God Trending (Isaiah 12:1-6; Matthew 3:1-3)
This year when the radio station switched to all-Christmas music, I was ready. I was determined to enjoy the season and to not complain. We have driven through neighborhoods at night to see how people light up their homes. Our tree was up and decorated early. Here at church, we had the church dinner with tables decorated.
I love the fun traditions of Christmas and our family has many of them. It really helps us feel the spirit in the season. I celebrate that.
In church, when we worship, we have a specific calling that is related to the good feelings of Christmas but is more purposeful because our worship is a part of our life in Christ. Our responsibility in worship is to enter the story of Jesus which begins in the Bible but continues in our lives. Sentiment is beautiful, but it is something we can put away along with our decorations on January 2.
We can’t do that with the story of Jesus. When we realize that it really happened, it changes everything.
One of the things I find most effective in theological writing is actually a simple observation. Theologians have an entire vocabulary of words that only make sense in theological writing. But I have been deeply affected by a basic truth given to me in reading works of theology. God has done something. Christmas is news of God’s action. How does this news hit us?
Maybe it doesn’t hit us at all because it doesn’t feel like news at all. A veteran preacher has extremely thick file folders on Luke chapters 1 & 2 and Matthew 1 & 2. We read those chapters in church every year at this time. This story is news? We hear these verses, and we sigh. Been there, done that.
Compare the news of God with what’s currently in the news. If you go on Twitter, certain topics are trending. Type in #starwars or #republicandebates or #Syrianrefugeecrisis. Everyone is talking and tweeting about these things. Instagram has photos, Facebook has posts, and cnn.com provides pithy articles with video.
One of the radio shows I listen to has a segment called “What everyone’s talking about.” Well, is everyone talking about the thing God has done? God is not trending on twitter. If God acted, Facebook would blow up from all the posts. Facebook has not blown up.
I actually went to my Twitter page and typed in a search: #GodsNews. There were several hits. It’s not trending, but several Christian tweeters have used this hashtag. But, you know, it wouldn’t matter if there 10 million people tweeting about Jesus or just 10. God’s importance is not tied to the number of Twitter mentions God gets.
We follow him because he is Lord. He doesn’t stop being Lord if his Clout score decreases or his popularity wanes. He doesn’t get a bump in his divinity and sovereignty if he gets more Twitter followers. He is Lord because he couldn’t be anything else. The three bits of evidence of his Lordship are creation, the resurrection, and the personal relationships his followers have with him.
We belong to him and we have a story to tell, an alternate narrative to the ones that get tweeted so often. God is not the most popular force of our time. Nevertheless, we know God has done something. We have news to share. God has acted.
What has God done? God, in Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, has established the eternal Kingdom. In Jesus’ death, in which he shared with us the end result of sin, and in Jesus’ resurrection, in which he defeated death, God has begun the work of redeeming the world. God’s work will come to a conclusion when Jesus returns, all are judged, and the world is made new. Heaven and Earth will come together, and it will be good as all things created by God are good.
In this Kingdom, there is no sin, no rebellion, and no death. Imagine a country like that.
History shows that every human government has had to guard against rebellion. The malcontents, the disposed, those who feel powerless try to overthrow the powers that be. Every society has rebels and lawbreakers. Human governments have to punish criminals and turn back revolutionaries. And all human governments eventually crumble because all are designed by and run by sinful human beings.
God is doing something different, establishing a Kingdom where there is no rebellion and no crime. There is no sin, no evil, no disease, and no death. It is a concept beyond my grasp. I cannot picture it. The birth of Jesus is the first step in this becoming reality. The final chapter comes when Jesus returns.
We live between Jesus’ resurrection and his second coming. When he returns, we join him in resurrection.
In our time, individuals can opt to follow the Lord or go their own way. To follow Jesus is to trade any form of government we can conceive including our own constitutional democracy for a Kingdom. Of course even as we are fully submitted to Jesus as Lord we still continue to participate in our culture and in our country’s life. We participate as a good citizens, committed to fighting injustice as we help the people in our community flourish. We are engaged but as people who belong somewhere else – in God’s Kingdom. We exchange the notion of independence for rule – we would be ruled by God.
Why would anyone make such a trade off? Because, in throwing our lot in with Jesus, in accepting his cross and his forgiveness, we trade sin and all its consequences for new birth. We are new creations. We exchange bondage – we are slaves to sin – for freedom in Christ. We trade pain and death for joyful, glorified eternal life. When we assert definitively that God has done something, this is what God has done!
In the fourth verse of the hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” we sang “born thy people to deliver; born a child and yet a king. Born to reign in us forever. Now, thy gracious Kingdom bring.” Did the slaves under Pharaoh rejoice that he reigned over them? I think not. Did citizens of Germany sing praise songs for Hitler? Maybe, but only out of fear. No one praised Hitler out of love or true loyalty. Human history has shown that kings often rule by keeping their people under heel. Even good kings eventually become tyrants. Yet, the reign of Jesus provokes rejoicing.
Another Christmas hymn, one we have sung in different versions the past two weeks makes the same point. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her king.” I don’t think the people of North Korea, if they could express thoughts without fear of punishment, would joyfully sing of their lives under the reign of Kim Jung Un or his father or grandfather before him. In the hymn, “Joy to the World,” with our song we rejoice that we are subjects in a monarchy, the Kingdom of King Jesus.
This is news to those who don’t know him and increasingly, even in our country, people grow up with no knowledge of the Biblical account of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah writes “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted” (12:4). God’s action in Jesus compels us to tell whomever will listen about God and about the significance and relevance of Jesus.
Jesus brings hope of rescue from death. Jesus offer hope of a life of joy and meaning to all who follow him. We tell the news of God in such a way that people see not just another religion that can be reduced to doctrine that can be accepted, rejected, or ignored. We tell about God so that it is evident that absolute hope for the fullness of blessing and rich joy will come to anyone who hears our report and respond by putting faith in Jesus. We make his deeds known.
Matthew picks up on the prophetic word by describing the prophet, John the Baptist, who set the conditions into which Jesus would burst upon the scene. Of John Matthew says, he is the one to “Prepare the way of the Lord” (3:3). In his preaching and baptizing, John made the worshipping communities of 1st century Israel ready for the arrival of the Messiah. We, by announcing the news, help those who hear us get ready to meet God. We help people move from the thought of ‘Christianity as one religion among many,’ to ‘wow, God has done something and because of it, I can know Him.’
We aren’t prophets in the sense of the Biblical prophets like Samuel and Nathan, Isaiah and John the Baptist. But we are news-announcers. Is “God trending,” because of our witness, our testimony? Maybe not.
However, we can hold up our relationship with God and the Biblical story of God’s action in Jesus Christ. We can be a friend and in the context of friendship point to God’s action in Christ. We can do this. And we can hold up our own individual relationships with God in Christ as evidence. Through this movement of sharing news in casual relationships, we invite those who do not know Jesus at all to enter the story.
This is contingent on one thing – the main thing for us this morning. I began by declaring that while sentiment is lovely, as worshipers our responsibility is to announce that God has done something in Jesus. In Jesus, God has come in human flesh for the salvation of the world. Next, I said this thing that God has done is initiate the establishment of His eternal Kingdom. Then, I said that this truly is news for those who do not know Jesus at all. And we even meet people like this in our supposedly Christian culture because our culture is quickly becoming post-Christian.
The final and main point of this news is the awakening it triggers in those of us who do know Jesus, but have not fully understood him. We can only point to our own relationship with God in Christ as an example of the effect of what God has done if that relationship is real and makes a difference.
So, is it? Is my relationship with God a real thing, or a fantasy I have concocted? Does the action of God make a difference in your life? Or is Christianity just a religion you or I choose to practice?
Last Christmas, I held everything in close – my emotions, my love, my joy. I did not share it with my church family. I did not enter the happiness of the season with my wife or kids. My excuse was that I was sick. I had a rotten cold that carried on from mid-December through the New Year. I wallowed in phlegm and discomfort and absolutely refused to embrace Christmas cheer.
My wife was not happy with me and in early January she told me flatly, “You were a real grump this Christmas.” Ouch! I never wanted to hear that again. From the time she said that, I have been determined to be happy this year. Along the way, I discovered something important.
Maintaining a sweet spirit at Christmas so that people around you, the people you love, will have a good time – that’s important and noble. There is though something much bigger. When we pay attention to who we become when we receive life in Christ, the joy cannot be contained. It is the most important aspect of our message when we share the news about what God has done.
When we know God, we want him to be our king. When we know God we want Him in the center of our every thought and experience. He is trending in our hearts. When we know God the joy spills out contagiously. People around us may become Christians, they may not. But they will be invited into our joy in a way that is unmistakable.
Isaiah could make God known and John the Baptist could prepare the way because each knew God. They weren’t sharing theories or doctrines. They were speaking out of their experiences of relationship with God. Because of what God has done, you and I can enjoy just as powerful a relationship with God as these notable individuals of history.
So, enjoy Christmas cheer. Invite friends out for coffee. In the course of light, casual conversation, talk about what it means to follow Jesus and love Jesus. Find ways to share why He is so important in your life.
Invite friends to our Christmas Eve service.
But before doing any of that, sing these Christmas songs. Worship with your brothers and sisters in your church family. Bring your struggles to the cross – the small things and the big things. Be fully present to God and fully open. Do this so that when it comes time to talk about God and all that God means to us, we will have something to say.