There are so many preparations for Christmas, aren’t there? To ready the gym for worship there were chairs and a stage for our chancel, an altar prepared just so, decorations, banners, lights. You did the same at home, I’d guess. Made ready with tinsel and lights, ornaments on the tree, stockings hung with care. And by now there are presents too. Christmas has arrived. And now…what will you do?
While that will certainly be different for each of us, we share one thing in common. We know that Christmas is, primarily, far more than presents and decorations and even memories or the warmth of family. We’ve been preparing for Christmas throughout the season of Advent. Getting ready for what God will bring at the end of all things as we now know them. Giving thanks for the preparations God himself made for the Savior who was coming, preparing our own hearts to receive him in faith. Considering, in all the concerns we face each day, just who to prepare for… And now, after all the ready-making, Christmas is here. And to help us properly assess what we do now, tonight we have the story itself, from Luke 2. By which we’ll say that It’s Time…
When God brings his holy day into our everyday
So, what kind of time is it? Christmas is special. It’s not every day you decorate your house and shift your gymnasium into a worship space. It’s not every day you make a gift-list and expect something. It’s not every day you put up a tree in your living room. Because this isn’t every day. Or is it? Did you notice, in the familiar story, the everyday bits?
It happened “in those days” and Luke means a certain time in recorded history. But “those days” were just like these days. Then a governor issued a decree. They’re still doing so today. This was a certain governor you can place in history, notable but also not. Just one in a long line of ones just like those we have – who make laws and proclamations and administrations of various kinds. This was a decree about a census, numbering people for government things like taxation and population. It was every 14 years then. They happen every 10 years here. Ours you fill out on a piece of paper. Theirs required a trip to your hometown and to be counted by government workers. And so then there was holiday travel. No packed airports, no planes to worry about. Joseph, protecting his new and growing family, bore his bride along on a donkey likely. Back home to Bethlehem, 70 miles from their hometown in Nazareth a good trip, maybe four or five days. And, surely, it was bumpy and uncomfortable and the gas station bathrooms were always dirty. If you’ve ever traveled 9mos. pregnant, you can identify with Mary in ways many of us can’t. Likely, in his hometown there were people he knew and family they had. And seeing family would bring happy times and tensions just like it does now too, especially if you have sleep on that uncomfortable pullout couch. Mary and Joseph got the barn… Of course, most today do not birth babies in anything like a barn. But some have given birth in bathrooms and the backseats of cars and, no matter where, the birth of a child is intense, messy, glowy, special. And the birth announcement went out – theirs by angels, but it came to shepherds going about their day just like you do – for them it was sheep, for you floorplans or bedpans or diapers or lesson plans or investments.
I don’t mean to say it’s not special. But to preempt that thought that this holy day is one we bring out and set upon the mantle and observe and put away again. The reality is: this holy day happened in the midst of the everyday because it is meant to fill every time with its glow – your work, your play, your tragedy, your travel. God’s promised Savior comes – not in some heavenly palace, but right down here in the midst of this mess; and it’s meant to be right here for everything we’re doing. We’ve been waiting – now it’s time – to recognize that it’s our time into which Jesus came – when God brings his holy day into our everyday. And that’s very appropriate, for it’s time, a time…
When everything promised is proclaimed
Christmas is that way – filled with promise. Gifts given, lists made. Hopefully family joy, a bit of rest, a turn into a new year. I hope all the things promising for you at Christmas come true. But also that you understand that Christmas really proclaims one promise.
It reaches out from that unpromising moment in the ruin in the Garden with Adam and Eve standing in shame and fear; through people like Isaiah and Micah and Jeremiah and others. You heard Isaiah’s word tonight: the promise of a wonder, a child, born to us, who will govern into eternity, powerful, a counselor from God, prince of peace. And that’s what the angel announced: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Mary had made it to Bethlehem. Joseph had got her to a place. Just a barn. And the baby was born, wrapped in cloths like a million others… but like no baby ever before.
Hear the angel’s words again. He said, “Do not be afraid…” Because the promise from God is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The joy? It’s not about baby cuteness or some pastoral scene. It’s like that building that exploded yesterday in Baltimore. Where two workers were trapped on scaffolding 10 stories up. But they didn’t fall to their deaths or burn alive. Firefighters came and rescued them. A Savior has been born. A Savior is a rescuer. The name implies that there’s a problem and it promises a solution. When the angel host appears, they tell it: “on earth peace”. They don’t mean utopia and daisy fields and kindness at cash registers – human activity had only ever produced advancement in this destruction and ever will. No, this is peace between God and humankind. Where our natural state of being God’s enemies, of hating his will, and being blind to what is actually good – that state changes. Where the glory of the Lord that would burn us to ash becomes warm sun and the announcement of good news. It comes in the Christ – God’s chosen one; who is the Lord, the mighty one. The Christmas promise is that this Christ the Lord will grow into the man who will live as the light of the world – holy as God’s light from heaven above – right here in our everyday and die in terrible bloodshed and make, in himself, the payment for all our sins. Whose vibrant baby life, so heart-warming, will be proven as powerful even over death when he rises to life to live and rule eternally – and he will truly warm hearts by faith. His work brings glory to God in the highest as the peace of his forgiveness rests on people on earth by faith – they trust in his mighty work and God’s favor rests on them. And even more, as St. Paul said, “[This grace from God – this undeserved, amazing work in his Son], It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness…and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives,” in this time right now.
What everything means for you.
In fact, in just that way, it’s time this Christmas – a good time to consider what this all means to you.
To the shepherds, well, angels broke in and proclaimed good news the whole world needs. And those shepherds thought it over, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” And it was just as God said. And then, they spread the word of what they’d seen and they went back to work, glorifying and praising God. The shepherds told. Mary treasured. Her first child. A strange birth. Unexpected visitors. Gabriel’s message and God’s promises to her rolling through her mind. She kept these things safe in her heart – a precious gift from God for her. And she pondered. Thought on them, considered them.
Perhaps this year you’ll receive one of those gifts so special you treasure it, hold it dear, it amazes you and speaks of the love of the one who gave it… so much that you speak, tell it to others what a wonderful gift was given…
Such a gift is here given.
Follow Mary’s example. Take these things tonight and keep them in your hearts for they are made for you – for your sins and your salvation and your relationship with God. Ponder the Word of God and grow in the grace and knowledge of this Jesus Christ. Consider, not just the earthly blessings that are here, but what a blessed thing it is that God has done in sending his Son.
For, once again this year, the Lord has told you about his Savior. He’s invited you to step out of the cold and stand around his manger, to see the wonder – God made flesh, light in our darkness. Everything God has promised is right here – if you have guilt of sins, he’s removed them by this one; if you have fears, he draws you into his love and the promise that his favor is yours no matter how unpromising everything else looks. And this promise from God is exactly meant to be for you – who are just like everyone else – to tell others just like you. Run with the shepherds and tell to others what the real promise of God at Christmas is about. Go about your work and by Jesus’ saving work, glorify and praise God knowing that you are people who are his very own – eager to do what is good and to tell what God has done.
Because it’s time. Christmas has come. It’s come right into our time. It’s filled with real promise for this time, this 2020, these things – God’s work, not man’s; his love unrestrained. And it’s worthy of being your heart’s treasure and the thing you breathlessly tell. In fact, as God has prepared it, there’s no better way to say, “Merry Christmas”.