing to me is because God not only enters into His own creation to save it, but He does so in the most humble of ways. He “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) This is an incredible statement. God became one of us in order to die for our sins and save us. So what is your response when you consider that baby Jesus lying in the manger? The familiar carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory” has it right as it ends each stanza with the words “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King!”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Do You Hear What I Hear?”

One of the my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the music. There are so many great songs we get to blast on the radio, belt out in church, and hum as we walk the aisles shopping for gifts. Whether it is a classic carol from the 1700’s such as “Hark! The Herald Sing” or a modern tune like “Mary Did You Know?”, each song is filled with memories and bring joy to so many people. No wonder every famous singer has a Christmas album. However, I wonder how often we actually listen to words of these familiar tunes as we sing them.

Christmas is not about singing carols and songs so that we can simply feel happy and reminisce about the past. No, the music of Christmas is intended to put us into God’s story of redemption. The lyrics reflect what God was doing so long ago in that little town of Bethlehem and when we consider those words, the way we sing them will change. No longer do we sing because these songs are our tradition and heritage, but now because we are proclaiming the amazing grace and goodness of our God. Proclaiming the truth the Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians that “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” (Galatians 4:4) Remembering this makes us sing “Joy to the World!” with true joy because our joy is not the presents under the tree or the time with family (both good things), but the joy of the Lord because Christ has come to save us from our sins.

I’ve also wondered, if people listened to the words of the carols they sing, would they say they actually believe them? Take the song “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing” for instance. Do you believe those lyrics? The first stanza says, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Do you believe that the only hope for this world is Christ? Do you believe that the only way to be made right with God is through the death and resurrection of Christ? Has your belief in this been evidenced by your turning from your sin and turning to Christ alone for salvation? Have you called out to Him to save you? If not, I implore you to not just sing this song but to heed what it teaches.

How about these lyrics in the 2nd stanza? “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell. Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Can you affirm these words as true? Do you think Jesus was merely a traveling moral teacher in the 1st century pointing people to God? Perhaps, you believe Jesus is a created being like an angel or a lesser god. What about the idea that Jesus was a son of God in the same way that you might have a son, and that His birth was brought about in natural procreation, the same way that your son was? Do any of these reflect your beliefs? If so, I don’t think you can actually sing this song with integrity because you don’t believe what it says. When Charles Wesley wrote this song and George Whitefield helped tweak it, they were pulling glorious truth straight from the words of the Bible. Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God with us. If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Mighty God, “El Gibbor”, as it says in Isaiah 9:6, then can you in good conscience sing this song? If you don’t believe that Jesus is the eternal God, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, who humbled Himself in order to become the perfect sacrifice for sin (Philippians 2), then do these words even make sense to you? I’m not trying to be divisive during this wonderful time of year and I’m not staking the sole claim to Christmas carols. I’m simply asking you to listen to the words of these great songs and ask yourself if you believe them.

If we take the time to really listen to the words of the music we so love during this time of year, I believe it will change the way we sing, and God willing, change eternal destinies. Don’t let another Christmas go by without having the real reason to celebrate. God became flesh to save sinners. Listen to the words of the 3rd stanza of “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing” and see what God has done. “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” This is my prayer for those who don’t have this hope this Christmas. When you do, the last words of this song will sound forth gloriously, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new-born King!”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“The Hope of Christmas”

“Smile! It’s a happy time of year!” But what if you can’t smile? What if you don’t feel the holiday spirit”? If this is you, you can be sure you are not alone. Many people have those same feelings this time of year. Perhaps, you will not even be able to pinpoint why you feel this way; you just do.

Medical professionals have concluded that certain individuals may be more prone to what is called “seasonal depression”. Unfulfilled expectations, financial pressures, and excessive commitments during the Christmas season can all bring about feelings of stress and anxiety. Perhaps the past year was filled with difficulty, or even tragedy. For instance, losing a loved one can make the holiday season almost unbearable.

What can be done? You might be thinking, “This guy’s a pastor! He’s just going to say ‘have faith’ and then everything will magically get better.” Yes and no. I do believe that ultimately everything in life boils down to spiritual issues and one’s relationship with God. However, no, I do not think we can simply broad-stroke each individual’s feelings with a silver bullet Bible verse, or instruct people that if they merely change their thinking, everything will be better. What I can offer is hope.

Hope is a word that is fundamentally misunderstood. These days we generally use the word hope as a synonym for wishful-thinking, uncertainty in one’s desire. However, the Bible uses the word hope to signify the feeling of confident expectation. The Apostle Paul ends his letter to the Romans by saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) God is not a God of “wishful-thinking”, nor does He desire that we abound in uncertainty. Rather, saying that God is the God of hope gives us certainty that the promises He has made will come to pass. Time may move slowly and trials may come upon us, but God’s promises to His people will be kept. This is our hope. If you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression this Christmas season, let me remind you of the hope of Christmas.

You see, we cannot separate the birth of Christ with the mission of Christ. That baby lying in a manger came to earth with a specific purpose. Jesus entered into His own creation in order to bring light and life. Since the fall of mankind and the entrance of sin, life has not been how God intended. The hatred and strife that permeates society, the sickness and disease that destroys families, the anxiety and depression that causes so many to despair of life are all the consequences of living in a sin-stained world. God knows this, cares about us, and He is making all things new. (Revelation 21:5) Jesus came to earth in order to save us from this broken world.

This is the hope of Christmas: that even when Jesus was still in the womb of his mother, Mary, she cried out “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47) Zechariah proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” (Luke 1:68) How could Mary rejoice in a Savior and Zechariah say that He has redeemed His people even before Jesus’ birth? Only because those statements are spoken with hope, the confident expectation that God does not fail in His purposes. Jesus would grow, He would live a perfect life, and He would die as a perfect sacrifice for His people. If you come to Christ in repentance and faith, you can be sure that your present suffering is not the end. You can be certain that one day all of the trouble you have in this dark world will cease, and you will be with your God and King forever. So even when it is hard, I encourage you to, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) God has not left you alone. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) This is something we can hope for.

If you are not a follower of Christ and are struggling with finding hope, I tell you this: you can look in a lot of places to find meaning and hope, but I know (from personal experience) you will not find it. True and lasting hope only comes through Christ and what He accomplished upon the cross. I cannot offering a quick fix for all of your problems. I simply offer hope through those problems, even in the most difficult of circumstances. One day when you leave this world, when you die and stand before God you can have hope, not because of who you are or what you’ve done, but because your trust is in Christ. My hope this Christmas is that the baby lying in the manger is my Savior. Is this your hope?

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe