Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 2
Hebrews 1:1-6 (7-12)
John 1:1-14 (15-18)

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’

It isn’t very often we get to deal with the Christmas texts in Midweek Oasis. In the thirteen years since I started following the lectionary on Wednesdays, it has only happened twice (this is the third time.) Christmas doesn’t happen on a Sunday very often. I suppose that’s why so many people have been wondering about what to do about church this week. I’ve seen numerous stories about people shocked that a church would cancel services on a Sunday. “It is Jesus’ day. Shouldn’t we be in church?” This is a question that goes around and around every time Christmas falls on a Sunday, and it is debated even among pastors.

One article from 2005 is headlined, “Mega Churches Cancel Christmas.” “While Christian groups are warring to make sure that business and government workers say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays,’ one place you won't hear either greeting this December 25 is at many of the largest churches in the country.” This same article could be written today.

See, Christmas worship is very poorly attended. Besides Easter, more people attend worship on Christmas Eve than any other day in the year. Most Christians prefer to go to Christmas Eve, so that they can have time for presents and family. I wonder if those who are so upset actually go to worship when Christmas falls on a Wednesday. If it is so important to be in church on Christmas Day, why don’t they do it every year? I’m sure we’ll hear the same arguments in six years when it happens again. I don’t know the answer; there are good and bad reasons for making the decision either way. I have to admit that we haven’t normally gone to worship on Christmas morning, especially when the children were young. I do like, however, that it is an option at my church and we’ve decided to go this year. Whether or not you choose to attend worship on whatever day you do so, it is good to remember that Christmas is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s where our texts take us this week.

In Isaiah we hear, “Break out into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for Yahweh has comforted his people. He has redeemed Jerusalem. Yahweh has 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 was 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 the entire world.

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 to 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.

Christmas, as we have seen in our own lives, is not always a welcome celebration. We can joke about the mega churches canceling Christmas so people can gather around their Christmas trees, but there are those in the world who would rather Christmas be wiped from the calendar. There are those who would rather Christians be wiped from the surface of the earth. It isn’t just our day, however, this has happened since the beginning of time. God is good, but not everyone sees that He is. Not everyone accepts His authority. Not everyone things that Gospel is good news. As a matter of fact, many people don’t think that the Gospel is even necessary. Why do we need forgiveness? Why do we need to be saved? These are questions that have been asked by some in every generation.

Israel was founded for a purpose: to bring blessing to all nations. Yet, every era brought a new threat to Israel and now to the Church. Yet, we are reminded in the birth of this King in the manger that God made a promise to David so long ago. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise that David’s house would last forever. No matter what God’s enemies did to destroy His people, God would always be victorious. In the end, He defeated even sin and death. The psalmist calls the kings of all the nations to be wise and listen, “Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Give sincere homage to the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish on the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” People may wish for Christmas to really be canceled, but God will bless those who honor His Son. He’s not taking attendance; He looks at our hearts.

The people in the Old Testament had no idea how God would fulfill His promises, yet they worshipped Him. They sang hymns of praise and burst into jubilant song, as we do with our favorite Christmas carols. They did not know how God would reveal His salvation to the world, but we have seen it in Jesus Christ. The child born in Bethlehem was not plastered all over the news, and 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, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.” 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, even in the celebrations that take place in church buildings whether they happen on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

“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. Too many 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. Without him was not anything made that has been made.” When God spoke, His thoughts were made real and they came alive. The entire creation came out of nothing into being with just His 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.

“The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of 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.

There it is again, a reminder that Christmas is nothing without Good Friday. Jesus was born to die, and it was through His death we find life. 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. 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 Isaiah 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 in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by 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 argue about whether we should open our churches on a Sunday morning or give people a break so they can gather around their Christmas trees. We celebrate the birth of the baby with singing and gifts and food, but is Christmas still about the Gospel? The Gospel is not just about the birth of a special baby, but about the One who came to die for our sake. Do we see the salvation of God wrapped in those swaddling clothes? Do we see the King that deserves our worship because He was there at the beginning and it was through Him all things were made? Do remember that the true Light of Christmas does not come from the hundreds of bulbs we have decorating our homes, but from Jesus Christ, the One who fulfills all God’s promises. 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 took refuge in God. 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?

There might be good reason for a church to cancel services on a Sunday morning, but we are reminded that Christmas Eve has passed and we live in a new day. 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. We are called to honor the Son; those who take refused in Him will be blessed.

The world has missed the God who has revealed Himself to them. They missed the Light. They did so in the days of Israel, in the days of Jesus and they continue to do so today. Christmas Day is about showing the world that He is truly present and that His love and mercy is real. Now is the 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. He was the One whose beautiful feet brought the Good News.

We are now sent into the world to follow in His footsteps. Christmas Day and every day after, let us share the hope we have with our neighbors to the very ends of the earth that God’s salvation is found in His Son. Christmas, wherever or however it is spent, is a time to honor the Son and find blessing in His grace. Every promise has been fulfilled in Him, and in Him we will have peace.

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