Romans 16:25 (CEV) says this: “From age to age this message was kept secret, but at last is now revealed.” Interesting isn’t it, that a secret message is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Messages are often hidden. That is as true with words and expressions as with anything else. One example is the expression Merry Christmas. What does that really mean? When people say, “Merry Christmas,” are they really just suggesting that people be happy and drink buckets of egg nog laced with rum? Of is there something more? In fact, there is a great deal more hidden in this expression that needs to be revealed.
When the term “Merry Christmas” was first coined centuries ago, words meant something different than they do today. Merry didn’t just mean joyful or happy. Merry meant something more akin to pleasant and agreeable. It conveyed not just the sense of having a good time but also proper behaviour and respect for others. To put it in another context, Robin Hood and his merry men were not just a bunch of guys who raised a tankard every now and then at the local pub. They, more importantly, were men who were pleasant and agreeable, who were willing to respect others by doing the right thing. That’s why they worked so hard to give back to the common folk what the Sheriff of Nottingham and his ilk has stolen from them. Merry was not just a joyous state of mind. It actually had more to do with proper behaviour. So think about that the next time someone wishes you a Merry Christmas. Remember that it is a reminder for us to be pleasant and agreeable, to do the right things and say the right things.
A lot of people are facing a different Christmases this year. That’s not a secret. It’s merely the truth. Maybe it is because of the death of a loved one. But there are other reasons too. Maybe you have experienced a broken relationship and are feeling the loneliness or separation from someone who once shared your life. Maybe the kids are getting older and this is the very first Christmas when the family won’t be together. Maybe there has been a change in employment or income. Maybe there are health concerns or the realization that someone special may not be here next Christmas.
There are all kinds of reason why people may not necessarily be looking forward to Christmas in the same way that they generally do. It’s well known that, for many people, Christmas is the hardest time of the year. Christmas may not be the joyous, happy occasion that it is made out to be on TV shows and movies.
The good news for those people is that they can still have a Merry Christmas. I’m not saying that everyone has to paint on a smile and act like everything is hunky doorey. I am suggesting, however, that we all spend time reflecting on the original meaning of Merry Christmas. We may not always feel joyous but we can still be pleasant and agreeable. We can still do the right things and treat others with respect and dignity. We can still do that and do it very well without trying to express something that we do not feel. In that sense, may we all have a Merry Christmas.
That is not an easy thing to do but in the last few verses of Romans Paul hints at how it is possible in Romans 16:25 (CEV) which says, “He can make you strong by means of my good news, which is the message of Jesus Christ.”
He makes you strong. God can do that. When you feel weak, God can give you strength. There’s a good reason for that. It’s because when we are at our weakest, sometimes that is the very moment when we reach out to God for the strength that only he can give.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) says this: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” God’s grace is sufficient for me. It is sufficient for you too. I want you to remember that this Christmas season, especially if you are anticipating difficulties. I want you to know that God’s grace is sufficient for you. In fact, I want you to say it with me. Say, “God’s grace is sufficient for me.” This secret also is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Not only do I want you to say it. I also want you to believe it. Know that God’s grace is sufficient for you. Know that when you have come to the end of your strength and your coping skills that God’s infinite love and power are there for you in overflowing quantities.
It is revealed to us in Romans 16:25 how we are made strong. It is by the message of Jesus Christ. How can that be? How can a message make us stronger? It’s actually not the message itself that makes you strong. It is the person whom the message is about, Jesus Christ. At Christmas time we often hear the word Emmanuel which means, ‘God with us.’” At Christmas time we remember that God came to us in Jesus Christ to experience life as we live it. He revealed to us how to live with one another. He gave his life on the cross to pay for our sins and he rose again for our salvation. None of it would have happened without Emmanuel, God with us.
But none of us will get strength just because of Emmanuel, God with us. The proximity of God does not guarantee the strength of God. To put it another way, all of us get strength from food. If you’re not sure of that, try going without food for a few days and see how that works out for you. But here’s the point; you don’t get strength from food merely by entering a grocery store. You could be in a store surrounded by food. You could have at your disposal every kind of food imaginable: fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, pastas, breads, even potato chips and chocolate. But you will gain no strength by walking past them down the aisles. You will only get the strength that is stored in those foods when you consume them and they are inside of you. Then and only then, will you gain strength.
The strength of the message of Jesus Christ is just like that. Emmanuel may mean God with us but you have to go one step further. God with us must at some point become God in us. In order for you to get God’s strength, God has to be inside of you. You have to invite him into your life and into your heart.
When we give our lives to Christ, his Spirit begins to live within us. When we give our lives to him, we are filled with his Spirit. His Spirit infuses every aspect of our being and draws us into God’s presence in ways that were never before possible. No longer is God merely with us, Emmanuel, God is in us through his Spirit. Only then does his strength truly become available to us. This too is a secret that has been revealed to us.
One obvious question is this: Why did God take so long to reveal the Gospel to the peoples of the earth? That’s a good question. The truth is that it was revealed long before Jesus walked the earth. The people just refused to listen. Romans 16:26 (CEV) says, “The eternal God commanded his prophets to write about the good news, so that all nations would obey and have faith.” Those prophets wrote hundreds of years before that first Christmas day in Bethlehem.
Micah (5:2) foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Isaiah (9:7) and Jeremiah (23:5-6) said that the Messiah would be a descendant of David.
Isaiah (7:14) also said that the Messiah would be born of a virgin and that his name would be Emmanuel.
Hosea (11:1) said that the Messiah would have to live in Egypt for a time, which Jesus did as a child when Joseph fled with his family from King Herod.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel also foretold aspects of the Messiah in their prophetic writings. The list goes on and on and on. It should have been no secret that the Messiah was coming to the earth. But the people would not listen.
But here’s the amazing thing. Even though the people had all kinds of warning, and even though they refused to listen, God still gave them another chance. When the people refused to listen to the prophets, God revealed himself in the form of a baby who would change the world. Isn’t that absolutely amazing? God wrapped himself up in a little human package, had swaddling clothes wrapped around him and laid in a manger. He sent the angels to tell the shepherds and the star to guide the magi. In that way God revealed the good news to us all.
But here’s the challenge. Are we listening? Or are we deaf and blind like the people of Jesus’ day? We are no longer awaiting the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We are awaiting his second coming. That too has been revealed to us. One day the heavens will open and we will hear the voice of the archangels and the trumpet blast and Jesus will come again through the clouds. It says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 that on that day, the dead will rise first and then those faithful people who are still living. And we will all rise to meet the Lord in the air before returning to earth where he will establish the Kingdom and the New Jerusalem forever.
God has revealed this to us. The only thing that has been kept secret is the time. We don’t know when Jesus will return. It says in Matthew 24:36 (CEV) that, “No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows.” We don’t know if it will be in our lifetimes. We don’t know if it will be this century or next or in the next millennium or beyond.
The time of the Second Coming is the final secret that one day it will be revealed. How? Let’s go back to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 to find out. We will know that he is coming back by the voice of the archangels and those trumpet blasts and the dead rising. Those are the only signs that we will get. There will be no warning. There will be no time to prepare. One day he come like a thief in the night and when he comes, we had better be prepared. That means, of course, that we have to be prepared every moment of every day.
prepare our homes for the coming of Jesus at Bethlehem, as we decorate our
trees and wrap our presents, bake our shortbreads and cook the turkeys, let’s
remember to prepare our hearts and our lives for his second coming in glory. Be
sure that by giving your life to Christ and inviting him into your heart, your
place in the Kingdom will be secured for eternity. We await that final secret
to be revealed.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we come to you with a renewed sense of your love and compassion. Your strength is seen in the might of winter storms and blazing comets. Your power is evident in the raging oceans and thundering waterfalls. Your love is shown to us in a tiny child born to us in Bethlehem.
We approach the day when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and are reminded, once again, of your presence in our lives. We praise you for the gift of music and the way that we can use it to give praise, honour and glory to you. Thank you for the various ways that we can share the Christmas story with a world that needs to hear about peace on earth and good will to all people in the name of Jesus, the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.
We, also, pray O God, those for whom Christmas brings sadness. We lift up in prayer those who remember loved ones who are no longer with us, especially those who are experiencing the first Christmas after the loss of a significant person in their lives. We pray for those whose are living with the loss of health and security. We pray for those whose Christmas will be poorer because of a downturn in family economics through job loss, strikes or other financial hardships. We pray, also, for those who are experiencing depression at this time of year; touch them with a special measure of joy.
We remember Canadian soldiers throughout the world who are striving to keep warring factions apart long enough to talk through their problems. Thank you by putting themselves in harm’s way, they are keeping others from harm. Bless them as they are away from their families during this special season.
We thank you for those who are able to help others who may be going through a difficult times. We pray for the family of Don Raymont as they mourn his death. Bless Linda and her family Bring your healing light into this situation, O God and let your peace rain on them. We thank you for those who distributed toys and food hampers to special people with special needs. We also lift up in prayer those who have been in hospital this week. We ask that your special healing touch may be upon them in this season of hope.
Father, we look forward to the coming of the Christ Child of Bethlehem into our
hearts and lives. God of the coming Christmas, may we come to appreciate what a
wonderful and special gift he is. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 24, 2017 / Advent 4
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55; Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26 (Alt. Resp); Luke 1:26-38; Rom. 16:25-27
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us sing of the constant love of God;
And proclaim the Lord’s faithfulness forever.
The love of God lasts for a lifetime;
God’s faithfulness is as certain as the sunrise.
We await the one who came as the child of Bethlehem.
Holy is his name, the name of Jesus.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
O God, you are the Father of the Child of Bethlehem. You, also, are our Heavenly Father. We ask now for your nurturing presence in our worship. Sit with us. Sing with us. Pray with us and speak with us. We look with confidence toward the birth of Jesus. Enable us to prepare our hearts for his coming into our lives. We open our souls to your cleansing Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Holy God, you are trustworthy and true. You are infinite and mighty. You are gentle and compassionate. Why is it that in our forgetfulness, we turn from you? We wander from your path of righteousness and we fall from your way. Yet, with gentle hands, you pick us up and set our feet back upon your path. We have no right to ask for your mercy but you supply it in endless quantities. We come to you with our confessions.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
We, who had forsaken God’s way, have found forgiveness in the Lamb. He is the Lamb of God who came to reconcile us and make us free. He is the one whose birth in Bethlehem we await.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
In gratitude, O God, we bring the work of our hands. We pray that all of our efforts and energies may be used for your purpose in your Creation. Enable us to reach greater heights than human endeavours can accomplish and give us the faith to try our very best. Amen.
We have heard the Word of God. We have been reminded of the power of God’s love. We have experienced the Spirit working within and among us. We are equipped for the ministry of Jesus. Let us go and share his love with the world.