Trees and tinsel, people and parties, long nights and sparkling lights. Movies and making sure there is a present under the tree for everyone on the list. It seems as though that is what Christmas is all about, and yet, as we have all heard Linus say; that’s not what it’s about at all. More important than the gifts we give each other, more impactful than the famous line in any of our favorite holiday films, is the story of a pregnant teenage girl, her reluctant if not honorable soon to be husband, and a tiny town filled to the brim. The real account of Christmas has more meaning in a manger, than anything we men have made up.
God had been silent for some 400 years. No more animals on arks, or bushes that didn’t burn. No more walls that fall, or scary giants toppling either. No miracles that seem like magic, nor people that profess to be prophets. After millennia of making sure that we knew where we stood, His people understandably wondered if God, was gone for good. Where there had once been no question, doubts began to creep in. Was this God of old a fairy tale, made up by their ancestors to explain the seemingly impossible? Was His righteousness real, or a legend made up to lure them into better behavior. Was the talk of Messiah mere myth, or something much more meaningful? People asked aloud amidst the deafening silence.
One thing was for certain, their world was an imperfect place. Filled with failures and flaws, mankind marched on towards an inevitable demise. The law had become more afterthought than aim, and it pointed out how fallen they and their fellowman truly were. Greed and gain had become the goal, and their hearts declared their allegiance to anything or anyone who could bring them relief from their pain, or temporary pleasure. All they like sheep had gone astray, and turned of course to their own way. And the iniquity of the whole world lay heavy like a weight that could not be lifted, a darkness that would not know light.
And then, just when hope seemed more distant than desired, there came the voice of one crying in the wilderness; “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” An angel appeared from above and spoke to life a tale older than time.
Luke 1:26–33 (ESV) – In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Many months later, the Messiah was born, not with elegance or grandeur, but with God Himself, giving up His majesty and being found laying in a manger. The highest King of Heaven, placed in a food trough, far away from fame. Angels sang and wise men came, shepherds left their fields and sang. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace for those with whom He is pleased. Jesus lay down, not just in the hay, but His heavenly home, on a mission more sacrificial than those who declared His birth could see. They saw a promised king, but they could not have known His crown would be of thorns and His throne would be a cross.
Tonight you and I have the privilege of time. As we look back and re-tell the story, we see it in it’s totality, as opposed to just in part. We see the selflessness and sacrifice of a Redeemer sent to save, and perhaps we take for granted the meekness of that moment. Our Savior, in all humility, finds his place not among His people, but the beasts that bear them instead. It’s in moments like these that you and I should find ourselves asking; Isn’t that just like Jesus?
Isn’t it just like Jesus to come into the world He created, with a humble, loving heart. To allow Himself to be seen as a child, helpless and small, though He be bigger and greater than all. Isn’t it just like Jesus to disappear for nearly two decades, working the job His father taught, building and crafting beautiful things, while the whole world nearly forgets that He exists. Isn’t it just like Jesus, that He didn’t pick teachers or soldiers or wise men, but rather those who fished, and those who had fallen from grace. And isn’t it just like Jesus, that just when all who followed Him thought He would finally force His way to the top, instead He gave us His grace as He gave up His life; one perfect life, payment for the whole of humanity. And again when God seemed silent, Jesus was just getting started.
Romans 5:1–11 (ESV) – Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
And so now the call for us, is to be, in fact, just like Jesus. To lay down our loves, our lot, and our lives – to selflessly serve the One who demonstrated through death, what it means to truly have life. He showed us that nothing in this place is permanent, and that there is nothing that our Deliverer has not overcome. He has called us to a life of willful obedience, despite oppression and affliction, through helplessness and hate. If we shall truly be like Him, despised and rejected, we listen and love like those who have learned from their Lord. Who went from laying in a manger, to laying down His life – all for the sake of love.
John 15:12–13 (ESV) – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
You and I must choose to die to ourselves, to embrace more than just flesh and bone, and to live as the very spiritual beings we were created to be. Body, mind, Spirit, and soul – all pointed in one direction, living for a singular purpose, focused on a solitary goal. Isn’t it, that goal, to be, just like Jesus? To breathe in His grace, and exhale His holiness. To follow, in faith the life He has called and created us to live? To allow Him to capture our hearts and take control of our minds; and make His purpose our lives only plan.
Galatians 2:20 (ESV) – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
All this, over two thousand years ago, and still our world looks a lot like theirs; filled with hopelessness and hate. A people enslaved by their sins and sold to their selfishness, those who walk in darkness, are desperate to discover a great and glorious light. Desperate for something, just like Jesus.
Titus 3:3–7 (ESV) – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Tonight we celebrate with songs about a silent night. We carry candles that keep our eyes fixed on light. Tonight we remember that despite our despondence, we can dream of a day when all will be made right. We remember the words spoken long before they were truth; for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace. We listen to a familiar tale and yet we long for the day when the words of another prophet will prove more powerful than any pain this world throws our way. And we will hear a voice from His throne saying;
Revelation 21:3–4 (ESV) – “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
A helpless baby in a manger, a king with a crown of thorns. A virgin mother’s child sleeping in a stable, a selfless Savior carrying a cross. Not the story the people expected, not the one they would have written, not the one they would have thought they’d tell. And yet the one still told today, a gospel filled with grace. The greatest story ever spoken; shared by those guilty and in need of grace. The broken becoming beautiful, all because of His body and blood. A simple, selfless, sacrificial Savior – all on a sacred silent night. Isn’t that, just, like Jesus.