Sermon for Christmas Day, December 25, 2017
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will or man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
GOOGLE the word ‘Birth,’ and you may learn about the Birth of the Dragon, whatever that is. Or the movie The Birth of a Nation. Or stories of childbirth. Or one very important religious feast day. Birth is the most natural thing in the world, and we all have experienced it. Every living creature on earth was born into it, and at that moment felt the dry air, the coolness of being outside, instead of inside. Hunger. Separation. Pain. And that brilliant, almost blinding light.
If it’s so commonplace, why are we all here this late at night summoned by the birth of one human child? What child is this, indeed?
The mysterious process of gestation takes time, from single cell with all its potential of developing into the adult person specifically called out by the double helix strands of DNA.
But this Person’s DNA was special. The human components were all from one parent, His mother. What His Father contributed to these genetics is unknown. This was an unprecedented pregnancy. No woman before her ever was with child—and still remained a virgin. An angel told her what was asked of her. She had already been promised in marriage to the carpenter, Joseph, but they hadn’t sealed the marriage. The angel hailed her, saying, “The Lord is with you. You are favored by the Lord!” Luke 1:28 She could think of no reason he should address her so. So, he explained: “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus. He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
Mary was perplexed. She looked forward to her wedding, but this was now. How was it supposed to happen? Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God.” He then told how her relative, Elizabeth, beyond childbearing years, and barren, was now with child. “Nothing is impossible for God.” Mary was convinced. “I am God’s handmaiden. Let it happen just as you’ve said,” was her response.
Joseph learned of Mary’s child a few months later, and was upset that she had supposedly been unfaithful. But the angel came to him as well, telling him to go ahead and marry her, for she was pregnant by the operation of the Holy Spirit. “She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, Savior, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matt 3:18ff
These people were brave. It was a challenge to go with God on faith alone in such matters. But angels do appear at times, and they are hard to ignore or to disbelieve. Mary and Joseph believed, and so they wed and shunned the gossip about them. She needed a husband.
For when the time came, and the baby was due, a census was ordered that brought people out of Nazareth and all Jewish settlements to the hereditary homes of their families. Joseph might have been the king of Israel, had there not been a curse on the bloodline 6 centuries earlier. He was in the direct line of David, but the Babylonian conquest and God’s pronouncement froze the crown of Israel – until now. But Joseph had to return to Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth, to register and establish current tax records.
Mary, also of David’s blood line, but not that of the kings, was just about to give birth to another Son of David, one with David’s blood but with no curse. And this new human stepfather, Joseph, had the legal right to confer upon this infant the rightful kingship. The interweaving of two lives and God’s design made it possible for Jesus to be indeed the King of the Jews.
Coming to Bethlehem, the couple searched for shelter, but they were only given a place where animals were kept. The manger, a makeshift wooden food trough set in the midst of straw and musky odors, was its only feature. In the still of night, a newborn’s cry was heard. His parents cleaned him up and wrapped him in cloth strips to keep him warm and comfort him with the firm containment swaddling clothes offer.
The Birth. Millions of births preceded this one, and billions followed after, yet this birth was different. Only once has a virgin conceived and borne a son. It was as the angel said. It was also as Isaiah had foretold. God was this Child’s Father.
The night had only just begun. As the couple laid their new son in that hay-filled manger, a nearby field where lambs were foaled each year got very busy.
Shepherds tended very special flocks of sheep in the Bethlehem outskirts. These were bred for the sacrifices of the Temple, and only these lambs could be used. They were sold at a high price during Passover in the spring of every year, for it was by a lamb that every family had been saved from the angel of death in Egypt, and now safe, they were sent from slavery into freedom. These lambs reminded the Jews year by year of their heritage, chosen by God to be messengers to the world. The lambs, however, and the ceremonies were the only parts of that legacy most Jews of Christ’s time remembered.
The shepherds were not dozing, for at any hour a lamb could be born, and sheep need help often for the birthing of a new lamb. Instead of sounds of lambing, the shepherds around the campfire saw a flash of light, a bright angel opening the night sky, and heard a proclamation that changed their lives. “Don’t fear! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city. This is how you will recognize him: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2 Shepherds looked at one another to be sure they all were seeing this, hearing it. As they did, the sky opened wide and heaven’s glory shone all around the meadow, lit by angels innumerable that sang out, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will to all!”
It wasn’t a night for sleep, not for anyone. These shepherds had been invited to witness a miracle, and were given one clue to find him: look for a manger with a newborn, swaddled baby placed there as a bed. So, off to Bethlehem they went, leaving perhaps the youngest shepherd boy to tend and guard their flocks. Into town they came, and so they found the holy family. And they shared with the astonished Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them, and about the angelic singing.
This was a birth not to be hidden away. The shepherds left, but their noisy praises woke the town, spreading the good news that God was with people, and this birth, strange though it was in such a humble a setting, was about to change the world.
And change the world it did. Since that night, the world celebrates this birth. God has come to live among us as one of us, and to merge His holy nature with our nature, thereby in His very body unifies God and man. In Him, we have hope of regaining God’s true fellowship. He in us, we have a new nature, a Christ-born nature, that day by day seeks His paths and travels the long way to a better country.
The lambs born in those meadows outside Bethlehem would later be sacrificed for the glory of God. 33 years later, that baby would, as a man, likewise be sacrificed on the altar of a cross, overlooking the Temple grounds where yet more Bethlehem lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover that year. His sacrifice saved the world. Soon, all such blood sacrifice would end and the blood of Jesus would cleanse the sons of Aaron, and all sons and all daughters of all time. No more sacrifices need be made that way. Now we offer one and only one sacrifice to God. We give Him our hearts. May that be our Christmas present to Jesus this night.
Christ is born this night. The birth is rejoiced in every land, every nation. No one ignores the celebration of His birth. Iran is a Muslim nation that officially follows the calendar dating from the time when Mohammed fled Mecca to Medina, 1438 years ago. That is their year now, the Muslim calendar. But they correspond with the West in terms of our year that soon ends, 2017, and rather than say 2017 A.D., the Latin being Anno Domini, the Year of our Lord, they just say ‘2017: Of The Birth.’ No one needs to explain whose birth they mean.
The birth of Christ was not the beginning of God’s Son. Some think so, and that’s untrue. God can’t start being anymore than He can stop. The Son is God, as the Father is God and the Holy Spirit God, and all are eternal and without beginning. In the beginning of time, of this creation, the Word already was and ever had been. The Word was God and was with the Father. That Word created all things and it was for Him that they were created. He was the original light, and His first creation was light. His light gave light to every human heart, light yearning for illumination, wishing to return to its source. That uncreated light entered our world, shrouded in human flesh. As a man, even though He made our world, no one knew who He was. The Jews, of whom He was their king, didn’t know Him either and they rejected His claims. But some believed Him and to them He gave power to be the true children of God.
For the word was made human flesh, He lived among us, and His closest friends saw Him revealed in His full light, the glory of God, revealed on a mountaintop. His coming to us means God’s grace for us, His unlimited and unconditional love and mercy, and it means God’s eternal truth is now known. We live by Him, and for Him we will live forever.
We celebrate tonight the Birth. The Birth.
We have no need to be any more specific than that.