Thursday, December 18, 2014

There Will Be No End

Good grief!  I was such a blockhead...

I remember my first Christmas as a married man.  We were visiting my parents.  I was walking in the pasture with my dad and brother, and we came across a little grove of cedar trees.  I said, “It would be really cool if we could cut down one of these for our apartment.”  So we did.  I came walking back to the house dragging our first Christmas tree.  How awesome was I?  We didn’t spend a dime for that tree, and it was much more special than anything we could’ve gotten from one of those Christmas tree lots.  But when we got the tree into our apartment in Houston, it looked awfully small.  It wouldn’t even hold most of our ornaments.  My sweet young wife didn’t say anything, but the first time one of my friends saw it, he said, “You got Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree!” 

I think a lot of us get suckered in by Christmas every year.  This is the year I’m going to buy the perfect gift for the people I love.  They’ll open it, and their face will light up, and I’ll know that they love me now more than ever before.  This is the year my long-lost loved one will come home.  This is the year we’ll be able to get through dinner without arguing.  In fact, we’ll apologize to each other and hug it out. Our Christmas songs, movies and commercials all make us think it’s possible, because magical stuff is supposed to happen at Christmas.  I get that Red Ryder BB gun, or luxury car with a big red bow on it.  My lousy miser uncle becomes a new man and shows up for Christmas dinner in a good mood.  My redneck cousin kidnaps my boss, and instead of arresting me, the boss gives me a bonus big enough for me to install a pool.  Like Charlie Brown, we think this will finally be the year we kick the football, but every year, Christmas pulls that ball away from us, and we end up flat on our backs.  The post-Christmas blues are a terrible thing.  The season is over, work starts again tomorrow, and you’re surrounded by dirty dishes, gifts that need exchanging, and unpaid bills.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

During this Advent season, we’ve been looking at Isaiah 9, a passage that’s familiar to us from Christmas cards and carols.  It promised that a King was coming; a very different kind of King who would change the world forever.  We looked at vv. 1-5, which told us about the world we live in, and why we need this King.   Last Sunday, we looked at v. 6, which told us what kind of King He is.  And v. 7 tells us His agenda; this is what the King will accomplish.  This Sunday, four days before Christmas, we'll take a look at something that doesn’t disappoint.  We’re not trusting in some magical, mystical “Christmas spirit.”  We’re trusting in the King who was born that first Christmas.  We'll talk about what He is accomplishing in the world since His birth.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Name Above All Names

When I was in college, one of my roommates was a huge music fan.  He had hundreds of vinyl records (the only proper way to listen to music, in his opinion), and his brain was a treasure trove of rock and roll information.  One day, he discovered a song by a band he had never heard of.  It was a melancholy song about the girl who got away.  He bought the song and played it often.  When someone would come to our room, he would say, “Have you heard this? You need to hear it.” Then he would play it again. He said, “I feel like a born-again Christian.  I just can’t stop telling people about this song.”  I was the only one in that dorm room who would have called himself a born-again Christian, so at first I thought he was making fun of me.  But then I realized; his dad had been an irreligious man who had, just a few years before, met Jesus and been totally transformed.  Now he was a preacher.  So my roommate knew what being born again looked like, even if it hadn’t happened to him. The happy ending of that story is that my friend did indeed eventually come to know Jesus in a personal way, and is today an outstanding follower of the Lord.  But here is the point of that story: Years later, when Carrie and I were expecting our first child, we had already decided on the name if it was a boy.  William Carey was the name of a great hero of mine, an English preacher who was the father of the modern missionary movement.  Besides, William is my brother’s name, and Carey is a name I just like (for some random reason).  But we couldn’t agree on a girl’s name.  I brought up that song that my college roommate had liked so much.  The name of the girl in the song was Kayleigh.  Carrie liked that; Kay and Lee are both family names in her family.  So we had names for both genders, and God gave us the opportunity to use both.  

If you have kids, perhaps you have stories of where their names come from.  In our culture, we name kids after relatives, after celebrities, and after fictional characters.  Some names are chosen because we like the way they sound.  And some names seem to be formed from a losing hand of Scrabble.  But in biblical times, names always meant something.  They revealed character.  A parent would name a child based on his hopes for that child, or what he was feeling when they were born.  If the child’s character turned out to be different from his name, they would change the name to fit his character.  For instance, there was a man in 1 Samuel named Nabal, which means “fool.”  I doubt his parents gave him that name...he had to earn it.  Given all that, when God calls Himself by a particular name in Scripture, we know it’s meaningful.  He is trying to tell us something specific and important about Himself.  Isaiah 9:6 is a verse we know well from Christmas cards and Handel’s Messiah.  But what does it tell us about Jesus?  This Sunday, I'll continue our look at Isaiah 9 by walking through the four names of the Messiah.