Scripture: Zephaniah 3:17, Philippians 4:4,8-13, John 3:7,13-17
Sermon: “Christmas List”
Pastor Todd Buurstra

I don’t need to tell you that these are tough times. Maybe the toughest times in my half-century. So I find myself feeling down once in a while. Let’s just review the list:

  • Unemployment at 10%–just met one of you @ Starbucks to hear about threatened job cuts;
  • Two wars: one in which we’re making progress and the other is a quagmire;
  • Nuclear Proliferation—the Iranian Republican Guard may gain control over Iran’s bombs
  • Dire predictions over the future of the climate in Copenhagen;

And we haven’t even talked about healthcare and national deficits. But, more to the point of when I feel down, and maybe when you do, personal stuff: the challenge of marriage, the insecurities of a job (for me its more my own sense of inadequacy), a kid, an expense…

Anyone need a Prozac yet?! Listing the tough issues in this season puts me in mind of writing a Christmas list-which may correspond to this feces list. But in the midst of another tough time, when Paul was sitting in prison for preaching Jesus, the Spirit inspires him to write Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Always, I guess that means even in tough times, like when rats infest your cell. Why rejoice in tough times?

Sitting in that dark cell, with his closest friends, the rats, Paul got some news, but not very good news. His favorite church, in Philippi, was having conflict. He would expect a troubled church like Corinth to fight, but Philippi? Can’t we all just get along? I imagine that infighting made Paul nervous. Doesn’t nagging conflict do that to you? It’s at least an irritant, like sand in your shoes. I hate slicing through tension. Paul writes…

Then there’s the prophet Zephaniah. Say that name with me. Zephaniah… By 625 BC Judah had lived under the long shadow of Assyria for 50 years. Zephaniah, a prince, had a father and grandfather on Judah’s throne that were just Assyrian puppets. What to do with this fear? How do you deal with your fear of bullies? Z writes…
And lastly there’s John the Baptist. Preaching in hellfire and brimstone style he cries, You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from God’s wrath?! What? What shall we do? they anxiously reply. So wild John confronts their money problems… (vv. 10-14) Don’t you sometimes feel tempted to slip into a morally gray area for more money?

In all these tough problems God’s advice is…but why rejoice in tough times?

John the Baptist tells us of God’s positive purpose for judgment that can be behind tough times. John describes it as a winnowing fork which was used, as you see in the picture, to separate wheat from chaff; i.e., the good stuff to eat from the waste to throw away. The chaff, being mostly fluff, floated away, while the wheat being more substantial fell in a pile. That’s how God uses tough times in our lives. God’s winnowing fork in America’s financial crisis is tossing away the chaff of frivolous spending and settling the substance of savings. God’s winnowing fork this Christmas may mean $50 presents rather than $500 presents to be able to get out of debt. So rejoice in the positive purpose.

Zephaniah gives us the second reason to rejoice in tough times: the positive presence God. Our church planter friends, Carlos and Carmen, were discouraged last meeting that they may have to shut the doors on the Reading church’s daughter church in Lebanon, PA over a conflict. After an hour of agonizing over a tough situation there, we decided to table it one more month to pray for a miracle. After the meeting I went over to my friend to say, I know you are disappointed. Carlos replied like all great overcomers, Yes, but its God’s problem. And God can do miracles. A tough situation isn’t over when the “fat lady sings” because God always has the last word. I related how we struggled with our daughter church Ignite. And now an even bigger group is gathering in a small group The God who is present in our tough times is a positive God. That’s reason to rejoice!

One last reason to rejoice in tough times is provided by Paul from jail. God places positive people around. In Paul’s case a guy by the name of Epaphroditus had brought a care package to Paul from the Philippian church. That warmed the cockles of the old apostle’s heart, giving him reason to rejoice. Have you heard about that young boy who was having surgery to remove a tumor by his eyes that cost him his sight? They asked him before the surgery, while he could still see, What would you like? I’d like to watch USC play football, he replied. So USC team befriended him. When the players come off the field they tap him on the shoulder or give him a hug. Now blind, he beams. What positive people has God put in your life? What a great reason to rejoice!

Those are today’s scriptural reasons to rejoice. Make your own Christmas list of reasons to rejoice in your tough times. Email them to me, if you don’t mind. Amen.

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