Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Christmas Eve 2011
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I read again from the Bible – Luke 2:1-7:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
There was no malice in denying Joseph and Mary proper beds in a respectable building. These two belonged to a conquered people – the Jews – who were now forced by their conquerors – the Romans – to register for taxation purposes. Yet – on another level – the first day of Jesus’ life prefigured his entire existence as a man on earth. Among the people of this world – there was no guest room available for him – no room in the inn. Therefore, he had a manger – an animal food box as his crib – and lodged with the animals in the stable. Somehow the world was not ready for him even though Jesus was the Son of God and – together with God the Father and the Spirit – had created the world. Listen to a few more words from the Bible – explaining to us the power and importance of Jesus – Colossians 1:15-20:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
There is no more powerful summary of who Jesus is: In him all things were created – created through him and for him. Nothing exists – whether visible or invisible – no matter how powerful – that he has not made himself. The fullness of God the Father dwells in him because he is the Son of God – one God with him and the Holy Spirit – (three persons but one God). Then, he came to earth to make peace between God and us through his blood that would be shed on the cross. Jesus – the one who made everything – became part of creation – made himself really small and became a human person – so that he would be the one person – the one man – that would live without sin – despite being tempted like everyone else – and then offer his perfect – holy – life as a sacrifice on the cross. He came to be killed – for us – so that his innocent blood would atone for our sins. This is Jesus – this is your Saviour if you only want him – but there was no room for him in the inn.
Are you making room for him? Many don’t but the rewards are incredible – John 1:10-13:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
This evening – on Christmas Eve – recognize the one that knocks at the inn of your heart. Let him in. Receive him, believe in his name and become a child of God – born anew as a person that now belongs to God.
I have given you now a fair few Bible readings and you may say that the words are just from a book. But what about real life? Is it all true? What seems to be true – overwhelmingly so – is that in our nation today there is also no room for Jesus.
I have just come back from holidays and – while on holidays in Mooloolaba – I had time to lounge around and watch some television. Twice I was watching the program with my girls – less than half an hour each time – (then I lost interest) – but twice I was stunned by what I saw. The first program was for young teenagers – (maybe 12 year-olds). It had the typical highschool setting, the voice-over of the main character, audience laughter and the general look and feel of a more innocent show: “Lizzie McGuire”.
The main character tried to stage himself as a masked vigilante – fighting for justice – so that he could win the affection of a girl. He was dorky but ended up in a sticky situation with some big black Americans. One of them – a giant of a man – moved towards him but then – in graphic detail – a blade was run through him from the back. You could see how the blade came out of his stomach, blood began to pour down his t-shirt and another vigilante – an even younger teenager – a tiny girl in a colourful outfit – was the giant slayer. She was giggling and began to maim and kill the other men. You could see legs and arms being chopped off. Blood was everywhere while she kept giggling. Then, the scene switched back again to the school environment, another voice-over and – within minutes – the main character had his first date with the girl of his dreams and – together in the bedroom – she enticed him with her undressed body. The voice-over again clarified that this was good.
I was not offended or angry about the show but I was shocked and sad because what are we feeding the next generation: emptiness and trash, casual violence and shallow affections. The other show that I watched was “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” – another Reality TV program. If you are young and look for a reason to live – inspiration – purpose – a goal worthy of sacrifice – meaning – you won’t find it on TV – at least no easily. There’s no room in the inn for Jesus.
I will not continue in this vein but – on Sunday – I went to the Uniting Church in Mooloolaba and enjoyed the service. At least five people came over to me – smiling, friendly – and chatted with me. There were about sixty of them. The church was full of light – with a cool breeze coming through the open windows – slightly elevated and the preaching was engaging – preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet, there were almost no young people. (They offered Sunday School for one child.) And – in response to my questions – they said that they had already tried many things to reach the surrounding community. However, there was not much of an interest.
Enough! There was no room in the inn for Jesus but he used the stable and – from the stable as his first lodgings on earth – Jesus changed our world. Australia may not be in a good place right now – spiritually – but our nation can change again. We used to be different. There is a reason why every one of our town centres features big church buildings. There is a reason why many of our hospitals and schools are Christian institutions. Think about it: Our head of state – the Queen – is Christian. In fact, she remains the supreme spiritual head of an entire denomination – the Church of England, the Anglican Church. Our roots are Christian. Jesus was born in a stable – in humble surroundings – a poor Jewish baby under Roman power – sacrificing much for love – but today the whole world knows his name. Wise men from distant countries were led to the stable – also shepherds from the surrounding fields. The whole company ended up honouring and praising God. Christmas Eve is an amazing story.
Let me give you more evidence for what Jesus can achieve from a stable:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azusa_Street_Revival: In 1905, William J. Seymour, the one-eyed 34 year old son of former slaves, was a student of well-known Pentecostal preacher Charles Parham and an interim pastor for a small holiness church in Houston, Texas. (As a black American he could not attend classes with white students. Therefore, he listened in from an adjacent room.) Neely Terry, an African American woman who attended a small holiness church pastored by Julia Hutchins in Los Angeles, made a trip to visit family in Houston late in 1905. While in Houston, she visited Seymour's church, where he preached the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, and though he had not experienced this personally, Terry was impressed with his character and message. Once home in California, Terry suggested that Seymour be invited to speak at the local church. Seymour received and accepted the invitation in February 1906, and he received financial help and a blessing from Parham for his planned one-month visit.
Seymour arrived in Los Angeles on February 22, 1906, and within two days was preaching at Julia Hutchins' church at the corner of Ninth Street and Santa Fe Avenue. During his first sermon, he preached that speaking in tongues was the first biblical evidence of the inevitable baptism in the Holy Spirit. On the following Sunday, March 4, he returned to the church and found that Hutchins had padlocked the door. Elders of the church rejected Seymour's teaching, primarily because he had not yet experienced the blessing about which he was preaching. Condemnation of his message also came from the Holiness Church Association of Southern California with which the church had affiliation. However, not all members of Hutchins' church rejected Seymour's preaching. He was invited to stay in the home of congregation member Edward S. Lee, and he began to hold Bible studies and prayer meetings there.
Seymour and his small group of new followers soon relocated to the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. White families from local holiness churches began to attend as well. The group would get together regularly and pray to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On April 9, 1906, after five weeks of Seymour's preaching and prayer, and three days into an intended 10-day fast, Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. At the next meeting, Seymour shared Lee's testimony and preached a sermon on Acts 2:4 and soon six others began to speak in tongues as well, including Jennie Moore, who would later become Seymour's wife. A few days later, on April 12, Seymour spoke in tongues for the first time after praying all night long.
News of the events at North Bonnie Brae St. quickly circulated among the African American, Latino and White residents of the city, and for several nights, various speakers would preach to the crowds of curious and interested onlookers from the front porch of the Asberry home. Members of the audience included people from a broad spectrum of income levels and religious backgrounds. Hutchins eventually spoke in tongues as her whole congregation began to attend the meetings. Soon the crowds became very large and were full of people speaking in tongues, shouting, singing and moaning. Finally, the front porch collapsed, forcing the group to begin looking for a new meeting place. A resident of the neighborhood described the happenings at 214 North Bonnie Brae with the following words:
They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near the house. As people came in they would fall under God's power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt.
The group from Bonnie Brae Street eventually discovered an available building at 312 Azusa Street, which had originally been constructed as an African Methodist Episcopal Church in what was then a black ghetto part of town. The rent was $8.00 per month. A newspaper referred to the downtown Los Angeles building as a "tumble down shack". Since the church had moved out, the building had served as a wholesale house, a warehouse, a lumberyard, stockyards, a tombstone shop, and had most recently been used as a stable with rooms for rent upstairs. It was a small, rectangular, flat-roofed building, approximately 60 feet (18 m) long and 40 feet (12 m) wide, totaling 4,800 square feet (450 m2), sided with weathered whitewashed clapboards. The only sign that it had once been a house of God was a single gothic-style window over the main entrance.
Discarded lumber and plaster littered the large, barn-like room on the ground floor. Nonetheless, it was secured and cleaned in preparation for services. They held their first meeting on April 14, 1906. Church services were held on the first floor where the benches were placed in a rectangular pattern. Some of the benches were simply planks put on top of empty nail kegs. There was no elevated platform, as the ceiling was only eight feet high. Initially there was no pulpit. Frank Bartleman, an early participant in the revival, recalled that "Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there.... In that old building, with its low rafters and bare floors..."
The second floor at the now-named Apostolic Faith Mission housed an office and rooms for several residents including Seymour and his new wife, Jennie. It also had a large prayer room to handle the overflow from the altar services below. The prayer room was furnished with chairs and benches made from California Redwood planks, laid end to end on backless chairs.
By mid-May 1906, anywhere from 300 to 1,500 people would attempt to fit into the building. Since horses had very recently been the residents of the building, flies constantly bothered the attendees. People from a diversity of backgrounds came together to worship: men, women, children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, illiterate, and educated. People of all ages flocked to Los Angeles with both skepticism and a desire to participate. The intermingling of races and the group's encouragement of women in leadership was remarkable, as 1906 was the height of the "Jim Crow" era of racial segregation, and fourteen years prior to women receiving suffrage in the United States.
Worship at 312 Azusa Street was frequent and spontaneous with services going almost around the clock. Among those attracted to the revival were not only members of the Holiness Movement, but Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, and Presbyterians. An observer at one of the services wrote these words:
No instruments of music are used. None are needed. No choir- the angels have been heard by some in the spirit. No collections are taken. No bills have been posted to advertise the meetings. No church organization is back of it. All who are in touch with God realize as soon as they enter the meetings that the Holy Ghost is the leader.
The Los Angeles Times was not so kind in its description:
Meetings are held in a tumble-down shack on Azusa Street, and the devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers, who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve racking attitude of prayer and supplication. They claim to have the "gift of tongues" and be able to understand the babel.
Charles Parham was also sharp in his criticism:
Men and women, white and blacks, knelt together or fell across one another; a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big 'buck nigger,' and held tightly thus as she shivered and shook in freak imitation of Pentecost. Horrible, awful shame!
The first edition of the Apostolic Faith publication claimed a common reaction to the revival from visitors:
Proud, well-dressed preachers came to 'investigate'. Soon their high looks were replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.
Among first-hand accounts were reports of the blind having their sight restored, diseases cured instantly, and immigrants speaking in German, Yiddish, and Spanish all being spoken to in their native language by uneducated black members, who translated the languages into English by "supernatural ability".
Singing was sporadic and in a cappella or occasionally in tongues. There were periods of extended silence. Attenders were occasionally slain in the Spirit. Visitors gave their testimony, and members read aloud testimonies that were sent to the mission by mail. There was prayer for the gift of tongues. There was prayer in tongues for the sick, for missionaries, and whatever requests were given by attenders or mailed in. There was spontaneous preaching and altar calls for salvation, sanctification and baptism of the Holy Spirit. Lawrence Catley, whose family attended the revival, said that in most services preaching consisted of Seymour opening a Bible and worshippers coming forward to preach or testify as they were led by the Holy Spirit. Many people would continually shout throughout the meetings. The members of the mission never took an offering, but there was a receptacle near the door for anyone that wanted to support the revival. The core membership of the Azusa Street Mission was never much more than 50–60 individuals with hundreds and thousands of people visiting or staying temporarily over the years.
Another local paper reporter in September 1906 described the happenings with the following words:
...disgraceful intermingling of the races...they cry and make howling noises all day and into the night. They run, jump, shake all over, shout to the top of their voice, spin around in circles, fall out on the sawdust blanketed floor jerking, kicking and rolling all over it. Some of them pass out and do not move for hours as though they were dead. These people appear to be mad, mentally deranged or under a spell. They claim to be filled with the spirit. They have a one eyed, illiterate, Negro as their preacher who stays on his knees much of the time with his head hidden between the wooden milk crates. He doesn't talk very much but at times he can be heard shouting, ‘Repent,’ and he's supposed to be running the thing... They repeatedly sing the same song, ‘The Comforter Has Come.’
... Today, there are more than 500 million Pentecostal and charismatic believers across the globe. The Pentecostal denomination is currently second in size behind the Roman Catholic Church and is the fastest-growing form of Christianity today. The Azusa Street Revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern-day Pentecostal Movement.
1. ^ Corcoran, Michael. "How a humble preacher ignited the Pentecostal fire". Cox News Services. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
16.^ a b c d "Azusa St. and modern Pentecostalism – The 100 year celebration of what?". Let us Reason Ministries. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
19.^ Dove, Stephen (2009). "Hymnody and Liturgy in the Azusa Street Revival, 1906–1908". Pneuma: the Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 31 (2): 247–248
20.^ Burgess, Stanley M.; McGee, Gary B. (1988). Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. 1415 Lake Drive, SE Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506: Zondervan Publishing House. pp. 31–36. ISBN 0-310-44100-5
23.^ a b "William Joseph Seymour: The father of Pentecostalism | Azusa Street: The Impact". 2001-04-17. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
26.^ Vinson Synan, The Holiness–Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), pages 71, 125, 153-164; ISBN 978-0-8028-4103-2.
Revival participant A.
C. Valdez, Sr. wrote: On the platform, a black man [Seymour] sat behind two
wooden boxes, one on top of the other. They were his pulpit…. Occasionally, as
Pastor Seymour prayed, his head would be so low that it disappeared behind the
top wooden box…. Everything about the Azusa Street Mission fascinated
me—especially the prayer or "tarrying room" on the second floor.
Usually one hundred or more black, brown and white people prayerfully waited there for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Dozens of canes, braces, crutches and blackened smoking pipes leaned against the barnlike walls.
Many times waves of glory would come over the tarrying room or meeting room, and people would cry out prayers of thanks or praise as they received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Meetings used to go past midnight and into the early hours of the morning. Hours there seemed like minutes. Sometimes after a wave of glory, a lot of people would speak in tongues. Then a holy quietness would come over the place, followed by a chorus of prayer in languages we had never before heard.
Many were slain in the Spirit [in a trance-like state], buckling to the floor, unconscious, in a beautiful Holy Spirit cloud, and the Lord gave them visions. How I enjoyed shouting and praising God. During the tarrying, we used to break out in songs about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, "Fill Me Now," "Joy Unspeakable," and "Love Lifted Me." Praise about the cleansing and precious blood of Jesus would just spring from our mouths. In between choruses, heavenly music would fill the hall, and we would break into tears. Suddenly the crowd seemed to forget how to sing in English. Out of their mouths would come new languages and lovely harmony that no human beings could have learned.
Azusa was more than a revival or renewal. Don’t misunderstand. The Church has witnessed many great revivals and renewals each ushering in great reformation. The Church has also witnessed many miraculous healings and miracles throughout her two thousand years on this earth. What the Church has not witnessed is the actual visitation of God manifested in His Shekinah Glory for about three and one-half years. Brother Fox, who was at Azusa around 1909 and then went to India as a missionary saw many great miraculous healings some even greater than those he witnessed at Azusa, but when he retired and moved back to Pisgah, he lamented that although he experienced many wonders of God while in India, he never experienced the Shekinah Glory that was present at Azusa.
What people experienced at Azusa in 1906 was closely related to what Moses experienced in Exodus 24:15-18 when “the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it six days; and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount; and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.
That is exactly what was experienced at Azusa. A mist or cloud of varying intensity was present for about 3.5 years. Sometimes the cloud was so dense you felt like you could capture it. Sometimes the cloud went up from the building in the form of fire and linked with a fire coming down from heaven. The glory of God manifested as a cloud became known as Shekinah Glory from a Hebrew word meaning to dwell signifying that within the cloud dwelt the divine Presence of God.
In Exodus 40: 34-38, we find that “ a cloud covered the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud above thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle… for the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
With Bethlehem, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us (ref), with Azusa the Word became Spirit and dwelt among us! With the Bethlehem visitation, God brought mankind redemption through His beloved Son. At Azusa God once again visited His creation and brought mankind a renewed empowerment through His wonder-working Spirit, much like the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts.
Tommy Welchel: They Told Me Their Stories, Mustang: Dare2Dream Books 2006, p90-91: “I would change the and ask her to describe what the Shekinah Glory was like. She would get such joy in her eyes as she told me how much she loved to be in the center of the mist-like cloud. She was so little, she would sit down in it – when it was thick, the mist was about up to her neck. Like a kid, she would have fun and play in the mist. She would tell how she could feel the energy of it and described that it was like being put into an oxygen tent.
When Brother Seymour was there, and they would sing in the Spirit, Sister Lucille told me that the Shekinah Glory would just rise and fill the whole room, and you could breathe so much better – as if the room were filled with pure oxygen.”
P44-45: “He told me that he was only about fifteen years old and had attended Azusa about ten times when God first used him in helping people receive healing. A young man, not much older than Brother Anderson, had a clubfoot and when he entered the meeting, he tried to hide his disfigurement. He explained to Brother Anderson that he didn’t want people feeling sorry for him.
Brother Anderson asked the young man, ‘Are you aware of the Shekinah Glory? We are in the miracles of God. You don’t have to have this.’ He went on to explain to the young man that Jesus, when He died on Calvary, got 39 stripes on His back, and they were for his healing.
The young man replied, ‘But that was for sickness and disease; I just have my foot turned sideways.’ Brother Anderson replied, ‘God will heal it! You should see some of the miracles here.’
The young man finally believed a miracle was possible, and Brother Anderson began to pray for him. To their astonishment, shortly after the prayer, the foot didn’t just pop out, but rather it just started to slowly move outward. In a matter of minutes, the young man was jumping, running, and shouting. The foot had been deformed since he was a young child, and it had just gotten worse as he had gotten older. Yet, in just a few minutes, the foot was healed and perfectly formed.
Brother Anderson was right behind this young man dancing and shouting also. This may have been the first time God used Brother Anderson to work a miraculous healing through faith and prayer, but it was far from the last.”
Locked out from a church, the glory of God would fall in another stable – small, with flies, in a black Los Angeles ghetto, with a one-eyed black preacher in racist America, no instruments, no offerings, no promotion, no worship script, a core group of only 50-60 people, two shoe-boxes as pulpit, ... – yet, from this stable also Jesus changed the face of Christianity – including this church of Living Grace. The gift of speaking in tongues is no longer unknown but common in churches across the world. Miracles and healings, the glory cloud of God, conversions, strong experiences of love and joy are manifesting in church after church – even here.
This Christmas Eve – come to the stable, check him out – take another look at Jesus – understand the other place of his rejection: the cross – and then make room for him. [Did you notice how the Preacher Seymour needed to make room for him even in the middle of the services? In the midst of many Spirit manifestations, he went to a quiet place of listening intently to God – with his head stuck in a shoe-box.] Recognize who he is and what he is doing for you. He is offering you forgiveness, power over sin and death, peace with God. Make room for him. Amen.