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Sermon for December 31, 2023 — First Sunday After Christmas

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 3005 | The Twist Ending
Greg Williams

There are almost 7000 movies on Netflix. And that’s only one of the dozen or so streaming services available. Right now, we are awash in stories, narratives, and characters. As human beings, we’ve always loved stories, and technology transforms our living rooms into home theaters.  

Personally, I enjoy movies that make me think, and allow me to be the ride along detective. The twist ending is a favorite device these days. That last act/scene where the bad guy turns out to be the good guy or the poor character turns out to be royalty. The move included an avalanche of scenes that gave clues you simply didn’t see.

The whole story, through all it’s twists and turns, comes together in a new light suddenly. You may not have seen it coming, but when the twist comes it makes sense of everything else.

Much of Paul’s writing explains the twist ending of the gospel—which is Jesus. Paul connects the story of Jesus with the story of Israel and the rest of the world, showing how the gospel ties everything else together.

Look at Galatians 4:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
Galatians 4:4-5 (NRSV)

The fullness of time. The long story of Israel — God setting one nation apart, then one family line, then one family, then one person who represents all of humanity.

Jesus didn’t come because the law failed. He didn’t scrap all that had gone before to start a new story, he completed the story begun in Adam and Eve. In fact, the real beginning isn’t Genesis, it’s John 1, where we see that Jesus, the Father and Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship. John tells us that Jesus became flesh to enter the story at the appointed time. He is the twist ending that makes history—his story—make sense.

Do we recognize Jesus as the twist ending for us? Is that part of the story that was missing in your life and mine that makes everything come together? Think of those places where Jesus is described as the capstone or cornerstone—not the stone that everything stands on, but the piece that makes all the others come together, makes everything neatly fit into place.

He completes not only your story, and mine, but the grand narrative of all of humanity—all the wars and dynasties and joy and pain in all of history. Jesus is not the ghost in the machine who comes from nowhere, but the twist ending the story was building to all along. And it is good news.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of the good news of Life.

Psalm 148:1-14 • Isaiah 61:10-62:3 • Galatians 4:4-7 • Luke 2:22-40

We are in the Christmas season, a time when we celebrate the coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem. This week’s theme is redeemed for relationship. In the psalm, praise is virtually commanded for the God who rescued Israel and brought them close to him. Isaiah rejoiced over the Lord, who tenderly and personally clothed him with salvation. In the Galatians passage, Paul informs us that Christ enabled us to be adopted by a loving Father. In Luke, Simeon and Anna bear witness that Jesus is salvation for all people.

Abba, Father

Galatians 4:4-7 NIV

Six days ago, most believers celebrated Jesus’ birth. Traditionally, people around the world exchange gifts on Christmas, which is a beautiful custom. Our God is a giver, and it is a blessing to be like him and lovingly give to others. However, if we are honest, gift giving can sometimes be stressful. We all have people in our lives for whom it is difficult to shop. Maybe it is a co-worker you do not know very well, but she gave you a gift last Christmas. Or an uncle who does not seem to like anything because everything was better “back in his day.” Whoever it is, we are all likely to have someone for whom we have a hard time shopping.

On the other hand, children are usually some of the easiest people for whom to shop. Without being prompted, many children make out Christmas wish lists because they do not want to leave anything to chance. The beloved Christmas movie, A Christmas Story, is all about a child doing all he can to get a BB-gun for Christmas, despite the fact that the adults in his life are afraid he would “shoot his eye out.” That movie is a hilarious example of how wily children can be in pursuit of their desires. They will beg. They will scheme. They will promise to do chores. They will sit on the lap of a stranger in a red suit and long white beard and negotiate. Because, for a child, there is nothing more disappointing than excitedly opening a beautifully wrapped gift, only to find underwear or socks! Some of you may be uncomfortable because that is precisely what your child experienced six days ago. But let’s just be honest. While underwear and socks are important, children will choose fun over what is practical every time. So, children are smart. They let adults know the desires of their heart.

Christmas, family and boys opening a gift, celebrating a holiday and happy with a box. Smile, givin.

Something happens to many of us on the way to adulthood. It seems that as the complexity and volume of our desires increases, our willingness to ask for what we need decreases. Some of us are able to remain child-like and hold onto the ability to ask for what we need without shame or guilt. However, many of us struggle to let our needs and desires be known, even by those who love us most. Perhaps we don’t want to be any trouble, or we do not want to seem somehow weak or greedy. Perhaps we do not have a lot of resources so we have learned not to think about the things we might want. Maybe it has been so long since we had a moment of self-reflection that we do not even know what we want in life.

Not knowing or being able to articulate our wants and desires is an obstacle for those who follow Jesus. Yes, the Bible warns against having selfish or misplaced desires. However, we cannot forget that God created us with the capacity to want things. Not only do our desires often reveal what is in our hearts, but God uses our desires to guide us on the path to our destiny in Christ. For example, in the person who is called to be a children’s minister, God places a copy of his own desire to see young people experiencing the love of Christ. Our reflection of God’s desire is usually the first step towards our destiny in Christ. So, what happens when we lose our child-like ability to acknowledge the things we want? Thankfully, we can find our answer in Jesus. Let’s look at Galatians 4:4-7:

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7 NIV)

During the Christmas season, it is especially appropriate for us to celebrate the many things Jesus accomplished in his Incarnation (his coming to the earth as one of us). Jesus came to save us. Jesus came to redeem us. Jesus came to restore our relationship with his Father and each other.  We talk about these things often, as well we should. Jesus also came to teach us how to be children of God. It was not enough for Jesus to make us children of God. Christ had to show us how to be children of God.

By Christ, those who follow him have been adopted by the Father and have received the Spirit of the Son, or the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who lived in Christ lives in believers, bringing everything that Jesus is into us, which includes Christ’s desires. It is important to notice that, in the passage, the first thing the Holy Spirit does when he comes into our hearts is to call out. The Spirit places a desire in our hearts and gives voice to that desire. The Spirit bypasses our emotional walls and makes us like little children who unashamedly ask for what they want.

What is this desire that is a reflection of Christ’s desire? What is this desire that is felt so deeply that the Spirit cries it out? What is this desire that is so important that we cannot be children of God without it? The desire is for an “Abba, Father.” Abba is an Aramaic word that is a familiar term for a father (like “daddy” or “papa”). The Holy Spirit places in us the desire for the close, intimate relationship with the Father that Christ enjoys. Whether we know it or not, human beings were created to desire an Abba. We yearn to be unconditionally loved, completely protected, and provided for in abundance. At one time or another, we have all sought to fulfill our desire for Abba with other things. We have sought to be loved perfectly by imperfect people. We have sought to protect ourselves and have built up defense mechanisms that no longer serve us. We have trusted in a job as our provider, putting work before more important things. In our brokenness, we do not know to whom we should cry out. This is why the Holy Spirit cries Abba on our behalf, reorienting us to the source of our deepest desire.

Perhaps it is hard for you to see God as Abba. Perhaps your human daddy let you down. Maybe you did not have a daddy in your life. In God’s grace and mercy, we were given Christ’s example of how to love the Father like a little child. He showed us how to live in a trusting relationship with our Abba. Numerous times Jesus prayed to the Father out loud so his disciples could catch a glimpse of the intimate relationship made available to us. Jesus not only makes our relationship to the Father possible, but he showed us how to live into it. What an awesome God!

Our challenge, therefore, is to let God be our Abba. We need to learn humility and have a healthy dependence on him. We need to train ourselves to turn to him in good times and in bad. We need to learn to trust in him more than we trust in money or our employer. We need to believe that even when things do not go our way, we are still loved by God. We need to learn from Jesus how to be children again.

In this Christmas season, as we celebrate the little baby born in Bethlehem, let us be reminded of our invitation to become children of the Most High. Let us lift up our hands, like a child wanting to be picked up, and cry out “Abba, Father.” Let us give voice to our deep desire knowing that our Abba Father desires us even more.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of any amusing ways a child you know made his/her desires known? What would happen if an adult acted in this way?
  • Do you find it challenging to think of the Father as Abba? Why or why not?
  • What is something you could do to be more child-like in your relationship with God?

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