Christmas

The Coming of Christ

By Kristi Sullins

On that night so long ago the angels were charged with proclaiming the miracle of Christ’s birth. He had finally come, the Messiah sent for all mankind. It was the end of the wait, but for everything else, it was just the beginning.

Christ is the beginning of hope, bringing the possibility of a life more abundant than anything we can think. He is the promise of security in the middle of chaos, and strength to journey through any season of life.

He is the beginning of peace. For those who belong to Christ, we have been promised a peace that passes all understanding. That peace finds its beginning and ending with Jesus.

Christ is the beginning of joy for all those who believe. True joy is found in Him, and cannot be shaken by the things of this world. It is His joy that is our strength and our song. It is a joy that survives the changes and struggles of life because it is founded in the One who loves us.

He is the beginning of love, sent from the Father Himself. Love comes from God. His love for us is unwavering, indescribable and undeserved, and the proof of this love was first found in the manger.

The beginning of hope, peace, joy and love is life changing. For the followers of Christ in the Bible, it was compelling enough for them to change the way they worshiped and believed. They changed tradition, which caused many to be rejected by family and friends. Persecution was real for followers of Christ, but what He brought them was worth any struggle.

Christ and His love were too life changing to ignore.

We have that same new beginning. Christ offers us the same hope, peace, joy and love, based on who He is and not on what we deserve. The promises of Advent don’t have to be packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations but are meant to encompass our current days. Those who are followers of Christ are called to face the future without fear, and the celebration of Advent is meant to remind us that there is no need to fear because the good news proclaimed by the angel in the book of Luke is still the same.

Are you looking towards the coming year with the anticipation of a fresh start and new beginnings or do you feel anchored in the past with its poor choices and scars?  No matter where you find yourself, it is important to remember that the news of the angel, on that holy night, was a message of good news for all people. Christ, our Messiah, has come to set us free, and to give us a hope and future, our new beginning.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.

Disappointment and the Holidays

By Karen Polich

The holiday season is like a magnifying glass to disappointment and struggle. It starts before Thanksgiving and builds into Christmas. Challenges that may have been before us all year long become intensified. Deep loss and the grief that follows shakes us to our core. While we may be prepared for a setback here and there, the long-term disappointments that linger for months and years often knock us off our feet.

Pastor Michael M. Cook examined a part of the Christmas story that shows us what it is like to live in disappointment while remaining deeply faithful to God. Listen to the podcast here. Zechariah and Elizabeth spent most of their lives not expecting a child. Yet, their hearts desired to be parents. To add insult to injury, in their culture, it would be seen as disgraceful to not have a child. They were deeply faithful but deeply disappointed. Read Luke 1:5-25.

Zechariah was fulfilling his duties as a priest when the angel came to him. He was a disappointed man lighting incense for a disappointed people. His story of disappointment mirrored the story of God’s people. They had been waiting a long time for God to fulfill His promise of a Messiah. Zechariah and Elizabeth were intertwined with Joseph and Mary. Their story is part of the Christmas story and the story of God’s redemptive plan.

One of the magnificent marks of maturity is the ability to move forward in your faith in disappointing seasons of life. – Michael M. Cook

God is present. He is there in the times of joy and He is there in the disappointment and struggle. Are you swimming in grief? God is right there with you. Can’t see beyond the darkness? God is with you. Stuck where you don’t want to be? God is there.

What do we need to keep faith through disappointment? Time and trust. Time can allow us to see things from a different perspective. While God may or may not reveal the answer to our “Why?”, He will help us see Him more clearly and will build our character through the agony and pain. Disappointment doesn’t mean ultimate defeat. Often we think God has checked out of the situation, but in truth, we have checked out. Trust is the key.

The rare capacity of trusting God while in the midst of struggle is crucial.

When we are in a place we don’t want to be in, we have a choice to trust Him, or turn from Him. When we choose to trust with faith, we are staying in the fray and letting God do His work.

Remain steadfast. God is at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coming of Joy

By Kristi Sullins

Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year. People decorate their homes with bright lights and beautiful trees. There is special time spent baking fun treats, and wrapping packages. School lets out, time is spent with family and new memories are made. It’s just easier to feel joy at Christmas.

On the night of Christ’s birth so long ago none of those things were there. The stable was not adorned with festive colors, or filled with beautiful trees. There were no special treat or gifts. Family was far away in Nazareth. What was there, on that silent night, was joy.

The shepherds, tending their flocks in the field that night, were not concerned about joy. That all changed when an angel came to proclaim the good news. The Messiah had come as promised. Luke 2:10 tells us that proclamation was one of great joy and for all people. The shepherds rushed to find the one God had sent to be the Savior of the world. After seeing Him in the manger they were so full of joy, they told all they saw what had happened.

The wise men, in a land far away, saw the star in the sky. This star matched the prophecies they had studied for so long. Their journey to follow the star was long. It kept them from family and friends. They dealt with a deceptive king, and still they searched. When they came to the home marked by the star they found joy. It was joy in the Messiah, the promised one who had finally come. Their joy led to worship because He who had been sought for so long was now with them.

Strangely, the heavens, themselves, declared the joy of God as the angels filled the sky in worship. Why would God rejoice? In His omniscience, He knew what Christ would face. God knew that the celebration of Christ’s birth would be brief. A mad ruler would hunt him, forcing the family to flee into Egypt. He would live a very modest life. His brothers and sisters would not believe in Him. The ministry time on earth would be full of struggle, opposition and doubters. He would have a close group of disciples, but even those men would deny, doubt and deceive. Ultimately, the one who lay in that manger would hang on a cross, choosing to die for all. Our human understanding would tell us that heaven should have mourned, but for God, the time to rejoice had come. It was time to rejoice because soon He would no longer be separated from His people because of their sin. Soon there would no longer be a need for the sacrifice of animals because His Son had come to be the ultimate sacrifice. Soon the high priest would no longer be needed to stand between man and God. The Great High Priest had come, and He would bridge the gap between God and Man.

Christ, the Lord, had chosen to willingly come so that all who believed would be saved. His advent brought great joy!

Thanks be to God that the reason for joy did not end on that night because the promise of advent did not end. Isaac Watts penned a powerful reminder of advent in 1719. He was a student of the Word, and was drawn to the promise given to all believers of the coming of the King. Joy to the World was published as a hymn, an anthem for the church to claim the promise of advent, but it was never meant to be a Christmas carol. Watts pulled his inspiration from Psalm 98, and the promise of the King that would return for His people. He was not proclaiming the birth of Christ, but the return of the Messiah. Watts was calling for all to prepare their hearts for the return of the one who had already been. He proclaimed Joy to all the World because our King is yet to come. Our advent is not over. We, who choose to believe, wait and watch like the wise men, full of joy and hope because the return of the Messiah has been promised. Our joy does not rest in a miracle of the past, but in the certain promise of our future. We wait with joy, watch with joy and prepare our hearts with joy for the King WILL come.

Joy to the world, the Lord IS come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room

What Child is This?

By Karen Polich

Everything hinges on the SAVIOR who has been given to us. – Michael M. Cook

 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:11-14

Why do we need a savior? What do we need to be saved from? Is it a life that hasn’t gone according to plan? Is it despair? Is a life that is “fine”, immune from the need? No. Christmas has one purpose and the Savior matters for one reason.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, was born for reconciliation to a Holy God. Christ reconciles our sin, returning us to God in full measure.

Christ, Messiah, Lord, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Anointed One

Pastor Michael Cook completed his Song and Savior sermon series by outlining three important parts of Christ’s identity. Listen to the podcast here.

  1. He is God’s King. He is the anointed one. Christ isn’t King of this world today, but He will be. Revelation 20
  2. He is the Great High Priest. Only one mediator can bridge the gap to God once and for all. Jesus. The only answer. He gives us final and glorious access to God. Jesus “ripped the veil” upon His ascension.
  3. He is the Great Prophet. All of God’s messengers were anointed by God. Jesus is the Lord (not the lord). Christ is divine and has the complete authority of Yahweh, the Great I Am.

There is no Christianity without trusting Jesus as Lord of your life. Believe in Him and find peace. Spiritual peace that surpasses understanding and the troubles of this world.

Our primary purpose as believers is to give glory to God. – Michael M. Cook

Christmas is about a child and you’ll know Him when you meet Him. The day you know Him is a glorious day!

What Child is this? Have you met Him? Do you know Him?

Song and Savior – Announcement

By Karen Polich

Pastor Michael Cook’s Song and Savior sermon message focused on the ultimate announcement. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:11 Listen to the podcast here.

Luke 2:11 sums up the concept of Christmas. It is the high point of all redemptive history.

Christ is born. Everything else is secondary in the story.

Major stories are shared. People of influence are usually the first to know. Yet, who did God choose to share the story? Shepherds were God’s messengers of choice. Though not a shameful position, it was a lowly position in society. These were not the men of importance in the area.

Isn’t it just like God to go to the outcasts and make them central in the message of Christ’s birth?

Just as Jesus is the way to reconciliation with God, shepherds were the gate keeping sheep in or out of the corral at night. The symbolism of the shepherd’s role in protecting and tending the sheep shouldn’t be missed. Jesus’ proclaimed that He is the Good Shepherd.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:8-11

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them”… God had been silent for almost five hundred years.

What is significant about this appearance is the Glory of God shone around them. It had been hundreds of years since anyone experienced this.

God’s plan was not only in place, but was there for everyone to see. Can you see it this Christmas?

 

 

God in the Midst of Pain

By Kristin Overman

Children make everything about Christmas more fun. Everything is so eventful and exciting for them, seeing lights, receiving gifts, doing advent activities, even opening the box of Christmas decorations. Christmas was always the hardest holiday for me before I had kids. Year after year would pass and I had not been able to get pregnant or keep a pregnancy. Even adoption had been one disappointment after another. We spent four years trying and went through three failed adoptions. In October of 2008 I lost a little boy two days after he was born. His birthmother changed her mind after I had held him and named him. That year Christmas was especially hard. Another year with just two stockings on the fireplace.

During this difficult time of infertility, health problems, and loss God showed me who He was. I had struggled with seeing God as good when I had so many hurts. I saw my trials as God’s hand of discipline. I felt like I was just not good enough for God. I believed He was teaching me to be a better person and have more character through trials. My idea of God was that He was only a strict disciplinarian who demands His followers to give all to Him. He was distant from me and I was scared of Him. If I cried to God it was either in anger or confusion.

God lead me to read through Psalms. He opened my eyes to who He is through David’s honest outpouring of his heart. I began to see that God wanted me to cry to Him. I learned to see God as a loving Father who wants us to run to Him for comfort as we would a friend. In my mind I saw this picture of God sitting on His throne. His lap was open for me to sit with Him and to be held by Him. He wanted to hold me and comfort me in the midst of my pain like any loving parent would their child. Even though there were lessons and character to be learned He was interested and cared about my pain.

As I saw how David cried to God in his pain I learned several things. God doesn’t always answer our whys. But He responds to our cries.

No matter how big the hurt, His arms are big enough to comfort. He does not keep pain way. But He is always near. He is the God who holds our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He is the God who never sleeps or slumbers to watch over us (Psalm 121:3). He is the God who pulls us out of the pit (Psalm 40:2). He is the God who gives to His beloved in his sleep (Psalm 127:3).

My prayer for anyone in the midst of hard times would be that you would run to God, see Him as the ultimate Friend, the perfect Father, and the Wonderful Counselor. No person, no thing can comfort and heal as He can.

E.M. Bounds says it beautifully in his book about prayer,

“O thou who driest the mourner’s tear,

How dark this world would be,

If, when deceived and wounded here,

We could not fly to thee?

The friends who in our sunshine live,

When winter comes are flown,

And he who has but tears to give,

Must weep those tears alone.

But thou wilt heal the broken heart,

Which, like the plants that throw

Their fragrance from the wounded part,

Breathes sweetness out of woe.”

Kristin Overman is the overjoyed mother of four boys. Kristin and her husband Tim, know first hand how God answers prayers.

Bethlehem Birth

By Karen Polich

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:4-7

Pastor Michael Cook’s deeper look at the birth of Jesus in his Song and Savior sermon series gives us much to think about. Read Luke 2:1-7 and listen to the podcast here.

Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David. Joseph was descended from the line of David. This is what brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. It was time for the first census. Rome wanted to know who could serve in the army and what taxes could be collected.

Did Mary really have to go on this journey? Married, Joseph and Mary were committed to one another and to God. Would others have understood this? Two teens in this situation may have endured their share of scandal concerning this pregnancy.

Bethlehem wasn’t a big place. Most likely it didn’t have a formal inn. Any nice place to stay would have already been taken by the Romans and affluent Jewish families. Travel was by animal, so an adjacent shelter for animals would have been common.

Wrapping baby Jesus in cloth was not extraordinary, but laying Him in a feed trough in the midst of the animals wasn’t what we would expect. Isn’t God like that in our lives? He comes to us in the stench and smell of this broken world and makes Himself known. No need for a grand entrance or loud announcement, He is there, loving us. His simple birth demonstrates this.

In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son.

The God of eternity, the God of immensity pushed His way into this world as the firstborn son of Mary. Mary would have other children, but Jesus was firstborn and the primary inheritor. (Matthew 13: 55-56) Through Joseph’s lineage Jesus would be next in line to be the king, lining up with prophecy.

Our God is mighty beyond our imagination, yet He came to us in humility, a King born without a royal procession. This Savior would walk this earth until giving Himself as the ultimate sacrifice.

 

 

You Are Loved

By Karen Polich

This time of year brings many things. For some it is the busiest time of year as preparations are made for Christmas. There are presents to buy, cookies to bake and parties to attend. The excitement of children as ornaments are hung on trees and lights are strung adds to the fun.

For others it can be a lonely time missing someone deeply loved and lost. It can open old wounds and magnify regret. Maybe there is a collision of joy and sorrow where we enjoy the hustle and bustle while our hearts ache with sadness.

Regardless of where you find yourself this Christmas, know this: YOU ARE LOVED.

You are loved in a way that nothing can change. Your greatest accomplishment or biggest failure doesn’t change this love. Having an amazing day? You are loved. Is it a bad day that keeps getting worse? You are loved.

God loves you beyond measure. He loved you yesterday. He will love you tomorrow. He loved you before you were born. He loves you in your strength and your weakness. God’s love for you is never failing. This love depends on nothing you do or don’t do. You can’t earn it or throw it away. God gives it freely and it has no limit.

This love for you is the greatest love story of all time. Jesus was born for you because of this amazing love. Jesus died for you because of this abounding love. The magnitude of God’s love is staggering. It cannot be contained. It is the perfect gift and you need only say yes to receive it.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have eternal life. John 3:16

Whatever it is you face today, YOU ARE LOVED. Have a Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Song and Savior

By Karen Polich

God is intimately interested in you and every detail of your life.

Luke 2:1-10

Pastor Michael Cook took us into the Christmas story with a look at details. Listen to the podcast here.

There was so much going on in the lives of Mary and Joseph. Nothing was within the ordinary. Mary was expecting a baby and Joseph had made the choice to listen to God and not abandon her. They were on a 90-mile journey to Bethlehem.

Imagine the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. What was so urgent about having to make this journey? It was time for the new Roman census. Joseph had to return to the place of his lineage. Mary traveled on the back of a burro for the long journey. Bethlehem was bustling with people. What a place and time to find yourself having a baby!

Where was God in all of this? He was there, in every detail, fulfilling the prophecy of the birth of the Savior. The lineage, the location and the manner of circumstances. Mary and Joseph were taken from everything they knew and God was in the midst of each moment.

God would continue to orchestrate things in His infinitely creative way even after Jesus was born, from taking Him to Egypt out of Herrod’s reach and then all the way to the cross.

How does the Christmas story relate to you and me? Besides the obvious of sending us a Savior, there is the understanding of the involvement of God in our lives. Despite anything we face, God is there. He is working in ways we cannot imagine.

He orchestrated events through Caesar Augustus related to the prophecy of Jesus’ birth. A Roman who was not focused on anything related to Jesus played a part in fulfilling God’s plan. God was there, making things happen. He does that for you and me. God isn’t just watching us live our lives; He is working in our lives.

God watches and works in the midst of your personal circumstances. – Michael Cook

As we enter into another Christmas season, stop and look around. God desires to be intimately involved in your circumstances. How is God working in your life right now?

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Here Again

By Kristi Sullins

Staring at a small chalkboard reminder of how many days are left until Christmas, I feel the tension build.  It is something I ignore most of the year, and no, it does not belong to me or it would have magically “disappeared” a long time ago.  As long as the number stays in the triple digits I am fine. As it gets closer to 40 than 50 I find myself wanting to throw it across the room.

The holiday season is here and the reality of what it brings is front and center.  I need to prepare for all the big events like musicals, meals, and gift giving while not forgetting the small things like costumes, cookies and class parties.  Somewhere in the middle of that is the ridiculous need for clean clothes and a house that exudes holiday cheer.

A recent Greenburg study of holiday stress states that at the holiday season “stress takes on a different character than any other time of the year as men and women alike make it their duty to provide their families with the best possible holiday”.  Do you imagine that stress character as a large, hairy beast?  I do.

As a small side note to the ladies, the average woman carries the bulk of the holiday stress as the battle for perfection in every detail of work and home keeps us from sharing our load.  We go without sleep as we stress about dollars, deadlines, and details.  I would love to take the very pious approach and say that it is time to slow down. And it is. As the mom of three with a full time job I just laughed as I wrote that.

The truth is that we have changed the reality of the holidays.  The impossible juggle of time and money replace the peace and joy that was meant to be.  Church attendance shrinks until you get to Christmas Eve where it soars again as everyone crams in a little time to celebrate “the Reason for the Season”.

Maybe it is time for us to be more intentional.

Let’s choose to rewrite the holiday season by looking at each detail and determining what is best. Can we sit to read a story with a dirty kitchen?  Will the world really end if our children help clean the house?  Detail by detail can we examine our plans with a heart open to what God would say is the best way to celebrate?

His desire is for us to be able to be thankful because He knows a heart choosing to be full of thanksgiving is a heart that can truly see all the ways they have been blessed.  His desire is for us to have eyes that are sensitive to those who are hurting because we are the hands and feet He most desires to use.

His yearning would be that in the midst of the chaos we would be overwhelmed again and again by the gift of Christ that He willingly gave for all of us.

He longs that we would use this holiday season as the perfect outreach tool to reach the lost because then we display an understanding for the hope Christ really gives.

Will you choose to journey through the next 8 weeks with a mind and heart set on being intentional in all of our choices so that we truly cry out “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)? 

Let’s do this together. We can take back the most wonderful time of the year and let God pour into our hearts.

Ladies, JOIN US for a relaxed night of fun. It can be the beginning of doing this year with more intention and less stress. Tis The Season is an event designed to help us slow down.

The Women of First ministry invites all ladies to usher in the holiday season with fun and festivity at Albuquerque’s First Baptist Church. Tis The Season is a one-night celebration of the holidays. Join us for a delicious dinner, inspiring worship and creative activities. For questions please email info@fbcabq.com. November 13 at 6:15 p.m. Cost is $10.