Christmases at my Grandmother’s House in Oneonta New York were a time where I found favor in my life.
There, at my grandmother’s house I found my grandmother’s pancakes. And we all know how much I love pancakes. I am still working on my idea to combine the International House of Prayer with the International House of Pancakes. Because everyone loves pancakes. And everyone needs prayer.
There at my grandmother’s house I found endless games of hide and seek. There the cousins found that cramming our youngest and smallest cousin, John, into awkward places, was very entertaining, whether John liked it or we didn’t find to be important at the time. John is a documentary film maker now. Many of his films focus on dealing with injustices in society. I would like to imagine that cramming him in a box and sticking him under the pool table helped John find his calling of calling out injustice. John if you ever listen to this recording, you’re welcome.
There at my grandmother’s house one Christmas, we did not find my sister. After unwrapping mounds of presents we realized my sister, who was maybe four years old at the time, was nowhere to be found. In a panic all the adults and children searched for her for hours. Then someone heard giggling behind one my grandmother’s thick red curtains which draped the window. Someone looked behind the curtain and discovered my sister there, delighting in the mania she had caused.
There at my grandmother’s house, surrounded by family I loved, and mounds of presents, I still found that feeling of disappointment. That feeling where you don’t get what you want for Christmas. Despite committed parents and a magical man who broke into grandmother’s house through the chimney, sometimes a wish fell through the cracks, and sometimes it was the thing I had secretly most hoped for but didn’t want to tell how much I wanted it. I remember the hurt of that feeling of not getting what I wanted for Christmas. And I remember the tears. I have found that as you get older that feeling doesn’t always go away.
You can find a lot of promises in the scriptures But the one promise that I have the hardest time believing comes from Psalm 37, “ Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of the heart.” That is a hard promise for me because at times I have felt my desires have gone unfulfilled. Perhaps you have felt the same way. Perhaps you have even received bountiful blessings but there is that one thing, that missing blessing, that is like a thorn in your flesh. Maybe it is prolonged singleness, a failed marriage, a barren womb, a dead end job, a prodigal child, a disapproving parent, a risk that ended badly, a risk that you wish you had taken and you wonder what your life would have been like if you had. Proverbs 18:14 says the human spirit can endure sickness but a crushed spirit who can bear? Proverbs 13:12 declares, “hope deferred makes a heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life ( Proverbs 13:12). Is your heart sick tonight? Or have you found that tree of life? We all want to be favored. But how do we find favor?
In their song before the shepherds the Angels provide a blessing. It can be translated one of two ways, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace towards men,” or “Glory to God in the Highest and peace with those whom God favors.” Our church is part of the Reformed tradition which believes in the idea of election. Election is the idea that God chooses us rather than us choosing God. It is the idea that Jesus finds us rather than us finding Jesus. Theologians have debated for thousands of years how our choice, our free will, plays into God Calling us. And we are not going to find conclusive answers to that question tonight. However, I would like to suggests that is what is most important is not what favor we are looking for from God but what God is looking for from us.
2 Chronicles 16:9 says this, “ for the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God is looking for hearts who are committed to Him. God is looking for hearts that delight in Him. How do we delight in the Lord? Tonight’s scripture shows us three ways to delight in the LORD. It shows us three things that God is searching for.
- Glorifying God
- Having the Heart of a Shepherd
1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I have been humbled through circumstances. But that is different than humbling yourself. Humbling yourself is asking for help. Being humble is not speaking badly about yourself. Instead, Paul defines humility for us in Philippians 2:3 where he says, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others to be more significant than yourself.” This is what the best mentors do. This is what the best coaches do. They seek that those they teach may surpass them and they are not jealous when their students do surpass them.
Of course, the greatest example of humility is Jesus. I suppose Jesus could have come to Earth as a ninja, ready to fight evil, if I were Jesus that is what I would have done. But instead he came as a child, depending on the favor of his earthly parents and his heavenly Father. In his incarnation Jesus set an example for us. Paul tells us this in Philippians 2:5-11, “ Have this mind among yourselves which is your in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This brings us to the second thing God is looking for. A heart that glorifies God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is one of the founding documents of our Christian tradition, says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And indeed, in this passage, the heavens are full of the praise of God. And when the shepherds reach the new born King they give praise to God. We have no indication that God improved their station of life because they worshiped Jesus. Perhaps God could have because He is merciful, gracious, and generous. But that is not why the shepherds worshiped him. They worshiped Jesus because He is worthy to be adored for being Jesus. Something about being Shepherds made God choose them to be the first to Glorify His Son. They had a heart to glorify Jesus. What about being a shepherd gives one a heart to glorify God?
God seems to have a special place in His heart for shepherds and he is not too sheepish to admit it. In the Old Testament God first selected a King named Saul for Israel. Saul was a tall good looking man and the people of Israel loved Him. But He did not listen to the LORD. So the LORD sent the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint a new King. Jesse brought out all of his sons for Samuel to choose from. Samuel looked upon Jesse’s first Son Eliab and he thought, “now here is what a King looks like!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD see not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Out of all of Jesse’s eight sons God chose the youngest, David, a shepherd. And in this passage God selects shepherds tending their sheep to have the honor of being the first to hear the good news about Jesus. And Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. What is in the heart of a shepherd that the LORD is seeking?
The life of a shepherd was a rough life. Generally Shepherds had a staff, to guide their sheep, for if they did not keep their sheep moving to new pastures the sheep would eat all the grass and starve. Shepherds also had a club, which was most often a root pulled from the ground, that they would use to beat back predators. They worked long hours and traveled with their sheep. Often, they slept in the open, exposed to the elements and to predators. To the naked eye it would appear that the shepherds were outgunned. What is a guy with a root going to do against a lion? Perhaps David worked alone but that is not what we see in this passage. In tonight’s passage we see that the shepherds are working together. They are covering each other’s backs. This caused me to see the parable of the good shepherd leaving the 99 to save the 1 different. I had always thought that was great for the one sheep but the others would get eaten by wolves. But what if Jesus did not leave the sheep alone? What if trained other shepherds? What if the heart of a shepherd is to lay his life down for the sheep and to train sheep to be shepherds ?
We cannot find God’s favor, but perhaps if we have hearts that seek God alone, His Favor shall find us. And indeed, through this year with you all, I came to a realization at some point that God’s favor is real. For I have seen God’s favor on the lives of many of you whom I admire and love. I have seen a church that says as Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). I have seen a church that says as Jesus says, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And I see a church that says as Paul says, “ Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
And now in this last sermon of 2017 I speak a blessing over you. May the Angels of the Lord surround you with the praises of the one true King. May the heavens be opened and may a flood of glory cover you as the waters cover the sea. May you delight in the LORD, may He shape your hearts, and fulfill the desires of your hearts. May your longings be fulfilled and may it be unto you a tree of life. May healing flow forth from the heavens till the Holy Spirit breaks our hearts of stone and gives us hearts for love alone. May the LORD fill these pews with his praises and our hearts with His passion. Now may the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26).