Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Faith’s Reward: To Be Filled with God’s Steadfast Love, 2019‘
© February 10, 2019, by Steve Mickelson
Based on a Message Shared at BLCF on April 26, 2015
Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer
Opening Hymn #37: Great Is Thy Faithfulness; Choruses
Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers
Responsive Reading #665 (Love, The Greatest Thing – 1 Corinthians 13)
Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘Faith’s Reward: To Be Filled with God’s Steadfast Love’
Let us pray…
The title of this morning’s lesson is Faith’s Reward: To Be Filled with God’s Steadfast Love, describing the Christian’s assurance that the reward for faith is to be filled with a steadfast love from God.
Before we being the lesson, let us first take a brief look at the terms used in the title.
Faith is our hope, trust, and obedience to God. And most of us have some idea of the meaning of love, either having given or received love. God’s love is described as agape, which is a love given unconditionally. Jesus personified that love when he allowed himself to be crucified on the cross for the sins of the world.
But who is the giver of love? Here is what two children revealed about what God is like, while in prayer, (- from ‘Our Daily Bread’ November 15, 2012):
“Dear God, what does it mean that You are a ‘jealous’ God? I thought You had everything.”
“I didn’t think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset You made on Tuesday. That was cool.”
The Apostle John describes God as love, 1 John 4:16 (ESV):
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
John says that God is Love. In this morning’s Responsive reading, which is taken from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, and the Apostle Paul gives us an idea of what our lives would be like both with and without love.
Paul begins by describing what would God’s gifts be like without love. Since John told us that God is love, and if we accept the converse that love is an expression of God, and then the same passage gives us an understanding as we read ‘love’, we substitute ‘God’. The result would be a description of life without God: We see that without God, the speaking in tongues would be just noise. And what good would be having the gift of prophecy without God? What good would it be to possess the faith to move mountains without God? If we gave all that we had to the poor, were martyred for preaching the Gospel and did not have God to others, it would be of no value whatsoever.
While Paul gives a good description of how our existence would be like devoid of love, he continues in 1 Corinthians 13 by giving us some characteristics of love. Let us continue our exercise by again substituting God for love in this passage:
God is patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.
God does not demand His own way. He is not irritable or touchy.
God does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do Him wrong.
God is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
If you are loyal to someone no matter what the cost is an expression of God. You will always expect the best of Him, and always stand your ground defending Him.
When all the special gifts and powers someday come to an end, God goes on forever.
There are three things that remain – faith, hope, and God – and the greatest of these is God.
The two Scripture verses that we featured in the bulletin today, Exodus 3:1-15 and Acts 9:1-19, describe two men who lived sinful lives but were transformed by God’s love.
Exodus 3:1-15 (ESV): The Burning Bush
3 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord,[b] the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
Footnotes: a. Exodus 3:14 Or I am what I am, or I will be what I will be b. Exodus 3:15 The word Lord, when spelled with capital letters, stands for the divine name, YHWH, which is here connected with the verb hayah, “to be” in verse 14
The first Scripture describes the encounter between the Prophet Moses and God. Moses was born a Hebrew but raised as a prince of Egypt by his adopted mother. Moses discovered his true heritage was Hebrew. After Moses killed an Egyptian while defending a Hebrew slave, he was sent by Pharaoh into the desert to die for the crime. But God had a plan for Moses and He called to Moses from a burning bush. God answered Moses’ questions and doubts about himself by assuring Moses that He will accompany Moses, providing the words and the means to free the people of Israel from their bondage. God also indicated to Moses, that after he delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses would return to Mt. Horeb to worship the Lord.
How do we know that God loved Moses and the people of Israel? We find the answer to this question in the following passage, where the Lord describes himself, Exodus 34:6-7(ESV):
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
We see that the Lord’s description of Himself is very similar to Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13.
The second of today’s Scriptures, Acts 9:1-19, talks about the conversion of another sinner, Saul of Tarsus, a notorious persecutor of followers of Christ, who like Moses receives a Devine calling to be an instrument of the Lord.
Acts 9:1-19 (ESV): The Conversion of Saul
9 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.
Like Moses, Saul heeds the calling, and as an Apostle of the Lord describes how the love of Christ transformed him, Galatians 2:20 (ESV):
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If God is Love, how is it that we, as believers in the Resurrected Christ, are transformed? It is by the power of the Holy Spirit which is given to us as a reward for our faith, Romans 5:2-5 (ESV):
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith[a] into this grace in which we stand, and we[b] rejoice[c] in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Just as Moses and Paul were transformed into instruments of the Lord, we are gifted by God in reward for our faith, 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV):
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
By receiving God’s gifts of power, love, and self-control, we are transformed, through faith and by the power of HIS Holy Spirit into HIS instruments; expressions of God by the love we share with others. It is God’s desire that we shine as instruments of His love and His wisdom.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #39: God Is Love; His Mercy Brightens
Benediction – (Ephesians 5:2): And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘The Divine Inheritance Wrought by Humble Faith and Obedience 2019’
© January 13, 2019, by Steve Mickelson
Based on a Message shared at BLCF on February 12, 2017
Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer
Opening Hymn #318: When We Walk with the Lord; Choruses
Prayer and Tithing Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings
Responsive Reading #667 (Humility and Exaltation – Philippians 2 and Matthew 23)
Message by Steve Mickelson:
‘The Divine Inheritance Wrought by Humble Faith and Obedience’
Let us pray…
Welcome to BLCF’s Praise and Worship Service, where the lesson today, entitled: ‘The Divine Inheritance Wrought by Humble Faith and Obedience’, we will look at the account of Ruth, a woman of compassion, obedience, and faith in the face of a series of tragic events in her personal life not unlike those experienced by Job.
To understand the scale of the tragedies that Ruth experienced, let us begin by reading the first of today’s Scripture passages, found in Ruth 1:1-17 (ESV):
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Ruth’s Loyalty to Naomi
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
We have in Ruth Chapter 1, the sad and tragic account of an Ephrathite man, named Elimelech, who fled famine in his home Bethlehem in Judea, bringing his wife, Naomi, and sons, Mahlon and Chilon, into the country of Moab.
Here we have an account of a Middle Eastern family, who become refugees, as they are forced by a famine to flee their homeland, taking refuge in Moab.
The family’s troubles continue as Elimelech dies. We are not sure of how long the family had lived in Moab, before Elimelech’s death.
Naomi’s two sons marry Moabite wives; Malon weds Orpah, and Chilon weds Ruth. However, within 10 years, both of Naomi’s sons have also died.
Naomi finds herself in the unenviable circumstance of being widowed and childless in a foreign land.
Saddened by her loss, Naomi releases her two daughters-in-law from any obligation, and speaks the following (Ruth 1:8-14):
“Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
The two daughters-in-law are free to leave Naomi, but Ruth refuses to go, even after Naomi says (Ruth 1:8-14):
“See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Obviously, Ruth’s reply is a testament to her faith conversion to the same God that Naomi worships. Though Ruth no is longer obligated to care for Naomi under the law, she has assumed a moral obligation to Naomi and a makes a covenant of faith to God.
Upon returning to Judea, the lot of Naomi and Ruth is only marginally better, as Ruth is forced to live on the stubble gleamed from the fields belonging to Boaz, a relative of Naomi.
But the loyalty and faith of Ruth impress Boaz, so much so, that Boaz seeks not only to purchase the land left by Naomi’s dead son but to marry Ruth, in order to restore and perpetuate the bloodline of Elimelech, Ruth 4:1-17 (ESV):
Boaz Redeems Ruth
4 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you[a]will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth[b] the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
Ruth and Boaz Marry
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Boaz becomes a kinsman redeemer to both Naomi and Ruth. But what is meant by this term “kinsman redeemer”? For an answer, let us check with gotquestions.org:
Question: “What is a kinsman redeemer?”
Answer: The kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who, according to various laws of the Pentateuch, had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. The Hebrew term (go el) for kinsman-redeemer designates one who delivers or rescues (Genesis 48:16; Exodus 6:6) or redeems property or person (Leviticus 27:9–25, 25:47–55). The kinsman who redeems or vindicates a relative is illustrated most clearly in the book of Ruth, where the kinsman-redeemer is Boaz.
The story of Ruth and Boaz begins when Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, return to Bethlehem from Moab where they had been living. Naomi’s husband and both sons, one the husband of Ruth, had died, leaving the women penniless and without a male protector. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Naomi sends Ruth to glean in the fields of Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi to whom they, through a series of divinely appointed circumstances, appeal as their go’el. Boaz acquiesces, willingly takes Ruth as his wife, and together they bear a son named Obed who became the grandfather of David, the forefather of Jesus.
Yahweh is Israel’s Redeemer, the one who promises to defend and vindicate them. He is both Father and Deliverer (Exodus 20:2). There are numerous Old Testament appeals to God as rescuer of the weak and needy (Psalm 82:4; Daniel 6:27; Jeremiah 20:13) and preserver of the sheep of Israel (Ezekiel 34:10–12, 22).
In the New Testament, Christ is often regarded as an example of a kinsman-redeemer because, as our brother (Hebrews 2:11), He also redeems us because of our great need, one that only He can satisfy. In Ruth 3:9, we see a beautiful and poignant picture of the needy supplicant, unable to rescue herself, requesting of the kinsman-redeemer that he cover her with his protection, redeem her, and make her his wife. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ bought us for Himself, out of the curse, out of our destitution; made us His own beloved bride; and blessed us for all generations. He is the true kinsman-redeemer of all who call on Him in faith.
It could be argued that Ruth, a Moabite woman, married a member of God’s Chosen People, the people of Israel, and under the law having lost her husband, her father, and her birthright, under the law. And while she no longer had a legal obligation to continue to care for Naomi, her compassion and faith led her to work as a humble scavenger in the fields to provide for Naomi.
Naomi’s faith in God contributed to Naomi’s faith decision, which impressed Boaz so much that he chose to marry Ruth and become her kinsman redeemer by marrying her. The son of Ruth and Boaz becomes the heir to Elimelech’s estate as his birthright. Naomi has her lineage restored.
Perhaps the most important lesson from Ruth is the reward for her faith and loyalty. She is rewarded with the blessing of a son named Obed, who will become the father of Jesse and grandfather of David, and from whose lineage is born our Lord, Jesus.
In the same manner, Jesus has decided to become our kinsmen redeemer from the judgment of sin and by accepting the Lord’s gift, we are joined together as brothers and sisters in Christ, Hebrews 2:11 (ESV):
11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have are one. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #503: Jesus Calls Us; o’er the Tumult
Benediction – Ephesians 1:3-4 (Spiritual Blessings in Christ):
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Brrr… Extreme Cold in the Heart of Toronto
January 2019 marks the eleventh anniversary of BLCF hosting a community dinner, serving the homeless and marginalized in the heart of Toronto at the BLCF Cafe.
And with the advent of bitterly cold weather, Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship is asking for donations of socks, gloves, scarves, and toques for our homeless and marginalized guests in the heart of Toronto at the BLCF Cafe Community Dinner.
Donations may be brought to the BLCF Cafe Community Dinner, (Wednesdays between 6 and 8 PM). To arrange delivery at a different time, contact Sophie by email: email@example.com or call BLCF at 416-535-9578.
Not a bread line, food bank or soup kitchen, BLCF Café has been serving wholesome dinners to upwards of 150 of Toronto’s homeless every Wednesday evening since January 2008. Individual and groups of volunteers are welcome.
BLCF Cafe/BLCF Church, 1307 Bloor Street West, one block west of Lansdowne Avenue. Help bring some warmth to those in need.
Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Jesus: The Anticipated and Unexpected Gift from God’
© December 30, 2018, by Steve Mickelson
Announcements & Call to Worship; Prayer
Opening Hymn # 115: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers
Responsive Reading #615: Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2)
Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘Jesus: The Anticipated and Unexpected Gift from God’
Let us pray…
Welcome to Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church’s Sunday Praise and Worship Service for the last Sunday of 2019. Next Sunday, we will herald in the new year 2010 and with it a new decade.
As often happens towards the end of a year, we reflect upon the past year and anticipate what the future year may bring us. Looking back over these events, it is not unusual to reflect on both the joys and challenges of the previous year but to contrast them with those of previous years.
Last week, believers in the Resurrected Christ, celebrated the birth of our Lord on what we might consider that first Christmas Day, some 2,000 years ago. Though the birth of Jesus was not marked by a mass per se, visitors did come to the Lord’s birthplace to worship the Christ Child, some bringing gifts to celebrate the newborn King of kings.
And annually, the birthday of Jesus is celebrated with worship, song, visitation and sharing gifts and fellowship with others. At BLCF, we celebrate Christmas both on Sunday and Wednesday.
Looking back on past Christmases, I recalled one particular Christmas that resonates with our lesson today, ‘Jesus: The Anticipated and Unexpected Gift from God.’
It was Christmas 1959. I was just eight years old. I remember for the Mickelson family living in San Antonio, Texas celebrating Christmas had its challenges. My younger sister, Rhona had suffered a traumatic spinal injury two years previously leaving her paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. Though dad had a job in the US Air Force, stationed at a local base, many of the medical treatments and medications for Rhona were neither covered nor available to military dependents. The costs to the family meant that there were not a lot of surplus funds in the family budget to pay for decorations or gifts at Christmas. Still, the family made due.
To help pay the bills, Dad took additional work after his daytime job, working as a public information officer with the Air Force during the day, he would work delivering newspapers and as a journalist by night. Somehow, dad managed to get by with little sleep or no sleep for six days of the week.
When Christmas Eve came around, our mom and dad would go to the local farmer’s market late in the evening, just as the stalls selling Christmas trees were closing on. Mom would negotiate the best price on a tree, which had little or no value as it would otherwise be destined to go to the dumpster at the closing time.
This is when it seemed like some Christmas magic would take place in the Mickelson home. My sisters and I would have gone to bed, and my parents would get to work decorating the tree with lights, ornaments, and popcorn on a string. Stocking would be hung, filled with mandarin oranges, apples, new socks, and some candy canes or chocolates.
Since we had financial constraints, mom initiated a Secret Santa gift exchange. Sometime in early December, family members would put their name on a piece of paper, which would be folded and placed in a bowl. We would each draw a name from the bowl, selecting whom we would buy a gift as a Secret Santa. Mom had saved up for the entire year to provide each of us with $5.00 to spend on a gift for the selected family member.
On that particular year, I had drawn my name from the bowl, which normally meant drawing another name and placing my name back in the bowl. However, I told my parents that since I had drawn my name I insisted that I should be allowed to buy a Christmas present for myself. I was surprised when they agreed to my request.
That Saturday we embarked to the Las Palmas plaza. I made a beeline to Neisner’s Store with a $5.00 bill in my wallet to purchase a gift for myself. I ended up buying myself a Lone Ranger cap gun with holster. The set considered by many today as politically incorrect was at the time the rage among young boys at the time. When we arrived home, I wrapped my present, so it could be placed under the tree on Christmas Eve. But as Christmas Day approached, I was saddened by the fact that unlike the rest of the family, I knew what my Secret Santa gift was. There was no mystery or surprise in my gift which removed any joy of anticipation for me.
Christmas morning arrived and the family opened their only gift from a Secret Santa, with much excitement and anticipation, except for me, there was no mystery or Secret Santa as I already knew what was under the tree. That Christmas Day I learned some valuable lessons about the sharing of gifts on Christmas Day, particularly the joy of giving over receiving and excitement of anticipating the arrival of a Christmas gift given in a loving, selfless manner.
Our lesson today contains some parallels to my life lesson. While the Jews had anticipated the arrival of s Messiah sent by God, no one knew day or time the Christ would arrive. Even the mother of the Messiah was initially unaware that she was chosen by God to give birth to him, Luke 1:26-35 (ESV):
Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[a] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[b] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[c]
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be called holy—the Son of God.
Footnotes: a. Luke 1:27 That is, legally pledged to be married b.Luke 1:28 Some manuscripts add Blessed are you among women! C. Luke 1:34 Greek since I do not know a man e. Luke 1:35 Some manuscripts add of you
Not only was Mary unaware of her selection to be the mother of the Christ, but she was also surprised that she would conceive her child as a virgin.
Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed, had similar concerns to the news of her pregnancy, but his fears were allayed by the visit of an angel, Matthew 1:18-24 (ESV):
The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,
Footnotes: a. Matthew 1:18 Some manuscripts of the Christ b. Matthew 1:18 That is, legally pledged to be married
While it seems that Mary and Joseph may have been aware of the arrival of a Christ or Messiah for the People of Israel, it appears that neither knew that God would choose a woman betrothed to a carpenter as parents to raise His Christ child. The lord had to send His angels them the important place they would have in fulfilling His plan.
We know that there were also Magi or Wise Men, though not Jews, they were aware that God had placed signs in the heavens, so they followed a star to Bethlehem, where the Christ was to be born, Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV):
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 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. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The Flight to Egypt
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
We see that the Wise Men, the chief priests, scribes, and King Herod were aware of the prophecy of God sending a Christ, the wise men sought him in the palace of the king in Jerusalem and Herod was uncertain as to where to find the Messiah.
The chief priests and scribes indicated that Scriptures indicated that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem.
King Herod plotted to kill the Christ child, asking the Wise Men to return to him with the location of the baby’s birth. But warned in a dream, the Wise Men returned to their homeland by another way, not telling Herod about the child.
Joseph was warned in a dream as well, by an angel of the Lord of Herod’s plan, and fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt until receiving word of the king’s death.
As we read through the New Testament, we see that many of the Jews, including the disciples, had not anticipated the reason why God sent His only Son, Jesus nor in what manner Jesus would eventually redeem humanity for the sins that they had committed and was facing a judgment of death, John 3:16-17 (ESV):
For God So Loved the World
16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Footnotes: a. John 3:16 Or For this is how God loved the world
The first Christmas marks the arrival of a much anticipated Messiah, but the manner of how, when, and where God executed His plan and promise of salvation through His only Son, revealed events that were unexpected, filled with mystery, wonder, and joy. This is the message of Christmas being blessed with His most precious gift to all who have faith.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #410: O What a Wonderful, Wonderful Day
Benediction – (2 Corinthians 13:14):
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.