Upside Down Christmas 3 – Prepare the Way

Are you prepared for Christmas?

Upside Down Christmas 3 – Prepare the Way

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Prepare the way for Christmas!

Have you prepared for Christmas? This time of year become frantic because we have waited to the last minute and now find ourselves in a crowded shopping mall…

How should we prepare? Is there a Biblical approach for preparing the way of the Lord?

Upside Down Christmas 3 – Prepare from Redemption Church on Vimeo.

 

 

Upside Down Christmas 3 – Prepare the Way

Sermon Notes by Marshal Blessing

Welcome to Redemption Church.

Are you ready for Christmas?  How are preparations going? Check list:
Shopping, Decorations, Cards, Presents wrapped, Christmas cookies, Office parties, Day planned out, Plans for the day after Christmas?

Christmas takes a lot of preparation.  What if I told you that we’re doing it wrong?

Upside Down Christmas

Upside Down TITLE

Recap:  Two weeks ago Chris told us how Christmas is upside down from what we’re used to,
from our way of thinking, and we need the God’s Spirit to reveal meaning of Christmas to us.

Last week, God’s Kingdom is upside down, Jesus is Lord who triumphs with peace

If you missed, check them out online.  Share with friends.

This week I want to tell you that many of the ways we prepare for Christmas are upside down.

I don’t want to get into the debate about whether some Christmas traditions aren’t Christian.
And I am not going to discuss whether we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth at the wrong time of year…
I’ll save that for next week.

But I am going to talk about how many of the ways our culture prepares for Christmas are totally backward, and as Christians we get some of our traditions upside down – when we let culture define what Christmas should be, the meaning gets lost and the way we prepare for Christmas gets flipped completely upside down.

For example, who has heard of St. Nicholas?

st nick christmas

One of the other names we use for Santa Clause.  “Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way…”
It’s not used as often as the name Santa, but it’s pretty common.

The poem that starts: “Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;”
is actually titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” and the second line says:
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;”

Saint Nicholas was a real person, and part of our picture of Santa Clause was based on this real person.

Saint Nicholas lived during the third and fourth centuries in what was then Greece.  He was raised as a devout Christian, but his wealthy parents died while he was still young, so he used his inheritance to help the sick and the needy.  He developed a reputation for caring for the poor and especially children.  He became a bishop and was eventually persecuted for his faith.

One of the most famous stories about him was that he anonymously helped three sisters who had no dowry.  At that time if a woman had no dowry she couldn’t get married and she would have no way to provide for herself.

According to legend Nicholas threw gold coins through their window and they landed in their shoes or stockings.  In one version he dropped them down the chimney.

How do we know it was Nicholas if he did it anonymously?  He did it multiple times. (He had great aim throwing coins through windows.) And the third time their father waited for him to see who was helping his daughters.  Nicholas basically told him “all glory to God.”

Nicholas was a real person.  And he is recognized today as a saint.  In fact, he is one of the most well known saints.  If you had to name five saints right now…
he would probably be on the list along with Saint Patrick and Saint Valentine, maybe Saint Peter.

He is a saint, meaning he is remembered as having lived in such a way that his life testified to Gospel and reflected the love Jesus Christ.  He is one of the ancestors of our faith; and he serves as a role model for us.  We can try to live like him in the ways that he lived like Jesus.  He gives us an example of how to live out our faith with charity and compassion.

So, in this story of St Nicholas and the three daughters who do we try to emulate?  Who do we act like?

The daughters?!  Every year we hang stockings by the chimney with care
in hopes that someone will fill them.  That’s upside down!

We should seek to act like the Saint in the story.  We should be looking for needs in the lives of people around us so we can help meet them, as a way to demonstrate the love and the grace of Jesus.  Instead we decorate by hanging out receptacles for gifts, and we hope the saint will stop by and give us something good…  We’ve got it backward.  We’ve got it upside down.  We’re called to be the saint.

Do you see how that’s upside down?

Now I’m not trying to attack anyone’s family traditions.  I’m not saying that if you have stockings hanging by your fireplace, then you are a bad Christian.  The other week Scott’s son Ian hung some socks by the fireplace, and he told his parents, “That’s how you get Lego-movie toys.”  Where did he learn that?

It’s part of the culture all around us.  You see it on TV.  You see it in stores.   You can see it out in the hallway.  And again, my point is not that the traditions we associate with Christmas are bad.

christmas sermon series art

Be aware of what you are doing.  My point is that we need to be aware of what we are doing and why we are doing it, because it’s easy for these traditions to get things turned completely upside down.  The culture in this broken world loves to get us turned away from the things we are supposed to be doing, and focused on things that don’t matter, or things we shouldn’t be worried about.

For many of us, it is practically a tradition to eat too much at Christmas.  For some, it can easily become a tradition to drink too much at the annual Christmas parties, or to get stressed out shopping for the perfect gift, or to put ourselves in debt buying Christmas gifts.  For some of us, it becomes a tradition to fight with relatives that you don’t even get to see during the rest of the year.  We get focused on preparing the food, or the gifts, or the decorations, or other things and we lose sight of what we’re celebrating.  Emmanuel.

The enemy loves to get us turned upside down.  So it is important that we be aware of what we’re doing.

And it is important to know what we are called to be doing.

Different people get ready for Christmas in different ways.  Most families develop their own family traditions, and that’s fine.  But if God gives us specific things that we are supposed to be doing to get ready for Christmas, wouldn’t those be the most important?  Shouldn’t we make sure those get done?

The Bible does give us instructions about how we should get prepared for the arrival of Christ.  Usually they go overlooked.  And it is a testament to how backward our culture has become that the things the Bible tells us to do to get ready for Christmas sound upside down from our everyday life, and especially from what we normally think of at Christmas time.

The Bible doesn’t present us with an upside down approach to Christmas, our lives have become upside down and turned around.  The Bible shows us the way Christmas should be.  It shows us the way we should be preparing for the arrival of the Son of God.

Now, here at Redemption Church, we like to think that we’re creative.  We try to be innovative.  We like to think that you’ll hear things presented here in ways that you won’t hear in many other churches.

But this time we aren’t that original.  In fact, the concept of an “Upside Down Christmas” has actually been preached before.   And I have to confess, I borrowed most of the rest of this message from a far better preacher, namely John the Baptist.

prepare the way christmas john the baptist

I hear some heads being scratched.  You may be asking yourself, “When did John the Baptist preach a Christmas sermon?”  That’s a fair question.

You will recall that John the Baptist is part of the Christmas story.  An angel foretold John’s birth.  Mary’s relative Elizabeth was pregnant with John at the same time that Mary was pregnant with Jesus.  And when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and her baby leaped within her.

So if John and Jesus were born around the same time, how could John preach a Christmas sermon?

This month here at Redemption, this series has been meant to get us spiritually prepared for an
Upside down Christmas.  We’re preparing to celebrate the arrival of our unexpected Savior.

And that was the purpose of John’s message on the banks of the Jordan River.

MATTHEW 3:3 NIV This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

John the Baptist was preparing people for the arrival of the Messiah.

MARK 1:7 NIV And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

MARK 1:8 NIV I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John quotes Isaiah just like we do in this season.  So, I would say that this qualifies as a Christmas sermon, or at least an Advent sermon.

Luke’s gospel gives us a little bit more of John’s message, and it’s clear that not only is it a Christmas sermon, but it is an Upside Down Christmas sermon.  It would fit right into our series.

LUKE 3:5 NIV Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

It sounds like the landscape is going to be turned upside down to make way for the Lord.

Let’s take a look at John’s message starting with verse 7

LUKE 3:7 NIV John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

Well, that’s an upside down way to start a Christmas message…

LUKE 3:8 NIV Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

LUKE 3:9 NIV The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

LUKE 3:10 NIV “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

LUKE 3:11 NIV John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

LUKE 3:12 NIV Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

LUKE 3:13 NIV “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

LUKE 3:14 NIV Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”

Skipping down to verse 16

LUKE 3:16 NIV John answered them all, “I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

LUKE 3:17 NIV His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

LUKE 3:18 NIV And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

Would you agree that that is an upside down Christmas message?

It says he exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.  What was the good news?

Jesus!  The good news is that the Messiah is coming!

And John tells how we are to prepare for Jesus.  He has to exhort the people, and challenge them, and get them stirred up because preparing for Jesus is no small thing.

It’s more than just baking cookies, or buying presents, or putting up lights and a tree…

Preparing for Jesus should turn things Upside Down

upside down christmas

And this message is for us as well.  We should be preparing for Christ.  In this season we are preparing to celebrate and remember His birth.  But we should also be preparing for His return.  You know He is coming back, right?  That’s part of the Good News as well.  Our Savior lives and He is coming back for us. Amen.

So we should be getting prepared for Him.  We should make these things part of our holiday traditions.  We can still send out Christmas cards and decorate, but let’s make sure we do the things that God’s Word tells us to do.  Obedience to God’s Word should be central to our traditions.

Let’s take another look at what John says:

LUKE 3:8 NIV Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

Repentance was a big part of John’s message.

LUKE 3:3 NIV He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Repentance turns things Right-side Up

upsidedown christmas
Repentance is turning away from sin and turning back toward God.  It should be a turning point in your life.  And repentance is an important way that we can prepare our hearts and our lives for Christ.  How can we receive and welcome Jesus is we are turned away from Him; if we are pursuing things that lead away from Him?  [Physical example]  If you’re coming to greet me and I’m headed away from you, am I going to receive you?  No.  I need to turn around.  I’ll have to reject whatever I was chasing and turn to you.  That’s repentance:  when we reject sin and turn back to God.

If your life is headed away from God, repentance can turn your life upside down.  But it actually turns us right-side up.  It puts us back on the right track.  God loves us and wants what’s best for us.  So if your life isn’t headed toward God, if you’re doing something that leads you away from God or prevents you from growing closer to Him, you’ve already got something upside down and you need to repent.

People were coming to John the Baptist to receive a baptism of repentance, as an outward sign that they had made the decision to turn back to God.  But John tells us that deciding to repent, even receiving a baptism of repentance by itself, is not enough.  If we truly repent, our lives should “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

LUKE 3:8 NIV Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

Repentance isn’t just saying “I’m sorry.”  Repentance should cause a change in your life.  The fruits, the results of your repentance should be visible in your life.  If you repent and turn back to God, and make an effort to continue heading toward Him, then your life will bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

When people invite you to go back to what you used to do, or they ask you why you don’t do that anymore, you can tell them that you have turned away from it.  And tell them why.  That’s producing fruit in keeping with repentance.

We may stumble.  We make mistakes.  But we have to keep focusing on God and heading toward Him.  That’s the first thing we do to prepare for Jesus.   Repentance isn’t a onetime prayer, it’s a new direction for your life.

And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father…’

Your past doesn’t guarantee you’re prepared.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been going to church all year.  It doesn’t matter if you were raised in church.  It doesn’t matter if you took great steps in your faith last Christmas if you’re not still walking toward God today.  Today is the day to get prepared.  The axe is already at the root of the trees.  Regardless of what has come before, you need to make sure you are getting prepared today.

There is nothing in your past that is so bad that you cannot repent and turn back toward God today.
And there is nothing in your past that is so good that it exempts you from needing to move toward God today.

So, what do we need to be doing?

LUKE 3:10 NIV “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John the Baptist foreshadows several things that happen throughout the rest of the New Testament.

ACTS 2:37 NIV When the people heard this they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

ACTS 2:38 NIV Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

But John had already told the people to repent and be baptized.  So when the people John what they should do next his answer was a little different.

LUKE 3:11 NIV John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

*Blink* Oh, is that all?  That’s not so bad…  How many of us really do this?

How many of us had more than one option of what they were going to wear to church today?
(And not just because of the status of the laundry.)

On Christmas day, how many of us are going to sit down to a meal with more food than we could possibly eat?   How many of us have more food than we need in our fridge today?  How many of us have more clothes than we need?  So what should we do?

Maybe start by inviting someone to have a meal with you.  Invite someone to share Christmas dinner.  Not just someone who would be spending Christmas alone, you should invite them too, but try to find someone who couldn’t afford to have a Christmas meal.  You want to turn your Christmas upside down?  Try bringing an unexpected guest.

But really, we should be doing this every day.  We should be preparing every day.  I don’t think God wants us to make sure everyone gets some turkey on Christmas if they go hungry the rest of the year.

Now, to be clear, neither John nor I are telling you to sell all you have and give to the poor.

What we are told to do is to Care for others needs, and Share what we have

When we see someone in need of something, and we have more than enough, then share.

This requires us to turn our view of stuff upside down.  My stuff isn’t really my stuff.  God has provided us with all that we have.  If others need it and we have more than enough, then we should share God’s provision with them.

And this isn’t about just clothing and food, but that’s a start.  Turn your wardrobe upside down.  Turn your pantry upside down. Turn your budget upside down.  Turn your schedule upside down.  Where do you have extra that you can share with others?  People might need a little of your time; they might just need someone to talk to.  They might need a little of your money.  They might need a little of your faith, when theirs is slipping.  You can take a moment and pray with someone.

This is loving your neighbor.  This is the second greatest commandment.  And as Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”

You want to get ready for Jesus’ arrival?  Start serving Him today, by serving others.

This will require you to get to know people.  You can’t meet their needs if you don’t know their needs.  It’s more than just giving change. This might require you to talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to.

John the Baptist lives this out by not turning people away.  Tax collectors and soldiers were some of the most hated members of their society in John’s time.  But when they come to him and ask what they should do, he doesn’t send them away.  He calls the crowd in general a brood of vipers, but he responds to their questions sincerely.  He gives them the answers they need to hear.  Don’t cheat people.  Don’t bear false witness.  Don’t use your power to take advantage of people.

The prophet Isaiah talked a lot about how we honor God when we treat others fairly and meet unmet needs.  So it is fitting that John’s message was foretold in the book of Isaiah.

LUKE 3:4 NIV As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

LUKE 3:5 NIV Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

LUKE 3:6 NIV And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”

Now, these words aren’t attributed to John the Baptist.  But they are given almost as a summary of his message: Prepare the way of the Lord

prepare the way christmas

At times throughout history some kings would send out teams of people to prepare the way for them.  These people would literally level the ground and remove obstacles to ensure safe passage for the king.

And in a way, that is what John is calling people to do.  Who is ready to do some road construction work with me today?  Who brought their shovel and pickaxe?                ***MUSICIAN***

Fortunately, I don’t think this is meant to be taken literally.  It wouldn’t make much sense to prepare a road for God.  He is everywhere, and He can go anywhere, regardless of the terrain.

Instead, John is talking about preparing a way for the Lord to enter into people’s hearts, to enter into people’s lives, to enter more fully into our hearts.  As the angel told his father:

LUKE  1:17 NIV And he will go before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The landscape it’s talking about is the landscape of our lives.  It’s talking about us.
If our lives aren’t prepared for the Lord, they need to be turned upside down.

LUKE 3:5 NIV Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

Every valley shall be filled in and lifted up.
If you are low this holiday season, if you’re depressed, if you’re facing problems and you feel like nothing can help.  You need to be lifted up.  There is joy to be found in Jesus.  There is peace to be found in the Prince of Peace.  There is hope to be found in Him.

If you feel like you have done something so bad that you can’t recover, there is forgiveness in Jesus.
You need to lift up your head and call on him.

If people around you are low they need to be lifted up.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  If they’re sad, if they’re struggling, you lift them up.  Encourage them.  Help them.  Share God’s love with them.

Every mountain and hill made low.
If you’re coming into this season feeling like you don’t need anything from God, you’ve got your act together, your faith life is where it should be, you don’t need to prepare – You still do.

We need to take down some mountains of pride to prepare the way for the Lord.

When we feel like we don’t need God, we’ve gotten things upside down.  We all need Him every day.
We all need to be preparing for Him.  What have you done to prepare for Him today?  What are you going to do next?  Praise Him.  Thank Him.  All you have comes from Him.  Look for opportunities to share it in a way that brings Him glory.

The crooked roads shall become straight and the rough ways smooth.
If you’re doing something crooked, Stop it!  If you’re doing anything that’s kind-of questionable, anything that isn’t in line with who God calls us to be, Stop it and repent!

And if there is some roughness between you and someone else, seek to make peace, try to smooth things over by loving them as Christ loves you.  Forgive them, and if you’ve done something wrong ask them to forgive you.

This is how we prepare the way of the Lord.  This is how we should prepare for Christmas.  And you have an opportunity to be preparing right now.  At the end of each service we open these altars and invite everyone to come and take some time to talk to God.  Maybe some things in your life have gotten turned upside down, come and talk to Him about how to turn them right side up.  If you’re eager for His arrival, if you’re hopeful for His return, then we need to be preparing for Him.  He can arrive in your heart and in your life in new ways today.  Are you prepared?  Come and reach out to him.

Caesar Rome Jesus King

Prepare the way Christmas

Author: Marshal Blessing

Marshal Blessing serves Redemption as Care Pastor. He is blessed to be married to Jessica Blessing and father to Lazarus.