Good Tidings Of Great Joy - Christmas Eve Sermon
December 24, 2016 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
GOOD TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY
Do you know how many words it takes to tell a great story? The story of the Nativity, which we read from St. Luke, takes 273 words, 80% of which have only one syllable. They are simple enough that children can understand them, yet they hold within themselves a divine mystery more profound than all the wisdom of the ages. They describe a helpless infant, appearing to be the child of a young couple, very poor, in the barn of a remote inn. They also claim that He is the Decisive Figure in all human history. This Baby is the greatest influence in all the universe, the crucial factor in many lives, the Savior of the world. If you went to a Chinese day-laborer and tried to teach him the ethics of Marcus Aurelius he would scratch his head in bewilderment. If you tried to teach the metaphysics of Plato, or the reasoning of David Hume, to an Australian Bushman, he would wander away no different from what he was. But go to those same heathen with the story of Jesus and some, certainly not all, but some would be converted. Furthermore, those that were converted would be excited about it, like those shepherds who said Let us go even now unto Bethlehem. When our faith and hope are wrapped up in the swaddling cloths of Christ in the manger, then we know the supreme and abiding blessing, Jesus is our Immanuel.
Most of us have heard the king James translation of this at some time, at least on the Charlie Brown Christmas specials. When we hear the word "tidings," we associate it immediately with this story, because we never hear it anywhere else. But we do get the point. The angel does not speak in vain. There are two great truths to be considered here. First, we hear the message of grace, that this Holy Child is the Savior from sin. Then we hear that He is for the world, given for the salvation of all. It is an announcement of peace with God, and at the same time an invitation calling us to the King's banquet.
The first of these doctrines is very unpopular today. Why do I need a Savior? Everyone wants to be the captain of his soul and master of his fate. But nobody likes to hear the word "sin." Maybe if we call it something else we can make it less ugly, make ourselves less evil. Perhaps we can call it social maladjustment. That would create the prospect of fixing it through some kind of therapy. Or maybe we could call it guilt feelings, which we can get rid of by feeling better about ourselves. Maybe we just won't mention it at all, in hopes it will go away. Sorry, none of those work. Why did you come here this evening? Are you looking for a self-help program? That's not Jesus. He did not set up twelve steps; He sent out twelve men. Or maybe, just maybe, you are such a paragon of perfection that you aren't a sinner at all. Have your hands always been active pursuing truth and justice? Yes, watch out for those sins of omission! Have you always been sympathetic to the unfortunate? Have your lips never dishonored God? Could it be that you never had an impure thought, or a sordid fantasy? Have you never run from a conflict you should have fought, or neglected the slightest detail of your vocation? Very well, if you are such a perfect person, you might as well leave now. Jesus isn't for you. This holiday cannot help you. We are celebrating the One who said The healthy do not need a Physician, but the sick. If you're so spiritually healthy, them the Church of Jesus Christ has nothing to offer you. Go be proud of yourself, if you can afford to be.
I certainly don't like to be reminded that I'm a sinner. It's embarrassing. It's humiliating. How easy it is to excuse ourselves, to put the best construction on our worst misdeeds! But stop and listen to the angel! To you is born a Savior… He did not say "to you is born a therapist … a spin doctor … a re-interpreter." Jesus did not come to make us feel good about ourselves, but to purchase forgiveness with his blood. He is the Savior who calls us to look forward to heaven instead of hell. The price of blood rested on His head, but He was innocent enough to pay it. God Incarnate has become one of His own creatures. Any why? To save the rebels who threatened His throne.
Now let's consider the second great truth: the Christ Child is everyone's Savior. He came to save His own people of course, the Jews, but also the Chinese. He came for Mexicans and Arabs, black Africans and blue-eyed Swedes. St. John calls Him The Light that lightens every man. And that is where this doctrine is even more unpopular than the first. Light isn't the stumblingblock. Everyone knows it is good to be enlightened. The offense is in the article, THE light. Jesus is the One and only Light. He died and rose again. No one else has done that. Baal cannot hear us, nor can Osiris. Buddha cannot hear us, nor can deceased family members. Muslims might claim that they worship the God of Abraham, but they deny the Trinity and the Incarnation, so they serve a false god, one who has many attributes of Satan. Jesus is the exclusive Light of the world. We dare not tolerate any hope that leads away from Him. Toleration might be popular, but when it comes to saviors, it is a fatal mistake.
We must also remember that Jesus came for, as Thomas Cranmer put it so beautifully in the Book of Common Prayer, for all sorts and conditions of men. Did He come for children? At Christmas, see how the Babe sanctifies our childhood! This is the right time to pick up your little one and impress upon that child that beyond the decorations and presents lies the True Light. Did He come for mothers? Picture her whom Scripture calls "Blessed among women." What a time for all young women to look forward to the holy calling of motherhood and family! And for the more experienced women, what better time to think of Mary's humility, to stop insisting on your own way, to let mercy cover you like a warm bath, and perhaps even let your daughter-in-law make the potatoes. Is Christmas for working people? Look at the shepherds in our story! It was no accident that the angel came to men who were stuck on the night shift. This Child would work as a carpenter for many years, sanctifying all human labor. He chose working men to be His disciples, and He wants today's workers to be His disciples as well. What about wealthy people? As we read the story we eventually come to the Epiphany, and see that Jesus attracted the Magi. And as we read of Simeon and Anna we see how He is also for the elderly. His mission did not permit Him to experience old age Himself; but that does not mean He isn't for the aged. May those of you who have traveled far on life's way look to Simeon and Anna, and from their example rejoice in the Infant Redeemer. Whatever crosses any of us have to bear, they are hallowed by His.
He's born in a stable for you and for me.
Draw near by the bright-beaming starlight to see
In swaddling-clothes lying, so meek and so mild,
And purer than angels, the Heavenly Child. AMEN.