- Christmas Eve 2018
- Luke 2
- Lyndol Loyd December 24, 2018
One of my favorite Christmas memories happened during Christmas 1986. It was the practice on my mother’s side of the family to draw names and exchange gifts. I was nineteen years old, and on that particular Christmas, I drew my four-year-old cousin Justin’s name. After taking my final exams, I went to the bookstore and sold back my textbooks so that I would have some money to buy Christmas presents and headed out to the mall.
The agreement was that you were only supposed to spend $15 on the gift exchange, but as I walked around the toy store where I was shopping my eye was caught by an electric train set like I had when I was a little boy. I vividly remembered what it had meant to me when I got my train, and I knew that it would thrill Justin. I picked up the box, and the price tag was well over the $15 limit, but at that point, I knew it was what I wanted to give him, so I broke the rules and splurged on the gift for my cousin.
After traveling to my grandmother’s house on Christmas morning, we had lunch and then gathered around the tree in the living room to open presents. I have no idea what gift I received that year. But I have a crystal clear memory of what happened when Justin opened up his present. At first, there was a shriek of complete joy, and then he began to jump up and down yelling, “I got a train! I got a train! I got a train!” Then I received as big of a full body hug that a four-year-old boy could give. At that moment I had a new understanding of the old phrase, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
I think it is fair to say that while Justin might have wanted a train set, he never expected to receive one. For Justin, Christmas had come to him in a very unexpected sort of way.
Here at LakeRidge during December we have been working with the theme of “An Unexpected Christmas.” We’ve looked at the idea of unexpected hope, love, peace, and joy.
Tonight, as we are gathered here on this Christmas Eve, I have a question for you. What if it is the heart of God the Father to do something unexpected for you? No, I’m not talking about a train set or some other item under your tree. What if God wants…
…to reveal Himself to you in a fresh and new way?
…to offer you encouragement for your broken heart?
…to bring you peace where you have known no peace?
…to draw near to you like never before?
…to restore a fractured relationship?
…to offer you hope where you have otherwise been hopeless?
Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the details of the Christmas story. You don’t have to be a regular church attendee to know about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, angels, and wise men. They are depicted each year in nativity sets, lawn displays, and on greeting cards.
Because of the familiarity that many people have with the story, I think it can become somewhat lost on us that almost all of the details come together to make for a most unexpected way for God to choose to enter our world.
I want to challenge us to hear the story again, but as much as possible with a fresh set of ears. I want to challenge us to imagine what it would have been like to be alive when the first Christmas took place and to later hear someone tell us the details of God entering the world in human form.
Luke 2:1-20 records the story for us saying,
1“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
It would seem to me that the most unexpected piece of the Christmas story is that God the Father Almighty, the One who said, “Let there be light” and cast the universe into motion actually visited our planet in human flesh.
That’s what Christians believe. We call it the doctrine of the incarnation. God enters into our world to say to us, “Look at me. I really exist. I’m here to be with you.”
John 1:10-14 puts it this way,
“10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”
For some of us when we think about God showing up the only images, we can wrap our minds around come to us from the movies. We hear that God made Himself present and, depending on your age, you think Morgan Freeman or George Burns.
The Jewish people had their own ideas about the promised Messiah Who would come one day. In their minds, they expected the Messiah to show up as a Warrior Who would show up like a comic book superhero who would wipe out and defeat their enemies and take names.
But this is how God showed up. He came as a baby, born from the womb of an earthly mother. He was born just like all of us. There was labor and pain, blood and water.
It can be hard for us to imagine that God would choose to come that way until we think about the impact that babies have upon us. Is there anything sweeter than holding a baby, especially if the baby is your own? Babies have a way of breaking down adults and causing them to act in ways that they would never otherwise act. You find yourself cooing, smiling and talking like you wouldn’t to anyone else. They have a way of calling love out of your heart that you didn’t even know was there. Maybe this is why God came in such an unexpected way?
Babies have a way of breaking down barriers and walls. It doesn’t matter if a baby is Asain, Black, White, Hispanic or any other race. You see a baby, and you don’t care if that baby is American or Russian, Afghan or Iranian. It is just a baby.
Scripture tells us that this is how God came, as a baby that has to be held and fed, who is dependent upon someone else like his mother and father to feed him, care for him, change him, clean him, love him – completely vulnerable.
This God who came to us as Jesus would someday crawl and scrape a knee and cry. This child would be scared of things that go bump in the night. He would have sickness and know what it is to run a fever.
As he continued to grow, He would be made fun of and teased by other children. As he got older, he would have his heart broken. As a teenager, his hormones would rage, and he’d be confused by the things that were going on with his body. He would, one day as a man, be tempted with greed, lust and pride and all of the things that we wrestle with as human beings.
Maybe that is why He came, that we might know that He knows what it is like to be us. He experienced life in a way that most of us don’t. Most of us were born in hospital rooms. When I go to the hospital to see someone who has just had a baby these days it is most often in a luxury hotel room of sorts.
But you know when Jesus was born, he was born to a poor peasant couple. There was no room in the inn so Jesus was born around back in a stable and placed in a feeding trough for a bed – a place where sheep and cattle would eat, a place where shepherds knelt and worshiped Him. That’s the Christmas story.
The Scripture says that God came in this unexpected way so that we might know that He knows what it is like to be one of us. Scripture puts it this way in Hebrews 4:15, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”
How powerful of a story that God understands. It isn’t just that He knows, He also understands. Before His time on earth was finished, Jesus’ promise to us was this, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I will always be with you.”
“I know. I understand. When you mess up, you can come to me. I get it. When you hurt, when you cry out, I get it. I am. I exist. I’m with you. I understand.” This is the message of Christmas.
That isn’t the kind of thing that you box up and pack away sometime after December 26th and put away until next year. Don’t we all need that each and every day? Isn’t that a message that always resonates with our needs?
One of the most unexpected things to some of you tonight may be that what God started by sending Jesus to us on that first Christmas is something that carries forward. It wasn’t just for yesterday, but for today and forever.
Amongst the many unexpected pieces of the Christmas story, I suppose one of the most unexpected elements is how Jesus gets His name. In the first century world, it would have been customary for children to be named after a family member. If you had an Uncle John there was a good chance that your name might end up being John or if you had a Grandmother Elizabeth, there was a good chance you would be named Elizabeth.
But that isn’t how it happened during the birth of Jesus. There were no family members named Jesus. There were only these messengers who came from God. In the Christmas story, angels appear to both Mary and Joseph separately and tell them to name the child “Yeshua,” which in Hebrew means “Yahweh saves,” it is where we get the name Joshua. In Greek, it was “Je Sus” which became “Jesus” in English.
In any case, you get the idea that the name basically means Savior. “You shall call him Savior.” This child, born in the manger, was born to be a savior.
The idea of a savior that most Jews would have been working with was that of a warrior. God’s idea was different from that. God’s idea was to send Jesus as a Savior to save people from their sins.
It is important for us to remember what the word sin means in the Greek. It means “to stray from the path or miss the mark.” God has this way that He created us to be, but most of us end up wandering this way or that way. When we stray from the path, we find ourselves ending up hurting other people. We hurt ourselves.
We end up feeling separated from God. We end up finding ourselves stuck. We end up trapped doing the same things over and over again that we don’t want to do, but somehow end up doing. They suck the life out of us.
Charles Wesley, a famous hymn writer, put it this way in one of his songs, “He breaks the power of canceled sin. He sets the prisoner free.” That’s the kind of Savior Jesus came to be. He came to set us free. He came to set us free from guilt and shame. He also came to set us free from those things that have a hold on us and won’t let us go.
Eventually, Jesus hangs on a cross to pay the price for our sins and with His arms outstretched He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He sets us free. That is what He does, even in the unexpected name that is given to Him, we see God revealing this powerful truth to us in the story of Christmas.
Here’s the thing, I don’t know what it is that you need to be saved from, but I do know that we all need saving. I don’t know all of your sins, but I do know my own. Some of them are in my head, and some of them are in my heart. Some are things I’ve done, and some are things I didn’t do and should have done.
We are all the same. Aren’t we? We are all in need of a Savior. That’s why Christmas is about something more than gifts under the tree, getting together with family or displays full of twinkling lights. Christmas is about the fact that we have a God who was willing to go to unexpected means to meet us at the point of our need.