Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sermon for Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols: "Christmas Songs and Stories"

+ Christmas Eve – December 24th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Isaiah 7:10-14; 1 John 4:7-16; Matthew 1:18-25

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Of all the ways we celebrate Christmas there are a few common ingredients we all have in common. We gather with our families around the tree and the table. We sing and tell stories. And we receive gifts and rejoice.

Christmas is the season of stories. We watch Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf, or Christmas Vacation; we read Twas the Night Before Christmas, we chat with family and friends– these are all reminders that we love stories, especially at Christmas.

And there is no greater story than the one we hear in the opening chapter of Matthew:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

Tonight our families gather around the tree of the cross and the Lord ’s Table. We receive God’s gifts and rejoice. We sing carols and hear the lessons – the greatest story of all: Jesus’ birth to save you.

It is an old story. One Jesus grew up hearing from Joseph in the wood shop: A Virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. And yet here is the One in whom all the Old Testament stories find their fulfillment.

For…Christmas is the story of your salvation.

“The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian proclamation that the One who is beyond all space and time, who is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, took on our human nature, descended to his own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with him. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” (C.S. Lewis paraphrased)

If Jesus’s birth is false, it is of no importance - no cross, no resurrection, no redemption, and we are still in our sins. But if Jesus’ birth is a true story, it is of infinite importance. The only thing the Christmas story cannot be is moderately important.

Christmas is what separates Christianity from all the other stories. Many other Christmas stories contain shadows of the truth: Christ’s birth in human flesh is the reality.

Jesus’ birth is not a fairy tale. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. In the days of Caesar Augustus. The nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke are real stories, about real people and real events. And yet they remain good stories. The best kind of all. Christmas is the greatest story of all, not only because it is beautiful, but because it is true.

Christmas is the story of your salvation.

Christmas is the birth of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Kingdom of God comes in the flesh and blood of a baby with soft skin and new baby smell. The arms that wiggle for his mother are the arms that stretched forth the heavens. The baby gently cradled and cuddled in Mary’s arms is the Lord who cradled clay and formed Adam from the dust of the earth.
So too, Christmas is the birth of the church. It’s also your birthday. Everyone gets presents. On that first Christmas, when Jesus was born on earth, we were all born into heaven. Christ was born to saver every one of us, born in the sin of Adam.

Christ took our place by being born on earth, and we take his place in heaven by being called children of God. This is the greatest gift exchange ever. You give Jesus your sin. Jesus gives you forgiveness. Jesus takes your death. And you receive his life. Jesus’ birth saves you.
Christmas is the story of your salvation.

And one of the great signs that the Christmas story is true is that in the midst of the angels singing, the shepherds’ excitement, and the joyous mystery of God becoming man, there is also sadness. Jesus’ birth is not like a cartoon Christmas special with gum-drops, kittens, and unicorns.

At first, Joseph thought the Son of God was born out of wedlock; the divorce papers were ready. Infant Jesus fled before the soldiers of wicked king Herod. Jesus’ childhood years, like Israel of old, were spent in exile in Egypt.

Jesus’ birth not only draws us into heaven, but it also draws us to the cross. All of the slander and persecution that he would later know in death, began in his infancy. The joy of the Christmas story is not weakened or lessened by all of this. If pain, anguish, and suffering were absent then this story would reek of bad egg-nog. It would not ring true with reality.
After all, Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. Our lives are touched by sadness, grief, and pain. Broken homes, lost friends, sickness, death. In this fallen world we’re often the victim. But we can also be the villain. We sin; we bring sadness, grief, and pain upon others.

But just where you thought your story and hope were ended. Jesus writes a whole new ending for you.

It begins with the child in the manger, and leads to the man on the cross. Nails, spear shall pierce him through. The cross he bore for me, for you. Rejoice! For this helpless little One has come to help you who are helpless to save yourself. Here cries the One who knows your tears and sorrows. Here is the One who makes all your sadness, sin, and death his own. Crowned with thorns, nailed to a tree…the little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head. You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

This is why the angels sang good tidings of great joy. God does not demand that you grin and clean up in order to earn his love. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God is born for you, as one of you. God knows your sorrows, even the ones you hide. In his cross, Jesus’ bears our sin and sadness.

Already from the silent night of Bethlehem you can hear your Savior cry out: It is finished. Your sin is atoned. Death is not the end of your story.

Christmas points you from the manger to the cross, and through the grave. Sadness turns to joy. Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection is your real-life happy ending. The stars in the bright sky look down where he lay. But he is not there. Christ is risen for you. Jesus lives for you.

Like a children’s Christmas pageant, our celebration of Jesus’ birth is a story that comes alive, not only in our ears, but upon our lips. We’re drawn in. We lose ourselves in the story only to find ourselves in a new one which never ends. Christmas is the story of your salvation.

So, Rejoice. Sing. Listen. Then sing some more. Again and again…like a little girl asking her father, “One more book, daddy?” Of course. Always. After all, this great story is worth repeating year after year.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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