Sunday, December 17, 2017

Don't Miss The Chance

When I go Christmas shopping I will often see things that I think would make a great gift but I then convince myself that I can either find something better or else I’ll find the same thing somewhere cheaper, so I won’t buy it.  I’ll do this until December 23 and then I’ll rush back to the stores where I found the gifts I wanted to give and find the shelves empty.  I missed it.  I missed my chance to buy that gift and then I’ll have to scramble to buy something else.  I’ve done this all my life so I know what I’m talking about when I say Don’t Miss the Chance, but please understand I am not talking about missing the chance to buy the perfect gift, I’m talking about missing the chance to receive the gift of Jesus.  Don’t miss the chance to receive the grace and love that God offers us in Christmas.  Don’t miss the chance to live a new life. 

Listen to this part of the Christmas story from Matthew 1:18-25. 

I hope you didn’t miss it.  One of the reasons God came to us in Jesus was to forgive us.  Matthew 11:21.  Joseph was to give his son the name Jesus because the word means deliverer.  Jesus came to deliver us from sin, he came to forgive us and this forgiveness saves us and brings to us new life.  When we accept this forgiveness and allow God’s love and grace to enter our lives we are put back into a right relationship with God.  While our sin separates us from God, through Jesus we are restored and this is the chance we can’t miss. 

There is nothing else that can save us.  There is nothing else that brings us back to God.  On our own there is simply no way we can live a perfect and holy life that makes us acceptable to God who is perfect and holy.  The Bible says that there is no one who is perfect for we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  On our own we cannot be saved and as hard as we might try we cannot restore ourselves into a relationship with God.  We need Jesus.  Look at Ephesians 2:4-10.

The reason Jesus came into this world was to rescue us from sin.  Christmas is all about forgiveness.  In Jesus, God took on our sin and on the cross he died our death – but God defeated the power of sin and death and we know this because Jesus rose from the dead and as Paul said, it is through this resurrection that we have been made alive.  Through Jesus, God has rescued us from sin and death which gives us the chance to live a better, more fulfilled and peaceful life.  This is the gift of God given to us in Jesus and it is this chance to be forgiven and redeemed and restored that we can’t miss in Christmas. 

Joseph didn’t miss it.  Joseph was one of the first people to truly accept Jesus into his heart and life and it changed him.  Accepting Jesus changed Joseph from an ordinary man to a faithful servant whose actions changed the world.  Accepting Jesus meant Joseph was now an important part of God’s plan for all human beings.  Joseph went from a simple man of faith to a man whose faith opened the door for all men and women to have faith. 

We are given that same chance – when we accept Jesus into our hearts and lives, when we allow God to rescue us and bring us back into a right relationship with God – our own life’s story is changed.  Like Joseph, God now has the ability to use us for his plan and purpose.  We go from being ordinary men and women of faith to people whose lives can change the hearts and lives of our family, friends, community and world.  When we accept Jesus we are not only forgiven but that forgiveness and God’s grace gives us the chance to make a significant and eternal difference in the world.  Don’t miss the chance at new life.

But being reconciled to God and the new life that God offers is just half of the gift God gives us in Jesus, being one with God opens the door for us to become one with others.  Through Christ we are reconciled to God but in Christ – living in Christ – we are reconciled to one another and once again we see this in Joseph.  Joseph accepted Jesus and once he made this decision he was also reconciled with Mary.  Matthew 1:24. 

Up until this moment, Joseph and Mary were divided.  Mary’s pregnancy had broken their trust and relationship and Joseph was ready to dismiss or divorce Mary quietly.  But once Joseph accepted Jesus – God’s grace helped him reconcile with Mary.  Once we accept the grace of God we are given the chance to be reconciled with others.  Let’s go back to Ephesians 2:13-16. 

In Christ, we have the chance to be reconciled with one another.  When we accept Jesus and live in the new life that God gives us we are given the chance to be restored into healthy and whole relationships with one another and I’m not just talking about broken relationships with those we may love, I’m talking about the healing of relationships that are hostile and divisive.  When Paul talks about two groups and a dividing wall of hostility separating them he is talking about Jews and Gentiles. 

The division between Jews and Gentiles goes back generations, centuries even, and this division was so strong that most people assumed it would never be reconciled, but the power of God’s grace given in Jesus makes that kind of reconciliation possible.  What this means is that in Jesus we have the chance to restore all our broken relationships and even our divided community. 

The divisions we see today are pretty hostile.  We have Trump vs. CNN.  We have Trump vs. ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, The New York Times… well you get the picture.  We have strong and very hostile political and social divides.  Democrat vs. Republican.  Progressive vs. Conservative.  Black vs. White.  Rich vs. Poor.  Male vs. Female.  We are a divided people and the dividing wall of hostility is strong – but in Jesus we have the chance to be healed, to be reconciled. 

The gift of God we can receive in Christmas, in Jesus, is a chance at reconciliation with one another because once we are restored into a right relationship with God the door is opened for us to be reconciled with one another, but this doesn’t just happen, we have to work at it and it is by living in Jesus that we learn how to become one.  Living in Jesus and following him teaches us how to love and care for one another and once again it is Joseph who shows us what this looks like.

It says that Joseph took Mary home to be his wife but did he completely trust her in that moment?  Did they never argue or see things differently?  Did they live happily ever after or was theirs a journey of learning how to become one?  My guess is that like all of us they learned to become one by every day taking the chance God was giving them to love one another and forgive one another and serve one another. 

Joseph had to change his heart toward Mary.  He then had to listen to her and hear more about what God had shared with her.  He then had to serve Mary by helping her on a trip to Bethlehem.  Helping her as she gave birth and then leading her and their child Jesus to safety after he was born.  Joseph learned to be one with Mary and Mary learned how to be one with Joseph.  They understood the chance God was giving them to not only find peace with God but to live in peace with one another and offer the gift of peace to the world.  This is the chance we get in Jesus – Don’t miss it. 

Let me share with you three things we learn from Joseph about how to live in healthy relationships with one another.  The first thing is to Pray First – Act Second.  While asking God for direction before we act is always an important thing for us to do, what Joseph shows us is that prayer also involves listening to God.  Joseph was about to act first, but then he heard from God in a dream.  He listened and prayed and what he heard in prayer changed his heart and mind and gave him the chance to experience the power of God’s love and grace.  Prayer is always needed when we look at broken relationships.  We need to ask God what we have done to cause the divide and how our hearts need to change so we can help solve the problem.  So we need to pray first and act second.

The second thing we need to learn is to Be Quick to Listen – Slow to Speak.  Let’s be honest, this is hard because we want to speak.  We want to share our point of view because most of the time we think we are right.  This is a real struggle today because social media and technology makes speaking so easy.  We not only need to listen before we physically talk but we need to listen before we text, tweet or post.  Too many people are getting in to too much trouble because we are quick to respond and slow to listen and forget completely to pray before we act. 

Listening is a lost art and a true gift.  I have no way to verify this but I think Joseph excelled at listening.  Joseph listened to God before he spoke with Mary and he listened often and allowed what he heard to guide his life.  Because we don’t have any recorded words of Joseph I think he knew how to listen first and then speak.

It is important for us to learn to really listen today because while we have so many different ways to speak, people are not really being heard and most people want to know that their lives matter and their thoughts and ideas are worthwhile.  Children want to be heard by their parents and parents want to be heard by their grown children.  Partners in marriage want to be heard, friends want someone willing to listen, coworkers want to their views valued so can we be quick to listen in every situation we find ourselves and slow to speak.  After all, God gave us 2 ears and only one mouth because listening is twice as important as speaking. 

The third thing we learn from Joseph that helps us in relationships is to Receive Grace – Release Grudges.  We need to receive God’s grace first because as we begin to experience the joy and power and freedom that comes with forgiveness we will be more willing, have more of a desire and the ability to let go of the grudges we hold.  Joseph did this.  He received God’s grace, he accepted Jesus into his life which gave him the ability to let go of bitterness and resentment and disappointment that may have entered his heart. Receiving God’s grace helped Joseph truly reach out to love Mary. 

When we experience God’s forgiveness in our own hearts and lives, we are humbled and inspired to offer this grace to others.  While we always need to release grudges and offer forgiveness the strength to do this doesn’t come from us but from the grace God gives us.  We need to receive grace first so that we can release the grudges that weigh us down.

These three keys to restoring relationships are not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to start.  Prayer, listening and receiving God’s grace is what gives us the chance to restore our relationship with God and others.  This is what we are given in Jesus, this is what Christmas is all about.  Don’t miss it. 

Next Steps
Don’t Miss The Chance

The birth of Jesus gives us the chance to be restored into a right relationship with God and with one another. 

Read the story of Joseph in Matthew 1:18-25.
Read about the reconciliation God offers us in Christ in Ephesians 2:1-22.

Three keys to healthy relationships:
1. Pray First – Act Second
Pray for yourself.
Ask God to forgive you. 
Accept Jesus as your Savior.
Pray for others.
Who have you hurt or sinned against that you need to ask for forgiveness?
Who do you need forgive? 
Pray for opportunities to bring peace and forgiveness to your family, place of work, community?

2. Be Quick to Listen – Slow to Speak (Post, Reply, Tweet)
Listen to God in prayer.
Listen to your family this week.
Listen to friends and coworkers as they share their joys and sorrows.
Pray before you speak (post, reply, tweet)

3. Receive Grace – Release Grudges
Thank God for the forgiveness of your sins.
Thank God for the new life that He gives.
Who are you having a hard time forgiving? 
Pray for them.
Listen to them.