So, how are you doing? A little stressed? Anxious? Maybe just a touch on edge? I mean, what do you have left to do? And I think you know what I mean. Tomorrow’s the big day. December 25th! Christmas Day! The day you feast and snack, travel and rip
Are you ready for Christmas? Stores remain open for a only few more hours. If you still have shopping to do, time is running out. Christmas dinner is a little over 24-hours away. Do you have the ham defrosted? …the crackers, cheese, and sausage cut? …cookies baked? …how about frosted? There is even less time until Christmas morning. Are the presents wrapped? …stockings stuffed? Do you have your plans set? …who you will see at what time for what reason with what kids? How are you feeling? How are you doing?
There is still much preparation left to do, isn’t there? Perhaps that realization is starting to sink in. Maybe it weighs a little heavy on your mind right now. Or, maybe you can feel a smidgen of that lingering, unsettling stress. Are you at the point where you just wish Christmas was all over? Presents opened? Food gone? That you just get to sit with your toys and finally relax?
In the closing hours of the Advent season, unwind. Let the stress of deadlines melt away. Put aside your anxious “to-do” lists. Prepare your hearts one last time for the King who will soon arrive. Get ready by considering this question: What are You Getting for Christmas?
(If you so desire, follow the reading printed on the back of your bulletin— and receive God’s encouragement as you make your final Christmas preparations). You read from Romans 16:25: Now to him who is able to strengthen you… That “him” is none other than God. God— the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1). The One who laid the earth’s foundation. The God who marks the boundaries of the oceans and orders: “This far you may come and no farther” (Job 38:1-40:2). The One who stands in the future, grasping the throat of Satan and damning him into the lake of burning fire (Revelation 20:10). God is not bound by time or space; he has no beginning and no end, and no one is greater or more powerful than he is.
This Almighty God is able to do... what? Strengthen you. Of all things that his might has already accomplished, of all things he could do, he uses his ability to constantly strengthen you. And no, God is not promising to build your muscles or to give you perfect health. That’s not the kind of “strengthening” he speaks of. Rather, this “strengthening” describes increasing your grip on what Jesus accomplished for you. Put another way, God strengthens your faith.
How? Well, look at what he says: [God strengthens you] according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Do you see how your faith grows? According to my gospel… Now, the apostle Paul writes these words. He does not confess writing a new bible with a new message. Rather, God hands Paul the good news of a Savior from sin, and Paul simply retells what God taught him. That good news, that gospel, is the preaching of Jesus Christ.
If you want your faith to grow, then be in God’s Word. As you hear the Word, you learn new things that Jesus said and did—things you might have never known before. As you hear the Word, you better understand his teachings. As you hear his Word, you see how what Jesus teaches applies to what you experience in life. You grow stronger, more confident, more certain as you focus on Jesus Christ.
If exhaustion is making you wish that Christmas is all done and over, maybe a good question to ask yourself is: Is your attention set on What You are Getting for Christmas? God points you to Jesus. He makes it quite clear: Jesus comes to lift the burden of guilt off from you so that you can live without fear. No more fear that you could go to hell. No more worry that God gives you bad days because have done bad things. No more anxiety that you are all alone when troubles appear. As you continue hearing the Word of God in worship, in your Bible reading, in your home devotions, your trust in God grows.
Yet, when you take your attention off from the Word, you will grow exhausted, tired, and weak. That is why so many would Christmas to be over. December is spent trying to win the affection of children with the latest and greatest presents. House parties are not entirely carefree affairs, but rather competitions— who can make the best treats, have the best atmosphere, be the best host? Who will be respected for what they have done? Money, time, energy is poured into making Christmas perfect, only to realize that as hard as you may try, loved ones still get sick and do not come home, a sibling may choose to stay away, and that all the decorations cannot make you feel happy.
If you wish Christmas is all done and over, it is because you are losing sight on the Savior coming to you. Your attention is drifting away from his promises, his guidance, his assurance. And instead, you feel exhausted and tired because you are realizing the things you hoped would give you joy and security, do not. The worldly stuff You Get for Christmas can never strengthen your soul. Rather, it leads you further away from the joy Jesus comes to bring.
My friends, over the next day and a half, you have the opportunity to hear the greatest message the world has ever heard. A message that did not come from the mind of man, but came from the mouth of God. You get hear the soul-strengthen message of Jesus living a perfect life for you.
Yes, think about that for just a moment. The Son of God lays aside heaven’s splendid crown. He steps on earth and refuses to wear a real kingly crown— because the riches of the world can never take the place of God. They cannot buy eternal happiness. The Son of God lives in the backwater town of Nazareth. He is born to carpenter, not a king; he is born young virgin, not a well-established married couple. Yet, he never chases after status and pride, seeking to become popular. Personal pride in achievements only lead to self-worship.
You get to see Jesus Christ live for you! His heart always finds pure, perfect delight in listening to God’s commands, obeying them, and trusting him! See him hang high on a cross and see him suffering in your place. Hear him cry out: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and know that you will never be separated from God forever (Psalm 22:1) Watch him rise from the dead and know that you will follow in those same steps.
What are You Getting for Christmas? A soul-strengthening message. The Almighty God again brings delight and joy to your heart with his Word. Not only that, he is strengthening you so that you never lose out on the kingdom he hands to you! What a privilege you (and I) have to praise God.
The good news of Jesus was a mystery that was kept secret for long ages… A mystery is something once unknown— and the mystery here? Very few ever heard the name “Jesus,” “Messiah,” “Savior,” “Son of God.” Old Testament-believer Abraham did. God promised the Savior of the world to him, and Abraham passed this good news down his family line.
That family line? The Jewish nation. The Jews who left Egypt lifted their eyes up to the great Prophet who was to come (Deuteronomy 18:15). David, King of Israel, looked forward to a great Descendant who would reign with might and power forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Mary, a Jewish virgin, is promised: You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (Luke 1:31). All there was were promises— words which pointed to the future.
Now that mystery has been disclosed (that is, made public knowledge) and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations. The prophets pointed to what God would do; you and I see that God has done what he promised. Each fulfilled prophecy prove that God’s Words are not empty well-wishes. They are evidences that when God says he will do something, he intends to do it.
You (and I) have this tremendous privilege to see each promise kept. What happened in Bethlehem spread to Jerusalem. People shared Jesus throughout northern Israel and southern Israel. The disciples carried Jesus to India, north Africa, into parts of Spain and France. The good news of Jesus took root in Europe and blossomed for centuries. When millions swarmed into the New World, they brought their faith with them. They built churches— like the one here in Clare. They worshipped here, in St. John— and some of them are your great-great-grandparents. The all-wise God has seen to it that the message of Jesus has crossed centuries and oceans for you to hear it.
His purpose in sending this good news is to bring about the obedience of faith. Remember what “faith” is: trust. That trust is believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—the only Person who can make you perfect— not you, not your efforts, not a personal decision you made— but that Jesus and by his death and resurrection has done everything necessary to give you eternal life (John 20:31). So, just What Are You Getting for Christmas? God has filled you with good news, giving you the privilege to praise God.
You gather in worship now. You get to hear the Christmas story tonight. Tomorrow morning, you get to (re-)discover how Jesus benefits you now and always. Yes, there will be a part of you (and a part of me) that says: “That’s too much church.” “I’m hearing the same thing over and over.” “I already know all of this.” You know that’s not true. You know I am not here to repeat the same thing three separate times. Like you, I get to grow and grasp just how soul-satisfying the Savior is. In the busy-ness of the season, make time to hear the Word. Honestly evaluate your opportunities to hear God speak to you. As you hear that Word, you get the privilege to praise God.
That is the reason our reading ends the way it does. As you remain in the Word of God, stress and anxiety melt away. You will enjoy many family traditions tomorrow—but those traditions are just that: traditions. Joys made for this life. Joys that may change over time. Yet, your self-worth is not found in what you accomplish. It is found in the perfect life Jesus has draped over you.
When you recognize how God does not hold your self-centered choices against you, when you recognize that God does not search for only the greatest and the best people, when you recognize that Jesus willingly sets aside his life for you, when you focus on What You Get for Christmas, your heart cannot help but shout: To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.