So this is Christmas, what have you done?
Another year over, a new one just begun. (John Lennon)
I’ve actually heard that song by John Lennon several times this week. As I listened to the words, I thought about all the joys of Christmas. All the anticipation, excitement and wonder that goes with the Christmas as I remember it.
Others react differently to Christmas, however, as depicted by verse two of Lennon’s song.
And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong;
for rich and the poor ones, the world is so wrong.
Considering this reaction to Christmas, one might wonder is the buildup worth it? Is Christmas still all that you thought it would be? With so many people stressing over economic concerns, does Christmas still live up to the hype? For families with loved ones in the military far away from home; is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?
The truth is, most everyone loves Christmas; it really is our favorite time of the year. Problem is, Christmas comes to the world in early November, takes root in our society around Thanksgiving, and stays around until the morning of December 25th. After the frenzy of opening gifts, many are exhausted and breathe a sigh of relief.
And so this is Christmas.
Yet the Church has a different take on it. The Christian Church began observing Christmas about 1700 years ago, around the year 325 AD and since that time, Christmas celebrations have grown exponentially. For centuries the church has told the story of Mary and Joseph as they made their trek into Bethlehem. We’ve grown up with the story from Luke’s gospel of how there were shepherds in the field keeping their flock. Looking skyward they saw the angels descending from heaven, bringing with them the glad tidings of great joy which is for all people. The sky was awash in the most dazzling light, there must have been trumpet blasts, angel choirs singing, and thundering voices proclaiming Glory to God in the highest!
The shepherds were absolutely terrified at the sight. They had no warning, no liturgical calendar to consult and no television ads featuring the latest got-to-have gift. The long ago promise and prophetic message was centuries old and not exactly on the tips of their tongues. And in the history of God’s people, it seemed that God had been silent for over four hundred years.
Under foreign rule by the Romans, most of the Jewish people were living in poverty and the last thing the people expected was a celebration bursting forth from heaven. Yet that is exactly what happened, and the shepherds who first witnessed it were terrified at the sight and sound of it all. Terrified that is, until they realized what the message of the angels meant.
The Messiah has come.
They had been given a sign from heaven, a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger. At this news their terror is turned to joy and they cannot contain themselves. The excitement and joy is too much, and they run to Bethlehem to see everything that the angels had told them. And when they finally arrive, they find not a king, not a prince, but just as the angels had said, a child born into poverty, lying in an animal’s feeding trough.
And they worshipped him.
So this is Christmas.
Like most of you, I’ve grown up with this story. We’ve heard it many times over. It’s a part of us; as Christians it’s in our DNA. But have we heard it so many times now that all we recognize is a band of shepherds in the field keeping their sheep at night; lovely songs sung by angel choirs, and the quaint picture of a new family in a picturesque stable, smiles on their faces and farm animals nuzzling one another at the sight?
Is this now Christmas?
Does our Christmas celebration even come close to the roller coaster ride of emotions experienced by the shepherds? Do God’s people still look toward the sky and feel utter excitement and joy, so much so that we praise God all night long? Do we strain our senses in order to hear angels singing, or is that the sound of consumerism, modern day Christmas ringing in our ears?
Ever since the Exodus, God has promised to deliver his people from evil, oppression and tyranny. Ever since the prophets, God has promised his grace. The scriptures declare, “The people living in darkness, have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned”
The shadow of death no longer has power over the light and life of God’s Messiah. The shepherds are given the sign, they run to Bethlehem, and there in a manger they finally see the hope for the world.
This is Christmas.
But how can a baby born according to such humiliating circumstances, whose parents were forced by government decree to travel to Bethlehem at such a crucial time in the woman’s pregnancy just to be taxed; how can this child make a difference?
Since the beginning, God placed dominion of the world into human hands, and since that time, since the fall into sin, humanity has been trying to prove to Go that we can do just as good, if not a better job at seeing to our own needs, at getting the most out of our resources. The world has even turned one of the most holy celebrations into a time where our enjoyment, our pleasure, our peace and serenity is only overcome by the anticipation of having it all, the gifts, the gatherings and of course the food.
And so this is Christmas.
What difference can one more baby born in poverty make? With all of the difficulties facing our world today, with so many people living either beyond their means, or at the other end of the spectrum of need, what can one simple baby do? Yet, this poor baby lying in the manger is exactly what we need.
He is Christmas.
Because of sin, we humans are foolish and disobedient. We are deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We live in selfishness and envy.
We can’t fix ourselves. We can’t make our day better by trying harder. Our common future together does not rest in our hands and we cannot keep promises even unto ourselves. That’s us! We couldn’t change if we wanted to. Try as hard as we might.
The good news, however, is that the angels still sing over us. They still proclaim the good news for all people, “A Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord!” We need rescuing; God provides the rescuer. We need delivering; God provides the deliverer. We need redeeming; God provides the redeemer. In Christ we are forgiven. In Christ, our sin is washed away. In Christ we have reconciliation with God. A Savior has been born to us! The angels give us the sign. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He is Christ the Lord. And so this is Christmas; a time to remember all of the good things of God. It is a time to praise God and give him thanks for the gift of a Savior.
This is Christmas; a time of hope, a time of joy; a time of peace, in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.
(Some points of this sermon were gleaned from a post I had seen online somewhere, at sometime. To the author whose name escapes me, I give you thanks.)