We Believe in God

The word Genesis can be translated in several ways. Depending on the context, it can mean “birth,” “genealogy,” or “history of origin.” Tradition tells us Moses, the great law giver, wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Collectively, those books are called the Pentateuch. Genesis 1:1-5 are not just the introductory words of an Old Testament book, it is the opening words of the entire Bible. The first verse is not just a summarization of the entire creation story. It is our introduction to God, Himself. Let me state the obvious. God is a very complex topic. Everyone seems to have a different understanding of God. Everyone seems to have an opinion about God. Just think about it for a moment.

What do these people have in common?

          Arian Foster

          Daniel Radcliffe

          Julianne Moore

          Ian McKellen

          Andy Rooney

          Billy Joel

          Jodi Foster

          Galileo

Each one of those people was, or is, an atheist. In other words, they say there is no God. That list came from CNN. According to Wikipedia, there are between 450 to 500 million atheists in the world. That is about 7% of the world’s population.

That means 93% of the world’s population believes in the existence of God. However, the 93% have different views of God. For example, followers of the New Age movement see themselves as a god; that is why they are always striving for a higher consciousness. Hindus believe there are numerous gods. Collectively, they call those gods “Brahman”. He is a universal soul that is found in everything. Muslims believe in one almighty god, Allah. He is viewed as the creator of the universe and the source of all good and evil. He is a powerful and strict judge. He lacks compassion and love. Pantheists believe God is found in nature. Mormons believe a little piece of God can be found in every newborn. That is why they promote family and value each child. Many of the American patriots were deists. They believed God created both the universe and natural law. However, they believed God would never break natural law, so miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ, never happened. Even Satan believes in the existence of God. Do I have to go on? This little three letter word, God, is very complex.

So, when we begin reciting the Apostles’ Creed with the words, we believe in God, don’t take those words lightly. God is a very complex topic. Let me ask a few questions. Who is the God mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed? What did the apostles teach about God? What do you believe about God? What are the great characteristics of the God of the Christian faith? Let me just give you a few.

We believe God is all-powerful.  Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”  Never underestimate the power of God. In our scripture lesson for today, the world is introduced to God. The first thing we learn about God is His power. Look at the text with me.

God created the whole universe out of nothing. Do you remember the order in which God created the universe? God started with nothing; the world was a formless mass. Then came light, so day and night were created. Then, God created the sky. Then, God created the land, the oceans, and the plants. Then, God created the sun, moon and the stars. Then, God created the birds and the fish. Then, God created land animals. Finally, His crowning jewel of creation, God created mankind. Creating all of this out of nothing is amazing, but the vastness of this creation is incomprehensible. Did you know the planet Jupiter’s mass is 300 times that of Earth? The expanse of the observable universe is 93 billion light-years. God’s creation is massive, yet God’s creation is tiny. An atom is the smallest particle of an element, unable to be seen by the human eye. God’s creation is massive and complex. Creation itself reminds us of the power of God. John Piper (born 1946) is a Reformed Baptist pastor and author. He once said, “It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.”  Yet, there is more to our understanding of God than power. There is also presence.

We believe God is ever-present.  The Psalter lesson contained these words: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139:7-12). What is David trying to tell us? He is reminding us of something we already know. God is ever-present.

Many believe, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem is the most sacred place in the world for Christians. I was there several years ago. The church was consecrated in the year 335. They say, it is in that location Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, and was resurrected. The final five Stations of the Cross are located inside that structure. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is another holy site. I will never forget being on my knees to place my hands in a hole, under the center altar. They say that is the exact spot where Christ was born. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, and I knew God was present. However, the Bible teaches us God is always present. Not just in the sacred places, God is present in all places.

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) was a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, who survived the Nazi Holocaust. Perhaps you have read his book, Night. He often told the story of a day in the camp, when three men were executed by hanging. The scene was not pretty. Two of the men died quickly, but the third lasted longer. The prisoners were paraded past the bodies, as the death camp guards taunted them. The guards asked the prisoners the same question repeatedly, “Where is your God?” Wiesel said he answered that question internally. “Where is our God? Here. Hanging in the gallows.” We believe in an ever-present God. You have never been orphaned. God has always been with you, during the most exciting times in your life and the most challenging. We believe in an all-powerful God. We believe in an ever-present God. However, there is more.

We believe God is love. Romans 8:38-39 are two of my favorite verses in the Bible. You may know these words, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  I am always moved by those words. Our all-powerful, ever present God loves us. Love is not afraid to sacrifice.

Lee Dawn Mann was not afraid to sacrifice for her children, because she loved them. Do you remember her story from the news? On July 26, 2018, she and her three daughters were at the Big Manistee River, in Michigan. Everyone was having a great time, until the unthinkable happened. The girls went too far out and began to struggle in the current. The thirty-three-year-old mother jumped into the water and pushed her daughters to safety. Unfortunately, she couldn’t save herself. The current took her away. Her family and friends called her a hero. I call her a loving mother, who wasn’t afraid to sacrifice her life for her children. Love is not afraid to sacrifice. Can anyone tell me Lee Dawn Mann didn’t love her children? Love is not afraid to sacrifice, so Jesus went to the cross for us. The picture was not pretty. Can anyone tell me Jesus doesn’t love us? We believe in an all-powerful God. We believe in an ever-present God. We believe in a loving God. This is the truth:

I could have written an entire sermon series on the great characteristics of God, but time does not permit. It will have to suffice to say our all-powerful, ever present, loving God is also merciful, faithful, constant, just, holy, righteous, the absolute truth, sovereign and all-knowing. In short, we believe in a great God! Let me end with this story.

In 1715, King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France died after a reign of 72 years. He had called himself “the Great,” and was the monarch who made the famous statement, “I am the state!” Let’s just say, he had a healthy self-image. His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin, to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then, Bishop of Massillon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.” The Bishop was right, God is great!

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

The second chapter of Matthew begins with the story of the Magi. The scene is familiar; we visit it annually. This is the truth. We are more comfortable with the tradition of the story than we are with the Bible itself. According to the Bible, Magi came from the east to worship him, because they had seen a star. Who were the Magi? They were not kings. As a group, their political interests had passed years earlier. They were more interested in spiritual matters. They sought God in a variety of ways. One of those ways was the stars. Like everyone else, they assumed this special child, worthy of a star, would be born in the palace. When they arrived at the palace, there was no baby, only an insecure king named Herod. Sadly, that assumption led to the death of countless baby boys. The Bible tells us the hard truth. Herod ordered the execution of every baby boy under the age of two. (Matthew 1:16) However, in the end, God wins. The Magi find this special child. No longer in a manger, the child is in a house. Their long search has been completed and they are overjoyed. When they finally saw the child, they did three things. First, they humbled themselves and bowed down. Second, they worshipped him. Third, they offered him gifts. You know what the Magi gave to Jesus. I don’t even have to tell you. Everyone knows what the Magi gave to Jesus as a gift.

Many believe that act of generosity started the great tradition of gift giving at Christmas. It is obvious, Americans love to give gifts. I gave you these facts during Advent. The National Retail Federation estimated the average American spent $700 on Christmas presents this year. As a country, we spent $465 billion on Christmas presents. I must ask you: How much did you spend on Christmas presents this year? Perhaps, this is a better question: What did you get for Christmas? I hope you didn’t get anything on this list:

          1. Nose hair clippers

          2. A pet rodent

          3. A vacuum cleaner

          4. Mascara

          5. Hand-me-down clothes

          6. A photograph of yourself

          7. A year’s supply of Nutri System diet food

          8. A month gym membership

          9. Socks

          10. A picture of yourself

I found that list several years ago. That is a list of the worst possible Christmas presents you can give. It came from Gather magazine.

According to Squidoo, these were the most desired gifts for Christmas this year:

          1. Cell phone

          2. Tablets

          3. Televisions

          4. Movies and sports streaming devises

          5. Gaming

          6. Remote control toys

          7. Cologne

          8. Docking systems

          9. Amazon gift card

          10. Unique cameras

I hope you got some of those things, but Jesus didn’t get anything on that list, either.

What did Jesus get for Christmas? You know the answer. The Magi gave to Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are odd gifts to give to a toddler. They were not as bad as a pair of socks or a picture of yourself, but they were odd. They seem odd to us because we are not as wise as the Magi. They were not consumed by temporary things. They were consumed with eternity. From some unknown source, they knew about Jesus’s earthly life. They knew what was going to happen to him in the next thirty-three years. Each one of the gifts was not just expensive, each one of the gifts was significant. Each one of the gifts emphasized a different aspect of Jesus’s ministry.  Think about those gifts for a moment.

Gold

Gold was the perfect gift for a king. What is gold? Gold is a precious metal that is reserved for special people and occasions. Did you know an ounce of gold sells for $1,289.85? How much gold do you own? It has been called the king of metals. Seneca tells us that in Parthia, no one approached the king without a gift of gold. It is truly the perfect gift for a king. Never forget, Jesus is the king of kings. We are not his equal. We must always meet him on terms of submission.

History tells us that Admiral Nelson (1758 – 1805) always treated his defeated enemy with kindness and courtesy. After one of his naval victories, the defeated Admiral was brought to Nelson. Knowing his reputation for kindness and courtesy, he walked up to Nelson and stuck out his hand to shake it. Nelson’s hand remained at his side and said, “Your sword before your hand.” Before we can be Jesus’ friend, he must have our complete submission. Do you submit to Jesus, or is he just your friend? Gold was the perfect gift for a king. Gold was the perfect gift for Jesus.

Frankincense

Frankincense was the perfect gift for a priest. What is frankincense? It is the bark from a boswellia tree. That bark was used to make a sweet perfume that was used by priests during sacrifices. Those sacrifices were used to make a connection between mankind and God. The Latin word for priest means “bridge builder.” Remember, Jesus was the ultimate bridge between mankind and God. Jesus is the incarnation of God in our world. He became one of us. He didn’t just study us from afar.

The scriptures tell us Mary and Joseph respected the Law of Moses. In Luke 2:22-40, we learn they went to Jerusalem in accordance with that law. After the birth of a son, the law demanded two things. First, women had to wait 40 days to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice. Mary had to be purified to re-enter society. Second, Jesus had to be consecrated to the Lord. At that time, he was circumcised. They went to Jerusalem to attend to those matters. It was a big day in their lives, but they didn’t have a clue what would happen. Like every parent, they knew their son was special. They found out how special.

They met two characters during their time at the temple. The first was a priest by the name of Simeon. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and was told he would not die until he saw the Messiah. The Holy Spirit did not lie. When Mary and Joseph walked up to him, they only expected him to circumcise Jesus. They didn’t expect his reaction to their son. Simeon is overjoyed, because his long wait was over. He knew, Jesus was the Messiah. The second person they met was Anna. In terms of this world, she didn’t have much. She was an old widow who lived her life within the temple. However, spiritually, she was rich. She was a prophetess. She is the one who announces to the crowd that Jesus will bring redemption to Israel!

I love Simeon and Anna. They model for us the importance of patience and they remind us of the uniqueness of Jesus. They knew what we often forget. Jesus was not just another good man. Jesus was not just the leader of another world religion. Jesus was different. Jesus was the son of God. Jesus was the incarnation of God. Jesus would forge a relationship between us and God that still stands today. In other words, Jesus was the great high priest! Frankincense was the perfect gift for a priest. Frankincense was the perfect gift for Jesus.

Myrrh

Myrrh was the perfect gift for one who was going to die. What is myrrh? It is a spice that was used to embalm the dead. I hate to say this on the first Sunday of 2019, but Jesus did die. You remember the story. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, he is executed like a common criminal. The Bible tells us he did nothing wrong. As a matter of fact, he did everything right! He never committed a single sin which made him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. That fact is only important if you admit you are a sinner. Sinless people do not need a savior. Sinless people do not need Jesus. However, you do need Jesus because you are a sinner. What does the Bible say? It says, “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23) That means anyone who has ever lived is a sinner. It means you are a sinner. Let me say this clearly. If you think you are going to heaven by your good works, then you are going to hell. Jesus is and always has been your only hope of salvation. Myrrh was the perfect gift for someone who was going to die. Myrrh was the perfect gift for Jesus.

In my home, it is traditional to take the Christmas decorations down on Epiphany Sunday. We still have a live tree, and it is shedding. The decorations are still up, and the exterior lights were on last night. It will all be gone by this evening, and our world will seem dark. I will be sad to see it all go, because we had a good Christmas. Soon, this year’s Christmas memories will be lumped with past Christmases. We took many pictures, so we wouldn’t forget. However, the one thing we will never forget is the true meaning behind Christmas. Christmas is not about gifts, it is about the incarnation of God. Jesus came to be our king, not our friend. Jesus came to be our high priest, acting as a bridge to link us to God. Jesus came to die for us; he was the perfect sacrifice. In my home, Christmas is not just part of the holiday season. Christmas is Christmas, a truly Christian holiday. Do you remember the words of Gabriel? Speaking of Jesus, the angel said, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most-High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.”

Under the Headlines

Everyone knows the name Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). He was a French statesman and military leader, who rose to prominence during the French Revolution. He was the Emperor of France from 1804-1814, and for a short time in 1815. During those years he dominated Europe. In 1809, the name Napoleon grabbed the headlines of every international newspaper. Yet, under the headlines God was at work.

The year 1809 was quite a year in the history of the world. For in that year, some significant babies were born. For example, in 1809, William Gladstone (1809-1898) was born. He grew up to be one of England’s finest statesmen. The great writer Alford Lloyd Tennyson (1809-1892) was born in 1809 to a minister and his wife. In 1809, Oliver Wendall Holmes (1809-1894) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In Boston, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was born. In 1809, a physician and his wife, the Darwins, welcomed their son into the world. They named him Charles Robert (1809-1882). In 1809, a baby was born in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky to the Lincolns. They named him Abraham (1809-1865). Napoleon may have been dominating the headlines, but God was moving under the headlines. It has always been that way.

The headline on the day Jesus was born must have read: HIGHER TAXES! No one wanted to read that headline because no one wants higher taxes. Yet, taxes cannot be ignored. So for that reason, a decree went out throughout the entire Roman world. Everyone had to return home to be counted for tax reasons. Joseph was not excluded. He was required to return to his hometown, Bethlehem. It is not as simple as it sounds. Joseph was traveling with his true love, Mary. The journey began in Nazareth, Mary’s hometown, so the journey was seventy miles long. To make the story even more complicated, Mary was pregnant, and Joseph was not the biological father. She conceived, not by the help of a man, but through the Holy Spirit. Timing is everything. The child comes after the long journey. Some say he came in a barn, some say he was born in a cave. Regardless, the baby was born surrounded by animals, so they had to be careful where they stepped. Joseph and Mary did as God commanded. According to the Gospel of Matthew, they gave him the name Jesus. It is important that you know Jesus means “to save.” This is the question you must answer: What did Jesus save us from? There are three answers to that question.

One of the great stories of the Christmas season is A Christmas Carol. It was written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) in 1843. You know the story. The theology is poor, but the theme is wonderful. The story revolves around a man named Ebenezer Scrooge. When we first meet him, he is a selfish, greedy businessman. His now famous response, “Bah Humbug!” has become a symbol of a disillusioned spirit. However, thanks to the visits of three ghosts, the ghosts of past, present and future, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is transformed. By Christmas morning his transformation is complete. He became generous, loving, and a gracious servant of society. The reason our society can’t get enough of A Christmas Carol is, we all relate to Ebenezer Scrooge. Can I ask you a question? Have you ever grown disillusioned?

Jesus came to save us from disillusionment. Jesus came to remind us that there is more to this world, than this world itself. The next time you feel disillusioned, remember this. The God of the universe, who created this entire world out of nothing, knows your name. When you are at your lowest, listen for God. He is calling your name to remind you that you are a person of significance. How important are you? You are so important, God sent his one and only son into this world to die for you, so God can spend eternity with you. Jesus came to save us from our disillusionment. However, Jesus came to save us from our disillusionment, but Jesus also came to save us from defeat.

In 1939, a man by the name of Robert May worked for Montgomery Ward department store. For marketing purposes, he was asked to create a new Christmas character. So, he combined two famous characters, Santa Claus and the Ugly Duckling. He called his new character Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. You know this story too. The misfit reindeer goes on to save the day. Except for a few “Bah Humbug” people, everybody loves the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer because everybody can relate to Rudolph. We all dream of being the hero.

Jesus came to save us from defeat. I am not going to lie to you. I have known many good people who have lost. However, I will say this: The nativity stands as a reminder to the fact that God came into the world to stand with us. Jesus was not born in the palace surrounded by aristocrats. He was born in a barn surrounded by commoners, like us. Sometimes, we experience victory, and sometimes, we do not. As Christian people, we know the truth. God is always by our side, and in the end, we are going to be victorious. In the end, everyone who believes in Jesus is going to heaven. Jesus came to save us from our disillusionment. Jesus came to save us from defeat. Finally, Jesus came to save us from death.

It has been said, “Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp before the dawn.”  When I first read that quote, I thought of my grandfather, Roger Adams. He was the greatest man I have ever known. He had the ability to make any situation fun. He had the gift of making everyone in his life feel important and special. This is his story. He was born in Pierpont, Ohio, just south of Conneaut. As a teenager, his leg was damaged in a train accident. His father, my great-grandfather, refused to let the doctor take his leg. Grandpa had his leg, but he always struggled with that bad leg. Maybe that is why he was the first Adams to leave the farm and head to the big city. He moved to the bright lights of Ashtabula, Ohio. He had many jobs in his life, but the only job I remember him holding was on the docks of Ashtabula harbor. It was a good job, but it was not the job he really wanted. He wanted to go into the ministry, but he never had the opportunity. When I went into the ministry, I wasn’t just fulfilling my dream. I was fulfilling his dream of ministry too. In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, it says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, saints, who are cheering us on to do our best. One of those saints cheering me on this evening is my grandfather, Roger Adams. When I see him again in heaven, I am going to tell him everything he missed in the ministry. I am going to tell him I was passionate about the ministry because I did it for the two of us. The Ecology Global Network tells us that two people in our world die every second. You must know someone in that great cloud. There must be someone you miss. There must be someone you will never forget.

Jesus came to save us from death. I have many questions, but there is one thing I know for sure. Someday, I am going to heaven. I am not making this statement because I think I am a good person or a perfect person. I know, I lean heavily on grace. I am going to heaven because I worship a perfect Savior. I am going to heaven because of Jesus, who was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. May we never forget it. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. The fires of hell are waiting for you, if you believe you can earn your own salvation. Salvation is a gift! Salvation is yours by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. When I get to heaven, I am going to look for Roger Adams, the greatest man I have ever known. Who are you going to look for when you get to heaven? Let me end with a famous preaching story about Wright brothers.

On December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, after many attempts, Orville and Wilber Wright got their flying machine off the ground. Orville was the pilot. He flew for 12 seconds and went 120 feet. The world would never be the same again. How many of you flew home for Christmas? Wanting to share their good news, the Wright brothers telegraphed their sister, Katherine, back in Dayton, this simple message: WE HAVE ACTUALLY FLOWN 120 FEET. WE WILL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. Katherine was thrilled her brothers had flown and wanted to share that good news with the world. She went to the editor of the local newspaper and handed him the message. He read it and responded, “How nice! The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news!

I hope you don’t miss the big news. The Savior of the world is born! He came to save us from our own disillusionment. He came to save us from defeat. He came to save us from death. Do you remember the words of the unnamed angel in the first chapter of Matthew? The angel said, “She will give birth to a son, and you will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

How Did You Sleep Last Night?

In the second chapter of Luke, there is a familiar scene. Perhaps it is so familiar, the shock has worn off. After centuries of waiting, the savior of the world has been born. For generations, everyone longed for his arrival, because he would solve all their problems. Everyone assumed he would be born in the palace; after all, he was a king. Everyone was wrong. (You know what they say about assuming.) He was born in a barn. To the world, his parents, Joseph and Mary, were just another poor couple. The cynical ask, aren’t the poor always having children they can’t afford? According to the Gospel of Matthew, they named him Jesus. The name means “to save.” It was the greatest moment in human history, but the world almost missed it. An announcement had to be made. It was delivered to an unimpressive group of hard-working shepherds, despised by the religious of their world, but obviously valued by God. Once the announcement is given, the messenger is surrounded by a great company of singing angels. Their sheet music is long gone, but their words remain. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. We know those words because they are great words. But what do those words mean? To understand the words, you must answer this question, what kind of peace? How do you interpret that verse? It is not a simple task.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is Home Alone. Last year, at my church, Western Reserve United Methodist, my Advent/Christmas sermon series was called Christmas Goes to the Movies. On Christmas Eve we saw a clip from that movie. You may know the background. Home Alone was released in 1990. It was made for $18 million and has grossed approximately $354,000,000. It was filmed in Winnetka, Illinois and stars Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, and Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister. You remember the story line. Eight-year-old Kevin finds himself home alone, because he is lost in the shuffle as his family leaves for their Christmas vacation. At first, he celebrates his independence, but in time he begins to value his family. Near the end of the movie, Kevin begins to regret how he has treated his family. He walks into a church and confesses his feelings to a stranger, who has his own family problems. The stranger, Kevin’s neighbor, a weird old man, has a great line. He says, “You’re in church now. This is the place to come when you are feeling bad about yourself.” It is a secular movie, but it holds a divine truth.

Some believe the angels are speaking about internal peace. Have you ever come to church to find some rest? The world is exhausting, because the world promotes your failures. I have sat alone my church’s sanctuary countless times, because I needed to find some peace. I have sat alone in the comfort of that sanctuary because I needed to experience Jesus. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.”  Internal peace is important! Can I ask you a question? How exhausted are you? Internal peace is important, but peace with others is equally important.

I love this story because I love baseball. I remember the night Hank Aaron (born 1934) broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. He held that record for thirty-three years. When his 23-year baseball career ended, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame and went to work for the Atlanta Braves. In my eyes, Hank Aaron is a somebody. One night, he was checking into a hotel, but to the clerk, he was a nobody. She didn’t recognize him and told him there were no rooms available. The owner of the hotel recognized Hank Aaron and pulled the clerk to the side. He said, “That is Hank Aaron. He is the one who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Tell him we will find him a room.” The clerk went back to the counter and said to Hank Aaron, “I am sorry, Mr. Aaron. I didn’t recognize you. Of course, we have a room for you. I didn’t know you were a somebody.” I love Hank Aaron’s response. He said, “Everybody is a somebody.” How would our world change, if we treated everybody like a somebody?

Some believe the angels are speaking about peace with others. There is a certain amount of logic to that interpretation. After all, God sees everybody as a somebody, because God loves everyone. It is God’s desire to have everyone accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so God can spend eternity with everyone. If you treated everyone as a somebody, how would your relationships change? If you were treated as a somebody, how would your relationships change? This is the truth. Revenge is never sweet. Violence breeds more violence. Hatred poisons the soul. Resentment, jealousy, bigotry, and prejudices are spiritual viruses that will kill your soul. Hank Aaron was right! Everybody is a somebody. Peace with other is important! Internal peace is important! There is only one problem with those interpretations. They simply aren’t big enough. We believe in a great big God. This is the correct interpretation:

The angels are speaking about peace with God. When you have peace with God, you have internal peace. When you have peace with God, you have peace with others. When you have peace with God, you have complete peace. It is the kind of peace that satisfies your entire being. The great hymn writer of the Methodist movement, Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was at peace with God. He wrote approximately 6,500 hymns. In one of his hymns, he talks about his peace with God. Listen to these words:

          I rest beneath the Almighty’s shade

          My griefs expire, my troubles cease;

          Thou, Lord, on whom my soul is stayed,

          Keep me still in perfect peace.

Charles Wesley was at peace with God. This is the question you must answer today: Are you at peace with God?

Nicholas Ridley (1550-1555) was an English Bishop in London. However, he is remembered for being one of the greatest martyrs in the history of the church. His witness for Christ was unfailing. He died burned at a stake. On the night before his execution, his brother came to visit him in prison. He wanted to add some comfort. Ridley refused the offer. He told his brother to go home, because he wanted to get a good night’s rest, because he was going to meet God the next day. Those who guarded over him said he slept soundly that night. Can I ask you a personal question? How did you sleep last night? I will be honest with you. I am not a great sleeper, because I don’t want to waste time. I have things to do. However, the one thing I do not worry about is my salvation. This is my story.

In December of 1974, I was a senior in high school. The school levy in my hometown failed that year, so I had most of the month free with no school. During that long month, I sold Christmas trees with the rest of the church youth group. I liked selling Christmas trees, because I like selling anything. The best part about selling Christmas trees was my friends in our youth group. I still have an emotional tie with many of them. The most intriguing member of my high school youth group was a girl named Susan. She was also the prettiest girl in my youth group. She was the first one in my high school youth group to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She was eager to share her new faith. On December 16, 1974, she sat next to me and asked me a question which changed my entire life. Susan asked me, “Russ, would you like to go to heaven?” I am not sure that I heard the question at first. I was just so excited that she was talking to me! When I heard the question again, would you like to go to heaven, I answered, “Yes.” This is the the truth: I would have said YES to anything she asked me. Would you like to go to the dump and shoot rats? YES! Would you like to hold up the corner gas station? YES! However, those were not her questions. She asked me if I wanted to go to heaven. I said, “Yes”, and she told me about how Jesus died for me. My life has never been the same since. I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone. My life is not perfect, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am going to heaven. I know, I am not a perfect person, but I do worship a perfect savior. Since that day, I have not missed a minute of sleep worrying about my eternity. I live a spiritually peaceful life. So, let me ask this personal question. How did you sleep last night? This is the correct interpretation. The angels are speaking of peace with God.

The angels sang those words to the shepherds years ago, but their words are still true today, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Are you at peace with God? How did you sleep last night?

The Savior is with Us!

Names are important in the Bible. The name Jesus is related to the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “to save.” To underscore the significance of Jesus’s name, Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. To be more exact, he quotes Isaiah 7:14, The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel. Matthew gives us the meaning of Immanuel. It means “God with us.” If you combine those two names, Jesus and Immanuel, then you discover Jesus’s mission. The Savior is with us. That is a great part of the Good News. Life may not always be easy, but the Savior is always with us. That piece of the Good News should comfort you. There has never been a moment in your life when you were orphaned. The Savior has always been with you. Biblical joy does not mean happy laughter, biblical joy means comfort and contentment.

When I was in the Cleveland area, I had an inactive parishioner. I do not remember her name, but I do remember the day she called me. She wanted to talk to me about some problem she had in her life. I told her I wasn’t a counselor, but I would be glad to be her friend. On the day of her appointment, she came. With emotional words, she told me about her problem. When the emotions had passed, she thanked me for listening and told me how much that church meant to her. Those words surprised me, because she was inactive. So, I asked her why. “If this church means so much to you, why don’t you attend worship?” Her response almost made me laugh out loud. She said, and I quote, “I don’t come to church because I don’t want to be the only one with problems.” I almost said, but I didn’t, “Are you serious?” One of the things I have learned in my position is, everyone has problems, including me. There is no shortage of problems in this world. If you think you are the only one with problems, then you are simply a fool. No one escapes the storms of life. One of the reasons we come to church is to remind ourselves that God is with us. That reminder helps us survive one more day. Let me ask you this question:

Have you ever had a health problem? I’ll bet the answer is yes. Sometimes, it is our self. Sometimes, it is a family member or a loved one. Sometimes, it is a neighbor or a co-worker. Every Sunday morning, I stand up and ask for prayer concerns. The one issue we feel we have the license to articulate is our health issues. Every week, it is something new. We hear about hip and knee surgery. We hear about bypass surgery. We hear about cancer, and we learn about conditions and diseases that are completely new. We pray for those people, and we are afraid we are going to be next. Have you ever wondered, what is going to get you? Have you ever had a health problem? I cannot eliminate your health problems, but I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you and God is bigger than your health problem. And, all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Let me ask you another question.

Have you ever had an economic problem? Let me state the obvious. Life is expensive! Did you know, according to the Federal Reserve, the average American household is $137,063 in debt and has a household income of only $59,039? Can I ask you a question? How far in debt are you? I have said it a million times. Money makes a wonderful slave, but a horrible master. I can’t eliminate your economic problems, but I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you, and God is bigger than your economic problem. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Let me ask you another question.

Have you ever had an addiction problem? According to the Washington Post, alcoholism is on the rise. Did you know one in eight Americans is an alcoholic? They also tell us that 25 million Americans use drugs illegally. Has your family been affected by an addiction? Have you been affected by an addiction? I can’t help you with your addiction issue. There are some things you must do for yourself. However, I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you, and God is bigger than your addiction issue. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”

Have you ever had a relationship problem? Albert Einstein (1874-1955) once said it best: Physics is easy, relationships are complex!  How many complex relationships do you have in your life? How many family members won’t you talk to this Christmas? How many children will have two Christmas dinners, one with dad and the other with mom? It is not supposed to be this way. I can’t eliminate your relationship problems, but I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you, and God is bigger than your relationship problems. And, all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Let me ask you another question.

Have you ever had a problem with religion? There are five major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism. Buddhism, and Hinduism. 1.1 billion people in our world have no religion. They are agnostic or atheists. How many people do you know who are not Christian? If you believe Jesus is your only hope of salvation, then how do you view those individuals’ salvation? Aren’t you glad you aren’t the judge? I can’t eliminate your religion problems, but I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you, and God is bigger than your religion problem. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Let me ask you another question.

Have you ever had a problem with anxiety or depression? Did you know over 18% of Americans deal with anxiety? Another 6.7% of Americans suffer from depression. It is important to take your pills, because 44,000 Americans commit suicide annually. Do you know of anyone who is crippled by anxiety or depression? Are you crippled by anxiety or depression? I can’t eliminate your anxiety and depression problem, but I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you, and God is bigger than your anxiety and depression. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Let me ask you one more question.

Have you ever had a problem with death? Did you know approximately 275,000 people die every day? You must know someone who has died recently. Have you ever stayed up at night worrying about your own death? I can’t eliminate your death problem, but I can remind you, you are not alone. God is with you, and God is bigger than death. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” As disciples of Jesus Christ, we embrace the name Jesus, our Emmanuel. Every time we utter his name, we are reminded our Savior is always with us! The problems of our lives are temporary, but our Savior is eternal!

They tell me, in Columbus, Ohio, there was a teacher by the name of Phyllis Martin. She has many stories from her years of teaching, but one story stands out. It was the day a storm came to her school. The clouds were black, and the wind was violent. Everyone, both teachers and students, were glued to the windows, until the signal was given that a tornado was near. Frightened, the teachers and students filed into the school basement. They lined the walls and listened to the storm outside their building. The tension was thick and some of the children began to cry. The principal tried a sing-along to distract the children, but it failed. The storm kept raging. It was then, Phyllis Martin did something you aren’t supposed to do in a public school. She grabbed the little girl’s hand next to her and said, “Cathy, God is bigger than this storm. Let’s pray that God protects us!” She prayed with Cathy and the sound of her voiced resonated throughout the entire basement. Soon everyone was praying, and the crying stopped. A couple of minutes later, the storm passed, and everyone was at peace. They knew everything was going to be fine.

It is not just a story about a teacher in Columbus, Ohio. It is our story. Our lives are full of storms, but God is bigger than the storm. In the face of the storms, we stay calm, because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. We know we are not alone. God is with us, and God is bigger than any storm. Jesus’s name was his mission statement. The Savior is with us! That is the heart of Christian joy.