Following Jesus

We are days away from the first of fourteen Christmas Eve services. It seems just yesterday we started talking about Christmas, but it was actually early October when we began to put the details on marker boards in conference rooms.  

And now it’s here.  

I wish I could explain the experience of having a “nudge” in October about what the church needs during the Christmas season to now, just a few days away, watching it all unfold. It turns out the church needed just four words: hope, joy, peace, and love.

Our world seems completely insane at this moment. We are more divided as a country than at any other time I have experienced in my life. The poor choices of men through the years are catching up with them as sexual harassment is ruining careers, marriages, and their images.

The political environment is tense. Democrats and Republicans are refusing to work together for what is truly best for the citizens of the country. Even when one side proposes something good, the other side quickly declares it to be bad.  And explanations on both sides need not be true; someone just says whatever it takes to win.

MG 12.21 Pic Option1.jpg

When Jesus was born, He came into a political environment that makes ours look like child’s play. I have to admit that I’ve ignored a certain biblical text that is very much a part of the story of Jesus’ birth. It is found in Matthew 2:13-18. After the visit of the wise men, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream. The angel says, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child and kill him.”  

There’s our first clue that things in the world at that time were really messed up.

Joseph did as the Angel told him and they stayed in Egypt. Herod finds out he has been duped and he orders the murder of every boy, from infant to two years old, in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Imagine hearing of a small community near your home where someone makes sure every boy up to two years old is ripped from the arms of his parents and murdered. This very act was predicted in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah (31:15). It is a chilling verse:

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.

In my 37 years with the church, I’ve never had the courage to spend a Sunday morning in this story. I’ve read it and quickly moved on. Who wants to stop and ponder the murder of every child in a town?

Can you imagine if Jesus were living His adult life today in your town? Can you imagine the pressure He would be getting to “fix” our country? Yet Jesus did not spend time scheming governmental change.  He did say His “kingdom was not of this world.”  He did say “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  

When a crowd of people showed up to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are told they arrived with swords and clubs.  Jesus asked a question: “am I leading a rebellion, that you have to come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” In other words, He was not trying to take over the government, as rotten as it was. The political leaders were terrified because Jesus had a large following. They felt threatened. They assumed Jesus would ultimately use this large following to turn on the government.

That was never His plan. The large crowd following Him was doing so because they heard about a God who loved them.  They saw a man have compassion on those who were deemed unworthy of anything good.  He spent time with crooks, the poor, the rich, the high-and-mighty, and the down-and-out. He welcomed women. He prayed for sick people and they got well.  He refused the trappings of power, prestige, or wealth.  He lived simply.  

People followed Jesus because they had never seen anyone like Him. People followed Jesus because He did things that could only be done by God. There was no other logical or rational explanation.  People followed Jesus and told others about Jesus because He brought love and value to every person. He forgave sinners. And He died on a cross to be the last blood sacrifice ever needed for sin. The debt was paid.

There are people who wonder why I’m not more vocal about politics. I encourage people to vote, but that’s it. It just seems to me that the world will get better when followers of Christ decide to live out what we claim to believe. The world will get better when we forgive like Jesus forgave us. The world will get better when Christ followers show the solution to racial tension by "loving others like Jesus loved us.”  The world will get better when Christ followers empty the children’s shelters and foster or adopt.  The world will get better when Christ followers “sell land or houses” and put the money at the apostles feet so needs can be met in the church and community.

The world dramatically changes if we who call ourselves Christians will just do what they were doing in Acts 2 and 4, and 5, and 6--you get the point:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This coming weekend, the people of Crossings are going to dish out a bucket full of hope, joy, peace, and love. Our mission statement says it quite well:

Crossings Community Church is a Christ-centered church committed to live by faith, be a voice of hope, and be known by love.

This Christmas season brings the privilege of letting the world see Jesus working in and through those who claim to follow Him.  As we talk about hope, joy, peace, and love, let’s do more than just talk. Let’s be intentional about leaving a little hope, joy, peace, and love wherever we find ourselves in the coming days.

I pray that what we say we believe will be obvious in how we live.