Christmas Thanksgiving – December 25, 2022 (379-380/365)

Well, we’re finally here. The week before Christmas. I have my team to thank for their patience in waiting for what we need done on Christmas Sunday, and for their initiative to handle things as the event approaches and happens.

And in respect to them, as well as the people who will be attending the service, I’m preparing for my own words to share to them – starting here. I’m writing now to plot what thoughts I’m wanting to be present in my own brain at the time, just so through these days leading to Sunday, they marinade and develop. They’d be in designated, dedicated areas in my brain, developing before they’re released on the 25th.

Unless anyone else would volunteer I’m going to be leading the congregation in observing Holy Communion, and I will be presenting my thoughts, especially considering that some people, myself included, may not understand why we would remember Christ’s death on the day we celebrate His birth.

Considering the congregation present is not composed fully of folks who hear me exhort on Holy Communion every Sunday, I would tell everyone in attendance of what’s generally on my mind:

When we eat the bread, we remember His body. Through His body lain down He not only took our sin but in one of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians we read that He BECAME our sin. We also learn from his epistle to the Romans that the wages of sin is death. He saved us by becoming our all our sin and taking all the death that we deserved.

When we drink the wine/grape juice, we remember His blood. By His blood we have not only been made clean, but we have been proclaimed righteous, and not only have we been righteous for a season, but as Christ is our righteousness, and as Christ lives forever, so we are righteous, now and forever. And since we have been made so righteous through the blood of Christ, we are not only able to see God, but we can always run to His throne of grace; He is with us, and we are with Him, now and forever.

Christ’s purpose was to die for us, so we would be saved from our sins, and so we would be reconciled to God. And here’s where I’d be pulling up Matthew 1:18-23, where the Angel of the Lord proclaimed that the Child that Mary would bear shall be named Jesus, and Immanuel.

When we eat the bread, we remember our Savior, who would be called Jesus, for by the body He would lay down, He would save His people from their sins.

When we drink the wine, we remember our Savior, who would be called Immanuel, for by the blood He shed, He would reconcile us to God, fully and forever.

What a beautiful revelation, for which we give thanks to God, and celebrate.

Last November I spoke on the importance of thanksgiving, and how natural it is or ought to be for us in the body of Christ. Paul spells it out in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus.

We settled how it may be difficult for us to rejoice all the time. We settled how it may be difficult for us to find the words to pray. But we also came to a conclusion, that when we give thanks, we’re automatically rejoicing, and we’re automatically praying. If you have trouble rejoicing, give thanks. If you can’t find the words to pray, give thanks. If you’re trying too hard to figure out God’s will for you at any given moment… remember that you are in Christ Jesus. Give thanks.

And if anyone came to hear just that message, know that in Christ, we will always have more reasons to give thanks, than to complain. 

And there are three things I want to express my thanks for in this time allotted to me for the Christmas Service.

When I was way younger I used to stress out at Holy Week, and relax during the Christmas Holidays. Holy Week meant go to church more than 4 times a week, kissing crucifixes, walking around in circles to observe the stations of the cross, and waiting on your parents because one or both of them were waiting to share on the 7 last words of Christ. ‘Good Friday’ was not good for me at all. To top it all off there nothing to watch on TV, especially if you didn’t have cable (unless you enjoy the Ten Commandments).

Christmas, on the other hand, meant cold almost winterish weather, Christmas Ham with pineapple glaze, no classes for an extended period of time, Lessons and Carols, my brother possibly coming home from the USA. To top it all off it’s in these Holidays that Mom and Dad tell us to save money so they’d double it on Christmas Day. And it didn’t matter what was on TV because you were too busy playing with your toys and buying more stuff.

Nowadays, ever since we’ve redirected our ministry based on the Gospel of Grace, I get more excited during Holy Week because it opens doors and opportunities for us to celebrate the ultimate proof of God’s everlasting love for us, as expressed through Christ and His finished work. The worship team would finally break out the songs they’ve been excited to sing to remember the love of God as expressed in Christ’s crucifixion, and to celebrate the glory of our Savior in His resurrection.

On the other hand, Christmas? Well, on top of what I mentioned – me, being more excited about Holy Week – all the childhood magic just disappeared. Nowadays Christmas means heavy traffic, delayed deliveries for gifts you ordered online, and last minute shopping for food and gifts because the other gifts didn’t make it on time; It means having your social battery drained from attending reunions and parties, and it means your tummy exploding from all the pasta and cake.

I give thanks, because through Christ continually walking with me and us as we navigate through changes in the way we think, we’re reminded of reasons for Christmas beneath the surface. I think I see it in passages like Luke 2:8-12:

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

I give thanks for Christmas – for it is through this season that we are brought to remember the peace we have in Christ. Once, we lived, moved, and had our being in sin – and being doomed to die, fear was coded into our system defaults. We see it in how we once thought of preserving ourselves without caring for others. We saw it in how we gave ourselves more credit that we ought to in our achievements.

And apparently, even when presented with the manifest glory of God, we, like the shepherds, would tremble with fear.

Here’s the thing – We oft tell people that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, but what was the reason for Jesus? Well, look no further than the words the angel of the Lord said to the shepherds – ‘Fear not.’

It was at the cross, that His perfect love was poured in.

But it was as early as at the manger, that our fear was cast out.

Luke 2:13-14 continues: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Friends, I am thankful for Christmas. I am thankful for this season, for it’s where we’re ironically reminded – in the midst of the last minute business transactions and the holiday anxiety, we can have peace – and it is truly a peace that goes beyond understanding, because it is a peace that tells us, that no matter what happens, we have no reason to keep on fearing.

Glory to God in the highest, indeed.

I give thanks for our late Senior Pastor Oscar. While he was still alive, we would also celebrate because he was also born on the 25th of December.

And speaking of peace, the last time we celebrated in the main sanctuary of our church, he walked out on us, enraged because the gates to the complex were still locked when he arrived. Eventually the gates were opened and our good Pastor was convinced to come back to continue the celebrations; the anger was prevalent for a time, but it was the peace and joy that eventually outlasted it all. It turned out to be a fun afternoon, and a fun night.

I could try to list down the many things I’ve learned from Pastor O, and you can bet that it would be a very long list of items. But today, on his birthday, of all days, I would like to point out one of the verses that stuck to him as he kept pointing out to us, during the final years and months we enjoyed his physical presence:

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 20:24

Some of the Pastors in attendance will remember that Pastor Oscar was not always a man who was sold out on grace. I remember myself, how he was standing on a solid foundation of doctrine, where grace was merely a chapter in the rest of the book. I point this out only to show how the Lord has been so faithful to the man, because it didn’t take anyone else’s words, but I believe it was the power of the Holy Spirit, working in and through him, that brought him to testify to the centrality of Christ and His finished work.

Pastor Oscar’s passing was difficult enough, but to add to it we’ve had to endure it through the pandemic. And now that things have been easing out, we, as pastors, are presented with a challenge: Shall we step up, now that face to face is back?

I know our answers, but I would like to point out that the confidence we have as we take on a brand new world and a brand new reality, has its solid foundation on what we have seen – that is, if God has been faithful to Pastor Oscar throughout all his life and beyond, so surely shall He be faithful to us, unto the unknown.

What a faithful God have we, indeed.

Now at the beginning of the year some of us proclaimed that 2022 was going to be a year of breakthroughs, or a year of peace. I believe we were all in the same boat, because I personally proclaimed that 2022 would be the year my people would be overwhelmed by God and His love for us – and indeed, we have been overwhelmed.

Yes, we have been overwhelmed, by way of peace – peace that has been proclaimed unto us, peace that we remember in this Holiday Season. We have been overwhelmed by a peace beyond understanding.

Yes, we have been overwhelmed, by way of faithfulness – faithfulness we have seen, faithfulness that we have seen and faithfulness we continue to enjoy, as we remember Pastor Oscar.

What do our other leaders have to be thankful for?

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