Encouragement From The Word

God is with us…are we with God?

My preaching series this Advent season has centred around this pivotal verse from the Bible:

Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel, 
    which means ‘God is with us.’

(Matthew 1.23, NLT)

And as the season of Advent wraps up with our celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we do well to be reminded that in the birth of Jesus, we know that God really is with us.

The question that remains is this:  are we with God?

Often, in English parlance, when we say that someone is “with God”, that usually means the person is dead.  You know, “Great Aunt Hortense is with God” is a spiritualized equivalent of the idiom, “She’s pushin’ up daisies.”  She’s deceased.  She ain’t comin’ down for breakfast.

But I’d like us to think of being “with God” in a different light.

We take great comfort in the belief that in Christ, God became human and really is with us.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God lives in and through all followers of Jesus.

The challenge comes in our response:  God is with us, but are we with him?

We can give nodding acceptance to the notion that God is with us in Christ.  We like it; it’s like a warm blanket.

But if we do nothing about it, is it really all that comforting?

If we’re honest, most church-going people are quite content to think about this in a very universal way:  “God with us” means “God with everybody”, which in turn means “Everybody’s going to heaven.”  Trouble is, Scripture is pretty clear that this is not the case.

Yes, Jesus came for all.  “God so loved the world,” said Jesus in the famous John 3.16.

But Jesus’ coming really only matters for those who respond:  “…that everyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life” – that’s how the famous verse concludes.  Everyone who believes in him.  

And those who believe in him do so in practical ways, starting with active faith:  “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10.9-10, NLT).

God is with us in Jesus; that’s what Christmas is all about.  It is through active faith that we are with God.

So when you attend Christmas services, come with faith.  Come with your heart; that’s what Jesus really wants.  He came so that we could be with God.

(If you’re looking for Christmas worship opportunities, you’re welcome at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Christmas Eve at 7:00 p.m. and on Christmas Day at 10:00 a.m.

Merry Christmas!  God is with us…let’s make sure, by faith, we are with God.

Biblical Messages

God with us…in the beginning

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from John 1.1-14 in which we learn that while God is with us in the challenging seasons of life, he is also with us all the time, because he was with us in the beginning – from the beginning of time. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas…

We are just completing the first week of the season of Advent.  Advent is a word that means “coming”, and is a four-week time of preparation for the birth of Jesus.  

Among all the traditional Christian ‘seasons’, it was the last to be adopted (even though it’s the first in the Christian calendar).  And originally, like Lent, it was a season of penitence, where people often engaged in physical deprivation as part of their spiritual preparation for the birth of the Saviour.

Nowadays, even the church has transformed Advent into a season of anticipation and joy, perhaps in an attempt to keep up with the secular season of “Christmas” that begins at various times, depending on what store you’re visiting.  (In Costco, it tends to be late September; in some other places, after Hallowe’en; and in others, after Remembrance Day.  The retail side of Christmas still beats out Advent every time, chronologically.

Happily, though, the church has not transformed the season into complete compliance with the world; secularism can have its mountains of presents, but the church still has the greatest gift of all to offer in Jesus Christ.  After all, he is what Christmas is all about.  I saw an unusual post on social media the other day that illustrated this.  It was what I would call an “Orthodox meme”:  it was a meme, in the sense that it was an image that had text around it; and it was Orthodox, in that the image that was at the centre of the meme was an eastern Orthodox icon, depicting the incarnation!  Its message was this:

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas.
Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

Whatever you do to celebrate this season of preparation and celebration leading up to the nativity, put Jesus at the centre of it.  He’s not just part of the story of Christmas; Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

Central to our anticipation of his birth is this truth, prophesied in the Old Testament and proclaimed in the New:  

Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel, 
    which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1.23, NLT).

No matter what you are going through – and this is a tough season for many – God is with us in Jesus Christ.  That’s what it’s all about.