Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Christmas is all About 4, Christmas is all about Hope

Christmas is all about Hope.
Start with clip from opening of A Charlie Brown Christmas 
Contrary to what Linus thought, Charlie Brown was in good company, there are all kinds of folks who feel the same way about Christmas.  They are confused because they don’t feel jolly, they aren’t experiencing Christmas cheer and they don’t understand the phrase Ho Ho Ho.   
Instead of wanting to celebrate they would like to find a room where they can be all by themselves and hide until Christmas is over.  I love the significance of Christmas but I’m not necessary a Christmas fan.  I could do without the tree, the meal and the gifts, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m lazy or apathetic.   
But for some people it’s deeper than that, Christmas is a reminder of what their life isn’t or perhaps what their life is.    
Christmas seemed to magnify and polarize what Charlie Brown felt his life was like the rest of the year, in one scene he goes out and looks in his empty mail box for the Christmas Cards that aren’t there and he says.  “I know nobody likes me why do we need a holiday season to emphasize it?”  
But there are other reasons as well.  Maybe because there is an empty place at the table this Christmas.  At a time of the year when family is being celebrated their loss is magnified and it doesn’t matter if it’s the first Christmas or the tenth Christmas it doesn’t seem to get any easier. 
And maybe the loss is because of death or perhaps because a relationship is different than it was last year.   
Or maybe it is the harsh reality of economics.  You can’t provide the trappings and gifts that are expected, or you do provide them and aren’t sure how you will pay for them when the bills hit. 
Or maybe you’re just a melancholy person, and if so you are in good company.  Winston Churchill often spoke of the Black Dog, his term for the depression that followed him throughout his life.   
Charlies Spurgeon one of histories greatest preachers struggled with depression throughout his ministry.  In a paper entitled “When a Preacher is Depressed” Spurgeon wrote “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
And you don’t have to read very far in the Psalms to discover the same David who wrote “The Lord is my shepherd” also wrote in Psalm 22:6  But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.  
And maybe you don’t fit in any of those categories, you don’t understand why, but Christmas just isn’t merry for you, at least not this year.
And this service isn’t designed to drag you unwillingly into the joy of Christmas but instead perhaps to offer you hope that God is there and that God cares.  
There is a story in the book of John that more than any other reveals the human side of Jesus’.  Because that is the mystery of the incarnation, that Jesus is 100 % God and 100 % human.   And because we are afraid that people might miss Jesus’ divine nature we sometimes neglect his humanity.   
The story is told in John chapter 11 and happens just a week before Jesus and his friends would celebrate the Passover.  And in many ways our celebration of Christmas would have many things in common with how the Jews celebrated Passover.  It was about food and family and celebration.  But this year would be different for one family who lived in the village of Bethany. 
They were close friends of Jesus, two sisters named Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.  And we discover that in the midst of preparation for the Passover Lazarus become sick and dies.   
Would Passover ever be the same for Mary and Martha?  Or would it always be a reminder of their loss?  On my sister’s birthday in 2001 she sat in the funeral service for her middle daughter and unborn granddaughter, who had been killed in a car accident just days before. And every birthday since has been coloured by that event. 
When Mary and Martha realized just how sick their brother was they sent for the friend Jesus, who they believed had the power to save their brother, but it was days before Jesus arrived and by then Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. 
And we pick up the story in John 11:32-36  When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.  “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.”  Then Jesus wept.  The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”  
There are three things we notice here that we normally don’t see as characteristics of Christ and perhaps when we see them in ourselves we feel guilty of being less than Christ like.  But is that fair?
So John tells us that a deep anger welled up within Jesus. Jesus was Angry So, what was Jesus angry about?  If you go back it says that when Jesus saw Mary weeping and the other people wailing with her that this anger welled up within him. 
Surely he wasn’t angry over the tears of Mary?  Some suggested that Jesus saw hypocrisy in the tears of the crowd, that they weren’t really friends of Lazarus and his sister and were simply weeping for show.  But there is nothing to indicate that their tears were anything less than genuine.  
And understand that anything I say is simply speculation but I would suggest that Jesus was angry at the unfairness of life. 
We don’t know how old Lazarus was but it seems that he was a peer of Jesus and if that was the case than Jesus would have felt that death had come too soon for his friend.   We are told in Psalm 90:10  Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. . . And Lazarus wasn’t anywhere near that old.  And so Jesus was angry that Lazarus didn’t get the years that he should have had and he was angry that Mary and Martha would be missing their brother and I think he was angry that Lazarus would no longer be a part of his life.
I think we all have points in our lives that we are angry at the unfairness of life, the chronic illness of a child, the suffering of a loved one, perhaps even something that we are struggling with ourselves. 
And I would suspect at times like that, that we feel a deep anger welling up within us and we want to demand “Why God? Why?”  Perhaps you feel like Job did when he demanded of God Job 10:3  What do you gain by oppressing me? Why do you reject me, the work of your own hands, while smiling on the schemes of the wicked?
And then we feel guilty for being angry, and that just spirals us deeper in despair. 
But cheer up, you aren’t alone. Jesus got angry as well, angry at the injustice of Lazarus’ death, angry at the unfairness of life, perhaps angry that he wasn’t able to be there for his friend.
The secret of course is found in Ephesians 4:26  And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,
But it wasn’t just anger that Jesus expressed here, the verse continues and tells us that he was deeply troubled.  Jesus was Troubled It bugged Jesus that Lazarus had to die and Jesus had perfect wisdom.  He knew more than anyone the reason, he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead and it still bugged him.
A good friend of mine is going through some fairly serious medical problems.  Recently he had surgery and the news wasn't good.
And when we broke the news to him he was angry and troubled and so was I.  The next day I went back in to see him and I told him “To save time I’ve made a list of platitudes for you, these are the same ones that we have used as Pastors from time to time.”  And I read him the list, “God never gives us more than we can handle”  “All things work together for the good of those who believe.”  “God has a reason”  “We just need more faith” “think of all the people worse off than you.”  And that made him laugh, which made him hurt.  oops, sorry Nick.
And as true as some of those platitudes are they normally aren’t all that helpful.
And ultimately we read in John 11:35 Then Jesus wept. Jesus was Sad
Again Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, but he still wept.  He wept for Lazarus, he wept for the sisters and he wept for himself.
It was Washington Irving  “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
So don’t feel bad for your tears, Jesus wept as well and for the same reasons, there were no words.
Often you will hear people refer to John 11:35 as the shortest verse in the bible, which isn’t entirely accurate.  Actually it’s only the shortest English verse in the bible.  But remember that the bible wasn’t written in English it was written in Greek. 
So in the Greek “Jesus wept” is actually the second shortest verse in the Bible, it contains 16 letters, in comparison 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Always be joyful. contains only 14 letters in the Greek.   Interesting. 
And then Jesus Reached out to Others and Reached out to God But then Jesus did something, he reached out to the girls, because as deep as his grief was he understood that theirs was greater.  And then he prayed. I love how he begins his prayer.  John 11:41-42   Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me.  You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”
Prayer was where Jesus turned, prayer is where David turned and prayer is where Spurgeon turned.  It connected them and grounded them.  Did it cheer them up? I’m not sure that was the intent. It was the opportunity to connect.  To connect with others and to connect with God, because in the dark of the night we need others to bring warmth to our souls.    It was the Spanish writer Miguel De Unamuno who reminds us “Man dies of cold, not of darkness.”
And from the despair of Jesus came the resurrection of Lazarus.  We will never know the impact the raising of Lazarus would have on the people who witnessed it, but Jesus could never have raised him from the dead if he hadn’t of died.

Another thought from Spurgeon, “Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail. A drag on the carriage wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill.”
And so on this, the shortest day of 2015, I offer you hope, hope in the reality that every night has a dawn, every storm has an end and every mountain has a top.
When Matthew was writing his gospel he reached back to the Old Testament to describe why Jesus came and this is the passage he landed on Isaiah 42:1-3  “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or raise his voice in public.  He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.  
And today for those who feel like a weak reed or a flickering Candle, Jesus reaches out to you.  And he wants you to know that he is angry and troubled by what you have gone through or are going through, and he wants to be there with you to bring you strength and to bring you hope and to intercede with the Father on your behalf. 

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