Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:1-20 Sermon
December 24, 2012
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Hymns & Carols:
O Come All Ye Faithful
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
What Child Is This?
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
Angels We Have Heard On High
Once In Royal David's City
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Joy To The World
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND SEASONS GREETINGS
TEXT (vs. 10-14): "10And the angel said unto [the shepherds], 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, '14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
This evening I wish you happy holidays and seasons greetings. Hmmm...happy holidays and seasons greetings. We seem to be hearing those phrases a lot these days, especially from those who want to be politically correct, who do not want to offend people who don't celebrate Christmas for one reason or another. Our secular society is having problems with specific references to Christmas.
As I look back into the past to my younger years, we never really had problems with saying: "Happy Holidays," or "Seasons Greetings." They weren't offensive terms at all. In our former way of thinking, the holiday season encompassed several different things. If you want to, you can start back in November with Thanksgiving. Then we move into Advent, which leads directly to Christmas. Then there is New Years, and finally Epiphany.
These are things we all celebrate as Christians, so it makes sense (or at least it did in time past) to include all of these celebrations in one greeting. We weren't trying to somehow remove Jesus from the celebrations, but rather we were trying to include him throughout the season. The central focus of the holiday season is Jesus Christ himself, and how God shows his undeserved love to all of humanity. So saying "Merry Christmas" is great and most appropriate; but let's not stop there, let's get Christ into the whole season. The good news of salvation he brings is a continual recurring theme throughout the year, and throughout our lives.
But in these days, we have to deal with something else. There is this continual push by the ACLU and various activist groups to "de-Christ" Christmas. It seems we just aren't being fair to those people out there who have rejected Christ and choose to have a celebration with a different focus. And so, the all-encompassing terms we used to use in a good way have been robbed of their meaning too. And the Christian that dares to use them today are regarded to be amongst those who are the antagonists, those who want Christ gone from Christmas. "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" have become the politically correct terms in our society, at the exclusion of the other more specific terms.
This has prompted what I believe to be some of the better reactions. Now more than ever, Christians are becoming increasingly zealous about keeping Christ IN Christmas. In fact, one friend of mine has begun to respond "Merry CHRIST-mas," actually emphasizing the word "Christ" in his greeting. He does this as a reaction to the rather lackluster "happy holidays" he gets from the clerks in various shops and stores. And he has told me that he almost always gets a positive response.
Things have gotten out of hand. Back in 1991, news commentator Dave Berry wrote this little blurb about what had happened at his son's school: "To avoid offending anybody, the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son's school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as 'Winter Wonderland,' 'Frosty the Snowman' and--this is a real song--'Suzy Snowflake,' all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology."
This evening, we are not gathered here to have a politically correct season celebration. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the two words I DON'T want to hear in heaven are "politically correct." Those two words have wormed their way in to our vocabulary, and actually work to neutralize our faith. Even though we attempt to use non-offensive and inclusive terms when we can legitimately do so, still our Christian faith cannot be compromised.
This evening, we are gathered here celebrating a holiday that is not politically correct. We are celebrating the birth of Jesus our Saviour. We celebrate the fact that God's love for humanity is so strong and so great, that he sent Jesus into the midst of our world filled with "thickest films of vice," as the hymn says. His purpose is to save all sinners everywhere through faith alone in Jesus Christ. The angels tell the shepherds, "for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
We live in a day and age where the virtue of humanity is put at the top of the list. We hear all sorts of self-affirming statements about the mind of man; so we are led to believe that we can do anything we set our minds to do. We can be successful, we can be rich, we can be popular, and we can be powerful, because we have the power within us to do it.
But then we add that little one-syllable word "sin" into the mix, which throws the whole picture out-of-balance. Suddenly man is no longer the master of his own destiny. Man ceases to be self-reliant, and is forced to deal with his own inadequacy. Human beings have no power within themselves to save themselves. That salvation and redemption has to come from someplace else. And that's what our Bible verses tell us this evening.
Luke records the words of the angels: "For unto you is born this day...a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." So as human beings, we are directed to look away from whatever goodness we might perceive within ourselves, and instead look into the humble manger in Bethlehem. It's there where we see God taking on human flesh and becoming man. That's where God and sinful mankind come together for complete and total reconciliation. And that birth marks our rebirth into God's family through faith.
One of the difficulties we encounter is the way people feel. Nobody likes to feel inadequate for any reason. In our way of thinking, it is a sign of weakness. It goes against everything we learn about self-sufficiency and human fortitude. And so people will ignore what God has so plainly pointed out, and delude themselves into thinking that they are masters of their own fate.
A good example of this is in chapter 2 of Mark's Gospel. Here Jesus has called Matthew into discipleship, and has told him to "follow me." They are at Matthew's house eating a meal, where many others have joined them. Listen to the account recorded in verses 15-17: "15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?' 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'"
The Scribes and Pharisees are like so many people are today. They were righteous according to their own standards, and they didn't see any need for help of any kind. They felt that they would merit heaven all on their own goodness; so the idea of needing a Saviour was completely foreign to them. They were chronically sick with sin, and they needed the Saviour just as much as anybody did; but you couldn't tell them that. They reckoned that they were just fine the way they were. In effect they were saying, "Now run along Jesus, we don't need what you have to offer. Go and help somebody that needs it." That's what prompted Jesus' response when he explains that he did not come for the righteous, but the sinners.
If you examine the entirety of the Christmas story, it's actually not hard to understand God's logic. Mary and Joseph were humble people who weren't amongst the wealthy and elite. They made the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem most likely with Mary sitting on a donkey, the way most of the poor people traveled. She was about to give birth. There was no escaping the decree from Caesar Augustus; they had to go to Bethlehem.
The birth of Jesus took place under adverse circumstances, not what one would consider fitting for God's only begotten Son. And the news of the birth came first to the shepherds in the area surrounding Bethlehem. These weren't the elite of society; these were common blue-collar working men.
And during his ministry, Jesus continued to bring God's news of forgiveness and rebirth and reconciliation to others that were on the lower rungs of the social ladder. When Jesus was at Matthew's house, those who were eating with him were those who knew their sinfulness and knew their need for a Saviour. It was people like this, and not the learned theologians of the Jews who appreciated the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus brought to sinful mankind.
Jesus has shown throughout his life that there was nobody too far beneath him, nobody who existed outside of his social class, and nobody who was too sinful that could be regarded as outside the scope of his love and care. That's why the words of John chapter 3, verses 16-17 are so meaningful: "16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Those two words, "the world," include absolutely everybody, without exception, right down to you and me here today.
Each of us has the Christmas message to proclaim, and it's one that a lot of people in this world just don't want to hear. So the "Happy Holidays" and the "Seasons Greetings" phrases have been stripped of their meaning in order to be politically correct. Hanukah and Kwanzaa have been given equal footing, even though the people celebrating them are far in the minority. And then there are those who want nothing to do with any sort of religious celebration. And we're being told that we have to set aside the celebration of our Saviour's birth in order to accommodate them.
We think that those who are trying to squelch Christmas are people like the ACLU, or the non-Christians, or the atheists. However, this has not always been the case. I came across this story that I think may surprise you.
Many years ago the pietistic Puritans thought that they were ruining Christmas with all their pagan rituals. They especially objected to the fact that the holiday usually came on a weekday, therefore distracting people, they thought, from the Lord's Day of Sunday. But they did more than annually complain about it as we do. They took action and got rid of Christmas altogether. In Puritan settlements across 17th century America a law was passed outlawing the celebration of Christmas. The marketplace was ordered to stay open for business as though it was no special occasion, and all violators were prosecuted. It was against the law to make plum pudding on December 25th. The celebration was not referred to as Yuletide but as fooltide.
You can see how successful they were at eliminating Christmas altogether. And these were Christians doing this! Instead of bringing the true meaning of Christmas into the forefront, they thought it would be better to eliminate it. Thanks to some overzealous pietists, the celebration of Jesus' birth became illegal in some areas, and the church suffered because of it.
There is a story that I've told many times, and I'll share it with you again tonight. When I lived in Mankato, Minnesota, the city of North Mankato across the river had a huge nativity scene set up on the front lawn of their city hall. Prominently posted as part of this nativity scene were the words, "Wise Men Still Seek Him."
Well as you might guess, there were a few people that objected to this religious display on public property. So they worked zealously and finally succeeded at getting it removed from the lawn outside of the city hall.
Of course this upset a lot of people. Then one day, a man came forward. He owned a very small piece of property between a city street and a freeway entrance ramp, just several blocks away from city hall. The property was so small, that it was virtually useless. However, he offered to set up the nativity scene on this piece of property and light it up at night. This was an absolutely perfect location, almost like it was made to order.
From what I understand, it is still there today. Instead of the handful of cars that used to see it in front of city hall, now many hundreds of cars have a perfect view of it from the freeway and the adjoining streets. Isn't it interesting how God works in these things?
We often lament how Christmas is being robbed of its meaning, and we bristle when we hear those generic "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" wishes from politically correct people. But we can be thankful that no "anti-Christmas" laws have been passed. We are still able to celebrate our Saviour's birth and proclaim the true Christmas message that through Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are now reconciled with God.
We are also reminded once again to appreciate what Christmas means to us. We look at ourselves and see our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness. But then we look at the manger and see our Saviour who came simply because he loves us and wants us to spend eternity with him. So once again we hear those familiar words: "For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." And our response can only be, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."