A Sermon for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Thursday, December 25, 2014
(Isaiah 9:2-7 or Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 96 or Psalm 97; Titus 2:11-14 or Titus 3:4-8; Luke 2:1-20)
After on of his many lectures, a student asked the famous theologian Karl Barth if he could summarise his whole life’s work in in a sentence. I own the works of Barth and they run well over 20 volumes. Barth was ready: “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
We sing that old song each Sunday morning in this community as our children leave for Sunday School each week. It is a good practice to send our young people out to learn of the love of God to such words: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’.
It is the coming of this Jesus, this light, that we celebrate tonight. This one is the one we have been waiting for: the promised Darling of Heaven is here.
We just heard Luke’s account of the birth of this long expected child. There are elements to this story that are truly surprising: Mary is a young peasant girl now newly married; Joseph, though of the Davidic line, doesn’t even have the influence to gain room in the local inn; the child is placed in a food trough and kept warm with strips of cloth.
It is not an auspicious start.
You may find it hard to see the God of the universe in this makeshift crib. Jesus is small, vulnerable, and needy as any newborn child.
At the time cosmic Gods were depicted as warriors and war Lords. Emperors in their pride, greed, and violence, were named ‘Son of God’. Their every command was proclaimed as ‘Gospel’ or ‘Good News’. Next to these this story seems to come from another place and we could be forgiven for not seeing the ‘King of Kings’ resting in the straw.
But the angels in heaven see clearly enough.
Echoing the heart of the God who sent them there is no pride. To shepherd sheep overnight was one of the lowest tasks on the first century. These men were not familiar with palaces. Workers on nightshift.
But to these heaven is opened. Angels surrounded by the glory of God offer their sign: a child, a manger, and bands of cloth. God born in a forgotten town in a shed full of animals.
This truly is ‘good news’ worthy of ‘great joy’. We may be tempted to see the open heaven and angel choir singing to these lowly shepherds as a dramatic coming together of heaven and earth. Of course it is.
But this is nothing compared to what is happening in the stable. God taking on the frailty of flesh, dwelling among us, God with skin on. Eugene Peterson’s famous translation of the Bible, ‘The Message’ puts it wonderfully: ‘God became one of us and moved into the neighbourhood’.
This is the one who will grow into the ‘great light’ who walks into our ‘darkness’. The one who will take names like ‘Wonderful Counsellor’, ‘Mighty God’, ‘Prince of Peace’.
This is the story we celebrate today. God with us, despite all that we do. God humble and vulnerable in a world of pride and violence. God in love with us even when we run from such perfect goodness.
God in the person of Jesus. Mystery and miracle. Inspiring volumes and still able to be summed up in a child’s song: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’
Discover this one, let this reality sink in, chew over this story. Do this and you too may come to see alongside angels that this child is truly the world’s only hope.