Friday, December 21, 2018

Almost Christmas!

We are now but a few days away from Christmas (four to be exact!), thus, everyone is very busy. The roads are filled with travelers. The stores are filled with shoppers. Our homes are becoming filled with cookies, chocolates, and gifts. The frenetic pace with which we move about easily overwhelms the calm and beauty of the season.  Yes, it is almost Christmas!

But, be of good cheer!  The traffic, crowds, and tension we might feel is pretty reflective of what the first Christmas must have been like.  After all, when for the first time it was almost Christmas, the whole nation of Israel was upside down.  A decree from Rome had forced everyone to go back to the town of their ancestry to register in a census—all at the same time! Thus, when it was almost Christmas—almost time for Jesus to be born—Joseph and Mary had to take the long and difficult trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They had to get on the road and into the middle of the traffic. They had to figure out where they were going to stay once they arrived.  They had to find a place suitable for Mary to deliver the baby. Those days leading up to that first Christmas were surely no sleigh-ride through a calm wintery night.  The days leading up to that first Christmas were days filled with great traffic, crowds, tension, and chaos.

Yet, into the middle of the traffic, crowds, tension, and chaos a miracle took place.  Prophecy was fulfilled. The Savior of the world was born!  God stepped into our hectic and crazy-paced world in the form of a human baby. Jesus was born—to bring hope, help, and healing. He came to save the sinner.  He came to bring eternal life. He came to bring peace to our tension and order to our chaos. That’s why the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  (Luke 2:14 – NIV)

Well, it’s almost Christmas once again and our world is still filled with traffic, crowds, tension and chaos. I feel it. You feel it. But the truth remains: Jesus is still the Savior of the world, the One who is able to save us from our sins; Jesus is still the One who is able to lead us into eternal life; and, Jesus is yet the One who is able to bring peace to our tension and order to our chaotic lives. 

In the midst of all the busyness of these next few days, take some time to worship our Lord Jesus.  Attend services at your church. Read through the Christmas story with your family. Reflect upon the goodness of God and pray to the One who came to be your Prince of Peace. And, allow him to fill you with his peace.

Have a great day. And, Merry Christmas!

-  Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Season of Joy!

Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy. It’s supposed to be filled with singing, smiles, presents, and the presence of our loved ones.  But, we all know how quickly it can turn into a season of rushing, shopping, and maybe even some shoving. Worse than that, for some this time of the year can turn into a very sad time as their loneliness and loss rise to the surface.  Placed on a backdrop of bright lights, sleigh rides, and tables filled with laughter, the sadness and brokenness of one’s heart can easily become magnified.  For some, maybe more than we’d like to admit, the Christmas season is hardly a season of joy.

If you think about it, the time leading up to the birth of Jesus was hardly a joyful time. No one was celebrating his impending birth. Rather, Roman oppression, taxes that were soaking the lifeblood out of the people, and then a forced movement of the people across the nation all created great confusion and hardship.  Mary and Joseph were caught up in it all. With a baby about to come any day, they were forced to travel about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a trip that could have taken them up to a week’s time.  And, when they got to Bethlehem, there were so many people and so much confusion, there was no room for them in what was most likely the only inn in town! 

Were Mary and Joseph filled with joy as they made that journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then landed in a stable?  How about Mary’s parents who were trying to figure out what had happened to their daughter? Or, what about the people of the nation whose lives had been turned upside down by an edict from Rome?  I don’t think there was all that much joy in Israel in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth. In fact, just the opposite was true. In reality, it was a season of darkness, sadness, and despair

Yet, in the middle of the night—the night of Jesus’ birth—the angel came to the shepherds with those now famous words: “I bring you good news of great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 – NIV) In one moment, at the moment of his birth, a season of darkness, sadness, and despair became one filled with light, hope, and yes, joy!  A savior had been born…no, the Savior had been born!  And, suddenly a very sad season was flooded with joy!

Whatever is happening in your life today, I want to encourage you to remember that this season is about so much more than bright lights, laughter, and presents under the tree. The real joy of the season is found in the coming of our Savior. Thus, no matter what is happening in your life or mine, no matter what kind of sadness we might feel in our hearts—even when we are feeling the sting of loneliness and loss—we can still sing, “Joy to the world!” for our Lord, Jesus our Savior has come!

I pray that the joy of the Lord will be your strength today! Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Time of Preparation!

Last night, Kim and I were preparing our Christmas cards and the short family update letter we send out each year. We send out almost 100 cards to people, who for the most part, we don’t really get to see through the year. It can be a lot of work to send out that many cards.  We have to choose the right photo for the card, get the cards printed, write up the letter, print out and stick on address labels (and return address labels), put the stamps on and get them to the post office. It takes a lot of planning and preparation. 

If you think about it, this whole month of December is one of preparation as we prepare for Christmas Day.  We decorate our homes, shop for gifts, bake cookies, plan out meals, send out invitations, etc., all in preparation of our celebrations of Christmas.  We prepare for Christmas services at the church. We prepare for our home gatherings. We prepare to travel to our family or friends. We prepare and prepare and prepare…!

Each of the gospel writers tells of John the Baptist coming with a very simple message before the arrival of Jesus on the scene. His message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”  The gospel writers refer to him as “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:3 – NIV) His job was one of preparation, preparing the hearts of the people to receive their Messiah!

I’m reminded today that, the most important work of preparation is not done in our homes or in the church building or in the stores. The most important preparations take place in our hearts as we confess our sin, receive God’s grace, and open our hearts by faith to the One who came to be our Savior. The voice of John the Baptist still calls to us today to  “prepare the way for the Lord” as we ready ourselves not only for the celebration of his birth but, even more importantly, his soon return. 

One writer's prayer of preparation was put this way: “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for thee!” And, “My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus when thou comest and callest for me!” (Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” – E.S. Elliot)

So, how are your preparations going? No, not all the shopping, baking, decorating, and planning, but the preparation of your heart for your Savior, Jesus!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris