Sermon:  Ambassadors in a Pagan World

Summary:  When it comes to non-Christian special days that have religious
dress, the question to ask is what would Jesus do?  Jesus' response to the feast
of dedication can give some insight on how to respond in a wise way, which is to
use it as an opportunity to teach.

Know:  Many things of the world can be excellent opportunities to use in order to
teach others the Gospel.  As stewards, we should be aware of these
opportunities and use them.

Feel:  Positively about things such as Christmas as opportunities to teach

Do:  Reflect on what it means to be both holy and ambassadors at the same time
in a world that does not know Christ.  Discuss ways holiness and evangelism
work together.  Identify ways to engage the world with God's message wisely.

Text:  John 10:22-24; 1 Cor 9:19-23

Scripture Reading:  2 Cor 5:18-20

Intro:	1.  Matt 1:18-25
	2.  Man who changed skin color to truly learn what it was like to be Black, 
	     wrote  “Black like me” - Wanted to truly understand what it was like.
	3.  That is what the journey Jesus took to earth was like
	4.  We call it the incarnation.  So many celebrate it this time of year
	5.  Christmas means so many different things to so many people
		a.  Time of peace. Battles pause, hostages allowed to get cards
		b.  Song: I’ll be home for Christmas.  (Time when family together)
		c.  All kinds of people come together to sing (glad, warm happy)
		d.  Presents exchanged, aroma of food, tinsel, bright lights, sparkle
		e.  Greater awareness of those less fortunate
	6.  Some object to Christmas and will have nothing to do with it
	7.  Some observe in secular way, others vice versa
	8.  Where did this all start?

I.  History Lesson
	A.  Someone said, “If there were no Christmas, we would invent one for all 
	      its positive benefits for the human race”
		1.  That statement is so true
		2.  What actually happened.  Xmas was invented BEFORE Christ
	B.  Ancient Germans & Celtic tribes held festival honor the winter solstice
		1.  Sun, moon, stars, planets worshipped for role in changing 
			a.  This was to ensure the return of spring - Shortest Day
			b.  This period of worship was called the “Yule Season”
				-Commemorate the return of the “burning wheel” 
				-Used holly & mistletoe, evergreen tree & wreaths 
				 (signs of perpetual life in the winter)
			c.  These pre-Christian relics still with us, but 			    Christian-ized.
		2.  Some believe Christmas arose as a response to pagan practice
			- To compete with pagan celebrations in December
	C.  Word “Christmas” - 11th century from medieval “Christ Mass” of 
		1.  Celebrations of Birth of Christ (individual) as early as 3rd
			-  Reaction to gnostisicm? to emphasize humanity of Christ
		2.  Certain bishops ordered celebration of the Nativity in 5th century
			a.  Dec. 25th was used
			b.  Became mixed with the pagan baggage of winter solstice
		3.  During time of Christ, Jews did not celebrate birth days
			a.  But they did commemorate deaths of important people
			b.  eg- Jepthah’s daughter, Stephen’s death,  massacre of 
			     children in Bethlehem
		4.  Christmas developed and morphed over the centuries
			a.  Stories of Bishop Nikolas morphed into Santa Claus
			b.  Most Protestants initially did not celebrate Christmas
			c.  In American
				- Not widely celebrated in New England
				- Colony of Massachusetts, there was a law against it
				- More popular in southern colonies
	D.  Facts:
		1.  Don’t know date when Jesus was born (probably not Dec 25)
		2.  Birth not celebrated under direction of Apostles in early church
		3.  Many symbols in Christmas carried over from Pagan practice

II.  How should we as Christians react to Christmas?
	A.  Many deal with it in many different ways
		1.  Some reject everything that has anything to do with it
		2.  Others celebrate it with religious meaning, others as secular
		3.  I don't think embracing everything about Christmas is proper
		4.  I'm not sure that "Bah Humbug" is wisest response either
			a.  Someone once told me that if you are going to reject it 
			     and condemn others for observing it…
			b.  Then be consistent, reject Christmas vacation, bonus, 
			      and other things associated with it
	B.  What we need is an informed, balanced, biblical response
		1.  Before you do anything, seek to understand it
			a.  We are not of this world
				- Don't "blindly" follow practices of the world
				- Especially when they are in religious dress
				- Be wise and discerning about it
			b.  This would fall under the category of traditions of men
				- Pagan overtones are no longer there
				- Many of our practices have pagan origins, such as
				  throwing rice at weddings
			c.  Bible is clear not to bind traditions of men (Matt 15:6)
		2.  Don’t misunderstand traditions
			a.  Traditions can be powerful, meaningful teaching method
			b.  Problem is when you try to bind a man-made tradition as 
			     though it came from God
		3.  Need to distinguish between “holiday” and “holy-day”
			a.  To view it as a “holy day” is to give it a meaning God 
			     does not
			b.  It has given rise to “holiday Christians”
				- This, along with easter, is a holy day
				- On a holy day, you go to church
			c.  New Testament tells us every day is holy to the Lord
		4.  (Rom 14:3-6) Some observe it for God, others do not for God
			a.  If they are fully convinced in their mind, God accepts it
			b.  But I am not going to spend time on this one
			c.  Let's look at another question
	C.  Ask question you should for everything in life.  What would Jesus do?
		1.  But Christmas didn’t exist!
		2.  But there is Hannukah  “Feast of Lights”, also known as the 
		     “feast of dedication”
			a.  Origin in the intertestamental period (400 yr period)
				-  Temple captured by Antiochus Epiphanes 
				    (sacrificed pig on altar)
				-  Judas Maccabees recaptured & rededicated it in 
				   164 BC
				- 100 years of Jewish independence
				-  To commemorate it, they had the feast of lights
			b.  Not mentioned anywhere in your O.T
			c.  Like Christmas, it has excess baggage as well
		3.  So what!  Jesus rebuked people for teaching as doctrine 
		     commands of men
		4.  However, this feast is mentioned in the N.T. (John 10:22-24)
			a.  What did Jesus do?
			b.  What he did NOT do
				- Condemn their practice
				- Boycott the celebration
			c.  What he did do
				- Used it as an opportunity to teach
				- On Jewish independence day, Jesus teach of 
				  eternal life 
				- Jesus, Master Teacher always looked for 
			d. (I Cor. 9:19-23) - Be all things to all men
		1.  It may be the only time of year where you might reach someone
		2.  Use it to teach, and remind people about the true meaning of
		    the incarnation
			a.  Not about getting wrapped presents, or about Santa
			b.  Not about nativity scene, or Midnight Mass
		3.  It's about the coming together of God's plan
			a.  This is just the introduction to a story
			b.  Climaxes at empty tomb, and will again when he returns
			c.  In other words, the story is not over yet
		4.  Be ready to tell the "rest of the story" when people are more 
		     open to hearing it

1.  I will follow in the footsteps of Jesus on this one
	a.  I wont boycott it or speak out against it.
	b.  I do seek to understand it - We are not
	c.  I will use it as an opportunity to teach about the meaning of the 
	d.  We should seek to be "Ambassadors for Christ" in a pagan world
2.  Why did my Savior Come to Earth?  Because of his love and my sin
	a.  That baby came destined to die and rise again (Invitation)
	b.  Some day he's coming back
3.  When he returns, it wont be a nativity scene
	a.  It will be the end of this world, and the beginning of a new one
	b.  Are you ready to meet him?

Questions for Small Group Discussion