Waiting for Christmas

What Are You Waiting For?
Let me ask you some questions.  What are you waiting for this Christmas?  Are you longing for anything?  What are you expecting to receive?  Are you looking forward to anything special this Christmas?

In the Gospel of Luke, we come across two characters who make their appearance in the final acts of the Christmas drama.  One is a man named Simeon; the other is a woman named Anna.  They don’t appear in any nativity scenes or in many Christmas cards, but they are significant players in the first Christmas pageant.  Both of these individuals were waiting for something — actually, they were waiting for someone.

Luke uses a Greek word of anticipation that identifies them as waiting with expectation for the coming of the Messiah, or Savior.  It literally means that they were “alert to His appearance, and ready to welcome Him.”  We see this word in Luke 2:25 in reference to Simeon where we read that “He was waiting…” and in 2:38 to describe a woman named Anna who was, “…looking forward to…”

Simeon — Waiting For Comfort
We’re introduced to Simeon in Luke 2:25.  “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon Him.”  Simeon was righteous before people, and he was devout in His relationship with God.

Things weren’t going real well for the nation of Israel.  They hadn’t heard from God for many years and were under Roman rule.  They had lost their political independence and were living in fear of the capable, crafty, and cruel King Herod, and many were wondering if the Messiah would ever come.

Verse 26 shows us that Simeon had good reason for his hope and anticipation: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  Simeon’s expectation focused on the comfort that Christ would bring.  Among Jews of Simeon’s day one of the popular titles of Messiah was Comforter.  Like some of the Christmas songs we sing, they were longing for the Messiah to come and bring His comfort to them.

It strikes me that the desire to be comforted is a universal human need.  We all struggle with loneliness, emptiness, insecurity, even desperation.  In fact, the Christmas season is one of the major crisis times of the year for depression and suicide.

The Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the temple courts at just the right time on just the right day that Joseph and Mary were bringing their infant to the Temple.  When Simeon looked at the baby Jesus, now about 6 weeks old, he knew that God’s promise had been kept.  Here was Immanuel, “God With Us,” to make everything right, to provide significance by His presence, and to eliminate rejection, fear, and loneliness.

Verse 28 of Luke 2 says that Simeon reached down and took Jesus out of Mary’s arms and began to praise God.  Let me pause here to make a comment.  Parents, how would you feel if some old man came up to you, took your infant in his arms and started singing out loud?  I’m sure this was a bit unsettling for Joseph and Mary.  But Simeon didn’t look all that dangerous.  As he broke out into praise, he acknowledged that God had not only fulfilled the individual promise to him, but also the promises of the prophets to send the Anointed One to comfort both Jews and Gentiles.

Anna — Waiting for Forgiveness
The other Christmas Character waiting with anticipation was Anna.  After her husband had died, she had dedicated herself to fasting and praying in the temple.  In fact, the Bible says that she never left the temple ­ but worshipped day and night.  She could have filled all 360 slots of the Bible Reading Marathon herself because she was always at church!

She was looking forward to the same person as Simeon was, but with a different orientation.  Instead of looking for comfort, Anna was looking for forgiveness.   Take a look at verse 38:  “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

The word redemption is related to the idea of captivity.  The Old Testament Passover and the release of Israel from Egyptian slavery stood in Anna’s day as the ultimate redemption and the symbol of God’s power to release captives.  Ultimately, Passover pointed ahead to that day when God would provide deliverance from the slavery of sin.

When Anna saw Jesus, she gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to all who were waiting for redemption.  Here, at last, was the One who would save His people from their sins.

Jesus Provides What We Need
When Jesus came, He provided the very things that Simeon and Anna were waiting for — God’s comfort and His forgiveness.  Let me ask you a question.  What are you waiting for this Christmas?  Whatever it is, Jesus can give it to you.

Can any of you identify with Simeon?  Some of you are really hurting right now.  You feel lonely, empty, afraid, and maxed out.  Do you need some comfort?  Some consoling?  Do you need a fresh sense of God’s presence?  If so, you can find what you’re looking for in Jesus.  He came to console us right where we’re at.

Or, do you identify more with Anna?  Are you plagued with guilt this Christmas because of something you’ve done or the way you’ve been living?  Do you feel like you’re trapped in a pattern of sin that you can’t break out of?  If you need forgiveness, Jesus can give it to you right now.  I can think of no better time than Christmas to do just that.

Become a marveler.  When Joseph and Mary tried to process everything that was happening, verse 33 says that they marveled at what was said about Jesus.  According to the dictionary, to become a marveler is to be filled with wonder, astonishment, and surprise.

Are you a marveler this Christmas?  Or, are you too caught up in the busyness and stress of the season?  Have you been running around because of the Holidays, or are you taking the time to make Christmas a “holy” day?  Has Christmas become too predictable, too familiar?  Have you heard the Christmas story so much that it no longer astonishes you?

Actually, this can be a dangerous time of the year for us.  Our annual celebration of Christmas can immunize us to its reality.  We hear just enough of the story each year to inoculate us against the real thing, so that we never really catch true Christmas fever.

Here’s an idea that may help you recapture the marvel of Christmas.  Pick one of the Christmas characters and put yourself in their sandals.  Imagine what it must have been like to witness the Christmas story first hand.  Go ahead; pick one — Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, Simeon, Anna, or the Wise Men.

Become a mover.  Take a look at verse 27: “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.”  Now drop down to verse 38: “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God…”

Both Simeon and Anna were movers.  When the Holy Spirit prompted them to move, they didn’t sit still.  I wonder what would have happened if they had not responded?  Actually, every one of the Christmas characters responded to the Spirit’s leading ­ with the exception of Herod:

Mary was ready to move when she said to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 2:38)

Joseph demonstrated that he was a mover when he woke up from his dream and “…did what the angel of the Lord had commanded and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24)

The Shepherds were movers as well when they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…” (Luke 2:15)

When God prompts you to do something, then you need to do it.  It might mean salvation for some of you.  It might mean full surrender for others of you.  Or, maybe the Spirit wants you to be more involved in serving people.  Do you sense Him asking you to do something tonight?  Are you a mover?  Are you willing to move?  Don’t procrastinate when God prompts you to do something — you may miss out on a miracle this Christmas.

I’m struck by what Simeon told Mary in verse 34.  It must have taken her breath away. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will spoken against…”

That’s not really a joyful Christmas greeting, is it?   Simeon is not saying, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”  Rather, he pauses, clears his throat and tells her that Christmas will never be merry and the New Year will never be happy until people get moving and surrender their lives to Christ.

Here’s the truth.   Christmas splits people into 2 camps.  Since Jesus has entered the world, He has divided the human race.  Jesus will cause the falling and rising of many.  Because of who Jesus is and what He came to do, He forces people to make a decision about Him.  The Bible uses powerful imagery ­ Jesus is either a rock that you build your life upon (that’s the sense of rising) or he’s the rock that you stumble over (that’s the meaning of falling).  Jesus is calling each of us to a moral decision ­ based upon our willingness to move and respond, we will either rise or fall.

You can’t stay neutral about Jesus.  You are either for Him or against Him.  You’re moving closer to Him, or further away.  You either have the Son or you don’t.

Become a Messenger

Interestingly, as we work at becoming marvelers, we can’t help but become movers.  That leads us to the final action step from this passage — become a messenger.  Notice verse 38 again: “…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Do you have family and friends who’ve been caught up in preparations for Christmas?  Look at it this way — maybe their anticipation and longings really represent an inner search for comfort and forgiveness — those things that only the Messiah can provide.  God wants each one of us to become messengers of the Christmas story.

As you and I become marvelers, the wonder of Christmas will astonish us.  Then, as we become movers, our needs for comfort and forgiveness will be met.  And, as we take our role as messengers seriously, we’ll be in position to introduce others to the Christ of Christmas — so that they in turn can find what they have been waiting for.

Friends, in a nutshell, Christmas is a marvelous, moving, message!  How can we not find what we’ve been looking for?  And, how can we keep quiet about it?  Once you have the Son, you have everything.

You’re invited to a birthday party December 25th.  It’s the birthday of Jesus.  It’s His party ­ but He wants to give you a present.  He wants to give you the gift of Himself.  Will you take Him?

Spiritual Fasting

What is Fasting?
Simply put, fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is important to note that fasts have a spiritual purpose it is not just missing lunch because you are too busy .A fast can last anywhere from one meal to 40 days without food.  There are different types of fasts – the most typical is to go without any food, some people will fast from food and water – although you can only do this for a short time.  There are limited fasts, when people will allow themselves juice or other liquid sustenance during their fast. There are partial fasts, where you will give up certain types of food for a period of time.  Many people do this during lent when they will give up sweets, or meat, or something else for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

While we are going to concentrate on fasting from food, people will also fast from T.V. and other media, from talking, from computers or computer games, shopping, couples can fast from sexual intimacy. You can fast from anything that habitual in your life.  It is good to fast from the things that you obsess about – it reminds you that you can get by without them.  I have a friend who hates holidays – work is so important to him that a holiday is like a fast from work rather than a rest.

Why Fast?
Fasting can increase our hunger for God John Piper writes in his book, A Hunger for God,
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied.  It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world.  Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.  God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast ‘This much, O God, I want you’”  (Pg 23).

Fasting reminds us that we can get by without most things in our lives for a time, but we cannot get by without God.  The first and main pupose of Fasting is to draw closer to God.

Fasting can train our passions
We are so used to giving ourselves what ever we want, we say “I feel like a donut,” so we go get a donut.  Richard Foster says that our stomach is like a spoiled child, and spoiled children do not need indulgence, they need discipline.  We are not to be controlled by our stomachs, but controlled by the Spirit of God.  Fasting is spiritual training in self-control.

The way that gold was refined in ancient days, was the ore was placed in a great cauldron with fire underneath it, as it heated up, the ore would melt, and all the impurities would rise to the surface.  The smelter would then skim off the impurities, the dross.  But he wasn’t finished there, he would stock the fire more and more impurities would rise to the top.  He would skim those off, and heat it up more.  He would continue this process until the gold was pure.  And it is said that he knew that the gold was pure when he could see his reflection in the gold.

God does the same thing.  He heats things up in our life so that the dross rises to the top – when we go through hard times, things in our lives are brought to the surface, sins, things that we are holding on to that we need to let go of, pride etc.  These things can become real obvious when we go through hard times, and it gives God the chance to skim them of and purify us.  He knows when he is done when he can see his reflection in us.

Fasting is voluntarily turning up the heat in our lives

Foster says, “ More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.  This is a wonderful benefit to the rue disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.  We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.  If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately.  David said, “I humbled myself with fasting” (Ps. 69:10).  Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.  At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we know that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us.  We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.” – p.48

God wants us to be like pure gold, we can turn up the heat ourselves, or we can wait until he does. 

1 Timothy 4:7-8
Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.

Out of all the Spiritual Disciplines fasting is most like physical exercise.  It is both physical and spiritual and it builds our faith muscles so that we can withstand the bigger contests that come our way.

Fasting can be earnest prayer
Many people fast when they are desperate for God to answer their prayers.  We can fast for rescue from a bad situation, healing of a loved one, direction in life or other requests that are close to our hearts.

Fasting is not some kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding.  The Israelites got this wrong in Isaiah 58 when they say, “’Why have we fasted, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?

On the other side, fasting can bring a note of urgency to our praying.  We are coming to our Father and telling Him (and ourselves) how important this issue is to us.

Fasting can help us humble ourselves.
Fasting can humble us – often times all the things in our life that we take pride in are stripped away in fasting – the ability to move and think fast, the ability to be productive, our physical strength are all reduced in fasting.  Fasting really should be called “slowing!”
On the other hand, fasting can be an act of humility – just as kneeling or bowing before God is an act of humility, so is fasting.
One of the most wicked men in Jewish history, King Ahab, eventually humbled himself before God and demonstrated it by fasting: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day.” (1 Kings 21:27-29)
David, one of the most righteous kings also humbled himself through fasting (Ps. 35:13)

Fasting can be a sign of Repentance
Repentance is a decision to turn away from sin in our lives.
In Christianity today, repentance can be a light thing.  It is just some words we say, and it can be over in seconds.  But many people in the Bible fasted to show their seriousness in repentance.You might be uncomfortable with this, but God isn’t. While we would like our confession and repentance to be a short as possible, fasting takes time. This might lengthen our discomfort with our guilt, but it might cause us to take more seriously our decision to turn from sin. When we fast in our repentance, it is not an attempt to punish ourselves for our past sin, but as a commitment and preparation for our future righteousness.  It is a sign that we are starting something new.

How to Fast
Start small fasting is a bit like physical exercise, you want to train yourself, don’t jump into a 40 day fast with no training; you wouldn’t try to run a marathon with no training.  Start by fasting for one meal, then two, then do a 24hr fast.  Determine the purpose of the fast. Is it to seek God, to seek direction, to pray for others? Determine the nature of the fast. Is it an absolute fast, or solid food only?

Is it a partial fast?  Many people do partial fasts through lent. Is it also a media fast? Is it going to be a working fast, where you keep your schedule the same, but use the time that you would be eating to pray, or are you going to clear your schedule and retreat during your fast? Determine the length of the fast. Is it one day? Two meals or three? Is it longer? Plan for the fast. Set the time specifically. It is likely best not to be fasting if you have a presentation or a job interview that day. Don’t plan to decide as you go – that doesn’t work so well.

Get people praying for you. There is so much potential power in seeking God in this way that Satan will do whatever necessary to derail your plan. Don’t call attention to your fasting. A simple “I’m skipping lunch today” will be an adequate explanation for most situations.
Stay continually focused on the Lord. If your fasting leaves you irritable with family or coworkers, it will not honor God.

Pitfalls of Fasting
Pride
The Pharisees were very self-righteousness about their fasting, and it is easy for us to become self-righteous as well.  Remember that your fast is about you and God, not about impressing others, or even yourself.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, NIV)
There is also the temptation to judge others who don’t fast, or who don’t fast as long, or who don’t deny themselves as many things.
Fasting can also trap its participants in legalism. As soon as rule-making begins about whether juice is okay or water only, or what media are excluded, the joy and power of the Spirit will be lost.

Coercion of God
Remember that we are not twisting God’s arm, we are trying to draw closer to Him.

Penance
There is a heretical tradition in Christianity of punishing ourselves for sins.  God’s forgiveness of our sins comes with no requirement of us except confession and repentance.  We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of food as a way to punish ourselves or gain favor with God.  We already have God’s favor through Jesus.

Dieting

It is tempting to see fasting as a great weight-loss program. Although you can shed weight during fasting, this is not it’s first goal.  The goal is spiritual not physical.  If you want to lose weight, find away to eat healthier, if you want to draw closer to God, try fasting.