19 December 2021

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” Micah 5:4-5

How many of you feel discouraged?  Perhaps you felt discouraged because you tried but you could not reach that family member that has had a grudge against you for years.  Remember that a few weeks ago I noted that one of the reasons we may not be hearing God’s answer to our prayer is because we are not in right relationship with our brother or sister.  If you tried to fix this, if you made every effort that you could, and they did not respond to your efforts, that will be discouraging.  Do know though that if you have really tried everything, and they still refuse you, that is on them, not you.  Perhaps you are discouraged because you feel like you have not heard from God, and in that case, you should ask if you have prayed for God’s greatness and not for your own, and if you actually believe in God’s power to make it happen.  We reviewed these ways to fix our relationship with God with scripture passages a couple weeks ago.  If you feel discouraged with God, first try these things.  Mend your own relationships, check your motives, and enable your belief in God’s ability.

Yet our discouragement may extend beyond that.  We may feel sad for little or no reason.  Perhaps we just can’t get in the mood.  The news around us is disturbing.  We are alone for Christmas.  I had thought that last Christmas would be my last Christmas without Alanna, but now I am praying that this is the last one.  For many of us, our spouse is no longer with us, or perhaps they even died around Christmas.  Perhaps another sad or disturbing event happened right around Christmas that you think about each year it comes around.  If you are having an especially blue Christmas, I recommend that you attend St. Paul’s Blue Christmas service tonight at 7pm, which is geared for you.  Perhaps you have tried so hard to be the best person you can be, to make all your commitments, and you do pretty well for a while, and then one time you fall short and it devastates you.  I’ve been there a few times.  It is a wake-up call that you are probably doing too much.  Or it could be a warning that you are not placing your priorities on God or that you are giving up hope that you can actually make a difference.  Yet hear this.  If you do put your priorities on God, you can make a difference.  When do you do trust God, you can feel like you are worthwhile in God’s sight.  God is looking to use you right now.  Let your discouragement turn into hope.  Let your hopelessness turn into love.

The people in the land of Judah did not have much hope in the time before Jesus was born.  They heard of some prophecies of a coming Messiah, but they all had different ideas of what the Messiah was coming to do.  Some thought that he would overthrow the Roman government and reinstate the kingly rule.  This group is often known as the zealots.  This is why many, on the day that we celebrate as Palm Sunday, were excited that Jesus was finally entering Jerusalem.  This was where the battle against the powers that be would finally happen.  Or so they thought. | Others expected him to gather the lost tribes of Israel.  But he did neither of these things.  Instead, he came with a mission of love.  It is not exactly what the people expected.  They were surprised.  How could God’s gift of love not be a permanent solution to every problem they had?  The truth is, it was indeed a permanent solution to every problem.  It just was not in the way that they expected.  When they saw Jesus, many were disappointed or discouraged.  Many were unconvinced that this ever was the promised Messiah, and so still wait for him to this day.  Do you have your own expectations of Jesus when he returns?  Do you expect God to solve every problem and every question that you have?  If you do, then you will not ever stop feeling discouraged.  Jesus is not what you expect.  He is more than anything that you have ever experienced or ever imagined.  But you will miss this when he comes if you are focused on your own expectations or fulfillment.  You will miss this if you are focused on your own needs and worries.  The question that you may be asking now is, “Where is God?  How can I find God?”  Most of us are discouraged most when we cannot seem to find God in our current circumstances.

First, do not look for God among the wealthy and those with high status.  Politicians usually meet both of these criteria and while there are many who consider themselves faithful, there are often ulterior motives.  They have to make their party happy if they want to be re-elected.  They have to market both God-fearing Christians as well as those who feel they have no need for any of it.  Let us keep praying for those in power who walk this boundary.  And let us pray that they might walk as close to God’s will as they can while reaching more people for Christ.  We pray for them regardless of whether we agree with their policies because we want them to be in line with God’s will.  But, often those with a lot of power let that power get to their head.  The same was true with the Pharisees, who believed that they were doing everything right and elevated themselves above the rest both publicly and in their own minds, only to have Jesus rebuke them.  Instead, as is prophesized in Micah 5:2, Jesus came from Bethlehem.  Bethlehem is of the “little clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2).  Furthermore, Jesus was not born in a house, but in a stable.  He was not visited by kings, but by shepherds.  You may find that it is some of the poorest people who are most in awe over Jesus, not only in biblical times, but in our times as well.  He is a hope for them when there was none before.  I believe that we are coming to the same crossroads, but from a different path.  If we are not yearning for the hope in Jesus from a financial difficulty and a trust that God always will provide, we are yearning from a spiritual standpoint.  Our lives feel spiritually dead.  And we are not quite sure what to do about that.  When we ask “Where is God?”  we have to ask ourselves if we are looking for God in God’s ability to “fix” our problems, or if we are looking for God in God’s ability to “change” our focus.  How can I find God?  First, change your attitude from hoping that God fixes to knowing that God changes our focus.

Second, talk to God.  Praise God.  Lament.  Pray.  Thank God.  Whatever is on your heart, God wants to hear it.  God would rather you run to hm with your questions than run from him with your doubts.  When the prophet Jonah ran from God, God found him anyway.  Peter doubted the power of Jesus to allow him to walk on water.  Doubt is common among believers.  God welcomes it.  But if you let it fester in your mind, if you let your worry build, it will just keep whittling away at your faith.  There are powers at work here on earth that want to take away your faith.  They don’t need you to turn toward them; they only need you to turn away from God.  And the scary part is that they are winning.  This is why God sent Jesus into the world: to save us from the power of our own sins and from the snare of the devil.  Once we put our faith in Jesus, and call on him as our personal Lord and Savior, we are forgiven and we are welcomed into God’s forever family.  You need to let the Christ child in.  How can I find God?  Don’t wait for God to talk to you.  You will not hear God without inclining your ear toward God.  Go to God and tell him everything that is one your mind.  Talk to God.  Ask your questions.

Third, be open to being amazed.  If you are not open to new things, you will never receive the new things that God is giving you in your life.  Do not settle into your way of believing and stay there.  Keep an active prayer life.  Be active in your devotions.  Admit when you might have been wrong.  When you see something out of the ordinary, believe in God’s power.  Not everything is explained away by science.  Be open to the neighbor across the street who had her disease miraculously cured.  Find God in the faith of Horatio Spafford (author of It is Well with My Soul who kept singing God’s praises even after his daughters perished at sea.  Find faith in the joy of Elizabeth, who bore a child in her old age and rejoiced when she heard Mary, the “mother of her Lord” (Luke 1:43).  How can I find God?  Be open to being amazed by the wondrous things that are happening all around you.  See the wondrous creation, see the faith of people around you, and see God working in your life.  See God in the people who care about you.  See God in how fortunate you are compared to others who have nothing but their faith.  See how God has blessed you.  There is a refrain that is in the new Worship and Rejoice hymnal called “Awesome God” and it goes like this:

“Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God.” (WR 658)

We could keep singing that refrain over and over again.  That is all that song needs.  Often, when I am feeling a bit down for any reason, I sing that refrain aloud.  I remind myself that my God is awesome, that God still reigns, and that God holds all the wisdom, power, and love that we will ever need.  That is enough to call on this God.  That is enough to believe in this God.  That is enough to recapture the wonder.  God is about to give us a gift.  We know that the world is dark.  But something magical shines out of that darkness.  It is a hope.  God brings us a hope for the world, and its salvation, and that is found in the gift of the Christ child.  It is found in God’s love.  It is found in being who Jesus teaches us to be.  When you are discouraged, what you need most is to focus on a hope.  I pray for all of us that that hope might be God’s salvation.  God is near.  God is here.  Our God is an awesome God.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Micah 5:2-5a
5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
5:3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
5:4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
5:5 and he shall be the one of peace.

Luke 1:46b-55
1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,
1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:39-45
1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,
1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

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