December 24, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
Sermon: "Christmas 2004"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The wonderful night is finally here. Tonight we celebrate the birth of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. Here we are ready to join in the celebration. Look around us. The church is full. The building is beautifully decorated. We are all dressed in our finest clothes for we have come to celebrate the birth of the King of kings, the Lord of lords. We should celebrate for God Incarnate came to us on this night.
Yet, I wonder if we would be here in this manner if the story had been different. We just heard Luke's account of the birth that night. We are all very familiar with the details. How would we celebrate if Jesus' birth had been different? Suppose for a minute that Jesus had been born in a palace. His father and mother were the king and queen. His mother would have been attended by her servants. At his birth, he would be dressed in fine linen. The entire court, the entire country, would celebrate his arrival. In short, he would have had everything he ever desired. His ministry of helping the poor would have consisted of giving of his excess. He could have healed his parent's friends. At the proper time, he would take his place as king of Israel. He would become the chief priest in the Temple. He would raise an army to defend Jerusalem. Does this idea sound far fetched? It is what the people were expecting in a Messiah. They were looking for a person of the lineage of David. He was to be a king. He was to be the greatest of priests. He was to be a great warrior. How would the arrival of this kind of Messiah make tonight different?
First of all, I don't believe we would be here. Israel would have been the great country they were desiring. People would have some really interesting concepts about life. All of the rich would believe they were blessed by God and the poor would believe they were cursed by God. The sick would be passed by, because they obviously sinned against God and have only received what they deserved. The sicker one is the more grievous the sin they must have committed. No one would speak up for the homeless. They would have caused their own situation. What would be the message of Good News? I shudder to think what message we might receive and hear. In this scenario, there is no Good News for the poor, the rich, the sick or the well. The world's ways of climbing the corporate ladder and looking out for number one would be dominant. We don't have a comforting scenario. This scenario is quite scary.
Thankfully we have a God who does want us to hear and receive Good News. God wants us to know of the depth of the love God has for us. God wants the sick healed, the hungry fed, and the naked clothed. Our God wants Good News for all rich, poor, well and sick. The only way to achieve this goal was for the greatest in the world to be born as the least in the world.
God decided to save the world, to save us, that God had to come into the world. Look at the manner in which God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, enters his own creation. He is born in a land that has been conquered by every major power the world had known to date. The Israelites had no standing in the world. He was born to one of the smallest tribes of Israel. His parents were a young peasant girl and a carpenter. He would be born in a tiny town in a dirty stable. The only people who knew of his birth in that stable were a group of shepherds. Shepherds in that time were not high on the social page. In fact, they were considered lower than the bottom.
As he grows he will not know fine clothes or fancy surroundings. He will be taught a trade. And when he begins his ministry he is tested to see if he will follow God or follow the ways of humanity. He will know hunger and thirst. He will sleep wherever he can place his head. He will be received by some and rejected by many. He will experience kindness and hostility. He will know adoration and utter rejection. He will experience love and he will experience hate. He experiences the fullness of life and he experiences the horrors of death. Through it all, he follows God's will. For it is only by following the will of God that God's plan for our salvation can be complete. This night is truly a dichotomy for the world. In order to save the world the creator of all that is had to come humble and lowly instead of in great power and majesty.
For many this manner of coming of the Messiah is scandalous. For many it makes no sense. Yet, there was no other way. Jesus had to come in this manner to offer us the salvation God desired. Jesus came for all humanity, in fact, for all of creation. He came so that all humanity, no matter what status of life, would have the opportunity to be with God for eternity. Tonight, that message is the Good news. Jesus, born in a lowly stable, of peasant parents, came to this world, for you, and for me, for the person sitting beside you. He came for the people you love deeply and care for immensely. He came for the people you dislike and possibly even despise. Jesus came for us all.
So, tonight, we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to worship and praise the God who would be so humble as to walk in our footsteps and come among us. We have an opportunity to lay ourselves at the foot of his altar and join in the celebration of the birth of the King of Kings. We can join our voices with the heavenly hosts, the angels who came to the shepherds and sang "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" Jesus came for us all and something tells me he will not rest until he gathers us home. Tonight is indeed a glorious night. It is a night of joy and celebration. I pray we will all remember what God has done for us as we greet with one another as brothers and sisters of Jesus, our loving Lord.