Read Luke 2:1-7 (and pray)
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 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 room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7 (NIV)
On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight of an airplane at Kitty Hawk NC. On their 5th attempt, the plane under the control of Orville, embarked on a 12 second flight.
Wilbur rushed to the local telegraph office and sent the following message – “We have flown for 12 seconds – we will be home for Christmas!”
Upon receiving the telegram their sister, Katherine went to the newspaper office, told the editor of her brother’s new flying machine, and informed him that they would be home for Christmas if he would like to set up an interview.
He told her that was nice, and he would be sure to put something in the paper regarding the boys. On December 19th, the local paper placed the following headline on the 6th page of the paper:
“WRIGHT BROTHERS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS”
The most important story of the year – man’s first flight – and the editor missed it!
(illustration from “A Right Pace” by Alan Tison)
I wonder if the same could be said about us when it comes to Christmas. As I mentioned last week, already trees are going up, decorations are filling our homes and stores, festive music is beginning to be played on the radio, Santa Claus parades are happening and the commercial Christmas advertising is in full swing.
However, in the midst of the Christmas rush, in all of our gift buying, in all of the things we do during the Christmas season…have we missed the potential of Christmas? Last week I reintroduced to you the event that was the catalyst for the Christmas celebration. The incarnation (“God with us”) was all about creating potential for mankind to be restored to a right relationship with God. It’s this potential that we need to be reminded of every year when we come into this season.
Last week I laid the foundation for realizing this potential and that is to ensure that our focus is rightly placed on Christ during the Christmas season. This week, I want to take the next step in sharing flesh out one of the resulting influences this potential can have in your life. And that involves the word pace.
To be honest, Christmas tends to be a time when the pace picks up, there are gifts to buy, homes to decorate, parties to attend, meals to prepare, people to visit, sometimes it makes us just tired thinking about Christmas.
To the casual observer the events surrounding the incarnation have a bit of a hurried pace as well:
• Mary discovered she is pregnant and runs to her cousin Elizabeth’s home to share the news.
• Caesar Augustus demands a census of the Roman Empire; all citizens are required to return to the city of their birthplace. Suddenly all roads of the Empire are filled with travelers for this census.
• The shepherds upon hearing the angelic announcement of the birth of the Christ Child “Hurry off” to Bethlehem.
• Soon the magi (wisemen) see the STAR, and begin a cross-country trip from the east.
• King Herod, full of jealousy and fear, believes this Christ child is a threat to His kingdom and issues a decree that all boys under the age of 2, living in the vicinity of Bethlehem are to be killed. This causes a time of hurriedness, as parents flee from Bethlehem to escape Herod’s wrath.
Certainly it appears that people in the days of the incarnation would have some understanding of the symptoms (both positive and negative) of Christmas rush that modern man experiences: anxiety, excitement, tiredness, uncertainty, crankiness, frustration, depression, edginess etc.
Yet, the apostle Paul would later write about the first coming of Christ this way:
4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)
Notice Paul’s choice of words under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “but when the time had fully come”. In other words, when the time was just right – when God’s timetable matured to that exact moment…
• He chose a little town called Bethlehem
• He chose a couple known as Joseph and Mary
• He chose the setting of a animal’s shelter
The events surrounding the Incarnation were not arranged by chance or by happenstance but by the divine orchestration of God’s sovereign plan. Every critical piece of His plan was in place for the coming of Christ to occur as it did.
When looking at the definition of the word pace you’ll discover that it’s core meaning is to describe the intervals between one thing and another. For example: to live at a fast pace means that there is more “somethings” happening in a shorter period of time; to live at a slow pace means there are less “somethings” happening in a longer period of time. Pace – the intervals between those somethings is greater at a slow pace than at a faster pace. Another example is to talk about the “pace” or footsteps of individuals (i.e. he stepped off ten paces from the old tree and began to dig).
Today I want to present the idea that there is potential at Christmas for your life pace to be altered. Remember, last week I highlighted that potential is a neutral word. In of itself potential is neither good nor bad – it’s the choices we make in response to our environment and as a result of our perspective that results in either positive or negative potential. Focusing on the person of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season gives us a right perspective that builds positive potential in our lives. In doing so positive life pace becomes possible. Positive life pace is only possible when the pace of life is on God’s timetable. In other words, the intervals between “somethings” happening are at God’s discretion rather than on our determination.
A. THE PRICE OF PATIENCE
Inevitably when we talk about God’s timing, or God’s pace of doing things, we must talk about patience because patience or the lack of patience contributes to positive or negative potential in the interval. In order to embrace God’s pace of doing things we need to grab a hold of God’s gift of patience. For many people, the first image that enters our mind when we think of the word patience is the last long line we waited in! However, patience is not simply waiting, patience is waiting with anticipation. Listen to the words of David as he cried out to the lord in Psalm 40:
1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. 5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Psalms 40:1-5 (NIV)
David wasn’t just waiting – he was waiting with anticipation that God would respond. Therein lies the hidden truth of Godly patience – you can only anticipate something if you believe or trust that it will happen. David emphasizes this as he wrote (note vs 3 and vs 4).
The price of patience is trust.
Let’s go back to the waiting part for a moment. Do you find it difficult to wait for something? Especially something you know is obtainable?
We live in a world where patience is LACKING.
We live in a culture of instant gratification. If we see it we buy it. “90 days same as cash” is music to our ears. Waiting is just not a part of our culture – or at least not something that is considered good. If we’re hungry we can zap things in the microwave for a few seconds (one of the fastest growing aisles in the supermarket is the frozen dinner section). For when we need money we have our ATM machines. We can communicate anywhere at anytime with the instant connection provided by cell-phones, email, text and instant messaging. We have instant rice, instant coffee, instant pudding. Television teaches us that no problem is too large that it cannot be resolved in 30 minutes and no illness is too serious that it cannot be healed in 30 seconds.
I think we could agree that we live in a culture where patience is lacking and no more is needed then to look at the frenzy surrounding today’s Christmas!
Now let’s look at how God’s pace is exemplified in the incarnation. It was there that we can see the price of patience taking root in individual’s lives.
Paying the price of patience…
Joseph and Mary discover God’s plan through an Angel. Fear gives way to excitement, which eventually leads to patience. Nine months would pass before the promise was fulfilled. Meanwhile in Jerusalem an aged couple, named Zechariah and Elizabeth are being rewarded for their faithful patience in the birth of a son named John; John would be the forerunner of the Christ Child and would announce His imminent coming to the rest of the world. For 400 years God was seemingly silent and now all of a sudden He is moving in a might way where both His son and the forerunner to His son would be born in the same year.
Next to suffering, patience may be the greatest tool God uses to conform us to His will. Patience requires us to wait upon God, even when He is silent. The only thing that sustains our patience through the interval of His pace is our trust in Him. Isarel went through nearly 400 years of God’s silence and when God spoke, it was to a young man and woman who might have not been totally prepared for what would be spoken to them – yet nevertheless accepted His direction. Joseph and Mary patiently submitted to God’s plan, they patiently waited for the birth to occur, they patiently traveled to Bethlehem and when there was no room at the local inn, they patiently accepted the next available lodging (a stable), knowing that God had the best plan. No complaining, no doubts, no fears – simply trusting God.
What is the potential of Christmas? The potential is that your life pace could get turned right-side up. Instead of living life on your terms and in your timing – you will live life on God’s terms and in His timing. Inevitably when we make Christ our focus and when we put our trust and faith in Him there will be an interval where God builds into us patience. And it is in this interval where we discover if we really do trust Him!
Are you willing to pay the price of patience? Are you seeking God’s will in your life, your schedule, your spending decisions? Are you practicing patience with other people this season? Modern day Christmas is probably the one time of year where our patience is put to the greatest test!
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)
In the hurriedness of this Christmas season, God may want you to wait and discover His will for your life. Joseph and Mary were patient and God used them to fulfill His divine plan.
The price of patience is trust but it isn’t a blind trust. God has given us reason to trust Him. Our trust isn’t only that He will do what He said He would do BUT is based on the fact that God has already done things He said He would do.
Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Psalms 40:5 (NIV)
Our trust is in God’s FAITHFULNESS…
Mary and Joseph were patiently waiting the birth of the promised child in Mary’s belly. They trusted that what He said was going to happen would happen – but their trust was also based on what God had already done in sending His angel as a messenger.
Christmas and the life of Jesus should be a reminder to us that God is faithful to His word and to us. There are over 300 predictions made in the Old Testament – prophecies made hundreds of years before the birth of Christ – that came true in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, God is always faithful – but is always according to His timetable, His pace!
The LESSONS of Patience
Have you ever wondered why God chose to come to the world in the form of a baby? I believe one of the reasons is because babies move at their own schedule. No matter how much we long for the baby to come, it still takes 9 months for a healthy baby to be born. After the birth of a baby, patience is needed to help the baby talk, walk, and eat. In fact, a baby’s survival is based on our patience. Patience is one absolutely necessary trait when caring for a child. Yet with all the work, all the time and sacrifice one gives to a child, we still call the birth of a child a blessing. Why? Because in the process patience opens the doors to so many other important lessons and rewards.
There are several lessons we can learn from the patience as illustrated in the incarnation:
a. Waiting is easier when you are WITH someone.
In the events surrounding the incarnation, you seldom see anyone alone:
• Mary and Joseph are together
• There were several shepherds in the fields who received the good news from the angels
• The wisemen traveled in a caravan.
It’s interesting that the only person who is alone in the story is King Herod. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Herod met with the Wisemen in secret to discover the birth of Jesus. Left alone with his thoughts, Herod began to distort the situation and his fears soon led him to issue the decree which brought about the death of many innocent children.
It is always important to have someone with you while you are waiting. The write of Hebrews writes:
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
As believers we are ultimately all waiting for the second coming of Christ, but in the process of anticipating His return we are to encourage one another for the purpose of growth and discipline.
b. Waiting is easier when you know the END is NEAR.
While Joseph and Mary didn’t understand all of what was happening in their life, they knew enough to know God was bringing about salvation to all mankind. When the angel visited Joseph, he was given specific instructions which indicated to Joseph that salvation was at hand.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:21-23 (NIV)
The interval became easier, and patience came more readily because Joseph and Mary knew that salvation was near.
As believers, our lives should be less stressful as well, for we know everyday draws us closer to the return of our Lord. When we learn to embrace life at God’s pace – not ours – the intervals between happenings are filled with patient trust, not urgent anxiety.
I want to finish with two examples of how you can seize the potential for living at God’s pace this Christmas season.
a. take inventory of your schedule
How much of what you have planned is absolutely necessary or is simply time filler? Ask yourself, “Am I too busy doing Christmas that I’m not celebrating the incarnation?” Are there times carved out in your schedule to “Be still” and know He is God? How much of what you do during the Christmas season is focused on Christ and His coming?
b. recognize opportunities to live at God’s pace
There is incredible potential in the Christmas season to embrace a life at God’s pace and to build patience.
• Before opening the gifts on Christmas day, read the Christmas story of Luke 2:1-19 to your children. Help them (and you!) slow down and remember it is not about the gifts, but about God. Take some time to change the focus off the toys and onto the King.
• Start a tradition of reading the Christmas cards you receive in the mail and praying for the family that sent the card.
• Take the opportunities to spend time with your church family at the Christmas Eve service
If your focus is on Christ. If you recognize the potential of Christmas and embrace it you will find that life lived at God’s pace dramatically changes the priorities of your life.
The lesson for today? God’s timing is always perfect.