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Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Birth (Christmas Eve Sermon, 2015)

Christmas Birth (John 1:1-3, 14)
December 24, 2015 – Christmas Eve Worship

            Luke’s telling of the story of the night Christ was born, is unremarkable.  There was a census.  Because Joseph was in the line of David, he had to go to Bethlehem.  The baby was born in a manger because the inn was full. 
            They did not have hospitals.  They did not have bathtubs.  They did not have climate controlled buildings.  Where did births usually happen?  That the savior of the world, God incarnate, was born in a manger – maybe that was business as usual in the first century.
            Of course, the air was thick with animal smells and sounds.  The birth of Jesus was draped in the pungent fragrance of manure.  Sheep and cows baahed and mooed.   Mary delivered her baby with no epidural or any other medication or medical help.  Joseph’s panicked, beating heart provided percussion.  And baby Jesus cried when his bare skin was exposed to the cold night air. 
            In the birth of Jesus, God entered the everyday messiness of human life.  Jesus was every bit a human being, coming into the world the way all humans do.  At the same time, Jesus was fully God.  This is a mystery.    Somehow, this most vulnerable of living things, a human newborn, was, in a way we cannot quite grasp, God. 
            Why would God do this?  Why leave the glories of heaven to live in the squalor of earthly life?  And I don’t think it makes any difference if God entered humanity with 21st century creature comforts or with the hardships faced by a peasant family in 6BC.  Either case is a complete emptying of God’s divinity, God’s majesty.  Why would God do this?  Why did God do this?
            “For God so loved the world, he gave his only son that whoever believes in him would not die, but would have eternal life.”  The story of the birth of Christ is the story of God’s work to offer salvation to the world. 
Sin cuts people off from God, leads people into a society of harm and pain and loss, and ends in death.  This is what sin does.  All people sin throughout their lives.  We live on a planet of 7 billion sinners who descend from hundreds of generations of sinners.  The compounded harm makes this place a hellish distortion of the good earth God originally created.
And we can’t shake our sins.  We cannot, by a herculean moral or ethical effort, stop sinning.
In Jesus, God rescues us from our sins.  The story’s climax is Jesus on the cross taking on himself the end results of sin – suffering and death.  Resolution comes in the resurrection, the defeat of death.  Sin has been accounted for and death defeated.  In Christ, we are saved from sin, saved for relationship with God, saved to eternal life. 
Our first step is to acknowledge our sins and ask God to save us.  We do this and we receive his forgiveness.  We give our lives to Jesus and acknowledge him as our Lord.  And God’s rescue comes – to each who turn to Christ. 

‘Incarnation’ is the theological term that describes God inhabiting humanity.  Jesus is God in human flesh.  This is what is meant when the term ‘incarnation’ is used. 
The Gospel of John illustrates this.  The gospel opens this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” 
‘The Word’ in John refers to Jesus.  The Gospel establishes that this is God. Another Bible author, the Apostle Paul, makes a similar point about Jesus in Colossians 1. 
He writes, “The Father … has enabled [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:13-20).
Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is God and has always been God.  He became human in order to endure the reality of human life.  But he was a human who never sinned.  He lived the human life the way God intended.  John writes, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (1:14).  Jesus left Heaven’s glory and arrived in a noisy, smelly, cold world.
Because he did this, every human being is invited by God to put their faith in him through Jesus Christ.  When we do we are freed from sin and drawn into eternal life in spiritual, resurrected bodies that cannot be hurt or killed, but that live in perfect love and perfect, unending community.  As John puts it, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  Jesus left eternity and entered our humanity that we might be freed from the limits of corruption that come with sin and join him in eternity.
Paul also asserts this in Colossians.  “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision,[d] by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ;12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God[e] made you[f] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed[g] the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:9-15).

On Christmas Eve, God sits before us and bids us to come and enter the divine, eternal story.  For some it is unbelievable.  Maybe it is too good to be true?  Maybe it is too fanciful and we are people of logic and reason and science? 
Lee Strobel was an investigative reporter for a Chicago newspaper.  He didn’t believe in fairytales like Christianity.  He was interested in facts, not stories.  Then, his wife became a Christian and this threw him for a loop.  He had to get to the bottom of the phenomenon.  So, he did an exhaustive investigation of Christianity in order to show her the fallacy of it.  He came to a conclusion he could not avoid.  It is all true.
In his book The Case for Christmas he gives this invitation to anyone stuck in doubt, resisting the invitation of God.

I had come to the point where I was ready … [to believe in] the Christ child, whose love and grace are offered freely to everyone who receives him in repentance and faith.  Even [a skeptic] like me.
So I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, turning from my wrongdoing and receiving his forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.
… I know some people feel a rush of emotion at such a moment.  For me, there was something equally exhilarating: a rush of reason. 
Over time, there has been so much more.  I have endeavored to follow Jesus’ teachings and open myself to his transforming power, my priorities, my values, my character, my worldview, my attitudes, and my relationships have been changing for the better (Strobel, 1998, p.91).

And then Strobel writes, what about you?

That’s where we end this evening?  Would you consider turning from sin, turning to God, and receiving Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior.  When you do this, Christmas moves from being a nice story to becoming a part of the greatest turn to happen in your life.  In Christ we turn from sin and death to forgiveness, resurrection, adoption, and eternal life.  Would you make that turn this Christmas?

We end our Christmas service by lighting candles.  We take the light from the center candle, the Christ candle.  We sing “Silent Night.”  As we sing by candle light, open your heart to God.  Let Him in. 
After the service we’ll have some refreshments.  Please join us and enjoy some Christmas cheer.  If you would like to talk further about following Jesus, I’ll be here.

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