Tag Archive for christmas

Fear Not I Bring The Gospel

angel Picture yourself in a field outside the small, Judean town of Bethlehem. Your job is to tend sheep. About the only excitement you ever experience is the occasional stray wolf looking for a lamb chop.

Then one night as you and your friends sit out by the fire watching for predators, something truly startling occurs. The sky begins to burn brightly as if it is on fire and then angels begin to descend. Even the best and bravest of us would be freaking out.

So what would it take to calm you down? What thing could these heavenly beings say that would put you at ease? Well, when this scene that I just described actually occurred over 2,000 years ago, the message was pretty straightforward, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Fear not, that part seems pretty self explanatory, but what about the rest? What was this news and why was it good? To answer that question, you only need look in the mirror. Man is born with a nature that is totally corrupted by sin. We are separated from the creator who made us because we have rebelled against Him. We are lost in the darkness without any light to show us the way back home.

Then enters one man. But He is no ordinary man. He is the very Son of God, come to earth in the form of a baby. His mission is to live a sinless life, die a horrible death, and pay the sin debt that we rightly owed so that if we receive His forgiveness and claim His sacrifice by faith, then we can be welcomed into His family. We can see that light. We can find our way home.

This is what made that evening in Bethlehem so many years ago so special. The message of the angels was a message of hope. A message of deliverance. They might as well have said, Fear not, for I bring you the gospel. The word gospel means “good news” and it was indeed good news that they brought.

I hope that you will ponder this good news and receive it if you have not already. Then you like the shepherds will have the best reason to glorify and praise God.

Merry Christmas from Clapham Community!

Who Needs Christmas?

This Article In It’s Entirety Is Re-Posted From Matt Redmond’s Blog

Christmas Is for Those Who Hate It Most

By: Matt B. Redmond

We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ehem—problems with this season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It’s been a story very hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want “home” but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.

Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.

Merry Christmas from Clapham Community!

Making Wise Christmas Music Choices

Choosing Genuine Christmas Worship Not Sentimentality

Call me a grinch but I am really trying to take a healthier view of the holiday season. Why get hyped -up on sentimentality, over-eating, over-spending, gift-giving, etc. when there is profound heart satisfying truth to be found in the whole story of redemption in the gospel?

Below is an article from the Biblical Worship blog that gives practical tips on how to have gospel focused Christmas worship. Enjoy.

Selecting Christmas Songs for Worship

Years ago I served with a dear pastor who enjoyed the Christmas season, but was quite ready for it to be over after a couple of weeks. He thought that people are so distracted by the trappings of the holiday season that they are not spiritually focused and not moving forward in their Christian walk. In our worship planning we would agree to only use Christmas music on certain Sundays which usually ended up being the first 3 Sundays of December – not before or after. He believed that much of the Christmas music used in worship only led to sentimental reflections of Christmas seasons gone by with little real focus on Christ.

We must admit much of what happens at Christmas often has little to do with the real reason for the celebration – Jesus. How can a worship leader select music for worship during this season that helps to keep the proper perspective on Christmas? Here are some suggestions:

1. Avoid songs that over sentimentalize the season such as songs that focus on the “most wonderful time of the year.” Are we in love with the season or with Christ?

2. Avoid songs that are strictly secular in their association. Some churches choose to do several of these type songs at the beginning of their musicals at Christmas to either “entertain” or “attract non-believers.” I believe these type songs have no place in a worship service especially when it is intended to be evangelistic. What’s evangelistic about singing secular songs? I think sometimes we can be so entertainment focused that we are in danger of entertaining them to hell. Point your people to Christ.

3. Choose songs that correctly describe the Christmas story according to Scripture. Many of our songs really do not portray the story very well. Look for songs that are clear in communicating the story.

4. Choose songs that tell the whole Gospel Story– Jesus birth, his ministry, his death on a cross and his resurrection. The problem with many Christmas songs is that they leave Jesus in the manger. Christians and non-Christians need to hear the whole Gospel at Christmas. Look for songs that go beyond the manger. He came to be our Savior.

5. Choose Christmas songs that your congregation can sing. Many songs of this season (old and new) are difficult to sing in a congregational setting. Consider the key of the song and the rhythmic structure.

Do all Christmas songs have to fit every criteria listed above? No, but a good group of your songs should. Let’s help our people keep Christ in their Christmas season by using great songs that lead us to the Messiah – Our Savior and Lord.

But 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, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir to God.

Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV)

HT: Tim Challies

Celebrating The Gospel Or The “American Dream”?

Developing A Gospel-Centered Holiday Mindset

Christmas, as a holiday, has its fair share of excess baggage. The holiday has its roots in pagan and Catholic traditions. Our Puritan ancestors, to whom we owe a great deal spiritually, absolutely refused to celebrate Christmas. They called it “Foolstide” and preached against the egregious and excessive behaviors associated with the season. While there is much to criticize in the commercialism and excess that accompany Christmas, there are deeper concerns that should give us pause as we approach the celebration.

The celebration of Christmas is not in and of itself evil. There is absolutely nothing in scripture that forbids believers from enjoying the holiday. The issue is not about what is right but what is best. As believers, our focus should be on the gospel. Christmas and all of the traditions that are bound up in it can become a barrier to celebrating the beauty of the gospel. It is so easy for us to get caught up into seeking the ideal Christmas experience that we begin to focus on things that cannot bring us true and lasting peace. This is true not only of Christmas. The pursuit of the ideal Christmas is a part of the pursuit of the American dream where everybody is healthy, happy, well-fed, entertained, and comfortable in peaceful, two-story suburban housing. In an blog post related to this discussion entitled, What’s the Difference In Living For the Kingdom and Living For the American Dream, Pastor John Piper wrote,

Our testimony to the world works precisely opposite to what the prosperity gospel says. When Christians are willing to suffer for the cause of the unborn, for racial justice, and for spreading the gospel, then the world is going to say–just like it does in 1 Peter 3:15–”Where is your hope?”

Our answer will not be, “In houses, cars, and lands.” Rather, we will say, “My hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is going to take me to himself. To live is Christ and to die is gain. I’m here on earth to spread the gospel. I’m going to keep my life as wartime as I can in order to maximize my effect for showing Jesus as valuable, not things as valuable.”

If we truly believe the message that Christ and His gospel are our hope then everything we do including how we celebrate “the holidays” should reflect this understanding. There have been many attempts by believers to move in this direction. Some families reduce the amount of gift giving. Some make manger scenes the focal point of their decorations as opposed to “jolly old saint nick”. These adjustments are good in and of themselves but if we intend to avoid celebrating the American dream Christmas redux, then a more radical change of heart ad holiday are in order.

One means for helping to restore the gospel to its proper place in our December holiday is the celebration of Advent. Many people when they hear the word Advent think of a calendar with chocolates or candy inside. While Advent calendars are a modern derivative, the holiday itself has a much more richer and meaningful history as it relates to the gospel.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which simply means coming. Advent is a celebration of the gospel in the first and second coming of Jesus. It incorporates the whole counsel of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It’s complete focus is on Christ and it doesn’t carry all of the fluff and baggage that traditionally come with Christmas. There are many reasons why Advent should be the centerpiece of your celebrations but consider the following case built by Elliot Grudem and Bruce Benedict in a blog post from The Resurgence entitled, Why Recognize Advent:

Advent is about much more than gifts and good deeds. The story isn’t all fun and wonder. There is darkness and gloom. There is longing. There is joy and light. There is redemption and grace. There is judgment and final victory. In a way, recognizing Advent is expected. In another way, it’s counter-cultural. Advent allows you to both show the horror of sin and the blessings Christ came to make known, “far as the curse is found.” When you recognize the season of Advent over a number of services before Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you get to talk about these things. You help your people understand why the inbreaking of God’s kingdom through the birth of Jesus is “good news of a great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10). For example, during Advent you can talk about how to observe the humility of Christ’s birth amidst the gaudy overindulgence of our consumer-frenzied Christmas. You can talk about how crying out, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus” counters our demands for our best life now.

The eternal impact of a shift of mindset and practice towards a more gospel focused Advent celebration is incalculable. If we want to demonstrate to a watching world that we are serious about the gospel and its author our Savior then it is incumbent on us to ask the hard questions about the way we have always done things. Don’t let this season slip by without seizing the opportunity to find “comfort and joy” in a celebration that encompasses more than just a cute manger scene.

For additional Advent resources visit the following sites:

Learning To Advent – A series of articles on why and how Advent should be celebrated

Looking Back: Advent Candles – A description of the Piper family celebration of Advent by Noel Piper

Treasuring God In Our Traditions – A book by Noel Piper on how to redeem family traditions to treasure God

Skipping Advent – An article about the history and beauty of the Advent celebration

Celebrating Advent With Kids – A mom’s practical advice for celebrating advent with kids and adults.