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Christmas Cookies

Date: Dec. 6, 2015

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

Key Verse: Philippians 3:6

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Welcome to our second week of Advent. That means that we are one step closer to Christmas. As we get closer to Christmas, there are more and more things we do to prepare. We put up our Christmas trees, whether they are natural or artificial. We string the lights and put the star on the top. We place shining ornaments all around the tree, just to prepare. A lot of people decorate the outside of their houses with twinkling lights, and some put on huge displays to wow passersby. If you work, a lot of places to work have holiday parties in order to celebrate. I just had mine on Friday, and it was a sight to see. Christmas songs are starting to popup on the radio. Inside, there are also a bunch more preparations. There are people noshing on the eggnog and munching of Christmas cookies. I love Christmas cookies. One of my favorite sweets is cookies and Christmas cookies just take it up a notch. Now, one of my mom’s big things to do for Christmas is to make Christmas cookies. She makes lots of different kinds. There are the almond crescent horns, the butter cookies, the little hazelnut ones, the jelly-filled that have a little cutout to see the jelly, the three tiered powdered-sugared one with jelly between each tier, and I am probably missing some. But you know what, making all those is a hard thing to do. It takes my mom all day just to make two of those varieties. As an example, for those hazelnut cookies, you have to get all the ingredients together and then, just for the nuts, she has to crack all the nuts because she can’t find shelled ones. Then she has to grind all the nuts up into a fine powder and she has a hand crank grinder to do that. Then she has to take the nuts and mix it into the dough and then form the dough into balls and place them onto these little wafers, which prevents them from sticking and makes for a tasty crunch. Finally, she tops each cookie with a whole hazelnut and they go into the oven. That is just the work for one cookie and I am probably missing a whole lot of steps, too. There is so much preparation in making one type of cookie, but the result is something so yummy. People prepare so much for cookies and to create an atmosphere for Christmas, but what about preparing ourselves? Shouldn’t our hearts and minds be prepared for Christmas? That is what Advent is all about. Advent is all about preparing ourselves for the arrival of Jesus, both his first coming, which we celebrate on Christmas, and his second coming, which has yet to come. Our passages today will help us understand what it means to be prepared.

Let’s start out this morning in Malachi 3:1. It is written, “‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Now Malachi is an interesting book. It is the last book of the Old Testament and the last prophetic book written before the arrival of Jesus. Malachi wrote after some of the Jews were allowed to returned from the exile. He was a contemporary of Nehemiah and his book was probably written when Nehemiah was back in Persia, between his two times as governor. It is a book condemning the sinful nature of the returned exiles, but in the midst of all that is this passage. The Lord says that a messenger would come to prepare the way before him. That means that the Lord was coming and he was sending someone to prepare the people for his arrival. That is an amazing thing. There was so much darkness, so much pain and sin that it required for the Lord himself to come on down, but before he came, the way needed to be prepared. So he was going to send his messenger.

Who is this messenger? Was it Malachi? His name does means “messenger”. It would be an obvious choice. But that choice would be wrong. It would take another four hundred thirty years for the messenger to come. At that time, there was a priest named Zechariah. He was an older priest with no children. Then, one day, when he was doing his priestly duties in the temple, an angel came to him and told him he was going to have a son that he was to name John. The angel told Zechariah that his son would be the one to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. It was unbelievable and because of his unbelief, Zechariah was made mute for the entire pregnancy. When his son was born, and he named him John, Zechariah could speak again and he sang a song, which is our second passage. There is a lot in that song. It is very dense with lots of foreshadowing and prophecy. I am not going to go in to a lot of detail of the song, mostly because Bob will be doing that in about two weeks, but there is something very important to this message in the middle of the song. Zechariah sings, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,” (Luke 1:76-77) Zechariah’s boy would go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of theirs sins.

There is a lot in that sentence. I’ve said it a couple of times already that the Lord needed to have the way prepared for him. If you look at all the verses, they don’t actually say that the Lord needs to be prepared. That is because God himself doesn’t need preparation. He already knows what is going to happen, so he is ready for anything at all times. Instead, they say that the way is to be prepared for him. The environment or the pathway needs to be prepared for God. Obstructions need to be removed so that there is a clear path. However, John wasn’t to prepare a physical path, but a spiritual one. Zechariah sung that his son would give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. What needed to be prepared was the people. The people needed to be ready for the coming of the Lord, so the Lord sent John to be his messenger and get people ready.

Just how John got the people ready is from our third passage today, Luke 3. That passage says, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.”’” (Luke 3:1-6) So when John grew up, he went into the wilderness and began to preach around the Jordan River about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Again, John was to give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins by preaching about a baptism of repentance. John was to prepare the people by getting them to realize that they are sinners in need of repentance. The forgiveness of sins is God’s salvation from the coming judgment. Since that salvation only comes from God, we have to realize that we need God in order to be saved. That is where repentance comes in. Sin is anything that takes us away from God, and everyday there are a thousand things that take each and every one of us away from God. On our own, we cannot make our way back to the Lord. It’s like drowning in an ocean and we can’t swim. We need to be rescued and that rescue comes from God, but we have to turn to God to accept that rescue. Think of it this way: if you were drowning in the ocean and had no way of getting out, you would need a rescue boat or helicopter to save you. Go dis that helicopter. When he comes and hovers over you, you would have to make the decision to reach out and grab the lifeline and that is what we call repentance. Repentance is turning away from sin, from that drowning, and turning to God for salvation. It means putting aside all the panic and fear, and reaching our hand out to be rescued. Realizing that one need to be saved is the preparation that is needed to accept God’s salvation through Jesus.

This is where the message of Christmas comes in. Out in that night, in a stable in Bethlehem, God’s salvation was born. The world had been waiting for eons for its redemption and in that baby boy in a manger lies the hope of that salvation. All that we need to do is realize that we need salvation. Sometimes, it is really hard to accept that we are sinners, but if we don’t do so then we can never be ready for Jesus and we are never ready for Christmas. Jesus didn’t come to save those who do not need saving. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13) Jesus came for those who know that they need saving and there is a simple plan for that. First, you have to know how bad you are. We like to fool ourselves into thinking that we are not so bad. We didn’t murder anyone, but if you remember from a few weeks ago, the spirit of the law is far deeper than we expect. It is not merely enough to not murder someone, but you shouldn’t also harbor any anger towards anyone either. When we really look at ourselves, we can see how far away from the gold standard we are. We might be ok, but God’s standard is perfection, and we always fall short of perfection. But that leads us to the second part. After knowing how bad we are, we have to come to know how good Jesus is and the salvation that he brings. Jesus was born in a manger to save us from our sins. His death on the cross wipes away all of our sins. It is a cure for our sins. He can bring us back to righteousness and perfection because he becomes our righteousness. Finally, putting one and two together means that when we know that we are sinners and we know that Jesus brings redemption of our sins, then we can know that we need to repent of our sins and turn to Jesus to accept that salvation that he brings.

Going back to the Christmas cookies. When you prepare to make the cookies, you have to know what ingredients you need to make the cookies and gather those ingredients. You have to make sure that you have enough flour, eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon and nuts. If you do not have the right ingredients or the right amount, then the Christmas cookies won’t come out right. The gathering of the ingredients is a lot like our preparation to accept Jesus. Without the ingredients, we can’t make Christmas cookies and without knowing that we are sinners, we cannot accept Jesus’ salvation. For me, I knew very little about Jesus or God…pretty much nothing, and I considered myself a pretty okay person. I have a strong sense of honor and I have always tried to do the right thing, regardless of its outcome to me. I’ve never really sought any personal gain, but idealized gain for the greater good. I don’t like cheating and lying, and am very uncomfortable with receiving praise, so you can see that I thought I was at least a decent guy. Unfortunately, being a decent guy is not good enough. Holding on to how good I think that I am prevented me from seeing how much that I need Jesus. My code of honor, the principles that I lived my life by also built arrogance and pride that became visible when anyone questioned my honor. In a snap, would get offended and become upset much to the detriment of any relationships I had. But it took me three years of Bible study and hitting rock bottom to see my hypocrisy…to see the depth of my sin. All the ingredients were finally gathered and I was finally ready to meet Jesus because I knew how sinful I was and my first repentance happened. The funny thing is that everyone has a different story. Some have known about Jesus for a while, and their preparation involves going away from that knowledge. They might live two lifestyles, one of sin, seeking its pleasures and one of God, seeking his blessing. However, one day, they have to make a choice of which to follow. But we all reach the same point, realizing the depth and breadth of our sins, and turning to Jesus. We require different ingredients because we are different types of Christmas cookies.

The great thing is that when you meet Jesus, he takes those ingredients and turns it into dough that he can mold into cookies. He mixes you together and rolls you out and forms you into shape, but you are not done yet. An unbaked cookie is not necessarily edible. Sure, there is some cookie dough that tastes good, but it usually has raw egg in it and probably shouldn’t be eaten. There is also other dough that really doesn’t even taste good. The final step in making cookies is to take that dough and put it in the oven. In the oven, the dough is transformed into a cookie, but it takes time and the proper temperature to do this. As you might know, when you first meet Jesus through your repentance and accept his salvation. You feel drastically different. A burden has been removed from your heart and you feel freer that you ever have. There is more joy and peace that you have ever felt, but we know that is not the end. We are not taken immediately up to heaven and we still constantly sin. We are not perfect, yet. There is still a lot of work to do. We’ve gone from ingredients to dough, but we are not cookies yet. We have to go into the oven first.

We can get some insight into this if we go back to Malachi. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.” (Malachi 3:2-4) This passage talks of God purifying his people like a refiner of gold and sliver. Now, refining gold and sliver requires heat. The metal is heated up to the point of melting and the impurities become easier to separate. Similarly, we, as Christians, undergo quite of bit of trial by fire. Our lives are made to be smooth sailing once we meet Christ, but it becomes a time of refinement and this, too, is a type of preparation. We are not preparing for Jesus’ first coming, but we are preparing for his second. Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, but he promised that we would return at a time when everything was prepared. So, it is very important that we are ready for that day, because, on that day, we will be fully brought into God’s presence. There will be no veil between God and us as we enter into paradise.

This refining is a process that is ongoing and we call it purification or sanctification. And if we look at our last passage, we can get an idea of what that looks like. Philippians is a letter written by Paul to the church in Philippi. He begins with encouraging words to the church. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6) Paul was very thankful for the church in Philippi. You can see that God started working in the Philippians and Paul was confident the God would finish the work he started until the day Jesus returns. Paul continues to share his love for the church and then he shares his prayer, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

In Paul’s prayer, we can see what the refinement is. He prays that the peoples’ love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. He wants for their love to grow more and more in knowledge. That is not something that we normally say. Love may be blind, but it is not dumb. It is the wise that love more than the foolish. The wise can think about what is going on and have insight in to why and have even more love. The fool is quick tempered and acts rashly. They care more about their own feeling than that of others, but the wise thinks about others. Also, abounding more and more in knowledge means that you are able to discern was is best and be pure and blameless. With more knowledge and insight, you make better decisions and be able to avoid that traps that sin lays for us. We can avoid temptation and remain pure. Our minds become transformed to the point that what once tempted us no longer does so. The desire and drive to sin becomes diminished as the light of Christ grows within us. The fruit of sin begins to shrivel up and die while the fruit of righteousness fills us more and more. In short, we stop looking like our sinful selves and we start looking more and more like Jesus.

This is the preparation that we have to make for the second coming. We have to become more and more like Jesus, but it takes a lot of heat to go from dough into a cookie. It can be hard to let go of ourselves. We’ve never known anything but who we are, but that is not what we were meant to be. Becoming more like Jesus means that we have to let go of our pride and trust God. In times of crises, we want to hold on to some solid thing to make us feel safe, but we are not to live safe lives. We are to live lives that that trust fully in God and the knowledge that God is good. It’s like one of those trust exercises where you fall into someone’s arms. You have to give up any semblance of security and trust that the other person will catch you. It is not a safe thing to do, but it is the trusting thing to do. When you place your trust in him, God will catch you. You are a cookie and God knows what temperature to bake you and for how long, and do you know what? God has never burned a Christmas cookie.

Now different cookies have different baking instructions. Different cookies have different temperatures and different bake times. In our lives of faith, there are some that will need to be refined more than others. The might be left in longer or face a higher heat. Some people are meant to lead, others to teach, others to sing praise, others, still, to make an environment, others to invite people, and others just to fill the seats. At any rate, we all need to be prepared and you might look a where you are right now and you have no idea where you are to end up, but you can know a very big truth. Paul wrote, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) God has started his work in you. You are now a Christmas cookie in the oven and God will not prematurely stop the baking because a half-baked cookie is a nasty useless cookie. God does not do anything in half measures. He finishes what he starts and the good work that he has started in you will continue to be carried out until you are just perfect and ready for the day that Jesus will come again. You will continue baking, being refined until you are who you are supposed to be. Who you are right now will not last forever. All that soft dough is being transformed into a wonderful Christmas cookie and on the day that Jesus comes back, we will all be whisked up in God’s arms to his feast prepared for us, where we can all enjoy those delicious Christmas cookies.

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