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Christmas Eve Candlelight–“Glory to God” (Luke 2:1-14)

B-11 Christmas Eve Midnight (Lu 2.1-14)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Just as quickly as Christmas came, it will all be over in a blink of an eye. For some, Christmas Day will be nothing more than a giant let-down. The day after Thanksgiving marked another year where people stood in lines for hours and hours to save a bit of money on that big-ticket item that they just couldn’t live without. When presents are opened, they realize they didn’t get the gifts they had asked for. Instead of the big-ticket item on their Christmas list, they got clothes instead. If they didn’t get everything and more they had wanted, then Christmas just didn’t matter.

The sad thing is, for some, that’s what Christmas is really all about it. The focus is put on us, on the world, and taken away from the point of Christmas: Jesus Christ, a baby born in a manger. Aside from all of the festivities, all the cards, all the songs, this one day revolves around a baby, who grew in stature, who became a man and took upon Himself the sins of us all.

It’s ironic that Jesus was born in a manger, the most non-ideal conditions for a birth, especially the birth of a King. The fact that the Savior was born in such humble surroundings and of such an unassuming mother was not meant to make us feel sorry for Him. Where do we have the time to feel sorry for Jesus anyways when we take the focus of Christmas from Him and put it on worldly things? Who has time for Jesus when we’re enjoying the gifts that wait for us under the Christmas tree? But the coming of Jesus was in line with His mission: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is precisely what Jesus has come to do and that is shown in His simple birth. He was not born in great and lavish conditions. He was born in a feeding trough surrounded by animals you would find on a farm. There would be no posh palace on earth for this King. His reign on earth would be marked by humility.

Though the Savior’s birth was humble, its significance for sinners is life-changing. He comes in a manger in order to die on a cross to give you eternal life. The angels come to proclaim that this is the Savior, the one who rescues sinners from eternal death. He is the Christ, the anointed One, appointed by God for this saving work. He is the Lord, the one who is full of grace and truth, come to do what no one else could do.

The angels rightly proclaim, “Glory to God.” Even though Christ was only a tiny infant, the angels were quite correct to proclaim that His arrival already meant peace on earth, a spiritual peace between a God who demands perfection and sinners who daily fail to keep God’s commandments.

It’s incredible to think that our salvation hinges upon this little Child’s birth that we celebrate. Mary knew that Jesus was going to be important because the angel Gabriel had revealed it to her. The angels knew that Jesus was going to be important. They made it known to the shepherds out in the fields. These were a people who had heard of the promised Messiah dating all the way back to the time of the Isaiah the prophet: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

This is who the newborn Babe in the manger is. Isaiah has described for us who Jesus is, but we don’t yet know what it is that He has come to do. Isaiah later tells us what Jesus has come to do: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Here there is no Santa Claus. Here there are no Christmas parties or gift giving. The only gift that matters is the Gift that God gave to His people. Here there is only the promise of a Savior. Here there is only the assurance of hope. The shepherds asked no questions, but to the angel at his word because it was the word of God. If only we did the same thing. We question everything there is about Christmas. We question the meaning behind Christmas: is it about Jesus Christ or is it about us? Is it about the gift of salvation or is it about the gifts under the tree?

Why do we make December such a month of focus on the commercialization of Christmas, somewhat on the coming of Jesus Christ, and when December 26 rolls around, we put Jesus back on the shelf until next December? Christ is present in the world year-round, not just one month of the year. He came to save us from our sins year-round, not just one month out of the year. The shepherds were forever changed by what they had seen and heard. Should it be any different for us? Shouldn’t we be forever changed by hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of seeing the infant grow into a man, who gave His life that we might have eternal life? Does our Christmas celebration move us the same way it moved Mary and the shepherds? If not, why doesn’t it? Could it be because our celebration is focused on the wrong gift?

The promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament is fulfilled. The Word was made flesh in the form of an infant, and that Word made flesh died so that the gates of heaven are opened for sinners. Here is Jesus, our Savior, the Anointed One, and our Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Christmas, Sermons

 

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Christmas Eve–“Immanuel, God with Us” (Matthew 1:18-25)

B-10 Christmas Eve Early (LHP) (Mt 1.18-25)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Matthew records the birth of Jesus as very simple. He doesn’t add anything to make it sound better, he just records the facts. Matthew is brief in his account. He doesn’t mention many of the details we have come to associate with Christ’s birth when compared to the Lukan account. Matthew’s God-given task was simply to relate the facts of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. For Matthew, he does it from a different angle than one would expect: he does it from the perspective of Joseph, the step-father of Jesus.

Matthew begins by saying, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This was significant for the fact that Joseph and Mary were only betrothed and not married. They had promised their lives to each other as husband and wife, yet according to custom, they would not live together as husband and wife until a certain period of time had elapsed. During that time, they would not consummate the marriage until that period of time had passed. A situation arises that poses a problem: Joseph learned that Mary had become pregnant.

Joseph was left with a couple of options. Option 1 would be to divorce her. This would have been a very simple and easy thing to do. It would have meant little difficulty for Joseph should he do that. What’s more, it would have been his right to do so since Mary was the one who cheated on him. Mary, a less-than second-class citizen would have born the entire fault and the law would have sided with Joseph because he was a male. In ancient Judaism, betrothals, unlike our modern engagements, were as binding as marriage; an economic transaction had united the couple. Even though they had not yet consummated the marriage, their betrothal could be ended only by divorce or by the death of one party. Unfaithfulness, however, was universally regarded as grounds for divorce, and Jewish law, like Roman law and all ancient Mediterranean custom, would have expected Joseph to divorce Mary.

Option 2 would be to have Mary put to death for her act of infidelity. Because of the law of the land, death would have been an option. According to Deuteronomy 22, the life of Mary, and ultimately Jesus, could have been in jeopardy if Joseph had wanted to press the issue. Joseph did not desire any harm to come to Mary because he was a just man.

Option 3 was that he could accept the child as his own. With that would come a certain stigma, since he and Mary were only betrothed – meaning that though they were married in the eyes of God, yet not married in the eyes of the government, the stigma would be that he willingly married a woman who had not only cheated on him with another man, she became pregnant by that man as well. It would not be Joseph’s responsibility to care for this child, since he has no tie to the child. Joseph, with the options before him, had settled on Option 1, to divorce Mary, but do it in a quiet way so as not to bring about shame to her for her act of infidelity against him.

However, Option 1 was not what God had intended for Joseph. He sent the angel to Joseph with a message, a message from God: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Any questions or doubts that he had about his betrothed have now been answered. There was no adultery on Mary’s part. There was no other man in their relationship. Instead, God our heavenly Father, has chosen to use Mary and Joseph as His chosen instruments in bringing Jesus, the Son of God, into the world.

Joseph did a complete 180° upon hearing the words of the angel. Instead of quietly divorcing Mary, he instead embraced her and the Child that she was carrying, for this was not just any child, but it was the very Son of God. Joseph assumed his role as step-father to this Child, knowing that He would save His people from their sins. He didn’t know what that would look like or how it would be accomplished, but he didn’t need to know. Instead, he trusted the words of the angel and cared for the Child as his own.

As hard as it might be for some to believe, Christmas is really for you. It is about Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, come into the flesh for you, in order to live a perfect life and die a criminal’s death for you. Christmas is about the giving of a Gift, the Gift of Jesus and what He comes to bring you: forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is not about the presents that are wrapped under the tree or the presents that we give to one another. Christmas is all about the gift that God gives to you. God gives to you the one and only Gift that you will ever need, for this Gift gives to you what is most important – everlasting life.

This Son born to Joseph and Mary is the Son born to all creation, to you and to me. It is the Son “born that no man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” This Child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate is like no other child that ever has been, is, or ever will be. This is the very Son of God made flesh for you. This is the very Son of God who came to take your sins upon Himself. This is Jesus, the Lord saves. Jesus came not to merely save a person or a few. He came in order to save and redeem all of mankind, including you, for He is the Messiah which the prophet Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years before.

This Babe that lies in a manger, this is the One whom was told of long ago. He is the Messiah that is promised of in the Scriptures, the One who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has come to be Immanuel, God with us. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Christmas, Sermons

 

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Christmas Eve Candlelight: “Time has Come”

Text: Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

“I wish Christmas time would never be over.” It is a feeling I’m sure we’ve all shared. Christmas seems to come earlier every year; the commercialization of it, that is. It is a time that comes and goes, leaving us yearning for a day when time would stand still and somehow our lives would be filled with excitement, and our days would be kinder, lovelier, and more peaceful. That time never seems to come, though we never give up the dream.

What would life be like without special moments? For example, just think about how this time of the year dominates our days. It’s Christmas time, wintertime, shopping time, vacation time. Every day there comes a time to wake up, a time to go to work, a time to eat, a time to play, a time to go to bed. The word time defines our existence, as the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes puts it: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; . . . a time to seek, and a time to lose; . . . a time to love, and a time to hate.” Those are the times that come and go as we move through life – happy times, sad times, exciting times, boring times, full times, empty times.

And so it is in the world in which we live, marking our time every moment of every day. We are creatures bound by time, which can be a challenge or a problem, an opportunity or a disaster. Time, which was intended by our Creator to be a blessing, sometimes seems to be more like a curse. We delight in those moments when we have good times, exhilarating times, hopeful times. But we can easily turn them into anxious, stressful, hurtful, desperate times.

In the Christmas story, the time came. It came as a decree from the emperor requiring everyone to return to his ancestral hometown for a census. Today the Census Bureau sends representatives to our houses. In those days, they required families to take the time to make a long, hard journey. For shepherds it was time to keep watch over the flocks at night, shivering in the cold, enduring the time until morning came. And for the holy couple, Joseph and Mary, it was time to find a place – not just to rest, but to deliver a baby, since there was no room at the inn.

Here we are, gathered together as God’s holy people waiting to celebrate that moment in time when a Baby was born, but it is not just the birth of any baby. It is the birth of the one whom Isaiah foretold of so long ago: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. This Baby is none other than Jesus Christ, the very Son of God. The time has come. The time has come for the promise from God of a Savior to be fulfilled. The time has come for God’s creation to be restored. The time has come for the sins of the world to be forgiven. The time has come for your sins to be forgiven.

When we see how the Son of God came into the world, it is not how the people of the New Testament expected. They had grandiose expectations of their King: a man who was strong and mighty; a man who would reign as their earthly king; a man who was powerful and a born leader. Instead, they received a Baby, born to meek and meager parents – a young teen mother and a carpenter. Instead of getting a great and powerful king, they got a Baby. This Baby was not strong and mighty. A Baby could not serve as a king. He wasn’t powerful or a born leader. What a let-down this must have been! Instead of getting a Messiah who fit their profile, they received a Baby who was the Messiah which fit God’s profile.

The prophet Isaiah later writes this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The people knew what they wanted the Messiah to look like. However, God knew the Messiah that they needed. He knew better than the people did of what they needed. They wanted someone who would establish an earthly kingdom, possibly bring peace or make Nazareth a respectable city again. Instead of giving to the people what they wanted, God gave what they needed: a King who would reign over heaven and earth. He gave to them a King would establish a peace that passes all understanding, a peace between God and His creation. Jesus our King restored the relationship between God and us by His death on the cross. That was something that no earthly king could do; something only the Son of God could do for us.

Look at where Jesus was born. He was born in a manger, nothing more than a feeding trough. If He were the Messiah that the people had expected, wouldn’t there be more pomp and circumstance to His birth? If you look at the birth of a child of a dignitary or a leader of a nation, there is security, paparazzis taking pictures, the red carpet rolled out; in short, nothing but the best. In the case of Jesus, what happens? Listen to what Luke says: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” What was done for the Babe of Bethlehem? Maybe a few sheep were moved out of the way. Possibly a hay bale was undone for the Holy Family. Hopefully the innkeeper was gracious enough to clean out a trough to lay Jesus in. None of this screams “Son of God” or “Messiah” for the people, but this was all according to God’s time and God’s plan.

Tonight, the time has come. The time has come for the Savior of the nations to be born – Jesus is born. The love of God took the shape of one named Jesus, born of Mary, but called also Immanuel – God with us – thus blessing and redeeming our times.

For many, tonight marks the end of waiting: waiting to open the presents which Santa Claus brings. But for the millions of believers in Christ, tonight is the culmination of much wishing and hoping and waiting as well. We too have received a present. But it is not a present that comes from Santa. Rather, it is the greatest gift of all – the gift of God’s own Son.

The time has come for us. In Jesus, God has entered our world where we are born and die, work and play, love and dream. We rejoice with the angel who proclaimed, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2011 in Christmas, Sermons

 

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