Sunday, December 3, 2017

Don't Miss the Moment

Have you ever sat back on Christmas morning after all the presents have been opened, the dinner eaten and the dishes washed and asked yourself – where did this season go?  Why didn’t the holidays bring anything more than exhaustion, depression and debt?  Why didn’t I feel the love, hope, peace and joy that we so often talk about in this season?  What happened during the past four weeks to make me feel emptier now then I did on the first Sunday of December?  What happened?  I can tell you what you happened –we missed it.  We didn’t miss Christmas, the holiday comes no matter what, we missed Jesus, and too many of us miss it year after year – which is why this year we are saying, Don’t Miss It.

But why do we miss it in the first place? Why do so many of us miss what this season is all about?  The first answer is that our lives are too full and for 2,000 years this has been the main reason why people have missed Jesus.  Our lives are too full, our schedules are too busy.  Think back to the night Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay.  The city was crowded because of the census.  Everyone was in town and so every Inn, home and spare room was full.

The city was full.  Homes were full.  People’s lives and schedules were full and here’s the thing, they were all filled with good and important things.  The census meant that there were many extra people in the city and so people’s homes were already full when Mary and Joseph arrived.  Family members had taken in their relatives and everyone had been kind and gracious and generous and made room for the people who were already there.  So people’s lives were full of good things but they still missed out on Jesus.

We often miss Jesus because our lives are too full and our schedules are too busy and just like the people of Bethlehem we might be full and busy with good things – but those good things still can keep us from experiencing Jesus.  Maybe your holiday season will sound something like this…

Ouch.  That is really painful to listen to because it is so true.  All of those things are good.  Family is good.  Friends are good.  Work is good and working hard is good.  Food is good gift giving is good and church is good and carols and cookies are good – so our lives are filled with many good things but if these good things keep us too busy and too full then we run the risk of missing the reason for this season – which is still Jesus.  The danger for us is to celebrate Christmas and yet miss Jesus.  The danger is to fill our lives celebrating the season but then end up more empty and disappointed than ever.

Another reason we miss Jesus in this season is because the story of God coming to earth as a child in Bethlehem is just too familiar.  We have heard it so many times that it just doesn’t make the same impact, or hold the same truth, or speak to our hearts in the same way.  The saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt and while contempt might be too strong for how we feel about the story of Jesus’ birth, we often find ourselves complacent.  Either way, the familiarity of the story can cause us to miss it.

2,000 years ago there were also people who missed Jesus because of how familiar they were with the story of the Messiah.  When the Wisemen from the east saw a star in the sky they knew it meant that a King had been born in Israel.  They traveled to Jerusalem to find this king and asked where this Messiah was to be born.
Matthew 2:3-5.

Did you ever stop to ask yourself why those religious leaders never went to Bethlehem to see if a king had actually been born?  Bethlehem is only 6 miles from Jerusalem so it would not have taken them long o go and check things out, but they didn’t go.  They heard that a star appeared and a king had been born but they never went to check it out because the story had become so familiar that it just didn’t seem real.  The story held no truth and it held no power for them.

The danger for many of us is that the story of Jesus birth is so familiar that it fails to really speak to us.  We know all about Mary and Joseph, a stable and a manger, angels and shepherds, wisemen and stars.  We know the story but we don’t know Jesus.  We know all about the birth of baby but the reality of God coming to us in human form to live our lives and take on our sin so that we can know God just doesn’t speak to us anymore.

The people for whom this is a real problem are those of us who grew up in the church.  This is a story we have heard our entire lives and sometimes it just doesn’t inspire us or move us and so we miss the presence and power of God in this season.  The danger for us who grew up in the church or have been following Jesus for years is that all the stories of God can become too familiar.  When we start hearing a story and suddenly tune it out saying, I know that one – we miss it.  We miss God trying to meet us in the moment.

So we miss it because the story is too familiar, or our lives are too full and sometimes we miss it because our hearts are too empty – too empty of hope.  How many people in Israel at the time Jesus was born had just given up hope that a Messiah would come to save them.  How many people had given up on God hearing their cry for help, and their hearts cry for love?

How many of us have given up as well?  When relationships fall apart it is hard to have hope that the God of love is real and able to hold us together.  When sickness seems to prevail it is hard to have hope that the God of healing and life is real and able to help us.  When the world is dark and divided it is hard to have hope that the God of peace can make any kind of difference.  Sometimes we miss it, we miss Jesus, because we are empty of hope.

Too full.  Too familiar.  Too empty.  That’s why we miss it, so how do we make sure we don’t miss it?  What’s the answer to full lives, familiar stories and empty hearts?  The first answer is to STOP.  Can we do less in this season and create time and space to meet Jesus?  Can we take one thing off our schedules to make room in our hearts and homes for God to enter in?  Can we learn to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to God?

Doing less and saying no requires learning how to set the right priorities because for most of us our lives are full of good things.  While there may be some things we need to say no to, there are many things we need to keep in our schedules and there might actually be some things we need to add in.  For example, saying no to worship and not attending small group and church activities might open up our schedules but it will also take us away from those times and places where we might be more open to experiencing Jesus.  So we need to learn how to set the right priorities and evaluate our activities.  Does what we are doing bring us closer to God?  Does it provide us an opportunity to meet Jesus?

Not everyone missed Jesus when he was born, there were 2 people who did meet him and even got to hold him and that was Simeon and Anna.  They were faithful servants of God who spent most of their time in the Temple.  In other words, they never missed church and they gave themselves to all the things of God.  Because they set that priority, they were there when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated.  There are many things we might need to remove from our schedules and learning to say no is important but we can’t do it haphazardly – we have to do it faithfully and make sure that we put ourselves in those places where God can meet us.

Once we stop and create some time and space we need LOOK and LISTEN for God.  The wisemen were looking at the skies which is why they saw the star.  They looked for this new king which is why they finally found Jesus with his mother in Bethlehem.  If we will look for God – we will find him.  God said, You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 29:13-14

When we look for God we will find him and in this season there are a few places where we can look.  We can look for God in his word and maybe you want to commit to reading God’s word every day.  We have more of the reading plans available that help us focus on the names of God.  Or you can do family devotions with an advent wreath and candles or you can read the gospel of Luke during this month.  One chapter a day will get you through by Christmas and every day you will be looking at Jesus.

The wisemen ere looking and the shepherds were listening which is why they hear the angels singing over the hills of Bethlehem and then they acted on what they heard.  It is important for us to listen for God in this season of the year.  Can we really listen to the music and maybe take a moment to respond to the message we hear.  Can we not just listen to songs of peace on earth goodwill toward men but like the shepherds can we act on what we hear and be agents of peace extending love and goodwill?  Can we join our voices and hearts and hands to the songs we hear and tell it on the mountains and in this community that Jesus Christ is born and more importantly that he is here, now among us.

Stop.  Look.  Listen.  This is the answer to being too busy and feeling like the story is too familiar the answer to being too empty of hope is to open our hearts to what we see and hear.  When we slowly start to see Jesus and when we hear God’s message of love and grace we know that we are not forgotten and that we are not alone.  The God of love is here.  God is with us and he hears the cry of our hearts and he reaches out with love.

Don’t miss it.  Stop doing so much, listen to the story and open your eyes and ears and hearts to the hope and joy that comes with Jesus.  We need to start this today or we will end Christmas Day thinking that once again we missed what was most important about this season.  Let’s make a change today so that we Don’t Miss It.

Next Steps
Don’t Miss The Moment

1.  Too Busy
What is one thing you can take off your schedule?
Is there one less gift you can buy?  One less cookie you can make?  One less decoration to put up?
Prioritize the events of this month and make sure you keep in your schedule all the activities that will help you experience the presence of Jesus.

2. Too Familiar
Read the story of Jesus birth (Matthew 1 and Luke 2) in a different biblical translation.  Try a new translation like The Message to hear the story in a fresh way.
Look for the presence of God in the world.  There will be a super moon visible early Monday morning before sun rise.  It’s not a new star but it is a spectacular display of God in the heavens.  Don’t miss it.
Look for God in weekly devotions with your family or read the gospel of Luke during Advent.

3. Too Empty (of hope)
Listen to the music of this season to hear a message of peace, joy and goodwill to men and women.
Read the words of your favorite Christmas carols and reflect on what the message means for you and your family.
Allow God to love you and fill you with His spirit as you offer love and support to someone in need.
Pray and ask God to fill you with hope.