All I Want For Christmas Is Stability
What do you want for Christmas? What do the people who are serious about living for God in these unsettling times need as we finish 2020 and get ready for 2021?
I suppose there are any number of things we want: joy, hope, trust, deliverance.
But I am preaching on four things this Advent that we might want for Christmas: peace, stability, courage, and faith.
Last Sunday we thought about peace. This morning the thing I think people of the Lord might want for Christmas is stability.
This has been a year that has given us a kind of vertigo. We aren’t always sure which way is up. We can feel unrooted. This Christmas is going to be different. What is familiar may not happen. It may be uncomfortable, and probably already is. That is why we need stability.
Stability comes when we have a solid foundation for our lives. What is your life founded upon? What are you standing on, trusting, putting your whole weight upon? In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, that no one can lay a foundation other than Jesus Christ. Stability comes when we have depth. Depth of soul. Depth of faith. Depth that provides strength, rootedness and immovability. When we have spiritual stability it provides strength in all the other places of our lives.
Trees are more stable as their roots grow deep. A fence stands when its footings go down deep. Houses and buildings get their stability from strong and deep foundations. When a new building is erected, they don’t start with the ceiling and the walls. No, first they dig down deep, excavating a massive place in the ground to build a strong foundation.
As a freshman in college my pastor gave me Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline” to read. It had a profound impact on my life and faith. Foster begins that classic Christian book by saying, “Superficiality is the curse of our age. Instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. We don’t need more intelligent people or gifted people, but deep people.”
How do we go deep as times get more shallow and superficial? As the hurricane-like forces of anxiety, moral decay, and social divisiveness blow around us? Do you ever feel like you are going to get blown over?
We need an anchor of the soul. We need something to sink our roots deep so that we won’t be carried away or knocked over with every new outrage or adversity.
✠ Jesus ended his well-known Sermon on the Mount with an illustration about stability. Our Lord’s illustration was about hearing his words and putting them into practice. It is about two men.
The wise man is like the person who hears Jesus’ words, puts them into practice, and has a solid foundation. When the rain comes, and the streams rise, and the wind blows against the wise man’s house, it won’t fall. It won’t fall because that person’s life is built on a rock, and rocks don’t move. That person had a strong foundation.
The foolish man is like those who hear Jesus’ words but don’t put them into practice. When the rains come, and the streams rise and the wind blows their house crashes. Their house crashes because their house is built on sand. There is no stability in sand.
Notice these things about what Jesus is saying.
Both the wise man and the foolish man hear Jesus’ words. The difference is who puts them into practice. When we hear good teaching or study the Bible we need to let it penetrate our ears so that it reaches not only our heart but also our hands. We can hear years of teaching. We can study the Bible. But it needs to become part of us. It’s the living of his words and ways that Jesus says will bring stability in our lives.
Jesus doesn’t teach that putting his words into practice will give us a more impressive house. No, he just says that when the storms come our lives will stand.
It reminds me of Proverbs 10:25 which says, “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.”
Second, notice that both the house of the wise man and the house of the foolish man get ravaged by the storm. Jesus didn’t say that if we hear his words and put them into practice we will be spared hard things. The storms of life hit both those who take seriously Jesus’ words and those who don’t. The question isn’t whether we will experience things that shake our lives. The question is what is our life founded upon when the storms come? Living Jesus’ words “is not so much a protection from troubles as it is a protection in them.”
We aren’t spared the storms. But our lives will not come crashing down because of them.
Psalm 1 likens people who delight in the words and the ways of the Lord to trees that are planted by streams of water. Trees that are planted by streams of water have roots that grow strong and go deep. They don’t get uprooted. They don’t tip over.
Just a few moments each day of drinking in the words of God can stabilize us. Regular reflection upon the promises, the truths, and ways of God help us go deep. We need to do this on our own. We need to do it with others in Bible studies. We need to find places where we can receive good teaching. We need to get the nourishment of God’s words into us so that our lives become more rooted in him.
It’s no accident that when the tempter came to Jesus in the wilderness, wanting to knock him off his pedestal as the Son of God, Jesus found his stability in Scripture and the words of God. Read it.
✠ And making God’s word a part of us is not just about following rules, or keeping track of do’s and don’ts. Too many people think the Bible is just a rule book.
Really, God’s Word is a story. And as we read the story we find the story we live in, because everyone lives in some story. Scripture is the story of God’s redemption, his purposes, and his involvement in this world.
It is why we hear again and rehearse the so-called Christmas story every year. A story that says God knows the human condition, and that he humbled himself to the point of becoming human to do something about it. That story reminds year us after year that God cares about you and me and the next person. That you don’t have to be famous and important to have favor with God, but you can be as simple and plain as Mary and Joseph, or the shepherds.
The story of God in the Bible also tells us who we are. It tells who we are as believers. Psychologists will tell you the importance of identity. No one is stable if they don’t know who they are. The story of God in the Bible gives us our identity. When I live in God’s story I know I am loved, I am redeemed, and I belong to God. I know this from hearing the words and taking them into me. If you don’t know what God has said about this world, about us, about himself you are going to easily be swayed.
When I plant myself in the Word of God, I find I am God’s beloved who God has sought after and found. I discover that,
…I am sinful but forgiven,
…that I am subject to dangers but never abandoned,
…that I am here for a while but destined for an eternal weight of surpassing glory.
And that story roots us.
✠ But the words of Jesus cannot truly be believed and lived apart from a living relationship with the Lord himself. He doesn’t ask us to admire him and his words. He asks us to build our lives upon him for the sake of the stability of our lives. His word feeds our relationship with him. For this to happen we need to first know him. We have to hand over our lives and let him in. If he is not your Lord then his words won’t have much staying power for you.
Isaiah said “The Lord…will be the stability of your times.” (Is. 33:5,6)
Stability is a result of a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus.
In the book of Colossians Paul writes to Christians to be rooted, built up, and established in faith. That word for “rooted” echoes the word “planted” in Psalm 1.
In Hebrews, Jesus is called the anchor for our souls. An anchor prevents the ship from drifting with the wind or the current. It does not slip or give way but secures.
When we live in relationship with Jesus we are anchored to the One who is the same today, yesterday, and forever.
The ancient Greek philosopher named Plutarch, who lived not very long after the time of Jesus, criticized people who were at the mercy of their passions. One day they feel this, the next day they feel that. It is this cause today, and another cause tomorrow. Plutarch said, so long ago, that the person who gives in to life’s urges doesn’t have any more stability than the hook of an anchor that is lodged in the sand.
We need an anchor because we can be pulled by so many conflicting demands. We have so many choices, options, and opportunities. We have so many good things and pleasures we can choose from. I sometimes wonder if Satan doesn’t tempt us not with bad things, but with so much good that our souls become unanchored. We easily end up with lots of things that are well-intentioned and pleasurable but confused.
We need an anchor because when hard things hit us we are tempted to run and escape. Or give up. Stability perseveres with love, commitment, loyalty, and endurance, qualities that are not necessarily being promoted much these days.
The anchor became a symbol of great importance for early Christians. Etchings of anchors have been seen in excavations of 1st and 2nd century catacombs. Catacombs were where bodies were buried. Christians often gathered there to pray and worship to hid from the Roman government who were hunting for Christians. Those etchings reminded Christians of the anchor of their souls: Jesus Christ, and that he was the stability of their lives.
These are stormy times. These are uncertain times. These are days of adversity. Headlines don’t last. Tweets are not eternal words. Facebook does not make a community. Casual and cultural acknowledgment of God is not worship.
The need today is for deep people, for rooted people. The need today is for people of Christ who will not be moved, who will not buckle, who will not fade, but who will withstand the outrage, the panic, knee-jerk responses, and fashionable trends.
Foundations, roots, anchors are most often unseen. You know they are there by how stable things are above.
The need today is for Christians who will worship and not worry,
…who will pray and not despair,
…who can wait and not fret,
…who can be patient instead of insisting on the immediate,
…who can be quiet amidst the noise,
…who will be selfless amidst all the self-centeredness,
…who have ears to hear Jesus and let him speak into their lives.
The need is for Christians who, in this unsteady world, are stable because they go deep. Because their lives are led by God.
God help us to want stability for Christmas.
Let’s prepare our hearts for the table…