Dec. 24, 2002 - Christmas Eve Sermon
“SOMETHING MUST HAVE HAPPENED HERE?”
Dec. 24, 2002
Text: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.”
A little boy, stood beside his father at the very edge of the Grand Canyon. Overawed by the sight in front of him, - the boy looked up at his dad and said: “Dad, something awesome must have happened here!”
Visitors from outer space, might well utter those same words, - were they to arrive to-night here in Unionville. What they would see is a community ablaze with lights; - homes and businesses decorated with Christmas trees, colourful ornaments, and – oh so many colourful lights. And music, - music everywhere - filling the air in shopping malls, on street corners, and in our homes.
But more than just decorations and the music, - those visitors from outer space – would also experience an air of excitement; lavishly mixed with a spirit of love and sharing, -a spirit that is different from any other time of the year.
Surely something awesome must have happened here!
And indeed it did. But it’s origin can’t be found in the strings of lights, or the MUZAC flowing through the shopping malls.
It those visitors from outer space really wanted to understand Christmas, - we’d have to take them back in time – 2,000 years –to an obscure part of the world at the far eastern end of the Mediterranean sea, - to a little village (hardly more than a hamlet) of stone & clay buildings - called Bethlehem. But it wouldn’t be to the warm homes or the bustling inn – that we would take our visitors, but to a tiny, chilly animal shelter – out behind the roadside inn. And there – in a crude manger of straw & a blanket – we’d find an infant child, - the new born son of poor peasants – Mary & Joseph. What a strange place to find a child - whose life would become like a mighty river, eroding and cutting, and moving away – the sins of the world, --- to leave behind - what is truly the most awe-inspiring sight on Earth, - human beings – men & women & children - who truly love God, and who truly love one another.
It doesn’t make sense! Think of it! - For an event occurring so long ago, to have such a profound effect upon life today in the 21st century; – it would have to be an extremely important event. Logic would tell us that the only possible birth occurring 2,000 years ago - that could send such shock waves through the centuries, - would be the birth of an extremely powerful king and ruler. One whose strength was so overwhelming; whose domination of the world so complete – that it would leave an indelible mark upon human history.
But that’s not what we find here! – No not at all. The birth of which we speak – occurred in a little known country, in a far off corner of the world. A part of the world that most people, - even in that day, - had never even heard of.
Yet even more amazing still, this birth occurred, - not in the capital city of that country, - not in a palace surrounded by the wealth of the nation; but in a tiny hamlet, in a poor region of the land. - Not in a place of safety and comfort – but in a stable, surrounded by farm animals.
How could this be?
Remembering that birth today, many people are apt to think of it in romantic terms. We picture a beautiful scene – a lovely, picturesque manger, surrounded by shepherds (in fresh, clean robes), - and wisemen from the East adorned in regal gowns. In the background – are farm animals - all brushed and scrubbed, ready for show at a rural fair.
But this isn’t reality? It doesn’t describe the birth place of Jesus of Nazareth? -
I had just a little taste of what the birth place of Jesus might have been like - some months ago. We were visiting a friends hobby farm. As night arrived, so did a violent wind and rain storm. Our host realizing that the animals were still outside, asked for our assistance in rounding up her horses and donkeys, and herding them into the security and shelter of the barn. It took us awhile. By the time we’d rounded them up, the animals were soaked and filthy`- with mud splashed all over them. - They were in no condition to be bedded down for the night.
And so we were assigned the dubious task of drying them off with towels – so they wouldn’t get a chill from the cold wind. There were four of us in the barn. Each in a different stall – rubbing down the animals, - when suddenly the lights went out. There we were. In total darkness, in the unfamiliar surroundings of this barn, - up close and intimate to large farm animals, that we didn’t really know. It was an experience I will never forget!
Fortunately, there was a flash light in the barn. Just one, mind you, and it took quite a few minutes to find it, - but at last it gave us a small beam of light to guide us as we completed our chores.
Barns aren’t the most pleasant places in the world to sleep. The barn we were in was one of the best. It was extremely clean – compared to most barns. But it was a barn nevertheless.
Barns are filled with crawly, little creatures like mice and large spiders, and the like. They tend to be smelly, dirty places. – Not the kind of environments you’d choose for the birth of a baby, - let alone one who was slated to have such a significant world impact.
The manger of Bethlehem was no where near as clean and tidy – as the barn I experienced. The Bethlehem manger was probably no more than a shed, erected to house camels or donkeys of passing travelers. You can be sure it was not in the best of condition. It would have been very smelly, and drafty,- and uninviting. And at night, it would have been pitch black, - cold and drafty. Yet this is where the child was born who one day would be called – ‘The Son of God’.
Jesus’ birth place - tells us much - about the ways of God. So what does the birth of Jesus tell us about God’s interaction with human beings?
I GOD COMES TO US IN TIMES OF OUR GREATEST NEED
The first thing we learn from the birth of Jesus – is that God comes to us when we are in greatest need.
Mary & Joseph’s plight couldn’t have been much worse. There was Mary, in the final days of her pregnancy, - forced to travel a long distance on the back of a donkey, - simply because of an insensitive, foreign ruler – who cared more about counting heads, than about the needs of his people.
And there’s poor Joseph, - a man who had so little influence and power – that couldn’t even purchase a decent room for the birth of his son. - - What a dreadful place to give birth to a baby!
Yet it was here – that God chose to enter our human condition, and communicate His words of love and care to us. Such is the way of God. God comes to us - when and where we most need help.
II GOD CHOOSES THE WEAK & UNIMPORTANT TO CARRY HIS MESSAGE
The second lesson that the birth of Jesus teaches us – is that God chooses the weak & unimportant to carry His great message.
Who would have expected the Creator of the world to choose – a tiny baby, with poor, uninfluencial parents, - in a remote, forgotten corner of the world – to be His spokes person?
Certainly the Jews didn’t expect this, - in spite of all the prophecies that foretold His coming. To this very day, most Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah. They’re still looking for the promised one, - expecting instead of Jesus, - some one who’ll come with power and might – to sweep away their enemies.
But that’s not God’s way! - As the Apostle Paul so elegantly expresses it, - “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, - so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” That’s the secret, - God chooses the most unlikely subjects – to be bearers of His truth.
And it’s still true today, God chooses even lowly people like us – unworthy though we may be – to be His ambassadors in this world.
III GOD USES LOVE – NOT BRUTE STRENGTH TO DO HIS WILL
One final message leaps out of this birth story. It’s this:- - God choose Love, rather than brute strength – to express His will and to accomplish His goals.
And so, it was the cry of a tiny infant – not the trumpet of a King – that announced the birth of our Messiah. And the message that child would bring to the world, was the message – not of a conquering hero; but of a loving Shepherd; - One who cares deeply for His people; - One who seeks out those who are lost; - One who heals the sick, and feeds the hungry. And One who cares so much for each of us, that He would willing suffer and die for us upon a Cross. So great was His love.
The power of Love has been greatly underestimated. Even today, many of our world leaders mistakenly think that the power of armaments and brute strength is the secret to overcoming evil.
But the message of the stable in Bethlehem, - and the message of the Cross at Calvary, - is that the only power truly able to overcome evil with good, - is the power of Love.
To-night, God speaks to all who will listen. – He comes to us in the midst of our need. In the voice of an infant, or through the love of a friend, God’s love is there to enfold us; - to strengthen us; and to empower us. So that we too may become ambassadors of love in this world.
And so, to-night - open your minds and hearts, - & let the Love of God flow through you like a mighty river – cutting away that which is unsuitable; - cleansing and renewing you, - so that others may recognize in your face – that something awesome has happened here this night.