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FILLING UP CHRISTMAS: Fullness of Family  Galatians 4:4-7    (2nd Service)

I love the Christmas season!  One of the things that I think I love most about this time of year is those Christmas movies.  My favorite Christmas movie—judge me if you must—is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”  One of my favorite scenes in the entire movie is where Clark W. Griswold has worked for days putting up lights on his house, and he’s finally got them working.  pans to the scene where Cousin Eddy is unexpectedly there.  He’s got his RV and he’s staying for an indeterminate amount of time.  One of the things I love about this movie is it points out some of the comedy, and in a very funny way, the pain of family.  We all probably have someone in our family like Cousin Eddy, where we wonder, “Are they coming this year?”  If you don’t have a Cousin Eddy….you might BE Cousin Eddy!

The longer I’ve pastored, the longer I’ve worked with people, the longer I’ve counseled people, I’ve come to find out that Christmas, and the holiday season in general, is sort of a double-edged sword.  As Dickens writes:  It’s the best of times and the worst of times.  For some people, there’s joy and elation….oh my goodness, Christmas is coming and it’s marked on the calendar.  For others, oh my goodness, Christmas is coming and it’s marked on the calendar…..and it’s sort of in ‘red,’ do you know what I mean?  If we went around the room and shared, and if people were bold enough to say, “Hey, this is why Christmas is hard for me,” a lot of what we would see if we drilled down deep enough, is a lot of the pain and a lot of the questions and a lot of the angst around the holiday season in general, has to do with family, doesn’t it?  For some, maybe there’s a fracture in the family, so when people show up, it just reminds you that things aren’t what you wish they were or what you think they should be.  For some of us, we have a very empty seat at the dinner table for Christmas dinner, don’t we?  Some of you are coming up on that for the very first Christmas and you don’t know what it’s going to do to you?  For some, it’s just man, family’s coming!  It raises the level of anxiety because it’s sort of a wildcard.  It might be amazing, it might be great, and it might hit the fan!  Who knows?

There’s something distinctly human about longing for intimate connection among those close to us.  Norman Rockwell is a famous painter from the 20th century.  He did this painting called “Christmas Homecoming.”  It was on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1948.  You may not know this, but Rockwell got a lot of flack for painting idyllic pictures when the world wasn’t exactly that way.  He has pictures of people around the dinner table, or walking down a snowy street in Massachusetts.  He actually caught a lot of flack during his day.  Listen to the way he responded to that: “Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it.”

I guess that’s one way to go about it.  Let’s just focus on the parts that are good.  Let’s focus on the parts that we like.  In fact, there’s something biblical about that in Philippians 4:8, where it says whatever is pure, whatever is holy, whatever is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is noteworthy, think about THOSE things.  But there comes a point, doesn’t there, when we have to look at the world, not as we wish it were, but as it actually is?  We have to look at our family, not as we wish it were, but as it ACTUALLY is.  I think one of the things we see at Christmas time is that some of our deepest longings, and our deepest pain, point to our strongest desires.  Our deepest pain points to our strongest desires, so what we see when we long for a picture like this and there’s disparity between that and the reality, what we’re actually identifying—whether we can put our finger on it or not—is a God given, transcendent human longing to be close to those closest to us.  When it doesn’t happen, it’s hard!

Here’s what I want to do today.  I’m going to get to Galatians 4 in just a moment, but I want to lay some groundwork for the way God’s designed you and I, and I want to help us put our finger on here’s why that’s difficult. Here’s why that’s hard when there’s that empty seat, where there’s a fracture in the relationship.  Here’s why that’s difficult.  In order to do that, we’re actually going to go back to the very beginning of the story in Genesis 2.  I think anytime we talk theology it’s always helpful to start at the beginning of the story, so that’s what we’re going to do for just a few moments.  I want to talk about the way God’s created every single one of us, in order to zoom out and say, “Why is Christmas hard?” and then to answer the question “What can we do about it?”

The story begins in Genesis 1 and then goes to Genesis 2, where we’re introduced to Adam and Eve.  Those two names, in the Hebrew, literally mean “Human” and “Life.”  I believe that they’re actually people, but I think there’s a bigger story being told than whether or not they’re actually people.  It’s “Human” and “Life” called out from the rest of humanity to live with God in an idyllic, Edenic garden in perfection.  As they do that—Human and Life—they’re given a job.  Here’s their job (Genesis 2:15) — The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  If you ever felt like, man, I’m here for a purpose.  I’m here because God’s got something for me to do…..well, sure, that’s wired into our DNA.  And he gave them one command — And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  

If you haven’t been around the story a whole lot, here’s a spoiler alert:  Adam and Eve don’t listen.  Why in the world would God not want people to know good and evil?  Have you ever wondered that?  In fact, one of the marks of maturity the book of Hebrews talks about is the ability to discern good and evil.  Why wouldn’t God want that?  It’s actually not KNOWING good and evil that Adam and Eve are after, it’s DEFINING good and evil that Adam and Eve are after.  There’s this other tree—The Tree of Life—where God says I want to mentor you, I want to teach you what it means to be human.  I want you to walk in my way with my heart.  Instead of that, Adam and Eve go, we want to call the shots.  We want to decide what we think is right.  We don’t want to be discipled by you, God, we actually want to tell you how we think things should go.  Does this sound familiar?

When Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes are opened and there’s a four-fold fracture that happens, okay?  Their relationship with God is broken.  Their relationship with themselves is broken.  Their relationship with creation is broken.  The relationship with each other is broken.  First, Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed and in relationship together.  Fast forward two chapters—They have one son, Cain, who’s killing their other son, Abel.  {Think that was an awkward Thanksgiving?}

You and I live in the echoes.  We live in the reverberation of Eden.  Their lives start to unravel and their family starts to unravel.  We long for connection.  We CRAVE the long table with good food, and good drink, and deep conversation.  We long to feel like we’re one, yet we can often look around the table and go, it’s not what I hoped for and it’s different.  It doesn’t look like the Rockwellian picture.  That can be elusive, can’t it?  It cuts deep.  When there’s divorce, it cuts deep.  When there’s death, it cuts deep.  When there’s disagreement, man…   There’s just this resonance of Eden in us where we go, this should not be.  It should be different.  

You may not know it, but Christmas actually speaks into that resonance.  Christmas speaks into that longing. We’re going to pick up in Galatians 4:4-5, which is our text for this Advent season.  If you were here last week, you were introduced to this idea of filling up the season, filling up Christmas. Here’s the way Paul wrote it to the church at Galatia — But when the fullness of time had come, {Remember, that means there was a lot of time that wasn’t full.  There were many years, and centuries, and millennia spent longing, crying out to God, “God, are you dead or are you asleep?”  The Christmas bells weren’t exactly ringing, were they?} God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  

Why do we celebrate Christmas?  What’s the big deal about incarnation?  Paul says here’s the big deal.  The big deal is that the incarnation actually leads to you being adopted as sons and daughters.  SO THAT….we could be adopted.  Just like in the first century, an adoption is a legal process that makes somebody have the exact same standing as any other child in the family.  In fact, I had somebody come up after first service and say that they had been doing research on this.  An adopted child in the first century was more strongly tied into the family than even a biological child.  They would have had to go through a huge process to disown.  It was tight.

Here’s the question — Why do we need adoption?  Aren’t we all children of God?  We should all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  Isn’t every single person a child of God?  In some ways, yes.  We breathe God’s air.  We live on God’s earth. He holds it all together.  He breathes life into every single person.  But in other ways, no, no, no, just like Adam and Eve, we live east of Eden.  Our relationship with God is fractured.  The Scriptures are really clear about this.  They would call it sin.  It’s sin that fractures and it’s Jesus who comes to make a way.  Here’s how John says it in his gospel (1:11-13).  Talking about Jesus, his friend, he says:  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  Jesus came to hold out this beautiful, divine offer to become God’s children, reversing the curse.  We might phrase it like this today:  God became a child so that we might become children of God.

I’ve had this phrase just sort of bouncing around in my head over the last few weeks and it’s simply this:  What Adam and Eve lost in the garden, Jesus begins to regain in the manger.  In fact, Christmas isn’t just about a gift that’s given, it’s about regifting.  How many of you—without a show of hands—have ever regifted a present?  Somebody gives you a present and you give it to somebody else.  This is a little bit different.  God gives Adam and Eve a present in the garden and they squander it, they ruin it.  He takes that same present to become children of God and He hands it out to you and me.  Jesus says have you received it?

A few years ago, I stumbled across a painting that just caught my heart.  It’s a painting by a nun named Sister Grace Remington.  It’s a depiction of Eve and Mary together.  You can sort of see that Mary is consoling Eve.  She has Eve’s hand and is putting it on her own belly where the Messiah dwells.  It’s as almost as she’s saying Eve, I know that things God off course, but God’s making things right; feel that heartbeat….Messiah, Jesus, is coming.  If you look down at their feet, you’ll see the serpent around Eve’s leg and ankle.  If you look closely at Mary’s foot, she’s stepping on its head.  Genesis 3:15 —- He shall crush (bruise) your head…  It’s this beautiful picture of what Adam and Eve lost in the garden, Jesus is beginning to regain at the manger.  You can almost hear Mary whispering to Eve, “Hey, Eve, God is going to do a work that’s going to reconnect us with design.”  He’ll reconnect us to Himself.  That’s what Adam and Eve enjoyed, isn’t it?  Connection with God.  Communion with God.  Life with God.  They enjoyed God.  They were designed to eat from HIS tree, to live in HIS way, with HIS heart.  It’s almost like Mary is whispering to Eve, “Eve, God’s going to make a way for that to happen once again!”

If you read through the Sermon on the Mount, you come to this really interesting part in Matthew 5:43-45, where it talks about this idea of becoming children of God.  Listen to these strong words of Jesus:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” {That’s simply the way of the world.  That’s the way things go.}  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {WHY?} so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  {When you do that—when you love your enemies, when you pray for those who persecute you—you’re sort of like a “chip off the old block.”  You’re a mirror of your Dad.}  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  Jesus points out…have you ever recognized how good God is?   Even people that are total jerks….the sun still comes out for them. When it rains on your lawn, it rains on theirs also.  He goes that’s how God looks at and loves everybody.  You become His children when you love lavishly in the same way that He loves.

As a parent, it is extremely humbling and terrifying when your kids start to imitate you.  Is it not?  We were watching a Broncos game a few weeks ago and my son, Ethan, leans over and says to me, “Case Keenum’s playing like garbage.”  And he was right!  And I’m like, how many times has he heard Kelly say that Case Keenum plays like garbage?

It’s humbling, isn’t it, when our kids mimic back to us.  God’s going, no, no, no, that’s what I’m looking for, and when you love those who hate you and you pray for those who persecute you, you’re living in my way with my heart.  You’re doing what Adam and Eve would’ve done had they kept eating from THAT tree instead of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, defining how they think things should be on their own, leading to a fracture in their lives and their family.  I love the way the brilliant theologian, Michael Heiser, put it:  “The believer’s destiny is to become what Adam and Eve originally were:  immortal, glorified imagers of God, living in God’s presence as his children.”

Paul wants to put a grand picture up—in this text—this is what God’s doing.  He became a child so that we might become children of God.  But then what he wants to do is say let me drill down and tell you what that feels like and what that looks like, and how that changes the internal rhythms of your soul, because it can be hard to put your finger on it sometimes, can’t it?  Here’s what he says:  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

It’s this Aramaic word, Abba.  It’s intentionally left untranslated, which is interesting because you may have noticed the rest of your Bible is translated.  That’s how you can read it, right?  It’s left untranslated and the question is Why?  They could have translated it “daddy” or “papa” or “father,” but they felt there was something deeper about this word.  There’s something more.  When we talk about Abba…..it means Father, but in a colloquial, intimate sense.  It goes beyond daddy, it goes beyond papa.  What Paul wants to say is no, no, no, no, no.  When we understand that we’re sons and daughters of God, something happens in our soul, something happens in our heart.  There’s this movement where we move from interacting with God in formality to being intimate with God.  We interact with intimacy instead of formality.

I don’t know about you, but I love it that God doesn’t want us to come to him properly, He just wants us to come to Him.  Like, you understand when your kids come to you and they have something planned out to say, there’s just something a little bit missing, isn’t there?  It can be helpful at times, but I think some of the most powerful times I’ve had with God are times when I said things to Him and thought, “I don’t know if I should say that.”  Where I say something to God and go, am I allowed to say that?  Or you look for the lightning.  Where we just pour out our hearts….our brokenness, our pain, our disappointment.  God, you’re not dead and you’re not asleep, but I don’t hear those bells ringing.  God, I don’t get why you didn’t come through.  I don’t get why you’re hiding.  I don’t understand why you’re quiet.    I think when we understand that we’re sons and daughters, it’s not that we come formal and it’s not that we come perfect, it’s that we come, and when we approach God, we are met with his affection.  That’s what it means to be a child of the Most High God.  His goodness and his grace and his mercy and his love are over your life.

There’s a TV show that came out a number of years ago entitled “Finding My Father.”  It was a reality television show.  The tagline for the show was this: “By finding my father, I’m finding myself.”  I thought, oh man, to understand that we’re adopted as His kids and his affection is over us changes everything!  Last week, someone wrote an anonymous prayer request for our staff and elders to pray over.  The prayer request said something to the effect of I’m in a dark season; I don’t know if I can go on living and I’m considering suicide.  I just want you to know that if that’s you and you’re in this place today, I’ve been praying for you every single day this week—at 9, at noon, and at 3, and every time in between I can remember too.  I just want you to know, I think this word could change your life.  You’re adopted as a son or daughter of the Most High God and He loves you in an extraordinary way.  He created you.  I don’t know what you’re walking through, but I know that He’s walking through it with you.  He’s not distant, he’s actually as close as he can possibly be.  His affection is over you and the access to Him is granted for you.  For all of us!  To be a child means we have His affection and it means we have access to talk with Him, to interact with Him, any time we want it.

I write my sermons on Monday, I study on Mondays, so if you were to walk into our office on Monday, I have a magnet up on the window of my office.  The magnet means ‘I love you Tuesday through Thursday.’  If the building’s on fire, please let me know, and if not, I don’t care a whole lot right now.  When my son used to be at the Early Learning Center in pre-school, every Monday Kelly would come and pick him up.  He would run down to my office window and pound on my window.  “Daddy!  Daddy!”  I’d be like, “It’s Monday, go away.”  No, I wouldn’t!  I’m not a terrible father.  I’d be like, Reid, Kelly, come on in.  You get a free pass.  You have access to me.  You’re my kids and have access to me whenever you want it.   That’s what God would say to us. I love the way Eugene Peterson put it:  “Faith is not a formal relationship hedged in with elaborate courtesies; it is a family relationship, intimate and free.”

Here’s the way Paul continues:  So you are no longer a slave, but a son…  Now, we can’t think civil rights slavery, it was a different type of a situation there, and it will actually lose a little of what Paul intends if we go there.  A slave back in this day was somebody who actually lived on the family property, who usually worked and, oftentimes, could work enough to earn their freedom.  They were part of the family.  They joined in parties.  They joined in meals.  They were sort of part of the family, and if you would have looked in a field of people working, it probably would have been difficult to tell the difference between someone who was a slave and someone who was a son.  They did the same types of activities—look up at me though—for very different reasons.

Understanding that we’re adopted as God’s kids moves us from formality to intimacy, but it also allows us to embrace a posture of desire rather than duty.  Because when we partner with God—let me make a distinction here that’s really important—you know that you do not work FOR God, right?  You work WITH God.  This is very different.  When you partner with God…..let’s say you give to the Food Bank remodel and you give a little bit, sacrificially.  It’s a prayer—God, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  You are working on the family business when you partner with God.  HIS kingdom is ultimately the kingdom that you want to live in.  It’s not, oh my gosh, we have to do this.  It’s Lord, we WANT to.  We are your kids.  When we work with God, we don’t work FOR acceptance, we work FROM acceptance.  We don’t work FOR love….like, God, if I perform good enough then am I going to be okay?  He’s like NO!  You’re okay because of Jesus.  I made you okay!  Which does something very different in our soul, doesn’t it?

Man, it’s not FOR God, it’s WITH God.  We’re working on the family business.  It’s a beautiful thing.  We’re not hirelings called to do a job that God needs us to execute.  No, no, no, no, no.  He (Paul) goes on to say, if you’re a son, if you’ve been adopted as a son or daughter, that means that you are an heir.  Slaves, bond servants in this day, would have lived with very predictable limitations.  But heirs…..heirs….heirs live with ever-expanding possibilities.  Yeah, we move to intimacy, we move to desire, and we get to choose to be futuristic rather than fatalistic.

Some of the craziest passages in the New Testament—in my humble opinion—are passages that talk about our destiny as believers. Do you know it says you will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3)?  I don’t even know what that means; luckily, Dan said he’d preach on it at some point….    What does that even look like?  In Revelation 2:26-27 it says that Jesus will inherit the kingdom that he’s purchased with his own blood.  His father will give it to him then he’ll give it to us!!  WHAT?!?  That’s a futuristic view rather than fatalistic, because of adoption.

I don’t know if you had a chance to pick up one of the Advent devotions our writing team put together for this series.  I’d encourage you to pick one up at the Welcome desk after the service.  In this devotional for this week, Rachel Cookston, one of our members, shared her story of adoption, and I want to read it to you because I don’t think I could say it any better.

Rachel Cookston — My story of adoption starts in Calcutta, India.  My birth mother had me when she was around fourteen.  I don’t know much about her background, but I do know I was found in the streets of Calcutta by one of Mother Teresa’s nuns.

Growing up I hated being adopted.  I hated being the only non-white person in my family.  I was desperate to fit in.  I developed an anguish in my soul towards the India I hated so much and I didn’t want to be recognized as different, just as American.

My family, of course, loved me and told me I was chosen.  But there was still an empty place inside of my heart that made me feel unknown.  It wasn’t until college when God revealed his beautiful love and grace to me in an unexpected way.  I was asked to go on a missions trip to India for four months, but I immediately said no.  After a lot of prayer, I decided to step into an adventure that forever changed my view of adoption.

One day, as I was walking in a small Indian village, a man came up to me begging me to take his beautiful, bright-eyed, black-haired baby girl.  I looked into her eyes and finally understood what it meant to be adopted.  I saw this little one, desperate to be loved and taken into a loving family.  She was so innocent and unable to speak for herself.

This experience broke my heart because I couldn’t do anything about it.  I couldn’t take her, but I knew in that moment how God saved me, how He saw me, how He chose me to be part of my family.  In that moment, I realized just how much God loves and cares for me.  God knew my story and he had a plan for my life.

What a beautiful story of moving somebody from fatalistic to futuristic because of adoption.  That’s what God does.  He became a child so that we might become children of God—intimate, changed hearts so that we desire His kingdom, we’re working on the family business, and that we can look to the future with hope even if the world doesn’t feel like we think it should. 

You may be thinking, okay Ryan, that’s great and that’s wonderful, but I’m not exactly sure how adoption changes my family dynamic.  I’m not exactly sure how that’s suppose to create the Rockwellian Christmas that I long for, but feels slippery and elusive and like it’s never going to come.  If you read just a little bit further in this text in Galatians (4:19), here’s what Paul says:  My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth {He’s like this mother who is birthing this church.}  until Christ is formed in you.   Adoption is ultimately for formation.  That’s what God’s up to.  It’s not just a positional standing, it’s not just access, it’s not just affection.  It’s that all of those things that Jesus has purchased on our behalf, and he has, would get into us in a way that would actually change us.  That they would change our soul.  We are born as children of God so that we can be formed into the image of Jesus.

Here’s the truth of the matter, friends, Jesus knows the messiness of family.  He was born into a normal-ish family.  He made it a little different, I’ll give you that, but his family was pretty normal.  Have you ever thought about it?  His mother is present at the crucifixion, but his father is not.  We don’t know exactly why, but my guess is he had to say good-bye to his dad at some point.  He knows the pain of loss.  He knows the pain of imperfection when it comes to family.  But he also knows the healing balm necessary to repair wrongs.  Catch this—please lean in just a little bit this morning.  Being restored to God’s family lays the groundwork for restoration in our families.  It’s not a silver bullet and it’s not like just rub the genie in this bottle and it will work every time.  No, no, no, no, no.  It’s not like that.  It’s not formulaic.  But when we understand who we are in Christ, we are released to live as a healing balm in the world and around our own dinner tables.

As I’ve been celebrating Advent, something I didn’t necessarily do growing up—I always celebrated Christmas, but not Advent, not waiting, not looking toward the second coming of Messiah—I’ve been going through the Daily Office, which has texts to read each day.  One of those texts, yesterday, was out of the book of Malachi.  I never knew this passage was a Christmas Advent text.  It talks about the coming of the day of the Lord, when wrongs will be made right, when pain will be healed, when evil will be judged.  Then, out of the blue, it says this (Malachi 4:5-6):  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. {This is John the Baptist.  John the Baptist is coming as one like Elijah.}  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.  I’m going, I’m not sure how turning the hearts of parents to their kids and kids to their parents has anything to do with the restoration of all things.  That’s when my theological crush, Fleming Rutledge, spoke into the void:  “Just as Malachi reaches the climax of this extraordinary universal prophecy, suddenly he narrows the focus to the most homely, most person, most intimate circle we could possibly imagine.  The destiny of the universe is found in the destiny of families.”  Fleming for the win!  Sandwiched in between cosmic redemption and longing for hope is God saying the closest, the most intimate, the most painful, the most beautiful relationships….I’m going to weave those back together and I’m going to restore those.

As we grasp becoming children of God, we still also grasp with the resonance of Eden that resounding echo where we go, life isn’t the way we hoped it would be or thought it should be, but “he comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.”  As we start to grapple with becoming children of God and being formed into his image, in his way with his heart, we can, you can, be empowered to be a healing balm in your family.  Let me show you how.  I’m going to take these out of John 1:11-13  —  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  What might you do this Christmas…how might you fill up Christmas in a way that would actually lead to the restoration and healing and hope….in your family, in your relationships, in your friendships?  What if you pursued people?  He came to his own.  Did he know they were going to reject him?  Sure.  He knew some would.  He still puts his body and his blood on the cross for those who would reject him. Maybe this year it’s sending a text message, or sending a note, or making a phone call, or inviting somebody to come over.  What if you filled up Christmas this year with pursuit?  It might mean breaking some of those family patterns that your family just falls into every time, and you go, no, I’m going to take initiative, I’m going to risk, I’m going to step out just a little bit.

Second, what if you sacrificed? I almost chose the word love, but love has this sort of cuddly feel to it, doesn’t it?  It has an emotive feel to it.  We can say that we love something and have it not change our lives at all.  But I think when we use the word sacrifice, really, we’re getting at the biblical definition of love, but it costs us something.  Maybe this week, if you do Fixed Hour Prayer with us, one of those things you ask yourself during those times is what does love require of me?  What does it look like to really love and sacrifice?  Maybe it’s being a part of some of the outreaches that we’re doing….serving with Family Promise after the first of the year, or North Littleton Promise Posada, or the Christmas Shoppe.  I don’t know.  What does love demand of me?

Finally, what if we were people who were just known as forgivers?  Let me remind you that reconciliation always takes two, forgiveness takes one.  When we forgive, we model what is said about Jesus.  This is John the Baptist pointing to Messiah — Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  You are ALL forgiven.  You may not all be reconciled, but you’re forgiven by the Most High God.  What if we filled up Christmas this year with pursuit, with sacrificial love, and with forgiveness?  Maybe the best gift you can give and the best gift you can receive are the same thing.  Letting go of some of the garbage you’ve been carrying around for decades.

I want to end our service in a little different way today.  I want to give you some time to breathe.  I want to invite you to put your notes away and close your eyes.  I want to give you some time to catch your breath and do some business with God before we go running out of here.  This is a practice of maybe just letting go of some things. {Music is in background and Ryan is slowly walking around sanctuary.}   Would you start by reminding yourself who you are?  You’re loved.  You’ve been chosen.  You’ve been made holy.  Remind yourself who you are—you’re a child of the Most High God.  You have his affection.  You have access.  What do you sense Him saying to you in that moment? There’s some people, I’m sure, that have wronged you and it’s hard for you to forgive.  Bring that to Jesus right now, and, just in your head, what are the things that have been done to you, what are the wrongs that have been done against you, and just name them to Him.  Those people that make Christmas difficult.  My guess is, unless you’re perfect, there’s maybe some things you’ve done to others, too, that have hurt them, have wounded them….would you bring those to Jesus?  Name them, if you can.  Those people that come to mind when we think about the holidays being broken…maybe it’s the same people that have wounded us…let’s just take a moment and in your mind, pray blessing over them.  The Scriptures teach us to pray for those who persecute us, to love those who hate us.  Most of us agree with that, we just rarely do it, so would you just pray for blessing over their life?  Maybe, if you want to, you can open up your hands as a way to say God, I want to receive, but would you pray for eyes to see the way God’s blessing you, to see the way that his goodness, his grace, his mercy cover you?  You can even ask Him to pour it out even more.

Jesus, we know that living in pursuit and sacrifice and forgiveness won’t necessarily turn our Christmas into a Norman Rockwell painting, but we believe that it could dramatically change it, so God, give us your heart, give us your way.  Teach us what it looks like to be people who are restored to you and then who are restorers to the people around us.  “Risen with healing in your wings, Light and life to all you bring, We hail the Sun of Righteousness.  We hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.”  And all God’s people, together, said….Amen and amen.