(Christmas 2010 sermon preached at St. Paul’s)
While shepherds keeping watch over their fields by night may have rejoiced to hear the news of the birth of a savior that first Christmas Night, two millienia have come and gone since the first Christmas. And there are many delightful traditions, all of which I truly love, that surround the celebration of Christmas as we know it. Many are the memories of Christmases past that live in our hearts and our lives.
So for many of us, the celebration of this holy season has become about family and friends, our hopes, our expectations—sometimes met, and sometimes unrealized. And while there is nothing wrong about the enjoyment of any of those cherished traditions, yet, this holy night we have to have a care, lest our celebrations eclipse the real message and the real hope that is the foundation of the season.
That message is that for us, and for our sakes, our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate. And although the usual way of putting it is that “He lived like one of us,” yet there are many ways that He did not live like one of us.
Most of us were not born in a stable on a wintry night, as though we were an animal in the stall. Most of us, while we may have the ups and downs in life, have a residence, a place where we live. Most of us do not live as homeless persons who have nowhere to lay our heads. Yet the Son of Man had no “where” to lay His head.
Most of us have a certain amount of friends and family. The Son of Man, whose birth we remember tonight, was the fulfillment of the suffering servant described by the prophet Isaiah: in his book, chapter 53:
“So disfigured did he look that he no longer seemed human, without beauty, without majesty, we saw him; no looks to attract our eyes. A thing despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering; a man to make people screen their faces; he was despised and we took no account of him. And yet, ours was the suffering he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. He was pierced for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies the punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed.”
My purpose in speaking thus is not to throw blight upon how we celebrate. For it is good, right and appropriate that we celebrate this holy night as we rejoice that salvation has come into the world. And it is right that we celebrate that our Savior is born. But I mention these things that we might celebrate the magnitude of the gift that we have received from God, because there is a tendency these days to trivialize that gift. We look at the crèche, and beholding the rustic circumstances of Jesus birth, we think how precious, how cute.
And most certainly there is something precious about the birth of a child. What parent among us did not bring home our children and wonder about what they would be and what they would be like? And how they would turn out? What parent among us did not regard the birth of our children as a sign of hope for the future? Most assuredly we all have done these things.
But we do not celebrate cuteness this holy night; we celebrate the magnitude of God’s love. And his love is that he, as the incarnate Savior, would become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross that we might have new life fully in Him.
So rejoice (heaven and earth!) at the news of our Savior’s birth and the message of peace on earth, and good will towards all mankind. Celebrate this wondrous birth, this holy night. Allow your hearts to be filled with gratitude for the love of God for you, which is the real meaning of Christmas and the gift of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Christmas Eve 2010