Sermon for Christmas Day 2004

Text: Luke 2:8-12
There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David's town your Saviour was born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Stop and be amazed

The lead up to Christmas is a busy time. Sending Christmas mail, buying gifts, getting ready for visitors, preparing food and going to one Christmas party and end of year break up after another. Just when you think that your Christmas mail is finished and over for another year, there is that surprise Christmas card that send you scrambling for a another card to send off before it is too late to be received by Christmas Eve.

CS Lewis laments the whole gift giving thing of Christmas that he says has been forced on us by shopkeepers when he says, "Who has not heard the wail of lament, and indeed resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance (of buying gifts and sending cards) was over for another year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one has to go." Lewis is overstating the point to highlight just what a mad busy rush we have made of Christmas and gift giving.

The people in Bethlehem the first Christmas were busy. They had come to town from far and wide to be registered in the census the Roman Emperor had called. People were busy looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.
Others were preparing meals for the extra people in town,
there were dishes to be washed,
rooms to be made ready,
beds to make,
donkeys to be housed and fed
and there were still more people arriving needing somewhere to stay and something to eat.
Joseph and Mary (who was clearly soon to have a baby) arrived and there was nowhere for them to stay. Everyone was so busy – the inn was full. Where were Joseph and Mary going to rest for the night?

The Church is like that. Christians are like that. I’m like that! We urge one another to be busy. Get involved. Tell others about Jesus. Don’t keep it to yourself – share it! Do something in the church. Be on a roster. Join a committee – there’s so much to do. Help with morning tea. Clean the church. Lead a group. We keep on telling one another that the church is not a place to settle down and be cosy, it’s a busy place doing ministry.

Everyone was busy in Bethlehem except some shepherds who were watching over a flock of sheep away from the hustle and bustle of the town. They were quietly talking and sitting around a fire to keep warm. What was happening in town was of no concern to them. They were glad to be out there in the country under the stars where the busiest thing was the occasional flying bug.

Then the sky lights up. They are told about the one event happening in town that was more important than all the others. And without hesitation they go to Bethlehem to see what it was they had been told. They found where the baby and his parents were resting for the night. They weren’t worried about gifts or whether they had anything decent to wear. The message of the angel kept ringing in their ears – "This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born – Christ the Lord."

What they saw in the stable just blew them away. It was just as the angel had told them. From then on, no one could shut them up. As they made their way through the streets back to their sheep, their loud singing caused more than one comment from the weary half asleep travellers bedded down for the night. The shepherds told everyone they came across about what they had seen and heard that night.

We need to be a bit more like the shepherds. Even on this Christmas morning we can be in too much of a rush and a dither to really take in what God has done for us at Christmas.
Parents were woken early by eager children to see what was under the Christmas tree.
Then the rush to get to church on time.
As we wait for the service to start, plans for the Christmas lunch are still swirling around in our heads – will there be enough food? – will there be enough cold drinks to go round?
A lot of preparation goes into today – it is a celebration after all. It’s a time to be with family and friends. This is an important part of Christmas and our lives are all the richer for the wonderful memories that our celebration of Christmas creates.

This morning, just for a while, I wonder if we can be a bit more like the shepherds. No rush, no fuss, no stress as they minded their sheep. And then as they looked over the side of the manger at the baby lying there, there was just awe and total amazement at what God had done by coming into this world as a tiny child.

Let’s make this time here in church, and hopefully at some other time during today, simply a time when we too can look over the side if the manger and marvel at what we see. A baby – every baby is a miracle with its little fingers and toes, little nose and soft hair, and the special cry of a new born baby – but this baby in the manger is all of that and more – he is God.

The all powerful God who is older than anything in this universe,
who created the earth and everything in it,
who created the planets and set them in their orbits,
who spoke his powerful word and everything was made,
who is bigger than anything we can imagine,
who makes the most delicate flower and the smallest creatures in this world,
this same God becomes a tiny, helpless baby in a manger filled with hay in a stable in Bethlehem.

Why should God do such an extraordinary thing like that?
Why should God the all powerful king and ruler of the universe go to the extreme of becoming a helpless baby?
In fact, we could ask, "Why should God come down and be part of the events of humanity with all of its sin and corruption, hatred and wars?"

The baby in the manger is God's gift to us. It is a gift that demonstrates just how much God loves us. God saw that we were in trouble and he was prepared to do anything to help us. God saw that our sin had created a huge gap between him and us and there was no way that we would ever be able to be friends with him or enter eternal life if he didn’t do something to help us.

You see we can’t help ourselves - we hurt someone, we didn't intend to, but we did it. We fail to live the kind of life for which God created us. We let others down, often it is those whom we love and highly respect.
We want to change. We want to be more careful about the way we regard God's Word and responding to his love with our worship. We set up all kinds of resolutions to do better. But somehow we always fall backwards. That's sin. We seem to be caught in it like a fly in a spider's web. No matter how hard we wriggle around, we can't get away from it. We are stuck in it.

The baby in the manger is God's gift to us to provide a way out of the web of sin. God came into our midst and became part of the troubles of our life, he became part of our failures and broken promises, and crushed dreams, and cruel tragedies so that he could heal us and give us hope. He came and walked the same path that we walk. He grieved and suffered and was fearful and wept and died for us. He rose again from the dead to assure us of his ongoing help in our daily lives and to give us the hope that beyond this life there is a wonderful new life waiting for us.

There is no one who doesn’t need this gift from God. There is no one here who can say that the child in the manger might be okay for some people, but not for them. God sent this gift for everyone, even to those people who don’t even realise that they need God's help. He has given us everything, what will be our response to his generosity?

Firstly, let’s be more like the shepherds and just for a while look with amazement and wonderment at what God has done for us. A gift for you and me – a Saviour who brings forgiveness, peace and hope – God's grace which reaches out to each us and loves us even when we haven’t deserved it.

For us to stop and be still for a moment is a hard thing to do – to be effective and worthwhile we feel that we need to keep on going and keep on doing. Our hectic lives, our doing, all the noise we make, our obsession with bigger and brighter and more complicated can mean we can miss it.

Can we stop today and realise what God has done for us?

In a while, we will celebrate Holy Communion and you will receive some bread and some wine. This will remind us of the connection between the manger and the cross and as we take Jesus’ body and blood in our hands, let’s remember with amazement what God has done in coming to earth as a baby. He did it for us. He came to die and rise again for us.

I read of a children's presentation of the Christmas events. There were the usual wisemen in their long robes carrying expensive looking gifts. The little shepherds were carrying toy sheep. They all gathered around the manger. Yet the highlight of the play occurred when Mary unwrapped the babe in swaddling cloths and revealed, not a cuddly baby doll, but rather a cross. In silence, Mary held the cross high over the manger for all to gaze upon.

That is the gift of Christmas. The meaning of the baby of Bethlehem is best understood in the light of the cross. That is the gift that God is offering you not only today, Christmas Day, but every day.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th December, 2004

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