Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Day Sermon

The Significance of Christmas

Sermon based on John 1:1-14 and Hebrews 1:1-12

A Sunday-School teacher or pre-schoolers was concerned that her students might be a little confused about Jesus Christ because of the Christmas season emphasis on his birth.  He wanted to make sure they understood that the birth of Jesus occurred for real.  He asked his class, “where is Jesus today?

Steven raised his hand and said, “He’s in heaven.
Mary answered, “He’s in my heart.”  
Little Johnny, waving his hand furiously, blurted out, “I know, I know!  He’s in our bathroom!!!

The whole class went very quiet, looked at the teacher, and waited for a response. The teacher was completely at a loss for a few very long seconds.  Finally, he gathered his wits and asked Little Johnny how he knew this.  

Little Johnny said, Well… every morning, my father gets up, bangs on the bathroom door, and yells, “Good Lord, are you still in there?!

This morning, we are celebrating the most extraordinary event ever to take place in the history of the world.  US astronaut Hale Irwin, put it like this when he returned to the earth after standing on the moon: “The most significant achievement of our age is not that man stood on the moon, but rather that God in Christ stood upon this earth.” 

This is what we are celebrating today, that God choose to come to earth as a human.  History is littered with examples of men who would become gods, but only one example of God becoming man.  God choose to leave heaven and be born as a tiny, weak, vulnerable baby.  He chose a young unmarried teenager, to be the mother of Jesus.  God didn’t choose a powerful or wealthy family to be born into, but an ordinary working class family.  He chose to be born not in a palace, but in a rough stable.  As we dwell on the significance of Christmas it is almost beyond our imagining. 

In the Christmas story angels feature a great deal.  We are told that an angel appeared to shepherds tending their sheep, to tell that that a Saviour has been born.  The shepherds’ immediate response we’re told is one of fear in seeing something as wonderful and majestic as an angel. 

On hearing this news, the shepherds go in search of Jesus, and what they discover is a child being nursed by his mother.  The scene must have been very different to what the shepherds had seen with all the angels.  But what is so amazing is that this tiny infant, who is totally dependent upon the love of Mary and Joseph, is greater and more powerful than the angels that the shepherds saw.   This is how the Gospel of John puts it: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

We see from this Gospel who Jesus truly is.  Firstly he is God, The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This is also emphasized in the reading from Hebrews.  In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  We also read that "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

He goes on to write that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (1:3)  The idea contained here is of the radiance which burst out of a brilliant light, like the sudden appearance of a glorious dawn at sunrise.  Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory, this is why John writes, We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  He also talks about Jesus being the exact representation of God’s being, in other words Jesus shares God’s nature, he is in very essence God.  The point being made by the writer to the Hebrews is that Jesus the Son is identical to God the Father, they are one and the same.  And we read in Hebrews that it is Jesus who sustains all things.  By this it means that Jesus is still actively involved in the world.  God didn’t just create the world and then step back and leave the world to its own devises, like some sort of divine watchmaker who having made a watch leaves it to run on its own mechanism.  No, God, through Jesus is still active in the world, lives are being touched and changed by his love.  Personally my life, has been transformed by knowing Jesus.

So we see that the birth of Jesus was the most amazing and extraordinary event ever to happen to the world. 

But why would God choose to come to earth, why would be choose to reveal himself to us as a human?  There was a Scottish farmer who did not believe in the Christmas story.  The idea that God would become a man was absurd.  His wife, however was a Christian, and her husband would ridicule her, mocking her faith and her belief.  “It’s all nonsense”, he said, “why would God lower himself to become a human like us?  It’s such a ridiculous story.” 

One snowy Sunday evening, when his wife and children were in church, the farmer relaxed at home.  After they had left, the weather deteriorated into a blinding snowstorm.  Then he heard a loud thump against the window, then another thump!  He ventured outside to see what was happening, and there in the field he saw a large flock of gees.  They had been migrating south but had become disorientated by the storm.  They were stranded on his farm, unable to fly or see their way.

The farmer took compassion on them, and he wanted to help them.  He realized that his barn would give them shelter for the night.  He opened the barn doors and stood back, hoping they would make their way in.  But they didn’t realize it would be shelter for them. So he tried to shoo the geese in, but they ran in all directions.  Perplexed, he got some bread and made a trail to the barn door.  But they still didn’t catch on.  Nothing he could do would get them into the warmth and shelter of the barn.

Feeling totally frustrated, he exclaimed, “Why don’t they follow me?”  Can’t they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?  How can I possibly get them to follow me?”  He thought for a moment, and then realized that they would not follow a human.  He said to himself, “How can I possibly save them?  The only way would be for me to become a goose.  If only I could become like one of them.  Then I could save them.  They would follow me and I would lead them to safety.” 

It was at that moment that he stopped and realized what he had said.  “If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them.”  It was then that he understood God’s heart towards mankind. 

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she was to give birth to Jesus, Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be called Emmanuel, which means, GOD WITH US.  This is what we celebrate at Christmas, that God immersed himself in the squalor and chaos of this world, so that we could know him and experience his love, and so that he could save us.   

So what is the relevance of Christmas for us today?  So often at Christmas people celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus, attend nativity plays, sing carols, and enjoy the festivities, but miss out on the real significance of this festival.  Jesus said that the came to give life, and to give it in all its fullness.  We were all created for a purpose, and we can discover that purpose through knowing Jesus.  Jesus is alive today, and he offers us the gift of his love.  We can have a relationship with the creator of the Universe, a creator who came into the world to save us, this is the true wonder of Christmas.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This gift of God’s love, is not one of those gifts which we quickly grow bored of, or which breaks, or which we outgrow, it is something which stays with us throughout life.  The more we experience Jesus in our lives, the greater life becomes. 

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