'Twas the week after Christmas,
when all through the place
There were arguments and depression
– even Mum had a long face!
The stockings hung empty,
And the house was a mess;
The new clothes didn't fit…
And Dad was under stress
The family was irritable,
And the children – no one could please
Because the instructions for the Xbox
Were written in Chinese
The bells no longer jingled,
And no carolers came around:
The sink was stacked with dishes,
And the tree was turning brown.
The shops were full of people
Returning things that had fizzled and failed,
And the shoppers were discouraged
Because what they'd bought was now on half-price sale!
'Twas the week after Christmas –
The spirit of joy and peace was giving way to fear;
The only hope on the horizon?
A new series of Sherlock in the New Year!
Chuck Swindoll, http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2006/november/mitchell4.html, edited by Jon Teasdale.
Well, I don't know if you can relate to that, but for many it's easy to sink down with a bump after the climax of Christmas. Christians will of course say that's because Christmas without Christ really has nothing long term to offer. It's just hollow, empty fizzle. The bulbs in our Christmas lights blow, the candles turn to wax and neither come anywhere near the angelic display that was on show in skies that first Christmas night. Our gifts though exciting and shiny and new will wear out, they won't last and are nothing compared to the indescribable, eternal gift of Jesus. So this morning I want to encourage us to look at what we can learn from the Christmas story about what happened after the celebrations. What happens after the candles and the lights go out, the decorations are packed away and the carols become a distant memory?
Well rather than the usual 'get fit' and 'spend less' advice that tries to provide meaning at this time of year, let me offer you four biblical resolutions (if you don't like that word substitute it for responses!) for this New Year, that I think we can learn from Luke's account of what happened after the birth of Jesus. So we'll need to get back to Luke chapter 2. My first response or resolution:
1. Treasure and Ponder the Wonderful Gospel of Jesus in Your Heart
According to Luke 2.18 that's what "all who heard" the shepherds did, and it's what Mary did too. We see in verse 19 that she,
"treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."
So let's just remind ourselves of this scene. Luke is describing the reaction to the good news of Jesus' birth. He paints a picture of wonder and praise and joy at the news of the arrival of the long-promised rescuer. It's a scene of everyday people - a simple family, a child in a manger, shepherds in their fields - contrasted with amazing indescribable heavenly action, as the true identity of the new born child is declared. Look at verse 10:
"the angel said to them, "Fear not, [what they had seen must have been so intense and scared them] for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.""
Oh, friends don't miss these familiar words! No doubt you'll have had some Christmas cards with them on and it's easy to become over-familiar with them, but these are some of the most precious words uttered in all human history. What is the good news, or gospel, to wonder at, to marvel at, to treasure and ponder? Answer: a saviour…for all the people.
But, a saviour from what? What do all the people need saving from? Well, in short, everything that is bad and wrong in this world. A saviour, or rescuer, from materialism and from empty celebrations; from depression, from pain and illness and disease; from meaninglessness, from anger, from guilt, from hatred, from aggression, from lust, from strife, division and jealousy. Because all these things are actually symptoms of one of two things: they are either a symptom of a corrupted world or the symptom of a corrupted heart. That's what we need saving from - a world that is not as it was designed to be, and hearts that are not as they are supposed to be. And our corrupted hearts are actually hearts that have rebelled against their creator. And the really depressing thing is that there is a cost to that rebellion – death. But here's the ultimate salvation that is on offer through Jesus Christ – rescue from that death. Believe and trust in him, and the death that he died on the cross some 30 years after his birth will be counted, in God's eyes, as the death that you deserve. Meaning that you will not have to suffer it. That is the good news to treasure and ponder and marvel and wonder at… today, tomorrow and every day in 2017. So whether or not you are just in the process of coming to faith today or you have been walking this path for 60, 70, 80 plus years, let's treasure and ponder the wonderful gospel of Jesus daily!
But, you may rightly ask, 'How do we do that?' The way that God has ordained it is that we spend time listening to Him through His Word that he has provided. This book is his letter of good news to us. From start to finish, it is gospel. Friends – there is no short cut – the way to treasure and ponder this gospel in our hearts is to regularly be in it; listening to God's voice and talking to him in response through prayer. Whether we use a 5 day a week, 7 day a week plan, Explore notes, Every day with Jesus, our own plan, one on a gadget – the point is that we are regularly reminding ourselves of the gospel that, left to our own devices we naturally want to forget. Nothing beats a daily discipline of reading God's Word. Of course we all fail at that from time to time. I do. You do. We all do. It's a struggle to be consistent – for many of us there are so many pressures and demands on our time – but please don't let the fear of failure, don't let the experience of failure, stop you from striving to regularly ponder God's word anew in your heart in 2017. As I say, there are loads of plans and helps out there, and if you're looking for some help in 2017 here's a website page that has links to some good options: 2017 Bible Reading Plans. Let's plan to treasure and ponder the wonderful gospel of Jesus in our hearts in 2017. Second response or resolution:
2. Return Home and to Work Glorifying and Praising God
"And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."
Returned to where? Well the immediate context is back to work. We know from verse 8 that they had come from the fields and presumably this is where they returned. But perhaps a better heading than the one in your sheets (I've had more time to think about it since these were printed!!) would be: 'return to your frontline glorifying and praising God'.
The detail of work is not actually as important. The point is that they went back to their everyday existence with a faith that had been confirmed and deepened by their experience, and an attitude set on bringing glory to God as a result, and this in a context where no-one knew Jesus. No-one knew Jesus. That is what our frontlines are - any places where we are - day to day, week to week - that we have contact with those who don't yet know Jesus. It may be work, school or uni, it may be family, it may neighbours, it may be with the postman, in the shops, it may be with carers or the sports team – we all have a gospel frontline; a place where our routines intersect with those who don't know Jesus.
And what we learn from the shepherds is the principle: after the celebrations, after a deepening and strengthening of our faith, we need to return to our frontlines glorifying and praising God. That's the principle. How's that going to work out in practice for us in 2017? Let me suggest a few areas for us to think about:
Firstly, we can return to our frontlines and glorify God through modelling godly character. What will the fruits of the Spirit look like on our frontlines in 2017? What will love and peace look like at home? What will patience and kindness look like at work? What will goodness and faithfulness look like at school/uni? What will self-control look like in your sports team?
Secondly, we all have work to do, whether we are paid for it or not. Whether that's dishes to wash, shirts to iron, shopping to do, essays to write, calls to make, deals to do, whatever it is, will you return to that frontline and glorify God by doing that work well?
Thirdly, will we return and glorify God by ministering grace and love to the people on our frontline? Maybe we know there's someone who needs some good advice; maybe you have a colleague who needs a bit more TLC at the moment; maybe the girl at the Tesco checkout wasn't her usual cheery self. Take the initiative on their behalf, go above and beyond the minimum and minister some grace and love to those around you. Even if you spend most of your time at home and you live alone, there are still opportunities to extend grace to those who come to your door and to those who call you up; there are still opportunities to pray for those whom God lays on your heart.
Another way we can return to our Frontlines and glorify God is to look out for those who can't look out for themselves and be a mouthpiece for truth and justice. Whether that's sticking up for ourselves or someone else: a boss, an employee, a class mate who's been falsely accused: 'It wasn't him miss!' God loves justice and he loves to see it done.
Well if those things have whetted your appetite and you'd like to build on those things in 2017 – a godly character, good work, ministering grace and love and being a mouthpiece for truth and justice - let me recommend this book. Its where I've taken those headings from and it'd be a great read for the new year: Fruitfulness on the Frontline: making a difference where you are by Mark Greene. Highly recommended.
So, as well as planning to treasure and ponder the wonderful gospel of Jesus in our hearts in 2017, lets also pledge to return to our frontlines glorifying and praising God through our character, work, grace, love, truth and justice. But of course, one of the best ways to glorify and bring praise to God is the title of my third suggested response or resolution. And that is to:
3. Make Known the Gospel
Look at what the Shepherds did when they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. Luke 2.17:
"they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child."
Just who the shepherds made known the gospel to we are not told, but many commentators describe these humble shepherds as the very first evangelists. These shepherds were the first people to tell others about Jesus. And note how God does his work through his Word here. His Word, through the angelic proclamation we see in verses 10-14, sets off a chain reaction. The shepherds respond in faith as they go to find the child. Once found, they tell others their testimony. That's the sequence: Word, faith, testimony. As for the shepherds, so for us. The correct response to God's Word is faith backed up with proclamation, faith backed up with testimony. That's the way God has ordained it. It's part of our purpose as Christians – to make known the Gospel that has so affected us and captured our hearts. So how are we going to do that in 2017? Again, here are some thoughts…
It's often helpful when we are thinking about how God might want to use us, to actually ask him! 'Lord please show me if there is someone who's salvation you want me to be particularly concerned with.' Let's pause and do that now. Just for a moment. 'Lord, please give us a name, two names, three names!' Write them down. Put them in your phone. Commit to pray regularly for them – once a week over the next year. So, pray…how else can we make known the gospel?
Be ready to offer biblical perspectives on what's already being talked about. For example it may be the latest Star Wars film – 'Have you noticed how all the films are based around hope. What do you hope for?' It may be football – 'How do you calculate a player's true worth – by the amount that China is willing to pay - £250m for Ronaldo(?!), or is there some other means of quantifying a human's worth?' It may be politics – 'Trump and Brexit have knocked me this year – I know I'm going to praying harder in 2017, I'm just grateful that humans aren't in ultimate control.' Or it may be engaging with folk who are asking, Why have so many famous people died in 2016? 'Yes, it's a tragedy, but you know what I think the real tragedy is…people dying with no knowledge of Jesus.'
Do you get the gist? I'm not saying it's easy – it's not. But there are opportunities out there ripe for the taking. Please don't get me wrong – you can't force the conversation, but you can exploit it. And you can drop biblical perspectives all over the place. And in doing so it normally leads on to other opportunities, because people will invariably ask 'Why do you say that?' For example, 'Why do say it's a tragedy if people die with no knowledge of Jesus?' 'What did you mean when you said that humans aren't in ultimate control?' 'How do we measure a human's true worth?', 'I don't know what I hope for – what do you hope for?'
Remember the sequence when you respond to the word in faith? Testimony follows. And God has given us all unique testimonies to use in answer to that question. You don't have the testimony of a shepherd, but you do have the testimony of you. No-one else does and God has given it you for a reason. So use it to tell of his work in your life in 2017!
So, we can make known the gospel through prayer; we can drop biblical perspectives in our conversations; we can share our testimonies, but at the end of the day we need to be ready to explain the content of the good news. That brings us to my last resolution or response, after the celebrations. Because the central content of the Good news is Jesus. And I want to encourage you to:
4. Allow the Name of Jesus to Always Be on Your Lips
Now this point is admittedly, a bit of an applicational jump from what is literally in the text. But in 2017, I want to encourage us to have Jesus' name not only never far from our minds, but also never far from our lips because it is so incredibly important and powerful. We get a hint of that here in verse 21:
"And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."
The naming of Jesus is far more important than his circumcision – which was pretty important for a Jew! It was important because it was a faithful response to the angel's message. It was God, through the angels, who gave him his name. And God gave him this name, because it was a declaration of what the Father was doing through the Son – saving people. That's what the name Jesus means: 'God saves'. This is how Paul sees this naming, writing to a bunch of Christians in what we now call Greece:
"God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2.9-11
That's a pretty important name isn't it? Over and over again in Scripture we read, "In my name," "In Jesus' name," or "In his name." The devils were powerless because of his name (Luke 10:17), the demons were cast out in his name (Mark 16:17-18), healing occurred in his name (Acts 3:6, 3:16, 4:10), salvation comes in his name (Acts 4:12, Rom. 10:13), we are to baptize in his name (Matt. 28:19), we are justified in his name (1 Cor. 6:11), everything we do and say should be done in his name (Col. 3:17) and Jesus himself invites, urges and commands us to pray in his name and when we do he has promised incredible results. There is power in the name of Jesus!
And do you know what? Allowing the name of Jesus to be on your lips begins now. Because as you return to your frontline after this Christmas break I can guarantee that you will be asked this question. You may well have been asked it already, but I'm sure every one of us will be asked: 'How was your Christmas?' Rather than saying fine or great first, rather than talking about family gatherings or presents or illness first, what if the first thing we said was to talk with gratitude about Jesus and just how precious and important he is to us? Friends, let's allow the name of Jesus to always be close to our lips in 2017.
'Twas the week after Christmas,
and I needed to start;
Treasuring and pondering
Jesus' gospel in my heart.
I had a job to do,
so to my Frontline, I trod.
how I could glorify God.
Starting to pray,
I asked for the bottle,
To speak up and out
and make known the gospel.
I wanted his name
to be on my lips.
A name that with
power and authority drips.
He's the best of all gifts,
which to us has been given.
He's Jesus, who died for our sins
. . . and is now risen!