Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12]
John 1:1-14

Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him.

Advent has been as long as it can be, a total of four full weeks of waiting. Beginning on November 27th, we began the journey toward the manger, toward the birth, toward the coming of the Christ child. Now, we have finally reached the end of our journey. Along the way, we've met John the Baptist and Mary, two people who served God in completely different ways and yet were much the same. Both were obedient to their calling, giving God fully of their gifts and glorifying Him even when their lives did not look so good.

Along the way though we were watching for a baby, we were also looking toward the coming of a king. I suppose in many ways we tend to focus on the child in the manger. Our Christmas pageants tell the story – Mary and Joseph had no where to stay in Bethlehem, so Jesus was born in a stable. Shepherds came to see Him after angels appeared to them in the fields. Wise men followed a miraculous star that led them to worship Him. They brought Him unusual gifts. Angels visited many of the characters in this story, telling them where to go and how to protect the child. At Christmas it is all about the child.

Yet this birth was nothing like the birth of a normal child. It was not even the extraordinary circumstances that made the story unique. After all, we have all heard wild birth stories. Children are regularly born in unusual places like taxi cabs. I'm sure plenty of children over the ages have even been born in stables. As for the unusual visitors, important people have often gone to visit newborns in the hospital. There are plenty of pictures of people like Princess Diana or heads of state spending a moment with a new mother and her baby. Nearly every child receives some sort of gift. In this modern age instead of gold, myrrh and frankincense we are more likely to take savings bonds, baby lotion and scented diaper pail liners.

No, the birth of Christ was not extraordinary because he was born in a stable and placed in a manger. It was not extraordinary because He received visitors and gifts. The birth of Christ was the dawn of a new age and His presence was the revelation of God's grace in flesh. Jesus was more than a baby. He was light and life and salvation all wrapped up in swaddling clothes. He was also the fulfillment of a promise – many promises.

In Isaiah we hear, "Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for Jehovah hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. Jehovah hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." Isaiah was speaking to an exiled people, Israelites who had been trapped in Babylon far from Jerusalem for much too long. Yet, Isaiah spoke in the past tense – telling them that the promise is already fulfilled even while they longed to be free. Though these words were once spoken to the Israelites, they are also spoken to us as a promise of the salvation found in Christ Jesus. When He was born, the holy arm of God was revealed. In Him we have seen the salvation of God. Christ is God's Word made flesh, His light that shines into all the world.

The psalmist sings a similar song. "Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him." While the promise of Christmas is the birth of a king, it is far more. The promise of Christmas is that God has come in flesh to touch the world in a new and marvelous way. All that was and all that is to be was wrapped up in those swaddling clothes.

When a celebrity is about to have a child, the reporters are ready and waiting for the moment to snap a picture or share the news. The whole world knows within minutes that the child has been born. The birth of Christ was certainly not unnoticed – the shepherds heard the good news, the wise men saw the bright star and Herod feared the possibilities. However, the city of Bethlehem was overflowing with people – did any visit the birthplace of the King? Was there a notice in the Bethlehem Gazette? Did the world hear the good news? And of those who heard the message of the Shepherd, did any listen?

No, the Light was born into the world with relatively little fanfare. As a matter of fact, Herod's fear sent Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus running into a foreign land. The gifts of the wise men were perhaps their only financial means for a time while they traveled and settled in a place they did not know. The psalmist sang a new song to the Lord, but even then had no idea about the fulfillment of His promises. Though we can sing and burst into jubilant song as we enjoy our favorite Christmas carols, they had no idea how God would reveal His salvation to the world. Even now Christ comes at Christmas with little fanfare. More people are concerned about the presents, decorations and food than Christ. Even when Jesus is the focus at Christmas, we remember the infant in the manger, paying little regard to the Light that has come into the world.

John writes, "And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not." They missed it in Jesus' day, and they miss it today. Our streets are glowing with Christmas lights, though few show any indication of glory to God. This baby for whom the holiday has been named is more, far more, than is seen in the celebrations of His birth.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." When God spoke in the beginning, He revealed Himself in words. The people held on to the words for generations, but they missed the Word when He was in their presence. They still miss the Word today.

"The same was in the beginning with God." Jesus existed even before the beginning. He is the Word and Light, the revelation of God.

"All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made." When God spoke, His thoughts were made real and they came alive. Out of nothing the entire creation came into being just with a Word. He spoke of light and light appeared. He called forth the waters and they came. He molded the dirt and made man. He gave us the very breath of life.

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth." It was not enough for God to promise His salvation. Even from the beginning He had a plan. The Word became flesh and dwelt among men. God arrived in the world in a small, crowded town mostly unnoticed. He walked, talked, ate, slept. He laughed and cried. He got tired and dirty and angry. He loved and served and hoped and dreamed. He was tempted, though He lived without sin. Then, when the time was right, He died.

It might seem strange that on the celebration of His birth we would talk about His death. Yet, that is exactly why He came. The right hand of God was revealed not to rule with a mighty fist or reign on an earthly throne. No, Christ came that He might die. The darkness would snuff out the light – for only an instant. For it is on the cross that the salvation of God was fully revealed. And they missed it then, too.

The words of old – Isaiah and the Psalm – pointed to a promise that was to be fulfilled soon and later. The salvation of Israel was only a glimmer of the greater salvation to come. "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds…" Christ, who was there in the beginning and through whom all things were made, is the greater revelation of God than even the prophets ever knew.

So now we celebrate the birth of the baby with singing and gifts and food, but do we really know the Christ whom we are called to worship? Do we see the salvation of God wrapped in those swaddling clothes? Do we see the King that deserves our worship? I suppose these words are being preached to the choir, for I do not doubt that most of us do know that Christ is the light and the life and the word and the salvation.

What of those who are our neighbors? Mary was obedient to God, bearing Christ into the world. John pointed to Jesus and told his disciples to follow the Messiah. Isaiah spoke of an unfulfilled hope as if it had already come to pass and the psalmist sang for joy at that which was to be. We decorate our houses with beautiful lights, but have we shared the light of Christ with those who are still trapped in the darkness? We sing beautiful Christmas carols, but have we spoken the good news to those who have yet to hear?

This is Christmas Day. Christmas Eve has passed. We have enjoyed the candlelight and the music, the fellowship and the gifts. Now it is time to take Christ into the world, to sing a new song and remove the swaddling clothes to reveal the fulfillment of God's promises. It is time that we show the world that God is truly present and that His love and mercy is real. It is time to set the captives free with the Word that lives. That Word is Christ Jesus, the right hand of God that for just a moment dwelt among us and died so that we might dwell with Him forever. For now we live in the hope that all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God, knowing that what will be already is and will be forever. Thanks be to God.

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