First Advent, "Christmas Bargains"
Pastor Larry L. Wiederich, November 29, 2020
Jeremiah 31:31-34 "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. " I will put my law in their minds and write in on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV) Advent is a time for preparation. It is a time to get ready for Christmas. But, of course, you don't have to be a Christian to know that. The world knows this, too. Maybe the world doesn't know what Advent means, or even when it begins, but it does know something about the fact that Christmas is coming. If you want to make the most of it, you had better get ready. Merchants and stores make sure that Santa Claus is on the scene. They make sure that all the decorations are in place. They want part of the $850 that the average person spends on Christmas presents. Maybe they don't know much about Advent, but they do know that this is a season of good will and if you are going to cash in on it, you have to be prepared. Advent preparations also are being carried out in our churches and in our homes. In church we have the Advent wreath that reminds us about the coming of Christmas. In our homes we might have an Advent calendar and open one door each day until it is Christmas. We do all of these things. But are we really ready for Christmas? Perhaps the world can teach us a thing or two about getting ready for Christmas. It teaches us that you really have to work at it and make the most of every opportunity and every minute. So dear Christians, let us make the most of the time that we have to properly prepare for Christmas. Let us make use of these days of Advent so that we will profit from the celebration of Christmas when it comes. Christmas is the celebration of the greatest event ever to take place in this world of ours. God becomes man. Immanuel means that God is with us. We should be properly prepared as we come face to face with the greatest event ever. There is in the manger at Bethlehem the Son of God and the Son of man. As the angel announced: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you; He is Christ the Lord.
Now strangely enough, the holy men of God who wrote the Old Testament Scriptures said the same thing, too. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi, Moses and all the others said it in one way or the other. They all said, "The greatest thing that ever could happen is going to happen. God is going to visit this world. The Messiah is coming. Get ready to meet Him." Perhaps they never used the word "Advent," but they were all really saying the same thing that we say today. Christmas is coming and we had better get ready for it. Now here in our text for this morning we have the prophet Jeremiah telling us that we had better get ready for Christmas. He is really speaking here about the bargain of Christmas. What a great bargain it is! That is what we wish to speak about here this morning. So the theme of our sermon is: CHRISTMAS BARGAINS. Bargains! Who isn't looking for bargains these days? Everyone wants a bargain. We look through the newspapers for sales. We are attracted by signs that say "Marked Down," "Wholesale Prices," "Two for The Price of One," "More for Your Money," and "On Sale Now." The problem is that we often aren't sure what a bargain is. Bargains sometimes have way of losing their luster after a time. Once a man waited until Christmas Eve to buy the family Christmas tree. He thought he had gotten a bargain. But when he brought it home it had scrawny branches, half the needles were gone and it was a complete disaster. His great bargain left something to be desired. I suppose that many of our Christmas bargains are just like that. They are not really much of a bargain after all. The old saying says that you get what you pay for. Bargain hunting might be fine, but sometimes you really don't get much of a bargain. It is true with the things we buy. It sometimes also is true of spiritual things. Many people seem to be shopping for spiritual Christmas bargains. They show up in church at Christmas and Easter. They hope to buy a little spirit of the season by giving an hour or so of their time on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. They hope they can buy a little peace with God with just a few dollars that they give to a church or charity. Aren't they really looking for some type of bargain? Yes, there are many people who think that way. But are they the only ones who hope to get so much for so little? What about the rest of us? Sometimes we also might think that we can purchase a Christmas bargain. We put the emphasis on the outward things during this time of year. We have our customs; we use certain Christmas decorations; we perform this or that little rite. We say that Christmas isn't Christmas without this or that. But is that what makes a real Christmas? That is kind of like bargain hunting, isn't it? We bake the right cookies, get the right tree, have the right decorations and there you have it--a real Christmas. But when Christmas is gone, the bargain is gone and we don't have anything left that is truly lasting.
Perhaps the same thing happens in our churches, too. We have a way of getting all wrapped up in the mechanics of it all. We go through a lot of spiritual motions getting the services planned, the church decorated, the children rehearsed, and so on. We make sure we get it all in, but sometimes we are missing the real treasure of it all. Perhaps this also is a kind of bargain shopping. We expect the real lasting value to be in these outward things, and not in the real meaning of Christmas. So, even after we have tried it all--all the customs and traditions, all the religious motions and gymnastics that we go through; after we have remembered all the right people and supported all the right charities; after we have said all the right words and have had all the right outward things--we may still find that we really have been in the bargain basement. We find that everything we have done has little, if any, lasting value. We have missed the real meaning of it all. It is right here that Jeremiah steps in to speak words that should remind us of the one and only true and lasting Christmas bargain. He says here that we can't do anything at all to get it. He says that the only true Christmas bargain is the bargain that God has made with us. He had made this bargain with us without even asking us about it before He did it. Let's read these words once again: "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write in on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Listen well: The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Yes, it is a new covenant. It is a new agreement, a new promise, a new offer, a new bargain. It is a new bargain initiated by God and it is for man's sake. Or to put it in human language, God says, "I tell you what I am going to do. Here's the new deal. Here's the bargain that I now offer you." God's people in the Old Testament looked for it. They waited for it. They hoped and they believed. They lived in anticipation of the day when God would make it all come to pass. They longed for the day that God would seal his bargain with them. They didn't know exactly what was going to happen or exactly how, but they were waiting. They didn't know all the details about this Christmas covenant, this Christmas bargain, but they were longing for the day to come.
We are much more blessed than they, dear Christians. We know exactly how God brought all this to pass. We know all about that Christmas bargain. We know that God did it through Christ's coming and through his life, death and resurrection. We know all the details about God's plan of salvation. We know that the Messiah was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. We know how He arose again from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God. We know the details about how God has forgiven the sins of the world. We know that the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, has cleansed us from all sins. We know that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. We know that God so loved that world that He gave His only-begotten Son. We know how God carried out the last part of our reading here from Jeremiah which says: I will forgive their iniquity and will remember their sins no more. In the Old Testament the believers waited, longed and hoped for it. We New Testament Christian know it has come to pass. God's bargain has come to this earth. That is what Christmas is all about. And let's be sure that we note well that was entirely the doing of God. He did it all. This was his all His doing, his bargain. It was His from start to finish. There was no haggling. He simply announced it and promised it. There was nothing we did to bring it about. It was all part of his great love for me, for you and all the people of the world. What a bargain God has given to us in Jesus Christ, His Son. So do you see that all these outward things are useful and enjoyable, but they are not the heart of Christmas. The cards, the cookies, the presents, the services, the getting together with family and friends are nice and enjoyable, but they are not the heart of Christmas. The heart of Christmas lies in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. The heart of Christmas is God's own Son, our Lord Jesus, who came from heaven above to earth below to be our Savior, our Redeemer and our Lord. Are you looking for a bargain, dear friend? Then look no farther that the manger and you will see the greatest bargain that has ever been offered to anyone. There is your salvation and it is free of charge. There is your Lord and Redeemer and he doesn't cost you even one cent. I can't think of any bargain greater than this. Can you? Listen once again: I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel...For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Yes, what a bargain that is! Amen.