Christmas Eve 2017

Christmas Eve Sermon

December 24, 2017

I recently heard a story about a woman who wanted a parrot that could speak.  So, she went down to the local pet store and they sold her a parrot that was guaranteed to talk.  She took the parrot home, and placed him in a cage.  Two days later, she returned to the store to complain that the parrot hadn’t said a word.  The owner asked her if she had put a mirror in the cage.  He said, “parrots sometimes like to preen themselves in front of a mirror and that helps them begin to talk.”  So, the woman bought a mirror, took it home and put it in the cage with the parrot.  The next day she returned to the store.  No luck, she reported, the parrot had not even tried to talk.  “Try a ladder,” said the manager.  “Sometimes parrots like to climb ladders and that stimulates them to talk.”  So, the woman bought a ladder and tried that, but to no avail.  The following day she was back again.  The parrot was making no progress.  “Have you tried a swing?” the man said.  “Parrots like to amuse themselves on a swing.  That will surely do the trick.”  As before, the woman bought a swing and placed it in the cage with her bird.  The next morning, she came back to the store.  “My parrot died last night.”  The manager said, “I am so sorry to hear that.  Did he say anything before he died?”  “Yes, he did,” said the woman.  “Just before he took his last breath he said – don’t they any sell food down at that pet store?” (James W. Moore, O say, Can You See?  Dimensions Press, Nashville.  P. 61)

It’s Christmas!  This year I wanted Christmas to be the very best!  And like the woman in the story, I want Christmas to speak to me.  I want it to be profound.  So, I have added in all kinds of things.  Christmas shopping and Christmas decorating and Christmas partying.  Christmas mirrors and Christmas ladders and Christmas swings.  Only to discover that the more I added, the greater my risk of missing the one thing that will feed my soul.  Jesus is the bread of life.  He is the one we hunger for.  And so this evening I want to quickly look at three truths from the story of the shepherds in the hope and prayer we will be encounter anew the profound grace of Christ this Christmas.

The first is that no one is beyond the heart of God.  10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for ALL the people.

God’s son arrives in Bethlehem and the mayor doesn’t even rate an invitation.  The King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes to earth and the High Priest in Jerusalem is left out of the loop.  It’s the biggest event in human history.  Time will be measured in reference to his arrival.  And yet, Caesar is told nothing.  Instead when the baby Jesus arrives, God sends an angel to shepherds.

In those days, shepherds were regarded as the very bottom rung of social ladder.  Their language was crude.  Their hygiene was spotty at best.  When they walked in the room you were immediately overwhelmed by the smell of a campfire and wet wool sweaters.  They were considered to be liars and thieves.  Their testimony was not admissible in court.  Pharisees lumped them together with tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners.

So why did God send angles to shepherds first? Why not Caesar? Why not Caiaphas, the High Priest?  Why not the mayor or the community leaders of Bethlehem? Why shepherds? I think God came to the shepherds because to show that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love.

If you hear nothing else this morning, hear this.  No matter your background.  No matter your past.  No what you have done or what others have done to you, you are the desire of God’s heart.  It doesn’t matter how religious you are.  Or how perfect you are.  There is no failure, there is no fault, there is no habit or hang-up that can steer God’s love away from you.  Paul says in his letter to the Romans; I am convinced that nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That’s the Christmas message.

Second, God loves us too much to ignore our hurts, our fears and our brokenness.  11 Today in the town of David a SAVIOR has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  At its core, Christmas is about a savior.  We don’t always want to hear that.  We want our Christmases to be merry and bright.  We want to focus on the joy.  We don’t want to hear about the brokenness and the fear.

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Author Philip Yancey tells the story of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary who went to China in the sixteenth century.  He brought along samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it.  While the Chinese eagerly embraced the portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, they reacted with revulsion and horror at the paintings of the crucifixion.  Yancey goes on to say that we do much the same thing.  Thumb through a stack of Christmas cards and you will find that we observe a domesticated holiday purged of any hint of scandal. And that above all, we remove from it any reminder of how the story that began in Bethlehem turned out at Calvary. (http://cpwchurch.org/our-daily-bread-httpodb-org-a-new-force-philip-yancey-december-14-2013-when-matteo-ricci-went-to-china-in-the-16th-century-he-took-samples-of-religious-art-to-illustrate-the-christian-story-for-p/)

The truth is, Christmas IS a time of joy!  It’s a time of joy precisely BECAUSE we have been delivered from our brokenness and fear.  And not because we have the prettiest tree or get the coolest gift or serve the perfect Christmas dinner.  I ask you this evening.  Do you have joy?  Will your joy outlast your Christmas tree?  Do you have the joy that comes from receiving our savior?

If you are looking for that kind of joy, the first step is to admit we need saving.  It’s funny.  We go to counselors to help us face the hurts and hang-ups.  Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.  We join support groups to overcome our destructive habits.  The 12 steps are built on the premise that acknowledging our addictions is the beginning of journey to health.   But we don’t always connect that to our faith.  How in the world can we recognize a savior much less receive one if we don’t admit we need one?  The Good News is, God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.  1 John 1:9

Finally, God has gone to extraordinary lengths to show us His love.  12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

It’s one thing to believe that Christmas is about the coming of a Savior.  It’s another to believe that Christmas is about a Savior being BORN.  It’s one thing to believe that Christmas is about the One without beginning and without end coming to earth.  It’s quite another to believe that Christmas is about the One without beginning and end coming to earth as a tiny helpless baby.   I mean, why not come as some kind of power or energy field?  To paraphrase the great theologian Han Solo – may the force be with us!  Or why not a commander of an angel army riding in on His white horse?   Why come as a tiny defenseless baby?  Why put yourself at the mercy of others?  I believe God did this for our sake.  Remember what the angel said to the shepherds?  Do not be afraid.  I think if Jesus had come at the beginning like he is going to come at the end, we would run in terror.  So, Jesus came into this world the same way you and I did – through the birth canal.  That’s how much He wants us to know His freedom and His love.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only son.  That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16.

Maybe you have struggled to believe that God could love you.  Maybe you have wondered if God didn’t care.  This Christmas I challenge you to follow the examples of the shepherds.  What did the shepherds say?  Let us go and see this thing that HAS happened.  The shepherds believed.  They have faith.  This Christmas I challenge you to go come and go see the Christ Child. To believe that no one is beyond God’s heart, that God loves us too much to ignore our brokenness and fear, that God went to extraordinary lengths to show us that love.  Because that’s the heart of Christmas.  That’s what makes Christmas significant. That’s what feeds our souls beyond a season.  Everything else is just mirrors and ladders and swings.  This Christmas, I am going to go and see.  How about you?  How about you?