It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so we sing... We want to believe it too. There’s enough going on, isn’t there, out there and up in here all the time that we could all use just a bit, a little magic. The holiday kind, I mean. Where we gather as families to watch tiny tots with their eyes all aglow around the wrappings under the tree. With Jeffery Morgenthaler’s most enchanting eggnog in hand on a soft couch around an open fire – Jack Frost locked out and loved ones brought near. Or in places like this decked for the season, perhaps a little for nostalgia – recalling how it was when we were the sweater-wrapped children with rosy cheeks reciting – the glories of Christmases long ago. But, even if it’s for more, even if for all of it, there will be Yule-tide carols sung by a choir – good cheer to our hearts in poetry and song – all glories streaming round the radiant beams of love’s pure light – a Silent Night. But it’s only one night likely – and a morning after. You know what I mean? All these mystical moments we make – this Merry Christmas, this most wonderful time – will be here for a short time – just a passing magic…
Tonight, I say to you, that God wants so much more for you than that. No magical myth does he leave for you. No, he’s telling news…
And I guess I mean that in the old Walter Cronkite news sort of way. Do you remember him? He brought that purist journalist reportage that didn’t smack of hyperbole or opinion but skewed more toward fact. That old newscaster would end a broadcast and, with all honesty, say, “That’s the way it is…” Because (maybe more often than not) it was… It was not story, not narrative, but the news…
And that’s the way it is on December 24th, 2023… Luke is not telling how “Twas the night before Christmas when Joseph and spouse, on a donkey were riding, in search of a house…” No, read him in the opening verses of his very first chapter. Luke’s writing about “things fulfilled” from “eyewitnesses” after “careful investigation of everything” in an “orderly account” so that you, ones loved by God, might know the “certainty” of Christmas… (1:1-4) It’s news Luke’s telling. About real history – Caesar’s census during Quirinius’ reign. About the mundane – moving to the counting location for being taxed. About normal people – Joseph and Mary finding lodging, late in pregnancy, giving birth. And I’ve been in three baby deliveries myself – which are rather dramatic events… But Luke? No… “the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them…” Because that’s just how it was…even in its broadcast and reception. It comes to shepherds keeping night-watch over sheep. When they receive it – baby, cloth-wrapped, manger – they follow it, they find it just so, and they go tell how it was.
I guess I’m saying, we should take note how Luke is telling this thing we’re celebrating. Because it’s not magical, it’s factical. It isn’t story meant to warm our hearts, but “this thing that happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke’s telling it the way it is. He’s sharing news. So, hear this: that’s what God brings to you tonight – not magic – not sparkle – but news of something that happened – the most important thing in the history of the world…
We do have to add that last part, otherwise we’d be underselling it. Important news gets cast and, even if it’s reported in an objective and factual way, sometimes it’s awe-inspiring and even heart-warming, isn’t it? Those are some of my favorites, actually. Maybe you, like me, need something a little different than the constant barrage of the never-ending, bad-news cycle?
I remember the web series John Krasinski created back during some of our recent dark times. It was called Some Good News – “The news show dedicated entirely to good news.” It was meant to be something lighthearted and heartwarming when almost everything else we were hearing was bad. Actually, YouTube isn’t my favorite medium of that genre. Mostly I like the Instagram reels – the young teens who help the elderly woman take all her packages into the house; the surprise of the sibling away on deployment suddenly home for the holidays; the cheer-dad doing the routine at the front of the bleachers as his daughter cheers on the field. I don’t know… Yep, they’re cheesy. Yep, they’re sappy. But at least they’re good…
There’s good news like that and then there’s “good news” – the kind that tells of the rescue of a child who was lost or recovery from disease and impending death or escape from extreme danger. In that vein, tonight we have some good news, the most life-changing and serious kind…
And I think the easiest way to grasp it is the announcement… If Luke’s account of the baby born is rather mundane, it takes a hard, fantastical turn when heaven’s light breaks into the dead of night over Bethlehem’s fields. Close your eyes for a moment – picture it in the fields. In your mind right now you’ve probably got a sort of Thomas Cole or Cornelis De Bie version of it: I mean with the very feminine, gauzy gowned and glowing angel, surrounded by little naked, winged cherubs with the strategic flowy nappies; shepherds arms raised in welcome, all smiles… But, listen to the King James version of it: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” Like from the Old English word sar – an ache, a pain, a hurt – maybe we’d say, “They were so afraid it hurt…” Literally, “They feared a big fear…” Like how the prophets of old in the presence of God’s glory fell down trembling… It’s terror with the shepherds.
And it should be. It’s not angel-booties in nappy-wrappies; it’s “a great company of the heavenly host.” The word host means soldiers. These are the boots of heaven’s armies stomping the skies. And I bet out of their mouths came something much more like heavenly HooAh’s than four-part-harmony of hundred-O Glorias… Can’t you imagine how, as a military company might, they shouted in a way that would shiver your spine, “The battle’s done! God’s might has won! Peace on earth…”
I think it’s significant when hundreds of heaven’s soldiers break onto the beachhead of this earth and shout praise and honor to God as much as they can… when they proclaim peace on earth as though you didn’t have it before… But that’s what this is. Just as the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
That’s some good news. He has angel soldiers that can shout from the heavens, but God himself has come down in human flesh to make peace. He could have done sky-rending mighty things, but he settled his might down in a manger. He might have announced to kings and established his throne in some glorious capital, but he came through an insignificant young woman and announced it to blue-collar Joes. It fulfilled the prophecies of Immanuel; but it’s really so we could say “God’s with us…” In the very specific way Paul said, “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Ti 3:4-5) He saved us; that word means rescue – it implies that you weren’t alright – it says you were in need.
Don’t tell me you don’t see it – when you’re looking for magic: …an escape from all the bad news. …a love that won’t abuse you. …a word that the mess you’ve made of life can be fixed. …a pardon for the guilt you bear. …some comfort at the death you see. Well, here it is – news announced from heaven itself.
- It’s GLORY – the divine holder of your existence and everything is excited about this.
- It’s PEACE – the one to whom you and everyone else are accountable, his favor rests on you.
- It’s JOY – for you, God sends his Son in mercy – meaning he gives exactly what you need despite what you have done or will, can or cannot do.
- It’s God’s KINDNESS and LOVE that appeared in Christ, the Lord – who came to make his way to an ugly cross, to make payment for sins, to conquer death, to rescue you.
- and it’s GOOD – every single thing God has to say to you.
It is some good news we have tonight. My question for you: what do you want to do with it? Permit me to suggest a thing or two.
- Let’s finish this service – glorifying and praising God for everything we’ve heard from him.
- Go home and share in the gifts and the glow, the treasures under the tree – but sometime tonight, tomorrow, treasure this news. In the temple of your heart, ponder God’s goodness in sending his Son – the favor, the blessing, the rescue, the good news he’s given to you.
- And then, tonight, tomorrow, next week, whenever the moments arise… we spread the word – because from God we have some good news and it’s meant to be shared.
May the God who tells such wondrous things give peace in your hearts so that you treasure and ponder and pass on everything you have heard – this news: that Christ the Savior is born.