Good morning, Friends! Welcome to worship on the morning before Christmas.
We’ve been preparing for this day all month. The tree is up! The presents are wrapped. We’ve sung carols. We’ve lit candles. We’ve had treat bags and decorations and special foods. Are we ready for Christmas?
Well, maybe yes, and maybe no.
To ask, “Are you all ready for Christmas?” means more than just these holiday preparations. For Christians, getting ready for Christmas means more than stockings and Santa Claus.
“For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. . .”
Are we ready for that part of Christmas? Are we ready to welcome Christ the Savior into the world where we live?
Today I’m going to read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. Everyone here has heard it before.
But this story is where Christmas begins. No matter what else we’ve all been doing this past month, without this story, it’s all empty. Because of this story, the world has changed.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because Joseph belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, 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.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.Luke 2:1-20
Are we ever really ready for Christmas?
If we think back to that first Christmas story that we just heard, the whole thing was a surprise and a shock to everyone.
Even though Mary and Joseph must have known that the time was getting near, even though they may have packed their bags and made a few preparations in case the baby arrived early, they weren’t ready.
If they had known the baby was coming, surely they wouldn’t have been traveling, no matter what Caesar said. They weren’t ready for Bethlehem, either – “No room at the inn, folks, we’ll have to put you out in the barn!”
They weren’t prepared for the noise, and the smell, and the crowding of the animals, or spending the night on a pile of hay. They weren’t prepared for the inconvenience and discomfort and difficulty of it all.
And then, that first labor pain. I’m not a woman. I’m just a father. But I can tell you that first labor pain gets everybody’s attention.
No matter how much parents prepare, they’re never ready for the beginning of labor. And then, to have it all happen in the middle of the night, among strangers, in a stable, in a strange town – well, judge for yourself how frightening it must have been.
No, Mary and Joseph weren’t ready for Christmas, not at all.
And as for the rest of them – the shepherds were out there, sitting by the fire, minding their own business, making sure that wolves didn’t make off with the odd sheep. The shepherds weren’t expecting anything!
The angels must have scared those poor shepherds right out of their wits! In the old King James version, it says that they were “sore afraid”, which is probably the understatement of the year.
When it says, “The glory of the Lord shone round about them,” it probably means the shepherds were blinded, caught in the headlights of heaven. They had no idea what had happened.
And then those angels started singing – wow! They turned up the amplifier, as loud as it could go. The Hallelujah Chorus at midnight – who wouldn’t be scared and surprised?
After the shepherds picked themselves up off the ground, it says they went groping through night back down into town. They had no flashlights. And they went house to house, looking for this baby in the manger that the angels had talked about.
Luke doesn’t tell us how many doors they knocked at. “Uh, excuse us, but could we take a look at your stable, please? There’s, uh, er, something we’d just like to check out. . .”
And when they finally did find the stable, were they ready for what they saw? Two brand-new, exhausted parents, and a baby in a feed box.
Luke says the shepherds told their story to anyone who would listen. And, as it says, “All who heard it wondered. . .”
I bet they did. I bet they wondered what mental hospital those shepherds had escaped from, or what they’d been drinking. Christmas came as a complete surprise to all the solid citizens of Bethlehem. It was so much of a surprise they probably slammed the doors and called for the police.
Christmas was a different kind of surprise to Herod. It’s strange, how what’s joy and peace and good news to some people, can be fear and a threat to others.
The Christmas story said to Herod that something was in the air, something he didn’t like the smell of. When the angels sang, “Glory to the newborn king!”, Herod was sweating underneath his crown.
Because Christmas says, “Christ is king!” that also means, “And not Herod!” To say, “Christ is king!” that also means, “And not Caesar!” – or any other ruler, or any other government. The Christmas story means that all other allegiances become secondary. And that’s still a surprise to a lot of people.
So, everybody was surprised. Christmas, when we look at the real story carefully, is a huge surprise.
Even to us, no matter how many times we’ve heard it. Christmas says that God Almighty – who presumably could have chosen any way He wanted to come into the world – God chose to be born among us as a little baby. God came among us, into our world – that is what Christmas says.
We always try to make Jesus into some kind of a super baby.
“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes. . .”
I just don’t buy that line. When cows moo, cows are loud. And babies cry. Jesus probably cried just like every other baby. He wasn’t a plastic doll with a light bulb inside. Jesus was a real, human baby. He came to be just like us.
Real people – human beings like us – we get hurt and sick. We get angry with each other. Sometimes we hurt the people we love. Real people get tired and worn out.
Christmas says that God chose to come among us as a real, human being. That’s what it means to say, “God with us”, because Jesus knew what it’s like to be one of us, from the inside.
If you think that God doesn’t understand you, well, yes he does. Jesus started out in just the same way that we did, only Jesus started out at the very bottom of the ladder.
If we try to be kind and do better, if we struggle to be patient and forgive, just remember that Jesus went the same route that we did.
Jesus tried to show people how much better we can be, if we let ourselves be filled with the Spirit, if we try to live God’s way, and not our way. He tried to show us how to listen to the Spirit, and let the Spirit guide us, every day.
At Christmas, Christ comes among us as a very ordinary child. But he also comes as a tremendous surprise. The angels were turning cartwheels that night. The shepherds were thrown to the ground. And ordinary people like us, try to figure out what it all means.
Merry Christmas! May God bless you, and everyone you know. In Jesus’ name, Amen.