Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land…
2020 is just about over! How does that make you feel? We have come through a lot this year. It will forever be a year that we tell our kids, grandkids and their kids about. COVID, protests, riots, politics, and wildfires! Who would have thought!? But, now we are entering a new year and many ways a new world – uncharted territory. No one had lived through 2020 before, but we did, and now we get to live into 2021.
Near the end of Moses’ life he stood on a mountain and looked out over the land God had promised Abraham. It had been a very long time coming and Moses had been through a lot. Finally, the new territory. They would soon be entering it and taking the land God promised. However, due to some bad decisions, Moses would not enter that land. Instead the people would follow Joshua into battle and he would lead them.
I feel like this is where we are today. We are looking out into a new world and some new land but if we are going to take it we will have to leave some things behind. We are not going to be able to take it if we cling too tightly to the past. The Israelites would have to leave Moses and follow Joshua – a new leader who would lead them into a new place and do some new things.
It is easy to look at that and be afraid. Change is never easy and entering a new place is always a bit uncomfortable. Just like the Israelites we will be tempted to stay or go back. They were always tempted to go back to Egypt – slavery sounded better than the wilderness at moments. They could have stayed in the wilderness and not followed Joshua, but that would have meant their death. If we want to live we will always have to move forward.
2021 is our chance to move forward. To do it effectively we may need to leave some things behind. That might be scary and hard, but it is necessary. Chances are, you already know what those things (or people) might be. I want to encourage you to go – take the land – with the same words God gave Joshua; “be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
What an incredible announcement! What makes it even more incredible is who was receiving this announcement. Shepherds would not have been the first group of people I would have thought of to tell about the birth of Jesus. I know when I have an important announcement to make I usually tell the people closest to me first. In these days, shepherds were not known for their religious excellence or their prominence in society. They were known for being dirty and dishonest people. Yet, those are the people God sent an angel to, with such great news.
This part of the Christmas story gives us many reasons to rejoice at the birth of Christ. One of the things it shows us is that God always knows where we are and will always come find us there. These shepherds were out with their sheep in the middle of the night, very easily could have been in the middle of no where. Yet, God knew right where they were – darkness and all. The birth of Jesus is a reminder that God knows where we are and that He will not just sit back and wait for us to come to Him, He will come to us with the Good News of Jesus.
God’s presence in our world is reason to rejoice. These shepherds were afraid at first. Probably because there was a bright light and an angel out in the middle of no where in the middle of the night. But, there may be times in our life where we find ourselves afraid and in the dark. Let this be a season where we are reminded that we don’t need to live in fear. Jesus is here with us. Our Savior has come.
Let’s spend a little extra time rejoicing in the arrival of Jesus. Let’s make sure to celebrate His birth. But, take time to also rejoice and celebrate that He has come into your life too. He can be our personal Savior. These angels gave this message, personally, to the shepherds. God, through Jesus, has also brought this Good News personally to you as well. Rejoice and do not be afraid because Jesus has come for you today!
“Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.
How much time do you think you spend grumbling and complaining about the circumstances in life? We probably do that way more than we should. Have you ever noticed how that grumbling and complaining never really makes you feel any better and will often just make things worse? Well, the disciples get a lesson from Jesus about the best way to live through less than great circumstances. They, too, found themselves questioning (probably grumbling) about Jesus’ statements. Instead of going to Jesus with their concerns, they just kept it to themselves.
Jesus intervened, however, in their griping session and said told them to change their conversation. They were going to go through some difficult times – like child birth. Great advice right? He started by telling them it will be hard. They will experience grief and sorrow. But, if they can stay the course, the joy will come in the end. Jesus challenged them to change their focus from their present grief to their future hope.
As followers of Christ we need to recognize that our joy doesn’t come from a peaceful and pain free life. Our joy comes from the hope we have in the future we have been promised. Jesus uses a woman giving birth as an illustration. That is a very uncomfortable and, at times, painful process. But, when it is over the new mom doesn’t think about the pain, she thinks about the joy and love of her new child. Women can make it through child birth not by focusing on their current pain, but on the baby that comes at the end.
In this life we will have some trying and difficult times. But, even in the midst of them we can still have joy. Not because the trying times go away, but because we know that they will only last a little while. Soon, we will see Jesus. Soon our grief will be turned into joy. As Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning!” Let’s make sure we spend less time grumbling and more time celebrating what lies ahead – the best is yet to come!
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing….“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
John 15:5, 11
What brings you joy in life? That will look different for all of us. Some of find joy in nature, some find joy in family, some find it in careers, and others find it in success. Rejoicing in those things is perfectly fine, in fact we need to rejoice in those things recognizing that the blessings and good things we have in life are a gift from God. But, what happens when those things change or stop? What happens to our joy when the career ends, or the family moves away, or we aren’t finding the success we had hoped for? What then?
Jesus gives us a lesson on joy in John 15. This passage talks about Jesus being the vine and us being the branches. He goes on this long explanation about if we want to bear fruit we have to stay connected to the vine. If we are not connected to the vine we will not bear fruit. We like our fruit, in fact we find great joy in our fruit. Wouldn’t you consider the things you thought of earlier as fruit in your life? I, however, don’t think Jesus is speaking only of those things. I also think He is talking about things like the fruit of the Spirit as mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. But, however you view fruit understand this – there is no fruit apart from the vine. There is no joy apart from the vine. If you want joy and you want fruit you have to abide in Jesus.
We may go through seasons where we aren’t seeing much fruit, maybe even no fruit. But, that doesn’t mean we should give up. This passage talks about the non-fruit bearing branches being taken away. But, the problem with those branches isn’t the fact that they aren’t producing fruit, it is that they have disconnected from the vine. They are no longer abiding. We know god looks at the heart while we look at appearance. So, fruit is all we can see. A lack of fruit doesn't mean your heart is dead, it may just mean you are in a difficult (or pruning) season. God is the vinedresser who cares for us to make sure we can produce fruit.
So, if you are in a difficult seasons and aren’t seeing much fruit. Stay connected to Jesus. He is the source of life and joy – and fruit. Stick with Him – the fruit and the joy will come.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.