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Christmas Eve

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Celebrating our first Christmas in our new building, we had three Christmas Eve services yesterday!

The morning service, at our usual 10:00 time, was especially for kids,  Instead of candles, we placed out glowsticks and bells.  There was the traditional Moravian love feast of cocoa and sweet rolls - and this time we served it in the cafe area afterward.  The place was packed, and we had a joyous time.

At 5:00 was our traditional candlelight service, spreading candlelight while singing "Shine, Jesus, Shine."  This service also ended with cocoa and sweet rolls.

This year we added an 11:00 pm service and ushered in Christmas Day with Communion together.

The music in the 5:00 and 11:00 services was completely different.  Beautiful flute playing was added to the instruments at the late service.

But the Scripture reading and message in the final two services was the same.  I didn't take notes, so it was good I heard it twice - I'd forgotten after hearing it the first time!

The Scripture reading was in Matthew 2 about the wise men.  Pastor Ed gave us four lessons we can learn from the wise men:

1.  God's gift is for all people.

The Magi were foreigners, probably from Persia.

2.  We know about God because He has revealed Himself to us.

Whatever the star was, it came from God.  We don't know about God because we're so clever.  God inserted Himself into the human story by becoming a one of us, beginning as a helpless baby.

3.  This world is a messy place.

This world is the sort of place where babies are slaughtered.

4.  God didn't clean up all the world's mess with the coming of Jesus.

This is something Christians have to explain.  Why aren't all things better now, if God reached out to the world?

Jesus taught more about "the kingdom of God" than any other topic.  But he said that his kingdom was "not of this world" - not of this age.  The world is going to change in "the age to come," and Jesus will restore all things "at the end of the ages."

However, Jesus also said that "the kingdom of God is within you."  So we have seeds of that future kingdom of God in our hearts, because Jesus came and gave us His Holy Spirit.

And that is a reason for Joy and Hope at Christmastime!

Posted by Sondy Eklund with

"It's a Boy!" The Birth of Jesus - What It Means and How It Happened - Third Sunday of Advent

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Today was the third Sunday of Advent, and Pastor Ed Allen again preached about the meaning of the Christmas story and how we can trust that it's true.

The message began with a testimony from Kevin Baugh.  We'll post that separately on this blog.

Today we looked at the story of the Magi in Matthew 2.  Lots of mythology has sprung up around the "three kings," but we looked at Matthew's account, and Pastor Ed again listed 5 reasons why we can believe it:

1)  Old Testament prophecy suggested something like this.

2)  The first witnesses believed it.

3)  Their students faithfully carried it to the next century.

4)  It's consistent with the rest of Jesus' life.

5)  Secular details are confirming of it.

Today we looked at the second reason, about the first witnesses.  And asked:  So where do these accounts come from if not from the legitimate recollections of early followers?

We looked at some alternative explanations:

1)  Maybe Mary was crazy or delusional.  But there's no evidence for this.  And to believe it, you'd be replacing one made-up story with another.

2)  Maybe Matthew and Luke were crazy or delusional.  There's also no evidence for this and it doesn't fit with their writing.

3)  Maybe Matthew didn't write the biography that bears his name, or at least the birth narrative part.

Some scholars think that Matthew 2 and the end of Matthew 1 were written much later, because chapter 3 begins with "In those days, John the Baptist came..."  But no ancient documents have been found with the birth narrative missing, and there is also a striking similarity in the language, so there's no textual reason to believe it's a different author.

4)  Maybe the account comes from a huge store of mythology surrounding Jesus' life and ministry.

The trouble with that is that it takes mythology at least a hundred years to solidify into something believed.  But the stories of Jesus' birth were written only 40 to 80 years after his death - when people who actually knew him were still living.

Best explanation:  These birth stories actually happened and Matthew believed it.

*If you miss everything else, don't miss this:

All of this matters because the Christian belief makes truth claims.  It is based on historical events.

Christianity is unlike any other faith in this.

Christianity is belief in a set of historical events that changed everything.

Jesus was physically... biologically... literally the Son of God.

In the writings of Jesus' life, you can see the progression of his followers' beliefs about him.

Almost immediately, they saw him as a prophet and a great teacher.  When he started doing miracles, they asked, "Is this the Messiah?"  They began to think of him as the unique Son of God.

When Jesus calmed the storm, there was a turning point.  They were terrified and asked, "What kind of man is this?  Even the wind and waves obey him!"  Jesus was in a totally different category from anyone else.  Their utter confusion gave way to wonder and awe.

After Jesus' death, when Thomas saw the nail holes in the risen Christ, he declared, "My Lord and my God!"

Then their lives were utterly transformed.  They gave worship to Jesus, as any self-respecting Jew would only give to Yahweh.

An illustration from C. S. Lewis is that the Trinity is like understanding another dimension.  In one dimension, we have a line.  In two dimensions, we have a square.  In three dimensions, we have a cube.  A cube is something utterly different from a square, yet it is also six squares combined in a new way.

On the human level, it's hard to understand, but God is three personalities combined in a new way.  The early followers believed that Jesus was fully man and fully God.

Some encouragements for this Christmas season:

For those who doubt:

Don't just doubt.  Also doubt your doubts.  Test everything, including your doubts.

Don't stop seeking.  It's worth it!

For those who believe:

Do acknowledge that there are things beyond my understanding.

God wrote Himself into our story.

We finished the service sharing Communion together.

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