The Four Gifts of Christmas
Sermon, Christmas Day, 2018
Luke 2: 8-20 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’15 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.’16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.https://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/20181225_message.mp3
The Shepherd says to himself, “I got to tell them!”. But in the same breath comes the other question, “But who is going to listen: Angels, wise men? We ask, “Who is going to listen in Nuriootpa, in South Australia, in Australia in all the communities of planet earth in 2018?
The Shepherd thinks that if he looks impressive, they will listen. But then he knows that the telling of this news does not depend on how clean or dirty your fingernails, how tidy or untidy your hair, how much or little respect you may have; there is Something bigger telling this story.
The Shepherd’s questions still stands today: Who will listen?
Who is going to believe that the saving of this world, with all of its war and hate and injustice and powerful evil forces at work, comes to an end in a baby in a shed in a nowhere town a long time ago?
It is a miracle that any of us believe this magnificent but beyond human logic news – that Jesus the Saviour of the world is just that – the Saviour of this troubled world. He is indeed the end of injustice, war, hatred and fear. That is what he claims at Christmas.
Well, Christmas is not really primarily about Shepherds and angels and stables and straw. These things and people were there when something ‘Other’ happened. What Luke and the many other first witnesses are telling is not so much what happened as what it actually means for those who come after them – you and me.
So, let the Christmas nostalgia sit with you. You feel warm. You enjoy the memories and the moment, and so it should be. But hear the Sprit whispering to you to then move beyond it just for now.
Yes, you’ve got some time off. We give and receive gifts and eat nice food and catch up with loved people and this is good. But can we let the meaning the bible drives at underneath it all; meaning that crosses history and cultures and outlasts our best Christmas gift?
What does Christmas actually mean? Four things:
GRACE: Christmas means grace: God’s grace.
This world’s freedom, future, life and peace is complete gift from a God of gifts – the God of grace. Angels, shepherds, eastern stargazers, young women, old men, confused fiancés do not choose any of it. It is all given to them.
Christmas is done for them and to them. They don’t ask for Christmas, control Christmas or even know the Christ-child. Grace arrives in a person. He is grace. Jesus just arrives. The angels just sing. The shepherds just turn up, along with Eastern travellers. It is all gift and it is all grace.
Christmas means grace – God is grace. God gives gifts because he gives gifts to human beings who don’t know, can’t know, can’t earn, can’t be good enough, can’t be perfect, can’t be in control enough.
Of course, we do our very best to avoid this meaning and defend our own goodness at Christmas. We try and live a very good life at Christmas. We give, we share, we try hard to avoid trouble at Christmas dinner.
But if that is all we believe Christmas to be – a moment of us being good, then we have missed it. Why? Because we have missed him. That is acting like Jesus is just a kids story or legend or fable, like Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit.
Christmas in God’s words announces that Jesus is goodness itself, grace itself. Jesus is life beyond our efforts and control and mistakes and fears. He is grace now and for us and for always. God has actually come in grace to you. You are not on your own or dependent on keeping yourself good. He is every good thing you will even need.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD: These Shepherds and angels and travellers, and Mary and Joe were invited into a whole new depth of fellowship with the God of Christmas. God comes close and invites them into himself and his great good news for them and their world.
God becomes human so we can be close to him. He lives the perfect human life we could not. He dies the perfect human death that we no longer need to, because he has and because he lives.
God becomes knowable and able to be experienced in a whole new personal and communal way they could never really know before this event of God.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead seeHail the in the flesh deity.
God has hidden his overpowering holy light, so we can know him and be loved by him, made new by his love in the baby boy.
Now we can see him, hear him, taste him, see him, touch him, know him personally because the huge lengths God has come to get close to us.
God wants to be near you. He calls you to turn away from your self and your vision of life and wants and needs and desires and any sense of justifying yourself before people and before God.
The boy calls out, “Turn to me with all your heart in the shed in this trough so your heart is melted and you know that you are loved into this divine close love and acceptance”.
Jesus ain’t no concept or intellectual truth. He is a person. He is blood, bones, words, hands, breath. He is love and he seeks fellowship with you.
MAKES YOU WHOLE: Love is a person with a body and mind and a spirit that draws close to you in everything about you. Christmas means that your body and your mind and your spirit are included in the saving grace of a God who has all three, just like you.
Jesus is not a force of love or just a spirit of love or a universal being that created love. Jesus is a baby; a human baby like you and I have been once.
So, Christmas says that God is love in all forms and all ways.
God is three persons acting in concert to get those angels singing, those shepherd and wise people believing so you can sing and be invited into that Trinity of Love, that community of love who has a body like yours, a mind like yours, a spirit like yours.
JOY: This Shepherd just explodes in joy. It is the right response! It is the only response – like a Grand Slam winner lying on the court with racquet raised and tears flowing – joy unfettered and free.
Our songs express it. The biblical texts express it. This pastor, this Vicar, this people love it.
Joy to the whole world for the Lord of it has finally come to save it!
If Christmas means grace fully given when not deserved or known or controlled by us;
If Christmas is deep fellowship with a new person who is God;
if Christmas is for my whole body, my troubled mind, me spirit – all of me, then it is joy.
Not just feeling happy, but joy that is an anchor to our lives as we love like we have been loved, give like we have been given to, share the way we have been included and given everything in his love.
Yes, the wonders of his love. The wonders of his love.
Glory in the highest.
Joy in the fullest.
Love in the largest.
Peace in the harshest.
Meaning in the madness.
Heart in the hatred.
Justice in the wrongness.
Hear it, friend. Unwrap him and his four gifts.
Fellowship with the Divine
Wholeness – all of you
He may be more like me than I ever thought possible.
The angels got it wrong. This I not just good news. It is the best news ever!