Introduction: Two Visions for Family.
There are many churches in this city. Some of them are older and some are younger. Some are larger and some are smaller. One might walk into those communities and not notice much of a difference. But as we are celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and prepare our hearts for 2017, we must consider some of these questions, “Is there anything different or compelling in our community? What has brought us all together? Is this a supernatural community or a natural community?”
In the text that were read today it is hard for us to realize the weight of what was happening without considering how this would have been received by the original reader. In Luke 2 the Son of God was born. The Christ, who God promised to the Israelites would true redemption came into the world. And when this happens who does God announce this great news to? Shepherds. The Israelites had a rich historical history of being shepherds, but in the ancient world this profession was seen as disgusting and for the lower class. For instance in Genesis 47 Joseph tells his family Egyptians considered herd workers an “abomination.” We must remember that the Gospel of Luke was written for Gentiles. For Gentiles you would not catch a wealthy landowner associating with a shepherd. Certainly the king of the universe should not be associating with shepherds. Why would the God of the universe send angelic emissaries to invite shepherds to come see the King of kings? This is what I would call a “supernatural” community or a supernatural view of family.
Therefore, we immediately see the vision God has for His people. I believe God desires His people to be puzzling, compelling. People who come into our midst should be asking, “How could these people come together?” The church is supposed to be a compelling community. For instance, I don’t share this with you much, but do you know how humbling it is for me to be bi-racial pastor of a white majority church. Did you know the first legal interracial marriage was in 1967? That is nearly 50 years ago. That means 50 years ago I could not only be your pastor, but my marriage would be illegal, and I would have been birthed out of something illegal. But by the grace of God that is not where we are now.
But most churches today are not very compelling. They are full of people with the same political beliefs, similar backgrounds, same social class, and many other things. The church then becomes a social club. This is why things like membership sounds like a country club or those who belong to a gym. God’s vision for the church is it be a place where we see the dividing wall of hostility is being broken down.
As we consider the gift of Christ this year, ask yourself, “how is it shaping my vision for family?” As you spend time with your biological family this year wrestle with whether or not the birth of Christ is impacting your vision for family? Have the bloodlines changed for you? Where are your deepest relationships? What message are we giving our lives to?
Theme: When God truly gives us a vision for family it runs deep and spreads wide.
1. A Healthy Vision for Family is Given by God.
This sounds like a great vision, but how is this vision for the church even possible? We see glimpses of this truth sprinkled throughout our passage in Luke—READ Luke 2.9-10, 14, 20. You see the immediate response these men had to angelic messengers was “FEAR” or “terror.” The angels tell them we have come to bring you GOOD NEWS. They tell them the Child born will bring peace—he will break down the dividing wall of hostility. The worst hostility in the world is the hostility between us and God. But the angels here say, “...on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” These men went away rejoicing because of what they had been told.
I believe our passage in Ephesians 2 takes us deeper into these realities. While the birth of Christ immediately begins to build a community that is compelling and is bringing unity into the world, it is the death of Christ that secures it:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.—Ephesians 2.14-16
What this tells us is God purchased this unified compelling community for us. This new vision for family, or community, God has for us was purchased for us. It is secure. It is like a check given to us by a wealthy relative. The money is there in the bank, and we just need to go cash it. This supernatural vision for family has been purchased and given to us God, but we must be willing to cash in on it. There are two ways God helps us cash in on that vision.
2. A Healthy Family Runs Deep.
God’s desire for us as a community is for our relationships to run deep. To run thicker and fuller than even our biological relationships. When the shepherds came and told Mary and Joseph what happened to them the text says—READ Luke 2.18-19. The message they delivered led people to wonder, awe, treasuring, and pondering. Are we a community, a family, that is still in wonder, awe, treasuring and pondering the message that has been delivered to us? Is this the defining story of our family? Does it run deep into our very being?
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2.18 through Christ we now have access to the Father. He goes on to tell us in verse 19 we are longer “strangers and aliens” but “citizens...members of the household of God...being joined together.” Are these the defining marks of our community? When we go away this holiday season away from each other are we eager to talk about our church community? Are we eager to tell others how God is using our community to help us grow deeper with God and each other? Will we miss each other? If these questions are not positive, then, what is preventing that in you? Before we start thinking through the other people in our midst that we believe are getting in the way, slow down and think through, “what am I doing?”
Do not forget Luke 2 demonstrates to us the wall of hostility has been torn down. Ephesians 2 explains it to us clearly. May we use this advent season to remind ourselves what the birth of Christ started. We have been called to be a community of people who run deeper than our biological families. We our affections for God should run deep and our affections for His Family—the Family He purchased by sacrificing His Son on a Cross.
3. A Healthy Family Spreads Wide.
The second way we can cash in, or develop, this “family” identity is keeping in mind that a healthy family spreads wide—READ Luke 2.10, 14, 20. The angels were sent to spread the joyful message that the Christ, the Savior of the human race, had been born. They delivered this message to shepherds and verse 20 told us those shepherds went away rejoicing. The text does not tell us directly, but I bet they told others what they “had heard and seen.” In fact that phrase is a commonly used by Luke in many of his writings to talk about the message of the Gospel spreading (Luke 7.22; Acts 4.20; 22.15).
We also know the apostle Paul who wrote the letter to the Ephesians and is writing to a Gentile church. Therefore, when he is telling them the “wall of hostility” is broken down this is something he knows theologically and experientially. This is the same man who tormented the early church and could not stand to walk on the same road with a Gentile. Yet we know from Galatians 2 Paul felt a calling to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and it was confirmed by the church leaders. But we also know from the same chapter Paul opposed one of those same leaders, the apostle Peter, to his face because he refused to eat with Gentiles when his Jewish buddies arrived. Paul truly believed what he preached. He believed, if the wall of hostility has been broken down, then why would we still live like it is up.
Just like Paul, who is God calling you to this Christmas? Who needs to know the wall of hostility has been broken down? Whether with you or God? Many of us here probably do not have direct enemies, but who are your passive enemies. Who are those people who are nothing like you? Who would make you and your family completely uncomfortable this Christmas because they smell, look, or act different? These could be the people God is calling you to share the good news with. Luke 2 told us it was “good news of a great JOY that will be for ALL the people.” Who are those “all the people” in your life that need the good news of GREAT JOY this Christmas? If you cannot answer that right now. If there is not someone who is coming into your mind then pray God would awaken you to them. For others you know who they are, but you are afraid to take the next step. For you, pray God will give you the strength to do what Ephesians 4 tells us, “Let...come out of your mouths...only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”