What are your hopes tonight? What are those things you most want? Who are the people you miss, those you desire to see, to be in the presence of or perhaps the one you desire to love?
What are your fears tonight? What were they as a child, as a young adult, or what do you think your fears will be in the future?
We all have hopes and fears. I know, you might think this is an odd question on Christmas Eve, but wouldn’t it make sense to face the negative in the midst of an even greater “positive?” This is the most “positive” time of the year! If ever there was a time appropriate to face our fears and to gain more hope, this is it!
The Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehemwas written by Phillip Brooks in 1867, two years after he had visited the Holy Land and had ridden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865 to participate in a five hour service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem!
The hymn has not merely endured through the years, but it has come to be one of the most favorite of all of the hymns of this season. The words Brooks wrote so vividly describe the city of the Saviors birth.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” We can even imagine the six-foot-six-inch Brooks descending from the hillsides on horseback into the town with only candles and fires for illumination. The stars slid across the night sky in the matching silence that was evident in the town.
Yet the imagination of Phillip Brooks is all too evident in the first stanza of this beloved song: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
There it is again, “the hopes and fears.” It isn’t merely the hopes and fears we each have with us tonight, it is the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Brooks understood the majesty of the gift given at the point in time which literally split time in half: the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Living water, the Bread of life and the Light of the world—it is this Jesus, our Messiah who provided the everlasting light within the dark streets of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
The Creator of all which exists, the Lord of this Universe came as a baby, was placed in a feeding trough in the midst of livestock. He will never come to this world again in such a helpless and vulnerable state. The angels told the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”
His mother was carried to Bethlehem on a donkey, but when Jesus the Messiah returns it will be on a white horse and He will destroy those who oppose Him through His Word—have you ever wondered why the Bible refers to itself as the sword of Truth!
Think now of all of our hopes and fears—indeed, think of all of the hopes and fears of all time, from people everywhere! Every single hope is made real in the person of Jesus Christ! Hope isn’t a mere idea, it is a person. We hope, we trust, we know what will happen, not just because this is what we want, but because it is promised in the person of our Lord!
In the face, in the midst of such incredible hope, how can any fear yet remain? What fear can stand in the brightness of an “everlasting Light?” You’re afraid of darkness? He is the Light of this world! You fear fire? He is living water, quenching heat, thirst and dryness of the body and the soul.
Are you afraid of hungering for something you cannot have? He is the bread of life which satisfies every spiritual hunger which often motivates our physical ones. Fear lack and financial ruin? He tells us of mansions He is building in Heaven, how our treasure is there, and no moth or rust can ever destroy it!
We celebrate the greatest valentine ever given on Christmas Day! Because God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to give us the ability to live eternally with Him!
Just as the gifts under the tree are no good until they are taken and opened, until they are used, until the change how we live, and then those gifts which make the most difference, we never cease to give thanks to the one who gave them!
Tonight, we come to prepare our hearts for the greatest gift ever given. Unlike the gifts under the tree, this gift will remake all who accept it. It will never grow old, never wear out, and it will always amaze those who have it. Its power split time in half, it changes us from orphans to adopted sons and daughters. And there is nothing we as humans can ever get another which will give us life everlasting like the gift the Father has given to this world.
There are those who find this thought silly, even unsophisticated. Yet in this is a sad truth: Those who have this gift, know; those who do not have it, do not know.
One of those phrases which are said far too often and almost flippantly, are believers, Christians, are “to be in the world but not of the world.” Usually it is a teacher or someone who is attempting to make a point through the use of this phrase, but no real, concrete explanation is ever given which would give meaning to the aphorism.
The listener is somewhat perplexed and unsure how to alter their behavior, so they can then avoid being “of the world.” I’m sure, in many instances, the frustration builds, and no attempt is made to alter their life. Thoughts of finding some kind of camouflage may even immediately be considered to avoid being detected . . . .by anyone!
While this saying usually sounds so much wiser than the wisdom actually imparted, the Apostle Paul, in the letter to the Romans, wrote to them saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2 ESV).
The saying, “being in but not of the world,” is not in the Bible, but the principle is. The Apostle Paul, after spending eleven chapters informing the church in Rome of God’s plan, of how God chose people to be His in spite of the fact every single person had rejected Him and had chosen to worship the inferiority of creation rather than Him; He made a decision to choose some of us anyway.
Paul then demonstrated how on our own, no one would be able to come to Him through His Son. He then gave the example of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah—and how God will stillsave a remnant who will accept His Messiah Jesus. Then Paul concludes by telling the Roman Christians they should, as an act of worship, “present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” which is their natural, spiritual worship response as a saved, redeemed people.
Okay, so far so good. Yet just as the saying of “we’re in the world but not of the world” sounds really cool in concept, how exactly does this occur? Paul doesn’t hesitate, but quickly adds the way, the mechanics which will allow this to occur: through “the renewal of our minds.”
When computers first started to become the ubiquitous necessity they are now, there was an aphorism that was immediately recognizable and understood: “Garbage in, garbage out!” If you enter bad data, you will never—and have no hope of ever—get good data from the computer.
Paul understood this was true of people as well. We are created beings and the One who created us knows how we are made and what is needed for us to function well. While Paul is writing to Christians, this principle is true of all of humanity. If you eat junk food, if you consume violent or risqué media, do not be shocked when the cigarettes you smoke make you wheeze, the donuts keep you from seeing your toes and the media you allow in your mind affects your ability to think clearly and function normally.
One other note: the Greek word translated as conformed gives us the ability to understand this conformity with the world that literally “fashions us together with” the world so we cannot be separated from it. This is the same idea in camouflage. Regardless of who you are, you have made the choice to “blend in” so well, you cannot and will not be distinguishable from your surroundings.
So, let’s return to our confusing little homily: “in the world yet not of the world.” As believers in Jesus Christ, as those who Paul says have been “recreated” by the Spirit, we are literally “no longer of this world.” Just as a diver must wear an air tank, a mask and flippers to propel him through the water and to keep him alive, believers must breath faith, consume God’s Word, and we must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians are to be different. “Different” does not mean weird! Different means we exist through our faith, we are sustained by God’s Word and we find our energy, our power through the Holy Spirit. As we use our faith, consume God’s Word and live by the Spirit’s power, we will find our conformity will be to Jesus Christ. Paul even said this clearly that every believer is “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
We are “in” not “of.” The only way we can exist “in” is for us to “look like” Jesus Christ—literally, for people to “see Jesus,” when they see us.
Now that’s some great camouflage!
Are All Imaginations Created Equal?
Why is it some people are so much more “imaginative” than others? Why do we value people with imagination? Is imagination a learned behavior or a developed one? Can “concrete” thinkers have great imaginations or does this belong only to those who are more “abstract” in their thinking?
Maybe the question should be, “Does God give imagination as a gift?”
If you take the time to do a search of “Where does imagination come from/originate?” you will find a plethora of information ranging from opinion to scientific study. Though, admittedly, even many in the science community communicate the elusive nature of the origin of one’s imagination.
Regarding the well-being and progress of humanity, we owe much to men and women over the years who have shared their “imaginings” with the rest of us. Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone, Isaac Newton the Laws of Gravity, and The Eagles gave us one of the most recognizable guitar riffs at the beginning of their hit song, Life in the Fast Lane!
Well, there was the guy who gave us the Pet Rock of the late 1970’s.
I used to wonder what kind of mind thought of putting a rock in a wooden cage, selling it for seven bucks and calling it a pet.
Oh! Wait! Maybe he was related to the guy who shared “Gopher Eggs” with the people of the world!
People without imagination only saw a golf ball sitting in green, Easter-basket grass; some guy figured out non-imaginative people would actually buy them—even if for a prank joke!
Yet I believe God encourages believers to exercise their imaginations as well. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the churches in the city of Rome, asks his readers to imagine what it will be like when those God has chosen recognize the Messiah Jesus for who He truly is!
Paul, referencing his fellow Israelites God chose through their founder Abraham, makes this statement about the Jews: “Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring” (Romans 11:12 HCSB)!
Here is Paul’s point: The Jews rejected Jesus during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago and the vast majority of them have rejected Him since—yet all of humanity has also rejected Messiah Jesus! Yet Rabbi Paul was reminding his readers about the prophecy of the Old Testament—The Torah—that prophesied the Gentiles (everyone not a Jew) and the Israelites as a group will eventually accept who Messiah Jesus is!
So, Paul is telling his readers, “The rejection of Messiah Jesus by the Jewish people has caused me to tell those who are not Jews about Messiah Jesus!” The result means Gentiles, non-Jews, can now enjoy a relationship with God because of the rejection by the Jews.
Paul could have been bitter. He could have even been vindictive. Instead Paul pointed out the obvious. Gentiles are now being saved, being brought into a relationship with Messiah Jesus! But wait! Can you imagine this? If people are now being brought into a relationship with God because the Jewish people rejected Messiah Jesus, can you even imagine what will happen to humanity when the Jews accept Messiah Jesus as the Old Testament prophets affirm?
Paul continues in this passage it will mean “life from the dead” and blessings beyond imagination on all of those who recognize Messiah Jesus! There will come a day where the Middle East will not be a source and central location of human strife. There is coming a day when government corruption will be unknown, justice and integrity will reign supreme and the earth will be healed ecologically!
If God, through His grace given to humanity, can allow our dysfunctional selves to light homes and cool them, to have cars, phones, and anti-biotics, can we ever imagine a day when war is no more, when death is not proud and where justice and righteousness is du jour and de facto?
Imagination is indeed a “good” thing. Yet the right kind of imagination requires a mind made new by God.