Good morning! And Merry Christmas!
Together, let us pray:
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
You know, they say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve even heard it said that it’s the “hap-happiest season of all”!
But, can I take a poll real quick?
Please raise your hand if you’ve ever had a disappointing Christmas.
I mean a Christmas that didn’t live up to your expectations. You wanted it to be filled with love, happiness, and peace, and instead all you got was stress, anxiety, and loneliness.
Have you ever had a disappointing Christmas?
Now, why am I being such a downer? Isn’t this supposed to be a joyful occasion?
I mean, joy, triumph, and exultation practically drip out of every song we’ve sung and every passage we’ve read this morning! Why talk about the disappointments of Christmas?
Well, because we too often try to combat the disappointments of Christmas with shallow denial or escapism.
When things go wrong at Christmas,
- we tell the kids to shut up and turn the Christmas music up a little louder.
- We throw money at our problems.
- We withdraw into our shells,
- and delude ourselves into thinking that next year will be different.
Or maybe, we’ve encountered so many disappointments, heartbreaks, and disasters in this world that we’ve given up hope completely.
We come to Church – perhaps just once a year, around Christmas – for the sake of relatives or nostalgia. But the story of Christ’s birth rings just as hollow as any other Christmas story.
I mean, can we really sing “Joy to the World” in Aleppo, Syria?
In South Sudan?
In the intensive care unit?
In our own troubled homes?
Yes, we can. In fact, we must.
We must sing Joy to the World – even through tears – in the deepest and darkest disappointments of this world.
No matter how painful things get, we cannot celebrate Christmas by ignoring, denying, and detaching from the world around us.
Because, although we live in a deeply disappointing world, we do not worship a disappointing God.
Although we frequently feel distant and detached from God and from one another, he is not distant or detached from us!
Instead, he has dwelt among us – as one of us! – in order to bring us back into perfect relationship with Him, with each other, and with all of creation.
Although we rebel against God, and run in the opposite direction – away from light and life into darkness and death – he does not abandon us. He does not keep us at arm’s length.
No, instead He dives from heaven’s heights into the muck and the mire of our sin- and death-stained world. He joins us in the thick of things, in order to bring us back to God.
Consider the disappointing circumstances of his birth!
We have thoroughly romanticized the nativity scene. Sure, there were glimpses of the extraordinary – such as the appearance of angels and the fact that Jesus was born to a virgin.
But when you consider that this is the arrival of the eternal and divine Son of God to the world he created, Christ’s birth is remarkably ordinary and humble – you may even call it disappointing, if you didn’t know any better.
It happened in a feeding trough, surrounded by animals and poor shepherds. He was born to poor parents, not yet fully wed! And this all took place in a tiny, po-dunk sheep town!
This?! This is Christ the King? Whom shepherds guard and angels sing?
This is the eternal Son of God?
You mean, this baby in a feeding trough?
He is the heir of all things? The creator of heaven and earth?
You mean, this homeless itinerant preacher with a penchant for lepers, prostitutes, and tax-collectors?
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact of imprint of his nature?
You mean, this criminal hanging on a bloodstained Roman cross?
He upholds the universe by the word of his power?
Are you sure?!
Because at his birth, throughout his life, and at his death, he is surrounded by the outcasts of this world! By the broken bits that the universe churns out!
Are you sure this is God? Are you sure this is how he saves the world?
Yes. Although, I do understand that this is shocking.
Christmas is shocking.
It’s either a shocking disappointment or a shocking hope.
As we read in Hebrews, in these last days, God has spoken to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
But what he has spoken can, at least for now, be rejected and ignored.
Consider again the words of John 1:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
Why would we reject Jesus?
Perhaps we’re not interested in such humble Savior. We’re interested in power, and we’re interested in staying in control.
We think that, despite life’s disappointments, we can fix this on our own. We can give our own lives some sense of meaning and purpose. We think we can save ourselves…
But we can’t save ourselves from Sin and Death. And it’s about time we admit that.
Thankfully, however, that baby born in Bethlehem can save us all
– even those at the bottom of this world – because he himself went to the bottom, to the outcasts, to the borders, and to the grave.
But he didn’t stay there!
He rose again victorious over the grave.
His death put Death itself to death.
And, as Hebrews 1 says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
And from there we await his return.
The Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us will dwell with us once more, as Revelation 21 tells us.
He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.
How can we be a part of this hope?
Not by rejecting Jesus, but by receiving him. As John 1 continues:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
If you have not yet received Jesus, entrusting your life to him as your Lord and Savior, then I beg you to do so this morning.
As we’ll sing in a bit, this is the meaning of Christmas! Christ was
born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth!
Right now! He stands ready and willing to save you, to forgive you, and to welcome you into eternal life – if you will turn to him in repentance and faith.
That’s the response some of you are called to make this Christmas.
What about the rest of us?
We are, all of us, called to worship the God who has dwelt among us in order to save us.
We are, all of us, called to sing to the Lord a fresh, new song, for he has done marvelous things!
In the midst of the sorrows and disappointments of this world, with which our God is well-acquainted, we are, all of us, called to make a joyful noise to the Lord, to break forth into joyous songs and sing praises!