Tuesday, December 31

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Tuesday, Dec. 31

Luke 2:19
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

I would love to be a Mom. I know that’s kind of a weird and awkward thing to say, but ever since my wife and I had children (technically, my wife had the children while I cheered her on), I have wondered what it would be like to be a Mom.

I wonder what it is like to know that life is growing inside of you; to feel that life begin to move and kick. I know what it is like to see life growing from outside my wife’s body; I have felt the movement and the kicking from outside, but that’s just from an observer’s perspective. I wonder what it is like from a participant’s perspective!

A few weeks ago my wife and I were watching a T.V. show with our two high school aged sons. In one of the show’s scenes a young father was trying to feed a bottle to a newborn baby and it was going rather poorly.

I said to my son, “I used to do that with you guys.”

He said, “What?”

I said, “When you guys were babies, Mom fed you most of the time in the way only Moms can. But I did the middle-of-the-night feeding time. Mom stored up her milk and I would prepare the bottles at 2 or 3 am and sit in the rocking chair of your room and feed you the bottles.”

He looked at me with a kind of surprise and said, “Why?”

I said, “I think because it was as close to being a Mom as I could get.”

He said, “I guess I’ll understand that when I’m a Dad.”

I think this simple verse tucked away in Luke’s rendering of the nativity story captures something of the unique experience of motherhood.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

What does it mean to “treasure up all these things?”

If you look up the word Luke used here it means “to preserve, to keep safe, to keep close.”

I think most moms know instinctively what it means to “treasure up all these things.”

This is just what a mother does! She treasures up everything about her children; what she felt as she carried them inside her body; what she knew or suspected about their personalities when they were still in her womb; what it felt like to bring them into the world; what it felt like to finally hold her baby in her arms. She treasures up what she feels as her baby nurses; what she feels when her child cries out at night. She treasures a thousand moments from the baby’s first sounds, to first steps, to first words. She treasures up her child’s laughter and tears; she treasures their pains and fears and joys and triumphs; she treasures up her own hopes and dreams for them. Treasuring is what a mother does!

Luke says she also “pondered them in her heart.”

To “ponder” is a bit different than to “treasure.” To ponder is to “weigh carefully; to consider or discuss;” it means to think deeply about the meaning of a thing; to turn it over and over in one’s mind and heart.

What things did Mary treasure and what does it mean that she pondered them in her heart?

I think Mary treasured up those things mentioned earlier that all mothers treasure about their children. She treasured her baby boy from the moment she could feel his life inside her until she watched his life ebb away on the cross some 33 years later; and even then she treasured up everything about him.

But she also pondered about her son. She pondered what it meant God had chosen her. She pondered what it meant that her son would be called the “son of God.” She pondered what it meant that he “reign on the throne of his father David,” and that he would “save his people from their sins.”

Mary treasured her son named “Jesus” and she pondered the deeper meaning of his life.

Perhaps Christmastime for you has been, as it is for so many of us, a season full of fun, laughter and activity. And that’s good! 

But Mary reminds us to make sure we take at least a few moments to treasure Jesus and to ponder again who he is.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Monday, December 30

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Monday, Dec. 30

Luke 2:15-20
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Well, Christmas has come and gone.

After all the preparations, which for most of us started the day after Thanksgiving, and after a month of decorating, buying, wrapping, cooking, baking, eating, traveling, singing, and celebrating, the time has come to pack up Christmas for another year.

How many of you have already packed away Christmas?

A couple of years ago we were visiting my wife’s sister’s family in Tennessee and I was with my brother-in-law Jeff  when he stopped by to say hello to a friend one day.

It was a very large home and as we parked in the driveway Jeff’s friend was working in the garage. We got out and after the two of them had chatted a bit Jeff said, “Hey, show Brian where you keep your Christmas tree.” I thought that was a little weird because it was August. But the guy walked over to part of his enormous garage and opened a door that looked like a giant closet door. Behind the door was a fully decorated 10 foot Christmas tree on rollers.

The guy had a closet for his Christmas tree.

When time came to put up the tree he just rolled it out and into the house; done! Then when Christmas was over he just rolled it back into the Christmas tree closet; done, just like that!

Most of us don’t have that particular luxury!

Most of us have to pack up Christmas piece by piece, box by box, and then drag it all back into the attic or basement or wherever we keep our Christmas stuff.

We pack up all the garbage created on Christmas Day; the discarded wrapping paper, the packaging, the ribbons and bows (at least the ones that can’t be re-used next year), and all of it goes in bins and bags and out to the curb.

We pack up the tree.

First you have to take all the ornaments off the tree and carefully wrap them up or pack them in their respective boxes and containers. Then you remove the strands of tree lights (unless you happen to have an artificial tree with built-in lights).

Then you have to take the tree down. In our case we have an artificial tree that has three sections. We pull it apart and drag it back into the basement piece by piece and shove it into a box where it stays until next year.

We pack up the outside lights; at least some of us do. If it’s warm enough I will take down the lights; but if it’s too cold I leave them up till Spring Break.

And then, finally, we pack up the Christmas decorations that are all over the house.

We pack up the advent Calendar; we pack up the poinsettias; we pack away the strands of garland over the fireplace, and we pack up the strange-looking St. Nicholas figure that sits in our bathroom.

We pack away our creches; the 4 or 5 “manger scenes” we have collected from different parts of the world that are displayed in different parts of our home throughout the Christmas season.

We pack away the animals; we pack away the shepherds and the Magi; we pack away Mary and Joseph.

And, finally, we pack away the manger and the Baby Jesus.

Which, of course, raises a question.

What do we do with Jesus?

Do we pack him away like the rest of the Christmas decorations? Is he just a tiny carved figure that we drag out of storage for about a month every year? Is he just part of a cultural holiday that gives us an opportunity for a few days away from school and work; that provides us an opportunity to gather with family and friends for fun, laughter and lots of cookies? Is he a cute and cuddly Bible story that we celebrate once a year with traditional candles and carols?

Or is Jesus something more than that?

The Apostle John suggests Jesus is more than that when he writes:

The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14

Jesus didn’t come into this world to dwell in a box of decorations for 11 months each year. Jesus came to dwell with us! He came to live with us and in us 24/7/365.

Jesus came to dwell with you in your mornings, in your commute to work, and throughout the day when you scarcely have time to think of him.

Jesus came to dwell with you in your quiet moments of reflection, in your moments of stress or pain, and when life is full and blessed.

Jesus came to make his home in your heart, not in your attic! Will you invite him to do so?

Pastor Brian Coffey

Friday, Dec. 27

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The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  – Luke 2:20

I have read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke just about every Christmas I can remember for the last 20+ years, but I don’t think that I have ever really noticed the significance of this verse before.  The part of this verse that had escaped my attention is really just a single word – it is the word “returned”.  

Luke tells us that the shepherds returned, returned where?  After visiting the Christ child and spreading the news about him the shepherds returned to being shepherds.  They simply went back to the only life they knew, a life of tending sheep.  They were shepherds before they met Christ, and apparently they remained shepherds after they met him as well.  They didn’t write bestsellers about their angelic vision.  They didn’t go on the first century talk show circuit and become rich and famous, in fact we don’t know any of their names or even how many of them there were.  They simply returned to the hills around the Judean countryside and faded into history.  

These shepherds did return to their ordinary lives, but there was something different about them.  Notice that Luke tells us these shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God.”  They may have remained shepherds, but they were not the same!  Their lives had been radically altered by the encounter they had with Christ.  Those two simple words, praising & glorifying, signify a radical shift in their lives. There is no greater evidence of a transformed life than that it is lived in praise to God and focused on his glory.  

Most of us (although we would not admit it) are focused on our own glory.  We are consumed with ourselves, our desires, our concerns, our happiness (or lack of it), our future, our past, our dreams, our fears, etc.  It is a sad and lonely existence to live for your own happiness and your own glory.  To live for yourself is, in the words of Ecclesiastes, “a chasing after the wind” you can never quite catch it.  The amazing paradox of the gospel message is that when you surrender your life to Christ and live for his glory and for the good of others, you find that your own life has meaning and joy in the process!  The radical change that took place in the lives of those common shepherds, and in the heart of everyone who is transformed by the gospel, is that they were liberated from the tyranny of self!

C.S. Lewis called this concept the principle of First Things, he said, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first….Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.”  But C.S. Lewis was merely echoing the Master’s teaching: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

There are many who will tell you that the promise of the gospel is a transformed life, they are right!  But that transformation is not necessarily a change in your career, or your material wealth, or your earthly security.  It is a transformation of your heart!  When you come to Christ it is entirely likely that you will stay in the same job, the same bank account, the same marriage, the same town, and the same network of friendships, but you will not be the same!

I don’t know about you, but I find it oddly comforting to know that while these shepherds stayed shepherds, their lives were given in praise to God and concerned primarily with his glory!  The simple point is that you do not have to change careers to glorify God.  You do not have to move to the city, or the country or Africa, or anywhere else to live a life for his glory.  You simply have to dedicate the life you are already in to him!  Your everyday, ordinary, common existence can be for the glory of God!

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, Dec. 26

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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them,  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. - Luke 2:8-11

At first reading, it might seem curious that the shepherds were apparently comfortable outside in the dark night, but they were afraid when the light came.  Of course being shepherds they would have been used to spending nights outdoors with the sheep, so it is not so surprising that they were not afraid of the dark.  But why were they afraid of the light?

This was obviously no ordinary light.  This was the light of heaven and the glory of the Lord that was shining down on them.  I think many of us tend to imagine this scene as something kind of like a lovely renaissance painting; beautiful golden beams coming down out of the night sky and attractive angels with flowing hair descending with serene smiles on their faces (maybe it is just me that pictures that).  This is clearly not the scene in that field outside of Bethlehem that night.  When the text says that the glory of the Lord shone around them, the implication is that it would have been an absolutely overwhelming sight.  It would have been terrifying to say the least. I am sure that for a brief moment before the angel spoke to them, those shepherds thought that they were done for.  This, by the way, is how people respond to the light of heaven pretty much throughout the entire Bible.

In Isaiah ch. 6, Isaiah gets a vision of the glory of the Lord, and he responds with these words; “Woe to me!” I cried.  “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa. 6:5)

Exodus 34 tells the story of how Moses saw just a glimpse of the glory of God on Mt Sinai and afterward his face was so radiant that the Israelites were afraid to look at him.  Just the reflection of the Lord’s glory was too frightening to them!

In Luke ch. 5, Peter encounters the glory of God in person (Jesus Christ) and this is his response, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,  “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Why do we respond this way?  Why should the glory of God make us afraid and want to hide?  Simply put, it is because we are sinful.  This goes all the way back to Genesis chapter 3.  Adam & Eve experienced the glory and presence of God in the garden every day, yet they were not afraid and they did not hide.  Until one day when everything changed.  Once sin entered their lives, they had something to hide and a reason to be afraid of the Light. 

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  - John 3:20

Which one of us would not squirm a bit if all of the darkest thoughts we have had over the last 24 hours were somehow texted to 50 of our close friends and family members?

This is not a very popular concept in our culture and it is not preached in many churches today.  We want to skip over this part and go straight to the part where the angels say they have brought  “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  But to skip over this is to miss the whole point of the gospel message.  In his book Telling the Truth; The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, author Frederich Buechner writes, “The gospel is bad news before it is good news.  It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart.”  Buechner is right.  Without the recognition and acceptance of the bad news, there can be no good news.

Remember the words of that wonderful old hymn Amazing Grace
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.

Somehow the shepherds out in those fields got this - do you?
Has the light of Christ shoe into your heart?  Have you felt the holy fear that comes from recognizing how unfit and unworthy you are?  Grace will never truly be amazing to you until you do.

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, Dec. 25

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And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, 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 Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”   - Luke 2:8-15
I don't know what the angels look like. Scripture does not give us precise descriptions of what angels look like. The best description we have of the appearance of angels says that they are like young men dressed in white garments. Those were the angels that appeared outside of the tomb of Jesus at the resurrection.   For these shepherds in Luke 2, an angel suddenly appeared out of the darkness of the night.  Around him shone the radiance of glory, as the glory of the Lord shone round about the shepherds.  And as the King James Version puts it, "they were sore afraid."

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11 NIV)

Thus the birth of God's long-awaited redeemer was introduced to a darkened, weary, and exhausted world. History tells us that the time of our Lord's birth was indeed a time of weariness and widespread despair among men and among the nations of the earth. 

It is striking that the human emotion that was first encountered by the angelic messenger was that of fear. Men were afraid in that day. They were afraid of many things, as they are today. There was Herod the Great on the throne. Herod was cruel, and he had personally put to death many, even in his own family, because of their antagonism to his plans. There were the Romans, with their proud legions, marching up and down across the face of the earth, exacting taxes, demanding worship of Caesar as Lord, holding everything and everyone under the iron will of Rome. Many wars broke out and the economy was uncertain. The people were afraid.

Perhaps the most striking thing to us about this story is that we can so easily put ourselves back into that situation of fear, for by far the dominant mood of the hour today is that of fear.

The third verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" says,
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Every Christmas season we remind each other that it is not enough for Christ to have been born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. What really counts is Christ being born in the human heart. Your Bethlehem is when Christ came to you and was born in your heart. What a remarkable truth that Jesus can be born in us as certainly as he was born in Bethlehem. Therefore, to us, the angel stands to make his welcome announcement: "Fear not. Fear not, for unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, Dec. 24

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“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.”   - Luke 2:8-9

No Christmas program is complete without its little band of gunnysack shepherds. Frightened by the angel’s sudden appearance, they marvel at the good news from the angel and rush to Bethlehem to see the Savior-King. As they return to their flocks, they praise God and tell all who will listen about the birth of the chosen Child.  They finish spreading the good tidings, leave the stage, and we hardly give them another thought.

In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. Only Luke mentions them.

Some shepherds earned their poor reputations, but others became victims of a cruel stereotype. The religious leaders maligned the shepherd’s good name; rabbis banned pasturing sheep and goats in Israel, except on desert plains.

The Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law, also reflects this prejudice, referring to shepherds in belittling terms. One passage describes them as “incompetent”; another says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit.  There are also documents indicating that shepherds were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses.  Jewish Rabbinic writings indicate that even to buy wool, milk or a lamb from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.

Into this social context of religious snobbery and class prejudice, God’s Son stepped forth. How surprising and significant that Father God handpicked lowly, unpretentious shepherds to first hear the joyous news: “It’s a boy, and He’s the Messiah!”   What an affront to the religious leaders who were so conspicuously absent from the divine mailing list!

Why did the announcement come to them at all? Why not to priests and kings? Who were they that they should be eyewitnesses of God’s glory and receive history’s greatest birth announcement?  I have to admit that if it were left up to me, I would probably have chosen a different group to be the very first recipients of this message.  I might have even sent the angels to Rome, to the very palace of Caesar himself.  I mean from the world’s perspective, who better to carry message of a Savior to the entire world than the ruler of the most powerful nation in that world?  

But that is not how God chose to do things.  In fact, God has never operated according to the conventions of human wisdom.  The Apostle Paul makes this point clear in 1 Corinthians when he wrote, But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  - 1 Corinthians 1:27

The message of God sending His son into the world to save hopeless sinners is not to be accepted or rejected on the basis of the social status of those who proclaim it!  You cannot be coerced or manipulated into trusting in Jesus, because the power of the gospel is not in the strength of the messenger, but in the transforming grace of the message!

Jeff Frazier

Monday, Dec. 23

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Christmas is almost here!  For many little children in our culture, this means a growing anticipation and excitement.  For many adults, this brings a sense of panic about all of the shopping and wrapping and mailing still left to do.  For still others, the fact that Christmas is almost here brings a sense of relief that the craziness will soon be over for another year.  But for those of us who call ourselves Christians, for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, how are we to respond to the approach of Christmas?

What is the right Christian response to Christmas?  What should characterize the way we observe this holiday?  Is it the spirit of giving?  An emphasis on peace and goodwill toward men?  Joy and mirth? (I know I could have just said happiness, but I like the sound of the word mirth)  All of these responses are good, but they are not necessarily unique to Christians.  Of course not everyone ion our culture stops to reflect on the importance of peace, joy, and generosity at Christmas time - but some folks do.  What is the truly Christian response to Christmas?

I think the truly Christian element of Christmas, and the missing element of the Christmas celebrations in our culture is Worship.  This was the distinguishing mark of everyone who first encountered the Christ child.

The Angels worshipped - And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  - Luke 2:13-14

The Shepherds worshipped - And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.  - Luke 2:20

The Magi worshipped - And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  - Matthew 2:11

Mary Worshipped - And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  - Luke1:46-47

Zechariah worshipped - And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.  - Luke 1:67-68

Simeon worshipped - he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.  Luke 2:28-30

There is nothing wrong with putting up decorations, wrapping presents, hanging lights, exchanging gifts, and singing “Jingle Bells” at Christmas time...but apart from worship, all of these things are utterly empty and inadequate responses to the reality of our Savior’s Birth!  The first priority in all of our celebrating should be worship, everything else should flow out of our hearts of adoration and praise to Jesus.  Worship is not merely going to religious ceremonies, or singing religious Christmas carols, it is an attitude of the heart. 

This Christmas, let us all resolve not to let the cultural consumer monstrosity of this season rob us of our ability to worship Jesus.  

Let’s worship like the shepherds - who dropped everything to attend to Christ’s birth.

Let’s worship like the Magi - who gave extravagant gifts to the King.

Let’s worship like Mary - who treasured and pondered the glory of Christ.

Let’s worship like Simeon - who blessed God for giving the world a Savior.

In the words of the hymn  we sing this time each year...O Come Let Us Adore Him!

Jeff Frazier

Friday, December 20

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Colossians 1:27
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Christmas is about hope.

Children hope that Christmas morning will bring them all the toys and games on their Christmas lists.

Parents hope to find at least some of those items still left on the picked-over shelves of local stores.

Families hope that travel plans work out for college kids to come home, for grandparents to visit, and for everyone to get along!

But hope goes a lot deeper than wishes for a nice holiday!

Someone once wrote,

“Human beings can live forty days without food, about four days without water; four minutes without air; but we can’t live 4 seconds without hope.”

I would argue that part of what makes human beings unique among all the creatures of the earth is the capacity to hope. All human beings hope; we all hope in or for something. The only question is where do we place our hope?

I can place my hope for happiness in winning the lottery, but I will very likely be disappointed. (I read the other day that there is a greater chance of being killed by a vending machine than winning most lottery games!)

I can invest my hope in science finding a way to extend human life indefinitely. But I will face disappointment again because, to date, the human mortality rate is still100%.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul describes hope:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

By the phrase “hope of glory” Paul is talking about ultimate hope, the hope of eternal life promised in and through Jesus Christ.

He’s talking about the hope that Peter describes in these words:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you...(1 Peter 1:3-4)

This is the hope of the gospel. This is the hope of Christmas. And this is a hope that will not disappoint!

Paul summarizes what we have been talking about all week in this beautiful paragraph in Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)

If you read carefully, it’s all there. Everything we most want and need is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.





Whatever else is under your tree on Christmas day; whatever brightly wrapped gifts you give or receive; remember that, in Christ, you already have everything you could want and everything you need.

Lord Jesus,

Thank you for giving us both what we want and what we most need. Help us to recognize and receive your love, your joy, your peace and your hope; and enable us to share these gifts with those we love.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, December 19

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Luke 2:10-14
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

In many ways Christmas is anything but peaceful! There is decorating to do; shopping to get done; crowds to fight through to do the shopping; parties to attend; special events at school and church; cards to mail; and on and on it goes! The whole month of December can seem like an unending blur of activity!

In a similar way Jesus’ birth did not come at a particularly peaceful time. Israel was occupied by the armies of the Roman Empire and Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that levied a new tax on the Jewish people. This decree required every family to register in the town of their birth. So Mary and Joseph were not traveling the 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem voluntarily, rather, they were being forced to do so by the power of the pagan Emperor. Mary was 9 months pregnant and expecting to deliver a child at any moment. The roads and inns were filled with unhappy travelers and, like it or not, the baby was going to come whether or not they found a place to stay the night. It was not a peaceful time.

Yet, in the midst of this terribly unsettled and unsettling time, we read:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

What kind of “peace” is this?

The quiet of night is shattered by the voices of 10,000 angelic creatures; the darkness split by the glory of God; their lives are changed forever and what message comes to the shepherds? 

...peace to men on whom his favor rests...

See it?

This is not peace as in “visualize world peace”; the bumper sticker I still see on occasion. This is not the peacefulness we feel when the kids are all healthy and there’s money in the bank. This is not the peace that comes when the storm is over.

This is a peace that is ours when the world has gone mad; when it’s our son or daughter who is in the hospital; this is peace in the midst of the storm. For this is a peace found not in the circumstances of our lives, but in the favor of God.

What is the favor of God?

The favor of God is what the angels announce as “good news”; and the good news is that a Savior has been born.

The favor of God is a child wrapped up snug in an animal’s feeding trough. The favor of God is Jesus.

Centuries before his birth, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Of the peace that Jesus brings, the Apostle Paul would write:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

In Jesus we can have peace with the past through the forgiveness of sin.

In Jesus we have peace about the future through the promise of eternal life.

In Jesus we have peace in the present because he guards our hearts and minds through his Spirit.

Jesus is the favor of God who brings peace.

Lord Jesus,

We are a weary and anxious people in need of your peace. We carry burdens of regret from our past; we worry about a future we can’t control; we are frazzled by the hectic pace of our day to day lives. Remind us again this Christmas of your favor, your peace and your rest.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, December 18

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Luke 2:10-11
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Like you, I suspect, I love this time of year. Yes, it’s busy; yes, it’s too commercialized; yes, there are too many goofy  “Christmas Specials” on T.V.; but I still love this time of year!

I love the traditional songs and carols; I love the lights and most of the decorations; I like the cards we get in the mail; and I especially like the challenge of choosing gifts for the people I love that will produce joy.

After all, joy is the whole point of gift-giving isn’t it? 

I think my love for Christmas began in my childhood. Although my parents didn’t have great resources they always found ways to make Christmas a magical and joyful time for us through the gifts they gave.

One of the gifts that still stands out to me over 40 years later was a toy called “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots.” It was a plastic boxing ring, probably 10 inches square, with two plastic “robots” in the center of the ring, one red and the other blue. Each robot was controlled by a plastic handle outside the ring with two buttons, each controlling one of the robot’s arms. You could maneuver your robot to the right and to the left and then press one of the buttons to deliver a punch to the other robot. When you hit just the right place on the opposing robot’s chin, his head would fly up with a distinct buzzing sound that signaled the round was over.

It was great toy for young boys! We played it almost non stop until we had knocked the heads off so many times that they wouldn’t stay down any longer. Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots lasted about three days.

There are two lessons to be learned from “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots”; first, Christmas is about joy; and second, we tend to misidentify the source of joy.

We have a tendency to locate our joy in material things. If we just had a new car, or a bigger house, or the latest piece of technology, then we would be happy. 

We have a tendency to locate our joy in activities. We take vacations to Disney World; we go to amusement parks; we  attend movies and sporting events to be entertained; to have fun.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having material things or in pursuing fun and entertaining activities; they just don’t produce real joy. The joy, fun and happiness created by material things or activities is temporary; it ends when the car breaks down or the trip to Disney World ends.

But the story of Christ’s birth is about a different kind of joy. 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

The “good news of great joy” is not about something you can buy in a store; it’s not about an entertaining or fun activity; it’s about a person.

That person, of course, is Jesus.

His birth is “good news of great joy” because, the angels say, he is both Savior and Lord.
As Savior he rescues us from the consequences of our own sin.

As Lord he has the authority to grant eternal life.

But notice two small words that are easy to miss. The angels say, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you...”

To you!

With these two small words God writes your name on the tag attached to his great gift!
To the shepherds it meant that God had not forgotten them. It meant that they, even they, were included in his great good news of salvation!

To you it means whatever else is happening in your life right now; whatever burdens you carry from the past; whatever you fear about the future; God has not forgotten you! God has come to you, for you, in the person of Jesus; and he has come to bring joy.

Just as my joy as a child was anchored not in the “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em” toy but in the love of my Mom and Dad who gave the gift; so also our joy is anchored not in the things we have or the activities we pursue, but in the God who gave us the greatest gift...the gift of himself.

Lord Jesus,
We look for joy in so many things and so many activities that produce temporary fun and happiness but  leave our hearts yearning for more. May we know the truest and deepest joy that comes from knowing you as Savior and Lord.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Tuesday, December 17

To listen to the audio version, click here.

1 John 4:9
This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Like many people I take a few minutes on most days to scan the local newspaper. But I don’t just look for stories about what’s happening in my community or in the world; I look for news I can use. I’ve learned that if I pay attention, the daily news will give me plenty of material for preaching and teaching illustrations! This week I was not disappointed.

Just this morning I saw an article with the title:

“Wisconsin company offers cuddling for a price.”

Now, when you see something like that you just have to read the story, don’t you?

The article went on describe a business in Madison, Wisconsin, called “The Snuggle House,” that offers customers an hour cuddling and hugging with “professional snugglers” for $60. 

I laughed out loud! But then I went on to read that city officials are concerned “The Snuggle House” is a front for illicit activity and are investigating the owner about a number of possible violations.

While the article made me snicker, I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Human beings are created with a need for love and will do almost anything, including paying a total stranger for a hug, just to feel loved. The problem is, of course, that what we often settle for is not love at all, but something far less.

John defines the love of God expressed in Christ like this:

This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

So, according to John, what is love and how do we know we are loved?

Simply put, John is saying that love is sacrifice.

You know you are loved when someone puts your well being ahead of their own. You know you are loved when someone is willing to sacrifice their good on behalf of your good. You know you are loved when someone is willing to lay down their life that you might live.

Love is not a professional “snuggler.”

Love is not what you feel when you see an attractive member of the opposite sex.

Love is not what you feel about chocolate chip cookies.

Love is a powerful emotion; but it is also more than a powerful emotion. Love is an action; love is a decision; love is pursuit; love is a willingness to sacrifice.

Love is what you feel when you know that someone would sacrifice their time, their wealth, their status; their    comfort; and even their life for your well-being.

The Bible says that’s what God did in sending Jesus into the world. In Jesus God pursued you in love; in Jesus God gave himself for you; in Jesus God sacrificed his own life that you may live.

Therefore, you are loved. 

Let me say that again: you are loved!

Whatever you think of yourself; whatever you would change about yourself; whatever you are ashamed of about yourself; whatever love you have or have not received from the significant others in your life; know this: you are loved now; you have always been loved; and you will always be loved.

In Jesus God has made it very clear how he feels about you.

Lord Jesus,
We all so desperately want and need love. So often we settle for that which is not love; or we look to people for the love we can only receive from you. Help us to know and experience the depth of your great love for us. Amen.

Pastor Brian Coffey