“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”—Luke 2:10-11
Christmas is “for all the people.” Christmas reminds us that everyone is on a spiritual journey. And Christmas time gives all of us an excellent opportunity to take the next step on our spiritual journey. No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve done, Christmas encourages you and me to move along our spiritual journey.
How? I’d like to walk us through some of the stages, the seasons, the phases along our spiritual journey. And I’d like us to look at how a character, an example from the Bible who was in that particular stage responded at Christmas.
The first stage along the spiritual journey is the RESISTING STAGE.
Some people are not very interested in spiritual things. They either don’t believe in God or perhaps are mad at God and resist his working in their lives. At Christmas these folks may tend to be Scrooges or Grinches.
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A Biblical example of someone in the Resisting Stage is Herod
“King Herod was deeply disturbed…”—Matthew 2:3 (NLT)
“Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.”—Matthew 2:16 (NLT)
Herod was so caught up in fighting God that he messed up not only his live, but thousands of loves.
If you’re in the resisting stage, take a lesson from Herod: Stop fighting God, it’s not a fight we can win.
A second stage along the spiritual journey is the QUESTIONING STAGE.
This where we’ve moved past disinterest or resistance and are wondering, “There’s got to be more to life than this.”
The shepherds would be the Biblical example of the Questioning Stage.
“The shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."—Luke 2:15
The shepherds opened their minds enough to check things out. If you’re at a questioning stage, I’d encourage you to make the effort at Christmas to look for the things God might be doing around you.
A third stage on the spiritual journey is the SEEKING STAGE.
Those in the spiritual stage of seeking have come out of the clouds and have actually clarified their questions. They’ve progressed to taking their spiritual questions to the Bible to look for answers.
Some in this stage are assertively seeking and hopefully will make a personal commitment to Jesus. This is when we realize we need God. We are getting ready to make a faith commitment and become a Christ-follower.
The Wise Men are a great example of the Seeking Stage.
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’…After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.’”—Matthew 2:1-2& 9-11
The wise men were seekers.
I love the Dave Barry quote: “Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.”--Dave Barry
Seekers are looking for a spiritual place. If that is you, let me encourage you, like the wise men to give the gift of yourself to Jesus this year
Another stage on the journey is the INFANCY STAGE.
This is when we are a beginning Christ-follower, a baby believer. We’re spiritual babies, and we’re struggling with adapting to our new world.
I think the neighbors are a good Biblical example of the Infancy Stage.
“The neighbors were all filled with awe.”—Luke 1:65
When we first make that commitment to Jesus, giving our life to Him because He gave His life for us, a lot of things seem new. We see that God has been with us our entire lives even though we never realized it.
If you’re brand new in following Jesus, go ahead and enjoy Christmas like a little child this year.
Another stage--perhaps the most problematic stage--is the ADOLESCENT STAGE.
This is the part along the journey where we start to feel like we’ve arrived. Adolescence is a know-it-all stage, a selfish stage and an awkward stage.
People who are spiritual adolescents can mess it up for everyone. Those who are resisting and questioning can look at an adolescent believer and think, “If that’s what Christianity is all about, count me out.” Adolescents tend to rise to leadership positions in the church (after all, they know everything!) and mess it up for those trying to follow Jesus too.
An example from the Christmas story of the Adolecent Stage is Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
“Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous…While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him… “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John…Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen?... Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”--Luke 1:6 & 11 & 18-20 (NLT)
Zechariah felt he knew it all, he actually questioned the angel. You’d expect this spiritual leader to believe God, but he didn’t. And he made a mess.
If you’re in the adolescent stage, simply recognize it. Take a lesson from Zechariah--stop pretending that you know everything!
Honestly, we live in an adolescent culture. Everything is all about “me”. So we all slip back into adolescence from time to time--probably more often than we’d like. Let’s realize though, that adolescence is a stage--a phase we need to grow out of--just like Zechariah did.
“Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,”—Luke 1:67-68 (TMV)
Hopefully, like Zechariah we can progress through adolescence to the next stage: the GROWING STAGE:
Joseph is a great example of the Growing Stage.
“When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded.”—Matthew 1:24 (NLT)
Joseph consistently responded at Christmas by doing what God said to do.
The difference between spiritual adolescence and spiritual growth is simple: Obedience. Doing what God says to do.
Father: “Son, do you know the meaning of the word, obey?”
Son: “Sure, Dad, I sell things on it all the time, kind of like Craig’s list.”
Obedience is a lost art in our world, but Christmas calls us to it--to progress along our journey we need to follow what Jesus says.
Another stage is the SERVING STAGE.
Mary is the classic case for the Serving Stage.
“Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.”—Luke 1:38
Mary wasn’t caught up in herself, she was caught up in service. Christmas is a great time to take that next step and serve.
Jerry Seinfeld says, "That's the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me."
Actually, the true spirit of Christmas is growing by serving.
Another stage is the REPRODUCING STAGE.
Many people never reach the reproducing stage. They are serving, but can get so attached that they think of it as “my ministry.”
But growing as a follower of Jesus is not about me, and it’s not about my ministry either. It is about serving others and helping others along their spiritual journey. It’s about reproduction.
The Christmas example in the Bible that comes to my mind for the Reproducing Stage I Elizabeth--because she had a baby! Mary had one too, so Christmas definitely is about reproduction!
Anyway, if you’re pretty far along your spiritual journey, make sure you keep going on toward reproduction. God wants to multiply His impact through you and me--let’s allow Him too!
Another stage along the journey is the MAXIMIZING STAGE.
This is the sweet-spot stage. This is where everything we’ve experienced, all of our gifts and strengths come to a place where God is using us in amazing ways--to do the very things he created us for.
Theologian Bobby Clinton calls this “convergence.” This is where everything comes together. Life may not be easy, but ministry is natural.
Few people ever get here. One who did in the Christmas story is Anna—a nice example of the Maximizing Stage.
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”—Luke 2:36-38
Anna got to the point in her life where she had a giant impact because she was simply doing what God created her to do--speaking about Jesus.
I’d love to see all of us get to that convergence place, where we’re doing exactly what God made us to do.
One last stage is the CELEBRATING STAGE.
This is where we can truly celebrate all that God has done in and through us. I think of Simeon as a Christmas example of the Celebrating Stage.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’"—Luke 2:25-32
“I have seen the Savior you have given to all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations.”—Luke 2:30-32 (NLT)
Very few people get here--to where they can simply celebrate at the end of their lives--like Simeon--and live in peace. Very few people get there, but we can all move closer.
Christmas is for all of us. So, let me wish you a merry Christmas and also encourage all of us to respond this Christmas by taking the next step along our spiritual journey.