God Has A Face

Series: Preacher: Date: November 27, 2016 Scripture Reference: Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7 –  But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

5 – to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship,

6 – Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit Who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

7 – So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.

I love Christmas!  In my opinion it is indeed, “the most wonderful time of the year!”

  • I love the music—I always start playing on the way to my mom’s for Thanksgiving!
  • I love having a REAL Christmas tree.

I look forward to our annual trip to pick one out—even though we almost always look at tons of trees only to come back to selecting the FIRST one we looked at! In my mind, it’s worth all that because I love the smell of that evergreen tree.

  • And I love the lights. In fact, one of my favorite things has always been to turn the tree lights on—and turn all other lights off—so we can just sit in the glow.
  • I love the way Sue decorates our house.

I’ve learned if I just pull all the big green bins full of decorations out from under the stairs—and then find an excuse to leave the house—like saying I need to study or something—I mean, if I can FIND a way to GET OUT of the way, Sue’s creative juices will start flowing—and by the time I get back all the bins will be empty and the house will be completely decorated. I love walking into our house after Sue has had a couple hours to work her creative magic.

  • And, of course another thing I love about Christmas is the exchanging of gifts—especially with our grandkids.

We’ve already got them some things that I know are going to make them very happy and I can hardly wait to see their faces when they unwrap those presents. Don’t you grandparents agree?!  Bill—Christmas is going to get better and better with that little grand-daughter of yours!

  • I love Christmas cards—especially the ones we get from friends far away. It’s great to feel that friendship touch from the past.

My favorite Christmas card comes from my brother Jon. It’s my favorite because it always contains his annual Christmas letter. All the Adamses look forward to getting it because Jon is a gifted writer. In fact, I have often thought he would have made a much better pastor than me. I mean, Jon has a way of writing that yearly letter such that you laugh—and then are moved to tears.

Well, I could go on—because there are so many reasons I love Christmas—but chief among them all is the fact that I know God always uses Christmas to START CONVERSATIONS—conversations in which people ask, “Why all this celebration? What’s the big deal about this baby that was born 2000 years ago? Who was He? What’s the big deal about this infant in a manger? What does His birth have to do with me?”

For the next four weeks, my goal is to use these Advent messages to help you be prepared to answer those kinds of questions—Christmas prompted Divine appointments with co-workers and neighbors—maybe even perfect strangers. I’m basing this series on this new book by Max Lucado (Because of Bethlehem). Here’s the schedule—and note that each title finishes the sentence: “Because of Christmas…”

December 4 – “Worship Works Wonders”

December 11 – “God Guides the Wise”

December 18 – “Every Heart Can be a Manger”

And—as you can see in the bulletin—today’s title is: “Because of Christmas—God has a Face.”

The point of this first Advent message is to equip us to answer the kinds of questions that Christmas raises in people’s minds—by underscoring three important truths.

(1) Because of Christmas—God can be WITH us.

As I’m sure you know, that’s what “Immanuel” means—God WITH us. Well, this is good news—because we live in terrifying times. People are fearing what this new presidential administration will bring—and about half of our divided nation would be fearing the same thing if the other candidate had won. But, however you voted, I’m sure you will agree that many people in our nation are afraid—but not just about the election. We fear money problems, relational problems, health problems—job problems. Ours is indeed the age of anxiety.

In his book What Are You Afraid Of? Dr. David Jeremiah writes, “Fear is no respecter of people or of ages. It strikes the weak and the powerful. It haunts the rich and the poor.  Even those who seem to have it all, including celebrities and heroes and ‘fearless’ leaders, confess to a wide array of PHOBIAS. Jennifer Aniston, Cher, and Whoopi Goldberg are all avoiphobes—that is they are afraid of flying. Barbara Streisand is xenophobic—she is uncomfortable around strangers. Michael Jackson was haunted by the fear of contamination, infections, and diseases. He was mysophobic. But the celebrity with the most phobias is Woody Allen. He’s afraid of insects, sunshine, dogs, deer, bright colors, children, heights, small rooms, crowds, and cancer.

Famous people of the past were no different. George Washington was scared to death of being buried alive. Richard Nixon was terrified of hospitals. And Napoleon Bonaparte, the military and political genius, feared cats.”

Even today’s teens deal with a heightened level of anxiety. At our last deacon’s meeting Kevin led training designed to help our deacon servants know how to minister to families with adolescents. Kevin pointed out that today’s teens don’t know what it’s like NOT to fear terrorism.  Think of that—an entire generation accustomed to that fear. Terrorism is part of their mindset! Kevin quoted a recent TIME magazine cover article that says,

“Today’s adolescents are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society. ‘If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,’ says Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. ‘In my dozens of conversations with teens, parents, clinicians and school counselors across the country, there was a pervasive sense that being a teenager today is a draining full-time job—that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism–you name it.  Every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident. It’s exhausting. We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all. We’re all like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships—from the way things are today.”

All this pressure—magnified by social media—all this constant awareness of fearful things—has led to a huge increase in depression among today’s teens. According to NIH, every year more than 2 million teens report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function.  About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens—have had an anxiety disorder. Isn’t that sad! I remember ENJOYING my teen years. I mean, I went through typical adolescent fears—fears concerning pimples and prom dates—but what I went through is nothing compared to what today’s kids do.

So, the terrifying fact is ALL OF US—from late childhood on up—deal with FEAR. We can all relate to the little boy who played the part of THE ANGEL in the Christmas story. He and his mother rehearsed his lines over and over: “It is I; don’t be afraid.”  “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

But, when the Christmas pageant began, the little boy walked onto the stage in his angel outfit—and he saw the lights and the audience—and when he did, he froze. After an awkward silence, he finally said, “It’s me and I’m scared!” Well, as I said, the good news is because of Christmas—we know that our ALL-mighty—ALL—loving—All-knowing God is WITH us—so we don’t have to be afraid. We are never alone. Because of Christmas God is with us in the office—in our homes—with us when the doc gives us bad news—with us when bills we can’t pay roll in—with us when loved ones let us down. God is with us when we hear of terrorism and school shootings.

You see, in Jesus God literally came here—He breathed our air and walked this earth. As a popular paraphrase puts it, “In Jesus God became flesh—God moved into our neighborhood!” (John 1:14 MSG) And that “moving in” didn’t stop when Jesus ascended to Heaven 33 years later. No—because of Christmas, whenever a man or woman or boy or girl becomes a Christian–

—whenever they invite Jesus into their hearts and lives—He comes in. He literally MOVES IN to each of us—so we are NEVER alone. And if you are NOT a Christian—if you’re facing life’s fears alone—please hear this—because of Christmas you don’t HAVE to be alone—EVER. Through faith in Jesus—God can be WITH YOU ALWAYS.

I remember once many years ago—when Daniel was about 11. His bedroom was downstairs—and in the middle of the night I heard him screaming. His screams woke me instantly from a dead sleep. It was like someone flipped a switch. I went from snoring to soaring in an instant. I mean, in one fluid motion I flipped the covers off of myself, leapt out of bed, and flew down the stairs to Daniel’s side. I said, “Son—it’s ok—it was just a nightmare—I’m with you!” He relaxed—calmed down—and went right back to sleep—because he knew his dad was with him.

Well, because of Christmas, we can know that our Heavenly Father—our ABBA—knows our fears. He knows our thoughts—our anxieties—before a word—or a nightmare scream—is on our tongues. As Paul writes here in our text, through faith in Jesus we become God’s children—whenever we cry “Abba Father” we can know God hears and responds. Wherever you are as a Christian—He is WITH YOU.

(2) That leads me to a second point. Because of Christmas, God can SAVE us.

I mean, Christmas is what makes our salvation—our adoption—possible. Look at our text. Paul writes, “When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” This is one of many verses in the Bible that affirm that fact that Jesus was born of a virgin—and that is vitally important because in order to save us from our sins—Jesus could have no sins of His own. You see, to redeem us from sin’s curse He would have to be GOD’S Son—not the son of Joseph.  I know we can’t fully understand it—but suffice it to say that the virgin birth is HOW God became flesh.

Now—think about that a moment—GOD become FLESH…Isn’t it that an amazing thought? Lucado writes, “The hand of the Star Hanger clutched Mary’s finger. The feet of the Sky Walker lay in Joseph’s palm. No wonder the angels filled the sky with worship. Any doubt of the Father’s love disappeared the night God was wrapped in barnyard towels so the hay wouldn’t scratch His back.”

God become FLESH—it almost gives me a headache to try and get my head around it. I mean, Colossians 1:15-17 says, “By Jesus all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Jesus is God—Jesus created ALL things. Work with me here. Try and consider all this means.  Concentrate for a few moments and try to conceive how BIG our universe really is. A hollow ball the size of our sun would hold 1.2 million planets the size of Earth—with room for 4.3 million more globes the size of our moon.  Betelgeuse, one of the stars visible in the constellation Orion, is 248 times larger than our sun!  No wonder Job expressed his awe of God by saying, “How can a mortal be righteous before God? Though one wished to dispute with God, he could not answer Him.  God’s wisdom is profound! His power is vast! He alone stretches out the heavens. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and all the constellations.” (Job 9:2-3, 9)

One of God’s creative laws—the speed of light—helps us in our attempt to better understand the size of the universe. That law says that a ray of light travels at 186,000 miles per second so a beam of light from here will reach the moon in a second and a half.  Imagine you could travel that fast—at the speed of light. If you could—you would reach Mercury in four and a half minutes. Getting to Jupiter would take about 35 minutes.  If you decided to go on, you could get to Saturn in about an hour, but it would take you nearly four and a half years to get to the nearest star.  At light speed, traveling just to the edge of our Milky Way galaxy would take you about 100,000 years. If you could count the stars as you travel, you would find about a hundred billion of them in the Milky Way alone. If you wanted to explore other galaxies you would have literally billions to choose from. I mean, the size of the universe is incomprehensible—and Who made all that? GOD DID! And yet, in Jesus GOD—the CREATOR of all that unlimited vastness—became human flesh. Quoting Lucado’s book again,

“No wonder the winds obeyed when Jesus spoke—He was GOD SPEAKING. No wonder bacteria fled when Jesus touched the wounds—He was GOD TOUCHING. No wonder the water held Him as He walked—He was GOD WALKING. No wonder the people stood speechless as He taught—He was GOD TEACHING. And—no wonder ten thousand angels stood in rapt attention as Jesus was nailed to the cross—He was GOD DYING.”

You see—the only way to save us from our sins was to die in our place—and no sinful human could do that—only GOD could—so in Jesus He became flesh. He bore OUR SINS on that cross. At Christmas, the Being Who created everything came to RE-CREATE us and make us new.

Listen—the root of ALL mankind’s troubles—all our fears—is sin. As Lucado puts it, “The root of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” This is why it is tragically foolish for people to put their faith—-their hope in ANY political party.  As I quoted in my recent newsletter article, “Hope for the world? Not in a donkey—not in an elephant—no, the only hope for the world is the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the World.” Government—no matter how well-intended will never be able to solve our problems—because our problem is sin.

Only God could save us from our sin—and that’s why Jesus came. In fact, that’s what His name means. Remember?  “Jesus” is  “Yeshua” — a shortened form of the word,“Yehoshuah” in Hebrew—which literally means, “Yahweh saves.” In Matthew 1:21 the angel told Joseph, “You are to name the Baby ‘JESUS’ for He will save His people from their sins.” Because of Christmas God can—and will—SAVE us! All we have to do is ask.

(3) Finally, since God became a baby that first Christmas night—we can know that He GETS us.

Now—down through history people have always wondered what God was like. In essence they’ve wanted to be able to “get God” — to understand Him.  Lucado writes, “Societies have speculated. Tribes have cogitated. And we’ve reached a variety of conclusions. God has been depicted as a golden calf and a violent wind and an angry volcano. He wears wings, breathes fire, eats infants, and demands penance. We’ve fancied God as ferocious, magical, fickle, and maniacal—a god to be avoided, dreaded, and appeased. But never in mankind’s wildest imaginings did we consider that God would enter the world as an infant.” Yet that’s exactly what He did.  God—became the flesh of a single cell—a fertilized egg, an embryo. In nine months that embryo grew into a baby.

As you may know, Daniel and Ashley are expecting again. In May, we’ll welcome our third grandchild. YAY! And—as I’ve done both other times I learned that Ashley was expecting—I downloaded an app that sends me an e-mail every week to tell me about my new grandchild’s prenatal development. I look forward to that weekly e-mail from the “womb” so to speak. I remember reading the one that told me when he or she grew arms and legs—when he or she now got fingernails—when his or her liver began to function—and when his or her intestines withdrew from the umbilical cord into his or her tiny tummy area. I remember when he or she was the size of a plum—and then a lemon—and then an orange. I remember the email when he or she began to move and I rejoiced at each e-mail content.  For me, it’s not only a way to count off the months until he or she arrives—it helps me “get” him or her—understand them.

Well, it amazes me to think that God did went through all that same development. As Lucado puts it, “A placenta nourished him. An amniotic sac surrounded Him. He grew to the size of a fist. His tiny heart divided into chambers. God became flesh.” In Jesus God entered our world not LIKE a human—but AS a human. He went through everything we go through from the first embryonic stage onward. Jesus—God become flesh—skinned his knees when he played. He had pimples. His voice changed. He endured HOT weather—and cold weather. He had body odor and goose pimples. He dealt with difficult know-it-all people at synagogue meetings.  He had financial troubles—I’m sure it was hard making ends meet for a large family on a Joseph’s income as a carpenter.  Jesus dealt the challenges of annoying little brothers and sisters. He experienced hunger and loss—joy and sorrow—anger—and even fear. As Lucado puts it, “God became human down to His very toes.”

My point is that—since God started out as a baby and grew to a man—we can know He understands by experience how you and I feel—for He has faced everything we face. God is not out of touch with our reality. God has a face! The Message paraphrase of Hebrews 4 puts it like this: “Jesus is not out of touch with your reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.” In short, the birth of that baby on the first Christmas day tells us that GOD UNDERSTANDS. He GETS us.

When Kevin was giving his talk to our deacons the other night, as I listened to him describe the life of today’s adolescents—the culture of today’s teen—I have to admit, I felt unable to relate. That made me feel sad because back with I worked with teens I prided myself on staying up to date. I worked hard to learn about my teens and their “world” so I could relate to them—better “GET” them. I mean, listened to their music no matter how painful it was to do so—I kept up on the popular music and clothing styles.   But in the past 20 years I’ve fallen behind—way behind.  When I hear who won at the American Music Awards, I don’t know who these people are. When I listened to the stars sing at the Macey’s day parade—I thought, “Who are those guys?” When Kevin talked about teens no longer using Facebook—but instead doing tweets and snapchat—I felt ancient. I mean, in my youth ministry years there was no such thing as e-mail or text messages—much less Facebook and all the other social media. I’m out of touch. If I were to do a youth talk today—I’d need to submit it to Kevin first—so he could translate it into their lingo.

But—because of Christmas, we don’t have that problem with God. We can know that He understands EVERYTHING about us—He gets us—because in Jesus He went through everything we go through.

Lucado recounts the story of George Harley, who, in 1926 founded a medical mission among the Mano tribe of Liberia Africa. That’s him standing with his wife. The locals were receptive to the doctor and helped him construct a clinic and a chapel. Eventually Harley treated more than ten thousand patients a year.

During the first five years, however, not one person from the tribe visited his chapel. Shortly after the doctor and his wife arrived, she gave birth to Robert, their first child. The boy grew up on the edge of the forest. Harley later said: “He was the apple of our eye. How we loved our little boy! But one day when he was almost five years old, I looked out the window of the medical dispensary and saw Bobby. He was running across the field but he fell down. Then he got up and ran some more and fell again. But this time he didn’t get up. So, I ran out and picked up the feverish body of my own little boy. I held him in my arms and said, ‘Bobby, don’t worry. Your daddy knows how to treat that tropical fever. He’s going to help you get better.’” Dr. Harley tried every treatment he knew. But nothing helped. The fever raged, and in short order the disease took the boy’s life. The parents were distraught with grief. Well this missionary father went into his workshop and built a coffin. Harley placed Robert’s little body inside and nailed the lid shut. He lifted the coffin on his should and walked down the clearing to find a place to dig a grave. One of the old me in the village saw him and asked about the box. When Harley explained that his son had died, the old man offered to help him carry the coffin. Dr. Harley told a friend what happened next. “So the old man took one end of the coffin and I took the other.  Eventually we came to the clearing in the forest. We dug a grave there and laid Bobby in it.

But when we had covered up the grave, I just couldn’t stand it any longer…I fell down on my knees in the dirt and began to sob uncontrollably. My beloved son was dead and there I was in the middle of an African jungle 8,000 miles from home and relatives. I felt so all alone. But when I started crying, the old man cocked his head in stunned amazement. He squatted down beside me and looked at me so intently. For a long time, he sat there listening to me cry.  Then suddenly he leaped to his feet and went running back up the trail through the jungle, screaming again and again, at the top of his voice, ‘White man, white man—he cries like one of us!’”

That evening as Harley and his wife grieved in their cottage there was a knock at the door. Harley opened it. There stood the chief and almost every man, woman, and child in the village.

They were back again the next Sunday and filled the chapel to overflowing. They wanted to hear about Jesus. You see, everything changed when the villagers saw the tears of the missionary. Knowing he wept like they did—helped them to see that he could relate to them—that he was one of them. Because God became a baby—lived a human life—we can know the same thing. He GETS us. God understands. Knowing God has a face like ours—changes everything. Hear that—GOD UNDERSTANDS YOU—He knows what you are going through—and He’s more than willing to help. Think of it this way—if God was willing to come into the world of that cave-stable—don’t you think He’s willing to come into your world?

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