If you want to know God, you need to know Jesus, who is near to the Father’s heart. And we know Jesus by reading Scripture. Listen to, or watch, this message based on John 1.15-18.
Facebook Live feed (no account necessary):
The great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse once told a story about seeing a cartoon that illustrated (then – over 50 years ago!) what North American society looked like. The cartoon depicted a couple having an argument with each other. The caption read, essentially, “You are not content with trying to keep up with the Joneses. You want to be the Joneses with whom everyone else is trying to keep up.”
At this time of year, purveyors of everything from toys to vacations are attempting to convince you that you need more…that if you really loved your kids, you’d give them more…that if you want to show your appreciation to someone, you’ll give her or him more.
As Gary Chapman reminds us in The Five Love Languages, some people express their love through gift-giving. But let’s remember that it’s not the only way to communicate our love for another. Sometimes, the gift of time is what the other really wants, and needs.
Those same purveyors of everything will likewise attempt to convince you that, while buying for others, you should buy for yourself, too, because, after all, you deserve it. You’ve fought the crowds in the malls; you’ve dodged several other cars and avoided accidents; you’ve attended every compulsory Christmas gathering. You deserve something.
There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while, to be sure. But don’t be sucked in by advertisers’ encouragements to accumulate more.
Followers of Jesus are enjoined throughout the Scriptures to be content, to be satisfied with what we have. Those who want to keep up with the Joneses, or to be the Joneses, would say that enough is “just a little bit more.” But we who have Jesus know that what we have in him is sufficient.
“Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’” (Hebrews 13.5, NLT).
There are memes-a-plenty on the Internet around this time of year, especially as we approach December 6, which is the Feast of St. Nicholas – the day when St. Nicholas is celebrated in many churches. While we have translated St. Nicholas into “Santa Claus” with his trips down the world’s chimneys, leaving of gifts, and eating of sundry snacks left behind by enthusiastic children, the real St. Nicholas did more than give gifts. He helped keep young women from being enslaved to men, for one thing, and he also was an ardent defender of biblical Christianity. This is seen in one key way.
He defended the faith against Arianism, the notion that Jesus is subordinate to the Father. In the early church, when theological issues arose, a council of the church’s greatest leaders was called to debate, discern, and ensure that the church was remaining faithful to the truth as set out in Scripture. Thus, in Nicholas’ time, with Arianism holding sway over the church, the leadership (in the name of Emperor Constantine) called a council, which met in Nicaea, a place in what is now Turkey. It was called the Council of Nicaea, and one of the principal doctrines it tackled was the very idea of whether Jesus was subordinate to the Father, or was equal to the Father.
At issue was one little Greek word: homoousios. Or was it homoiousios? That was the question. The word homoousios means “of the same substance”, while homoiousios means “of a similar substance”. To make a long story short, the church affirmed that the Son was homoousios with the Father – of the same substance. Anyone, like the Arians, who believed that the Son was homoiousios – of a similar substance – was deemed heretical and in need of correction.
That’s why, today, we have the English idiom, when two things are the same, that they differ “not by one iota”. Iota is the Greek letter that we call “i”. The only difference between doctrinal truth and error, on the issue of the substance of the Son of God, is one iota, between homoousios and homoiousios.
It doesn’t take much to be off significantly in doctrine. And while this might seem like ‘angels dancing on the head of a pin’, it actually is a very important issue for the church, because if Jesus were only of similar substance to the Father, he was not technically God, and therefore could not atone for our sins perfectly. If Jesus isn’t God, in other words, we’re still dead in our sins. And that wouldn’t be good news.
It’s amazing what one letter can do.
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1.15, NLT).
This weekend brings the beginning of the season of Advent, a time when God’s people prepare themselves – in every way – for the birth of his Son. It’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world, that spends its time preparing for Christmas by shopping ‘til they drop.
For some, it is a very elaborate preparation: there are special services, candles to be lit, prayers to be said, both at church and at home. For others, it is a very simple preparation: extra time spent in prayer, spiritually and emotionally getting ready to mark what followers of Jesus have been marking for over 2000 years.
This dichotomy is well expressed in one location. If you’ve never been to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I recommend you go at least once. Upon arrival, you’ll see a very small door that opens into a large nave, at the front of which are some very elaborate decorations, common to the tradition that regularly worships in that building. Underneath the front section of that worship space, one descends a small, narrow staircase into a grotto – a cave – where one can touch what is believed to be the very place where the birth of Jesus happened.
There’s a lot of bling on top, but at the very root of Jesus’ birthplace is rock. Above the elaborate is simplicity.
You can have one, you can have the other, you can even have both – but whether your Advent is simple or elaborate, celebrate. Get ready. The birth of Jesus is nothing if not world-changing. That deserves our attention, and our devotion.
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem,
a firm and tested stone.
It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken’” (Isaiah 28.16, NLT).