Good morning, Friends! We’re starting to get pretty close to Christmas. It’s a busy time of year. It’s a time with a lot of different pressures. It’s easy for us to get overwhelmed with all the holiday stuff, the family stuff, the stuff. Many people here in our meeting are facing very big challenges.
I think that one of the greatest gifts the church can offer is to help each other to slow down. To offer each other the gift of friendship. To tell each other that it’s all right not to do a few things this month. Everything necessary will get done. We’ll be fine!
And we can remind each other to take more time out this season to pray. Not just to ask for things, but simply to slow down and be with Jesus. That’s the real message of Christmas – not to do more, but to feel more joy in our lives. Not to exhaust ourselves, but to deepen ourselves.
If I invite you all to listen to the Christmas story, it’s so that we can slow down the crazy pace of our lives. Slow things down to God’s speed. Take time to live at God’s pace.
One of the things we say about Christmas is that at the right time, Jesus was born. He came to bring peace on earth. He came so that everyone might be saved. He came to set us free, not to burden us more. He came to heal our hurting hearts, and to open our eyes to the Light of God.
So, let’s stop for a little while again, and listen to how God made this happen.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.Matthew 1:18-25
What does Christmas mean?
It means many things to different people. Christmas has come to be associated with a lot of traditions, with songs and celebrations and customs which have grown up over many years. But if we step back, and if we look again at the few things which are actually recorded in the Bible, then maybe we’ll see some things which Christmas means, which we’ve forgotten.
One of the things Christmas means is that the Son of God, the special child who came to teach us all how to live as children of God, was born to very ordinary people.
The glory of God, the light of God, the living Word of God which had existed from the very beginning of all things, was born as an ordinary child in an overcrowded stable on a back street.
The good news that the Savior and Redeemer of the whole world was born came, the angels came, the messengers of God came, to a group of shepherds on the outskirts of the town.
Christmas means a lot of things to different people. But one of those things, the first thing, is that Christ was born as an ordinary child, to ordinary parents in a very ordinary stable. The good news came to ordinary shepherds in an ordinary field.
His parents could have been any of us. The town where he was born could have been our town. We could have been the people to whom the good news of the birth of the Savior might have been given. We could have received the invitation to go and see for ourselves, and then we could have returned to our homes, praising God and giving thanks for what we had seen. That’s what Christmas means.
It means that when Jesus was born, he looked like every other baby that’s ever been born. The Son of God had the same needs for love and care that every other child has.
I suppose, if you wanted to turn it around, that we need to give every child the same love and care, the same guidance and attention, that we would give to the Son of God. We need to give to every child the same care that we would give to the young child Jesus.
We always talk about the potential of children, and we give a lot of lip service to the idea that all of us are children of God. That’s an important idea to us. But Christmas is a reminder of just how important it is to recognize that of God in each and every one of our children.
I saw a little boy last week who came to the Christmas dinner theater. 3 or 4 years old, maybe. Dark hair, dark eyes, running around all over the place. Cute as a button. His eyes were filled with wonder. He could have been one of the little shepherd boys at Bethlehem. He could have been one of Jesus’ playmates.
We think of God as powerful; and God is. But Christmas means that God’s power and strength are sometimes dependent on our love and on our acceptance. God needs our cooperation, to succeed with God’s plan of redeeming the world.
If we don’t listen to the angels, as Mary did, God is still here. God’s gift isn’t any less important. If we don’t go to see for ourselves, as the shepherds did, God simply invites someone else.
But Christmas means that if we listen to the good news, that our world becomes different. If we hear about God’s peace and take it in, if we hear that song of joy in our hearts, then we’re never going to be the same. And God’s own strength and love will be in us.
Christmas means that a new kingdom has come. That’s the message of the gospel. Those are Jesus’ own words, taken from many different places in the New Testament. “The kingdom of God has come very near to you. . .”
We feel closer to God at Christmas. And the challenge is for us to let God’s new kingdom, God’s new way of doing things, God’s new way of life, for that to take root in us, and grow through the rest of the year.
What else does Christmas mean?
Some things aren’t different. Some things don’t change. Most of the same stars still shine in the sky. We can go out at night, and look up at the sky, and see the exact same stars that shone over Bethlehem. Did you ever think of that?
It never says, anywhere in the Bible, that the star that led the wise men to Jesus ever went away. For all we know, that start is still shining. We just don’t recognize it. Maybe that special star is still there, every night, trying to lead us to that special place where we will recognize the newborn Prince of Peace.
Many of the same human problems are still with us:
- the poor often have no place to stay – there’s no room for them at the inn
- people who are prisoners still need to be free – not just from physical jails, but from all of the inner conflicts and addictions that are just as binding as any prison cell
- there are still plenty of hungry people in the world – and any one of them could be Jesus. Jesus said this himself.
- many people still don’t know in their hearts that God loves them! We need to tell them again and again, about the love and grace and mercy and forgiveness of God, because that’s the greatest gift of all
All those things still haven’t changed. And that means that, in our world, the work of Christmas is still unfinished.
We know that God can make a difference. And we know that the love of Christ is still the basic answer to so many of the personal problems, the social ills, the human failures of the world. We know that Christ came to help us, to heal us, to give us the courage to change.
But a lot of the people in the world don’t know those things. If the world is still in tough shape, if wars still threaten us and people are still homeless and hungry and without justice, then it may be because we haven’t heard yet what Christmas means.
If Christmas means something to us, then we have to share it with everyone else.
People need to see in us the same peace and good will which the angels proclaimed. They need to see in us the same faith which brought the shepherds looking for the baby.
We need to have in our hearts the same seeking spirit which brought the wise men to Bethlehem. We need to have the same willingness to look up at the stars, and hear the good news in our hearts. We need to have the same recognition of the gift of God in humble and ordinary things.
To people who don’t believe, Christmas is simply a time of the year to party, a time to advertise, a time to exploit the holiday for whatever they can get out of it. To people who don’t believe, all we’re doing is play-acting, it’s a game for children, it’s trying to pretend away the darkness and unfaith of the world.
But to those of us who believe, Christmas means that the Light of the world has come, that the light of Christ is still shining in the darkness, and that the darkness has never put it out, and never will.
Christmas means that God’s plan is to work through ordinary people to do great things and accomplish great miracles.
Christmas means that love and a joy can change the world. Christmas means that Christ, our Savior, is born in unlikely and unexpected corners. And it means that we’re all invited to come and see, and then to tell the good news to the whole world.