|Text: Luke 2:20
The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen.
Can you imagine Christmas without music? At this time of the year, we do more singing than at any other. Christmas carols are sung at almost every function we go to during these weeks before Christmas. Not only do we sing them ourselves but we hear them played in Christmas advertising on TV and in the big shops to get you in the right mood to do your Christmas spending.
And of course we get out our favourite Christmas CDs and play them as we work around the house or relax with a glass of liquid cheer and a few nibbles. There is something special about the music of Christmas that is different to all other music. The carols tell of a baby's birth long ago in Bethlehem, and of the joy that has come into the world because of this birth. The music and the carols form an essential part of our Christmas celebrations. Take this worship service for instance, how dull it would be if there were no carols. Even people who have little to do with Christianity the rest of the year enjoy attending Carols by Candlelight events and singing Christmas carols. How different our whole Christmas would be if there was no Christmas music.
The Christmas music of today is a continuation of the music of the first Christmas.
It was the choir of heavenly angels who struck up the first happy notes of Christmas. They announced to the shepherds out in the fields that a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, was born. The music of this glorious angelic choir as they sang "Glory to God in the highest" must have filled the whole countryside.
The shepherds found themselves singing heartily as they went home from visiting the stable where the baby Jesus and his parents were resting for the night. We are told "The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen".
Matthew tells us that the wisemen rejoiced when they saw the bright star in the sky. I can imagine them singing in time to the swaying of the camels as they were riding along. And the singing hasn't stopped ever since that night the angels and the shepherds and the wisemen sang the first Christmas carols.
Music and singing express our joy and happiness that God has done something wonderful for us. This story about a baby born in hard times is not just your average everyday fairy tale - but it is a real story about God who came to live amongst people.
Yes there is hardship in this story – a
heavily pregnant mother making a long and arduous journey to Bethlehem either on
foot or on the back of a donkey.
When the couple get to Bethlehem the town is crowded and "No Vacancy" signs are hanging outside every place of accommodation.
A baby is born in anything but ideal circumstances – in a stable where animals live – hardly the most hygienic of places. He was laid in a manger – an animal feeding trough – hardly the place for a new born baby.
The first visitors that this child had were some scruffy doubtful looking characters from out in the fields.
Later this family had to flee from wicked King Herod who was determined to get rid of the baby Jesus. But in spite of all this hardship the whole story rings with joy.
The angels, the shepherds and the wise men
break out into song because a Saviour has been born - a wonderful gift from God.
This gift takes away the sin of the world.
This is a gift that comes directly from the hand of a loving God.
This is the gift that people had been waiting for over the centuries and now. This is indeed an occasion for rejoicing.
We join those ancient characters and sing our carols today because this baby is God who has left his heavenly glory and come to live on this earth. He came to die. And the way he died was horrible and shameful. He died for us. His death dealt with our sin – he gave forgiveness, a renewed relationship with God, a new way of living in this world and eternal life in heaven.
The manger and the cross may be undignified and humiliating but with the eyes of faith we see past the degradation and see what they mean for us personally. This is God's way of bringing salvation to us. The manger and the cross remind us how great is God's love for us – one the one hand his love is so great that the almighty all powerful God should humble himself to be born in stable and be placed in a manger – on the other hand we are reminded how strong is God's love for us that he allowed himself to be cruelly mistreated by sinful people and nailed to a cross. The manger and the cross are totally undeserved gifts from God – they are gifts from his grace.
No wonder we sing so heartily the Christmas carols that don’t just tell about a baby lying in hay, but they remind us what a wonderful God we have. Even when we have packed away our Christmas decorations and our Christmas CDs are put back on the rack until next Christmas, this Christmas joy stays with us.
When the events of the New Year lead us to trouble, disappointment and grief, the manger and the cross remind us of the commitment that God has toward us. Look at the extremes that God has gone for us - laying in a manger and dying on a cross – he won’t give up on us now. He brings joy, peace, hope and love into our lives even on the darkest of days.
May the joy of Christmas fill your hearts and homes not just for the days of Christmas but for the whole year. May you have a merry Christmas all year long.
© Pastor Vince
14th December, 2003