Christ is Christmas (So There’s That)

The following is from a sermon I gave, which I subsequently blogged, in December 2011. I recently updated it in December 2013.

Have you ever had an ache in your heart? You know…an ache that just weighs you down and hurts so badly that you can’t do anything but wish it would go away? Maybe it was a close friend talking behind your back and it just killed you on the inside. Maybe it was watching a loved one battle an agonizing fight with cancer or another disease until it took his or her life. Maybe it was a friend or family member who misread something you said or did and have held a grunge against you ever since. It could even be watching your child suffer from a disability, or getting made fun, or struggling through school. Or maybe it is the ache of being addicted, strung out, losing all control of your life… and feeling like there is no way out. Maybe you are under the crushing weight of debt or unemployment. You don’t know how you are going to pay your bills or make ends meet. Maybe on the other side you are a person who has a job but the stress of the job is taking its toll on you and you are suffering from anxiety and physical problems. Maybe you feel trapped in life- like you exist each day to satisfy the expectations of other people or you exist with no purpose at all.

Is this the best life has to offer? Will things ever change? Is there any reason to have hope?

Do you read the paper or watch the news? Kids killing their parents. Parents killing their kids. Kids killing other kids. Adults killing adults. Innocent people becoming the targets in a sad and tragic game called Knock Out. Shoppers killing each other on Black Friday for the newest gadget. People breaking into homes and businesses to steal Christmas presents. Cities offering the homeless one-way tickets to get out of town. A mayor bashing the possessions of a homeless man with a baseball bat.

And that is just in one week…in one country…at one time in history. The things we do to each other are so tragic and sad. The love of many continues to grow colder and colder.

And around the world we continue to war. Nation threatens nation and kingdom threatens kingdom. People protest around the globe because the system is messed up- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many hard-working men and women work endlessly to have the money taken out of their pockets by politicians, bankers, and corporations who, many times, operate by power and greed. People rise up and the establishment fights back…it’s an endless, endless cycle that isn’t unique to our day and age. Money makes the world go round. And it limits and categorizes and oppresses and weighs down on people.

And don’t you just get tired of it?

Is life only about accumulation and dividends and profits and commercialism?

And we treat people like objects. Around the world people are still enslaved- working at 10 years of age, working 16-hour days, working harder labor than we will ever know or understand. Right now another young girl is being exploited by a pimp who only cares about making another buck while she is emotionally, physically, and spiritually devastated. My God, help us.

Does your heart ache? Do you long for things to be better? Do you hope for a day when all will be set right?

Yes…in this world there is immeasurable glory…and yet there is immeasurable pain and suffering.

We long for something else…for a better world. We long for peace…but we never can seem to attain it. We long for justice…but the system seems wildly out of control and completely unjust. We have hope. But hope in what exactly?

Is this the way life will always be? Will things ever be set right? Will there ever be peace? Will there ever be justice?

Will the aching ever go away? Will the oppressed ever be set free? Will we ever quit hoarding and finally share?

Will we ever find joy in this life? Will love ever prevail instead of hate and violence and pain? Will the longings of hope that we have deep in our souls ever be realized into something?

Will the tears ever be wiped away?

Is there anyone who can help us?

Is there anyone who can save us from ourselves?

Every person we look to fails us and hurts us and manipulates us and leaves us in an even worse situation.

Is God just out there and distant and removed from our pain? Does God even know what this life is like and how hard it is? Does God know how unjust this world can be toward people? Does God know how people close their doors in your face when you are in desperate need? Does God know what it is like to be pushed to the edges of society without a place to lay your head? Does God know what it is like to ache and be in so much pain?

The surprising answer is yes, because that same God came down and lived a life in full flesh as a human being and understands our pain, our emotions, and our longings for all things to be made right.

Christmas…the Incarnation (God becoming Man)…the Word becoming Flesh…the Christ-child being born is the focal point of history. It is the moment in which God lowered himself and came to us…to love, to serve, to demonstrate life. He did not come down to force, coerce, or lord over people from the top like an oppressive King. He did not say, “You guys have really screwed this up so now you are going to do it my way.” He came down born in a simple, humble birth in a lowly manger on the edges of society. And it was in this unexpected that God demonstrated his character to each one of us who have fallen short of the way he created us to be. He came down to teach us the highest and most honorable way to live.

As we have gone our own way, worked for our own purposes and our own desires, and rebelled against God in every way imaginable…it was God through Jesus who came down in humility, in grace, in all his gentleness and subverted all of our hatred by his love.

In Jesus, God’s Kingdom, God’s Reign broke into this world…and initiated a completely new way of doing life that looks nothing like anything this world has ever seen (or ever will see). It was in Jesus that Heaven and Earth came together as one. And it was in Jesus that Heaven and Earth are continuing to come together…until all things are brought together in their full measure at the renewal of all things.

The Scriptures say:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God’s plan of redemption and restoration started on Christmas Day through the birth of his son. But we only celebrate his birth for the victory over death through resurrection. For without rising from the dead, his birth is utterly meaningless. That is why we celebrate this light coming into the darkness. That is why we live by faith and have hope that the forces of evil are being extinguished, exhausted, and taking their very last breath. That is why we live and celebrate victoriously on Christmas Day, because we have hope that our sufferings are only temporary. It is on this day, in light of his resurrection, that we celebrate his birth in one accord and look forward to a day when:

Pain will be no more.

Hatred will finally and completely be defeated by love.

Heartache will give way to complete healing.

Killing will cease and life will abound forever.

Peace will reign throughout the cosmos.

The scars and wounds that we wear will be healed by his hands.

The hungry will be fed.

The lame will walk.

The blind will see.

And all things will be set right: heaven and earth will finally be one.

It is in Jesus that we know that God acted decisively in history by coming down to a people desperately needing life, hope, and rescue. The meager, tiny baby in the manger that drew the attention of all creation: the angels, the wise men, the shepherds in the field, the kings of the land, people all throughout the world, and every man, woman, and child throughout history…is celebrated, praised, and lifted high…because he won the greatest victory in history.

For once we were separated from God and without hope… but now we have the honor of participating presently in all God is making new through Christ.

We celebrate Christmas only because Christ is Christmas.

peace…

brandon

Heaven: Heaven and Earth Be One

Over my last four posts, I have centrally focused my attention on deconstructing the predominant belief of many within mainstream Christianity, which asserts that the goal of God is to ultimately take His people away to a disembodied heaven to live for eternity while destroying all of creation.

At the same time, I have been offering glimpses from Scripture of what God’s true intention has always been and what it continues to be- not whisking people away to a disembodied heaven for eternity, but rather working to redeem, renew, and restore all of His good creation through the defeat of sin and death as evidenced and initiated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the bringing together of heaven and earth has been launched in the present and we look forward to the day in which the full consummation of heaven and earth will be complete with God making His dwelling place among us in a renewed and restored earth.

We didn’t arrive in this place by accident. The Scriptures from Genesis forward evidence a God who has been working painstakingly to remedy, mend, and heal that which was fractured and broken from the very beginning- not just people, but all things.  

The central purpose, the grand narrative, the over-arching achievement of God is to- bring heaven and earth back together as one.  

Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, in the new age [the Messianic rebirth of the world], when the Son of Man shall sit down on the throne of His glory, you who have [become My disciples, sided with My party and] followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew 19: 28 AMP

So repent (change your mind and purpose); turn around and return [to God], that your sins may be erased (blotted out, wiped clean), that times of refreshing (of recovering from the effects of heat, of reviving with fresh air) may come from the presence of the Lord; And that He may send [to you] the Christ (the Messiah), Who before was designated and appointed for you–even Jesus, Whom heaven must receive [and retain] until the time for the complete restorationof all that God spoke by the mouth of all His holy prophets for ages past [from the most ancient time in the memory of man]. Acts 3: 19-21 AMP

For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it–[yet] with the hope that nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation [of irrational creatures] has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves too, who have and enjoy the firstfruits of the [Holy] Spirit [a foretaste of the blissful things to come] groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies [from sensuality and the grave, which will reveal] our adoption (our manifestation as God’s sons). Romans 8: 19-23 AMP

In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses), in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor, Which He lavished upon us in every kind of wisdom and understanding (practical insight and prudence), Making known to us the mystery (secret) of His will (of His plan, of His purpose). [And it is this:] In accordance with His good pleasure (His merciful intention) which He had previously purposed and set forth in Him, [He planned] for the maturity of the times and the climax of the ages to unify all things and head them up and consummate them in Christ, [both] things in heaven and things on the earth. Ephesians 1: 7-10 AMP

For it was in Him that all things were created, in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, whether thrones, dominions, rulers, or authorities; all things were created and exist through Him [by His service, intervention] and in and for Him. And He Himself existed before all things, and in Him all things consist (cohere, are held together). He also is the Head of [His] body, the church; seeing He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from among the dead, so that He alone in everything and in every respect might occupy the chief place [stand first and be preeminent]. For it has pleased [the Father] that all the divine fullness (the sum total of the divine perfection, powers, and attributes) should dwell in Him permanently. And God purposed that through (by the service, the intervention of) Him [the Son] all things should be completely reconciled back to Himself, whether on earth or in heaven, as through Him, [the Father] made peace by means of the blood of His cross. Colossians 1: 16-20 AMP

It is obvious that the weight and trajectory of the Scriptures come together in the victory and accomplishment of Jesus Christ through His death on the cross and resurrection to new life…and describe the objects of this salvific activity as a complete reconciliation and restoration of all thing in the Age to Come- our bodies, the creation, everything, and all things in heaven and earth.

For all that had gone wrong in the garden, it is the gardener who fixes it and restores it.

In every way our paths have been crooked, there will be a day when they are all made straight.

In every way God intended for us to be helpers and caretakers of His good creation, His original intention will be realized in the new heaven and new earth.

In every way nature has suffered the curse, producing thorn and thistle, and animals have had enmity toward man and one another, there will be a time when wine will flow from mountains an the lion will lie with the lamb in peace.

In every way we have been told, or have come to believe, that we are of little value or significance, we will fully and finally realize the profound value we have in God’s eyes since the creation of the world.

In every way relationships were fractured and broken because of our rebellion against God and our distrust and hatred of one another, there will be perfect harmony, unity, and community one with another and all with God.

In every way we have longed for peace and justice, and held out hope that there would be a better day, we will one day beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, never again lifting a sword against another, nor learning of war any more, for the love of God will fill the cosmos.

In every way nation has risen against nation and kingdom against kingdom, the fullness and completeness of God’s glory and peace throughout the land will reveal the cultural beauty and uniqueness of every nation as they are healed and celebrated.

In every way rulers have crushed, oppressed, and killed those whom they have subjugated, we will one day experience the loving, merciful, and victorious leadership of Jesus and those who rule with Him.

In every way we have split and divided over race, social status, and economic achievement, dishonoring God in the process, the nations will one day gather united in our diversity and worship God as one.

In every way our bodies have given out, been debilitated or handicapped, and suffered the crushing weight of disease and death, we will one day have incorruptible, resurrection bodies that will do things we could never imagine.

And in every way we have longed for and anticipated eating and drinking anew with Christ and one another in the fully realized and consummated Kingdom of God, we will one day sing praises, give thanks, break bread, and celebrate the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God, and the power of His Messiah.

peace…

brandon

UNEARTHED

It is official…you can NOW order my book UNEARTHED:  How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World.  You can order it at The Unearthed Project website.

I am super excited about this book for several reasons.

I have been obsessed over the last four years with the Kingdom of God.  The more that I studied it…the more I began to realize that while Jesus mentions The Kingdom of God nearly 120 times in the Gospels…we in the Church do not understand what it really means or how understanding it has the potential to transform us and then change the world.  I have a love and a desire for what the Church could be…but I also see that for which the Church has settled.  We run around in circles looking for an identity and purpose…but we run to all the wrong things…which leaves us shallow, divided, and self-consumed.

I believe that the Church will find it’s heart and soul…it’s identity and purpose…when we finally realize that there is something larger than ourselves that we have been looking and longing for…and it is found in the Kingdom of God.  The purpose of UNEARTHED is to open the eyes of the average Christian to the Kingdom of God through the parables and teachings of Jesus.  That is why I spent the last two years writing this book.

It has taken quite a bit of time to finish UNEARTHED.  Over the last two years I have been writing this non-fiction work in my spare time.  I wrote early in the mornings, on vacations, during lunch hours, and on weekends when I was alone.  While there have been many highlights during the process, there were many times I was ready to hit the delete button.  I never thought I would finish AND I never thought it would get into the hands of people who need to read it.  At one point I even quit writing and walked away from it for four months.  Little did I know that is exactly what I needed. Upon writing again…I wrote nearly 10,000 words in about four days to finish the book.  I am so happy that God carried me through this endeavor and I pray that it will be a blessing to you, your family, your relationships, and your churches.

This project is far from perfect but it is the best I could do for now.  There are still some errors in it…but I ask that you have grace and patience with me.  I would like to thank the countless number of people who helped me through photography, artwork, web development, proof reading, editing, conversations, debates, prayer, and study.  Each one of you have helped make this project what it is and I thank you!  Please open your heart, put down your guard, and let the Spirit speak to you through the words in my book.

Thanks again for your support and love!  It has certainly sustained me over the last two years!

peace…

brandon