Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Message

Below is my Christmas Eve sermon. I hope is helps you in some way. Merry Christmas!

I. Introduction

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth are rather brief. The Gospel according to Luke has the most detailed birth account, and it includes the stories of the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

II. Luke’s Telling of the Nativity

Although Luke’s birth narrative is fairly brief, it was written to convey some important information about Jesus. Let’s take a look at Luke’s Gospel and see what he is telling us, and what it means for you and me today:

1. Angels Announce God’s Plan

First, we have a number of angelic visitations. In the first visit, an angel announced to Zechariah that he would have a son in his old age, and he was to name him “John.” About six months later the angel appeared to Mary, and told her that she was to miraculously have a Son, and she was to name him “Jesus.” The angel told her that this Son will be the Messiah (Luke 1:32-33, NRSV)

In the Gospel according to Matthew, we see still another angelic visitation, this time to Joseph in a dream. The angel told him to take Mary as his wife – that her pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course we also have the visit of angels to the shepherds. So we see that angels played a major role in the Nativity – and so are prominent in our Christmas carols as well. This is so we can clearly see God’s hand, since heavenly beings – angels –announced both John’s and Jesus’ birth.

2. Birth of John and Zechariah’s Prophecy

The angelic visitations tell us all of this was from God, and prophecy played a prominent role in the Nativity as well. We have, of course, the fulfillment of some Old Testament prophecies that I’ll outline in a minute. In addition, John’s father Zechariah prophesied at John’s bris on the 8th day after his birth. In the first part of his prophecy, Zechariah told of the imminent coming of the Messiah:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…” (Luke 1:68-70, NRSV)

In the second part of his prophecy, Zechariah spelled out his son John’s future role:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”
(Luke 1:76-77, NRSV)

By his prophetic word, Zechariah set the stage for both Jesus’ birth and the future ministry of his son, John the Baptist.

3. Year of Jesus’ Birth

Luke begins the actual birth narrative of Jesus by not giving us the date or the season, but he narrows the range of years. He relates Jesus’ birth to secular history by telling who was emperor, who was governor, and that a census was taking place at the time. By linking the birth with secular history, Luke is demonstrating that this birth was a real event, not something fabricated or mythological.

4. House of David

Next Luke gives us an important piece of information: that Jesus is of the house of King David. The proof of this is the fact that they had to go to Bethlehem, David’s town, and further proof is in a genealogy that Luke provides a little later on. This is critical because the Messiah was prophesied to be a descendant of King David.

4. Born in Bethlehem

The prophecies about the Messiah also say that he was to be born in Bethlehem, which is where King David was from. So Jesus fulfilled that prophecy, even though his parents were living in Nazareth. God arranged for circumstances that required them to travel to Bethlehem, something they otherwise wouldn’t have done.

5. Angels Announce to Humble Shepherds

Finally, once again angels appear, this time to the shepherds in the fields. There are three aspects to this angelic appearance to the shepherds that are relevant to us:

a. Angels from God

The first aspect we should keep in mind is that God sent angels to confirm that this was truly the Messiah. So there would be no doubt, the angel said to the shepherds (Luke 2:10-11):

“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.” NRSV

An angelic choir then appeared, singing God’s praises, so we can be confident about who was born that night – heaven confirmed it.

b. Appeared to Shepherds

The second aspect we should keep in mind is that these angels appeared to humble shepherds. Not to the priests, not to the rich and famous, not even to the king. Shepherds were on the lower echelons of society, yet they were the first to receive the Good News of Jesus. This demonstrates that God doesn’t care about your station in life – he loves you no matter who you are in this world. After all, Jesus came for everybody: Jew and Gentile, men and women, rich and poor.

c. Jesus Identified with the Humble

The third aspect of this angelic appearance is that by appearing to shepherds, Jesus was identifying with the humble, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Jesus was born in a barn and was raised in the home of a blue collar worker. He can identify with us because he humbled himself and emptied himself, taking the form of a servant as we read in our call to worship. Today he is in heaven interceding for us with the Father.

He is doing this because Jesus can appreciate what we’re going though – he lived the whole range of human experience himself. So during these difficult times, why not put your trust in Jesus? He understands, and he will help you get through whatever is going on in your life.

III. No Room for Jesus

What we often remember most about the nativity story is that there was no room at the inn. There are similar problems today.

1. Not in Our Nation

There seems to be no room for Jesus in this country – we are systematically eliminating him from our society. We are expected to say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas” because Christmas has the name of “Christ” in it. So Jesus gets relegated to the barn – there’s just no room for him.

2. Not in Our Lives

There seems to be no room for Jesus in our lives, because our lives are crowded with so many other things. Out of the approximately 120 waking hours we have in a week, there still doesn’t seem to be enough time for even an hour or two with Jesus. So Jesus ends up in the barn – there’s just no room for him.

3. Not in Our Hearts

There seems to be no room for Jesus in people’s hearts – there are just too many other things that have our attention and our affection. So Jesus gets sent to the barn once more – there’s just no room for him.

IV. Conclusion

So what do we learn from all this?

1. Certain about Jesus

First of all, there should be no doubt about who Jesus is. We know Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, starting with his lineage and his birth place. We know about his miracles, his teachings, and finally his Resurrection, so it should be clear to us that Jesus is the Son of God.

If we believe he is the promised Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God, then we have to ask: “What are we going to do about it?” We can ignore Jesus – keep him out in the barn – but that doesn’t make much sense if Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God. When we ignore Jesus, we end up filling our lives with stuff that isn’t nearly as important, and has no eternal value.

It reminds me of people who have a garage full of junk and then leave their $40,000 car out in the driveway exposed to the elements. Isn’t it better to clear out the junk and put the car where it belongs? The same is true with us: eliminate the clutter and make room for Jesus.

2. Eliminate Fear and Worry

By the way, sometimes this clutter consists of fear, worry, and anxiety. While we all hope the New Year brings better times, often what’s really needed is an attitude change on our part. Truly letting Christ into your life will give you a whole new outlook – one of hope, assurance, peace, and yes, even joy in the midst of turmoil. With God’s help, we can rise above our circumstances, having confidence that this too shall pass, and that God will take care of us.

Rather than feeling we’re victims, we will realize that in Christ we are victors. This can happen, not by psychological tricks nor by the “power of positive thinking,” but only by our faith in Jesus Christ. Even if you do have Jesus in your life, ask yourself: “How big a role does he really play?” Is Jesus high on your priority list, or is he down towards the bottom?

3. Make Room this Christmas

So starting this Christmas, why not make room – or make more room – for Jesus? After all, what have you got to lose (except maybe your fear and worry)? I pray that this will be your best Christmas ever! Not because of your circumstances, but because of your renewed commitment to Jesus Christ. Have you made room for him in your life and in your heart? If so, Hallelujah! The angels are celebrating tonight. Amen.

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