I am so excited to prepare for Christmas. What a tradition! We get to remember the promise of the First Advent of the Messiah and celebrate the fact that it happened in human history. All of human history was split in half by the birth of Jesus Christ. He is the most famous human being of all time. His book, the Bible, continues to be the best selling book of all time. The birth of Christ has set our Western calendar for the past 2,000 years. To me, Christmas is a magical season. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season that we forget the reason WHY we do all of this every year. It is a time of remembrance. It is also a time to reflect on the fact that the First Advent implies that there will be a Second Advent. I have written several articles on the Sundays of Advent and you can read them by clicking on the following titles:
The lesson that I am preparing now will be taught the first Sunday after Christmas. It is a perfect lesson for the Christmas season.
I. Hope during difficult days
While the Christmas season can be a magical time for many people, it can also be a very difficult time for many other people. The holiday season can be a time of difficult days. All throughout human history, because of our ingrained sin nature, humans have experienced difficult days. God never promises to keep us from going through difficult days. Instead, He gives His promises to us to give us HOPE during those difficult days. The prophet Jeremiah lived during some very difficult days. He is known as the “weeping prophet” because of the things that he wrote about during his ministry. Unfortunately, he was called by God to speak hard truths to the people during difficult days. The people wanted feel good messages instead of the hard truth. Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations. The word “lamentation” comes to the English language via French. Its root is Latin. The original meaning of lamentation in Latin was “a wailing, moaning, a weeping“. This is why Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet“. In our lesson today, we are going to take a look at Lamentations chapter three. The first eighteen verses of chapter three reveal to us just how difficult those days were. As a result of those difficult days, the people, Jeremiah included, had lost their peace, happiness, strength, and hope. A sense of bitterness had set in the minds of the people. They needed hope. God sent Jeremiah to remind the people that they could place their trust in His promises and that would give the hope that they so desperately needed to them.
19 Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
20 Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me.
21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.
22 The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.
26 It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3)
Jeremiah needed to remember the Lord and all of His goodness. Jeremiah made an appeal to the Lord based on His character traits. Jeremiah appealed to the Lord’s lovingkindness. Jeremiah knew the Lord as Jehovah. The Hebrew name Jehovah means “the Self-Existing One“. This means that God exists in Himself. He is not dependent upon any outside source. He does not need time, space, or matter to exist. He does not depend on oxygen or food or water. He is self-contained. This is important because if and when He interacts with His creation, it is always for the good of His creation. He does not benefit from the interaction, His creation does. The word “lovingkindness” means that the Lord, the One who needs nothing, places Himself at the disposal of His creation. He makes Himself available to His creation, to serve His creation for their own good. Jeremiah understood this about God and he needed to remind his people of this very important truth, especially in the midst of difficult days. Not only did Jeremiah appeal to God’s lovingkindness, he also appealed to the Lord’s compassion. The word compassion comes to English via French. Its roots are found in Latin. This Latin word was comprised of two other Latin words, “com” which means “with” and “pati” which means “to suffer“. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with someone else“. God has compassion on His creation. He sees our difficult days, even though they are caused by our own poor choices, and He identifies with us. He feels the pain along with us. Compassion is not simply a feeling. It is a feeling that leads to action. God is able to take action to assist His creation through difficult days. He does not remove the difficult days because they are the effects of our own poor choices. He chooses to walk with us through those difficult days and take us through to the other side. Jeremiah knew this about God and his people needed to be reminded. I think we need to learn this about God today. We are walking through difficult days that have come upon us because of poor choices. The Lord is here with us and is ready to walk with us through these days, if we will simply cry out to Him the way that Jeremiah did. Jeremiah found hope by trusting the character and promises of God. That same character and those same promises are available to us today. Will we trust the way that Jeremiah did? God promises to rescue us as we walk through difficult days. He will take us through to the other side. Do we really trust Him enough to surrender to His leadership? Jeremiah did.
II. Seek to worship Jesus
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter two, we discover two distinct reactions to the birth of the Messiah. No one can remain neutral when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. The Messiah causes a reaction in all of us.
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2)
The magi were from the East. We do not know the exact location but we assume that they came from the land of the old Babylonian and Persian Empires. About six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Daniel was taken into captivity to live in that land. Daniel was taken captive during the time of the Babylonian Empire and he endured a regime change during his lifetime. The Persians conquered the Babylonians before Daniel’s people, the Jews, were released to go back to Israel. While Daniel was there in captivity, he influenced four different kings. Daniel made disciples, teaching the Word of God to anyone who would listen. Those disciples of Daniel passed along his teaching from generation to generation. They were familiar with Messianic prophecy. In fact, they must have been familiar with the book of Numbers.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. (Numbers 24:17)
This is a Messianic prophecy about the First Advent of the Messiah. There was going to be a sign that signified the birth of the Messiah. Those disciples of Daniel were prepared, generation after generation, for the sign to signify the birth of the Messiah. During this generation, the sign appeared and the magi responded. They recognized the sign of the times and took action. They wanted to see the Messiah and worship Him. They were excited about the birth of the Messiah. Out of this deep desire to worship the desire, they were ready to overcome any and every obstacle in their way. Distance did not matter. Hardship did not matter. They were laser focused. This is one response that the First Advent of the Messiah provokes, an response of excitement and worship. But did you notice king Herod’s response? He was not excited. He was not ready to worship the Messiah. King Herod was troubled by the birth of the Messiah. The birth of the Messiah agitated king Herod. The birth of the Messiah bothered king Herod. For king Herod, Jesus was not someone who deserved worship, for king Herod, Jesus was competition. King Herod wanted to reign and rule. He did not see the need to surrender to Jesus. There are many people like king Herod today. The celebration of the birth of the Messiah is a nuisance, a reminder that there is a King and that they are not that King. What is your response to the celebration of the birth of the Messiah? Is it a difficult time for you with many obstacles to overcome or, is it a time to worship Jesus? Is it an inconvenience to your normal routine? Is it a reminder of your need to surrender control over to the Lord?
III. Find Forgiveness
King David was a man after God’s own heart. He lived his life in view of the First Advent of the Messiah. Although he was a man after God’s own heart, he was not perfect. King David made his share of mistakes. In fact, King David made some terrible mistakes. His predecessor, king Saul, also made some terrible mistakes while in office. The difference between King David and king Saul was their response their sins being confronted. King Saul was very proud. He never admitted his mistakes. He always tried to blame others for his poor choices. He refused to confess and repent. King David, on the other hand, was quick to confess and repent when confronted. That is what made the difference. That is why one is remembered as a terrible king and the other as a man after God’s own heart. King David gives us some insight on what confession and repentance look like with an example from his own life. King David wrote Psalm 51 after his affair with Bathsheba had been exposed.
1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. (Psalm 51)
The first thing that we see about David is that he does not try to blame others for his actions. He does not try and justify himself for what he did. The is so contrary to our modern worldview. We are trained to believe that nothing is our fault. We are who we are and we do what we do, not by choice, but, by circumstances. My socioeconomic background caused me to be who I am and therefore I do what I do. I cannot be held responsible. My parents did this, or, they did not do that, therefore, I am who I am and I do what I do. This is not a new tactic. Since David was familiar with the first 5 books of the Bible, he knew the way that Adam and Eve reacted when confronted over their sin. Adam tried to blame God and Eve. Eve tried to blame the serpent. This is where we get our excuse today, “the devil made me do it”. David did not respond that way. He acknowledged his sin. He owned his sin. He knew that he had sinned against God first and foremost, and then, against the people who are created in God’s image.
Have you ever been confronted because of your sin? How did you respond? Did your pride cause you to get angry and attack the messenger? Did you try to justify yourself? Did you play the blame game? Or, did you respond as David did and admit your sin?
David made an appeal to God’s mercy. The definition of mercy is “not getting what you actually deserve”. Because of his sin, his attitude and actions, David deserved to die. He took another man’s wife, which was punishable by death. He had that man killed which makes David a murderer. Murders were punished by death. David deserved to die, but, he appealed to God’s character and asked for mercy. He did not deserve mercy. He did not show mercy, but, God chose to show mercy to David. This is what grace is, receiving what you do not deserve. None of us deserves mercy from God. He shows it anyway. None of us deserves grace from God. He gives us grace anyway. David is very grateful for the gifts that he received from God. He did not demand these things from God, as if God owed him anything. He simply asked. God responded and David was grateful. King David was grateful that God forgave his sins. King David wanted to let everyone know that God is able to forgive our sins. Many people carry their sins around with them all of their lives, not knowing that they can be forgiven and cleansed from the stains that sin leaves in our lives and on our minds. This is the hope that David needed and it is the same hope that we need today. Christmas is a reminder that we have hope, we can trust the Lord Jesus, that He will walk with us during difficult days. Are you going to share this message with the people within your sphere of influence this Christmas season?
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