Christmas Eve 2008 Sermon                             
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:1-20 Sermon                                           
December 24, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
42 “O Come All Ye Faithful”
27 “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”
23 “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”
24 “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night”
30 “Angels We Have Heard On High”
48 “What Child Is This?”
25 “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”
16 “Silent Night”
15 “Joy To The World" 


TEXT (vs. 4-7):  "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)  To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

            This evening, I'm going to start out by telling you about a man by the name of Ted Geisel.   Ted was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1904 to German immigrant parents.  As young Ted was growing up, his mother would tuck him into bed at night, and then she would often chant pie-selling rhymes to him to make him fall asleep.

            Ted was a very bright boy; and as he grew up, he developed a love for writing and literature.  He entered Dartmouth College in 1925 where he became editor of the school newspaper.  He also spent time studying overseas at Oxford University in England.

            After his schooling had ended, Ted began writing for various publications.  Because of his tremendous talent, his work was in high demand.  But young Ted also had some very strong political and moral convictions, so a great deal of his work reflected upon various pertinent issues of the day.

            It was in 1957 that Ted was becoming quite upset with all of the materialism and greed that surrounded Christmas.  Even though Ted never wrote stories with an overt moral at the end, like Aesop did with his fables, he nevertheless was able to convey a strong message through his writing.  Such was the case with his 1957 story about Christmas.

            Some of you might know who Ted Geisel is, but he only wrote a few items bearing that name.  When Ted was at Dartmouth, he held a party where alcohol was being served.  Since this was during prohibition, the school faculty took punitive action.  They didn't expel him, but they forbade his participation in all extra-curricular activities, which included his writing for the school newspaper.

            So in order to conceal his identity from the school hierarchy, he began to write using his middle name, which was his mother's maiden name.  The name is Seuss, which rhymes with voice.  However Americans have trouble with German pronunciations, so the name Seuss (pronounced "soice") became Seuss (pronounced "sooce").  We know him as Dr. Seuss, who with the help of his old friend Bennett Cerf at Random house, wrote and published well over 60 books, the majority of which were intended for children.  He used the "doctor" name in honor of his father, who had wanted him to get his doctorate at Oxford, which he never obtained.

            Perhaps you're wondering about his 1957 work about the materialism and greed at Christmas?  Well, I have a little friend I'm going to introduce to you tonight.  (Sets statue of the Grinch on the front of the pulpit)  I'm sure you all recognize the Grinch from that 1957 story, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." 

            I've had this little battery-operated toy for awhile, and I had to dig it out of the attic to show you tonight.  Listen to what he says:  (pushes button on the front of the Grinch, and he sings):  "You're a mean one, Mister Grinch, you really are a heel; you're as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel, Mister Grinch-you're a bad banana with a greasy black peel!  And that's bad!"   

            The Grinch, a bitter, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small," lives on snowy Mount Crumpet, a steep, 3,000 foot mountain just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is Max, his faithful dog. From his perch high atop Mount Crumpet, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place down in Whoville.

            Envious of the Whos' happiness, he makes plans to descend upon the town on Christmas Eve and, by means of burglary, take away their Christmas presents, decorations, and food; and thus "prevent Christmas from coming".

            However, he learns in the end that despite his success in stealing all the Christmas presents and decorations from the Whos, Christmas comes just the same. He then realizes that Christmas is more than just gifts and presents. His heart grows three sizes larger, he returns all the presents and trimmings, and is warmly welcomed into the community of the Whos, where he joins their celebration.

            And that in a nutshell is the summary of the famous story that Ted Geisel, or Dr. Seuss wrote back in 1957 because of the materialism and greed that seemed to surround and replace the true meaning of Christmas.

            Tonight is Christmas Eve.  Each and every one of us here are more than well aware of that fact.  After all, that's why we're gathered here with the carols and candles and decorations.  Once again this year, we've come in spirit to Bethlehem, to the manger, to remember once again the Christ Child that made his entrance into this world some 2,000 years ago.  We hear the song of joy the angels sang to the shepherds in the hills surrounding Bethlehem:  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men."  We heard those words repeated once again in our Gospel lesson that I read just a few minutes ago.

            This evening is without a doubt a celebration of joy.  The Christmas hymns and carols we sing carry the message of joy:  "O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant..."; "Joy to the world, the Lord is come..."; "Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the new-born king..." and so forth.

            I know that all of you have come here with a certain amount of joy in your heart, ready to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.  I certainly expect that to be the case; in fact it's almost a given.

            But all of you have come here with something else as well.  You've come here this evening with at least one or several "Grinches" you're carrying around.  As much joy as there is at Christmas, there are those "Grinches" that are there, waiting to rob us of that joy, and replace it with misery and sadness.

            Now I have no idea what those "Grinches" look like in your lives.  Only you know the answer to that statement.  But I can assure you that you have them.  We all do.

            Let's take a look at our Gospel lesson this evening, especially the opening verses.  What do we see happening there?  The land was under the rule of the Roman Empire.  Caesar Augustus had decreed that a census be taken of the entirety of this empire.  The people had to be registered so the government could collect taxes from them.  To accomplish this, each family had to journey to their ancestral home regardless of where they were living.  This was the way they were able to keep track of who belonged to whom.

            This was not an easy process either.  Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, about 65 miles away from their ancestral home of Bethlehem.  Mary was in the late stages of her pregnancy with Jesus, but she still had to make the trip.  Most likely, they journeyed by donkey; horses were the method of transportation reserved for the wealthy and noble.  Using our terms of reference, we might not think of 65 miles as being too far; however when those miles are travelled by a pregnant woman on a donkey, they are very hard miles.

             So when they arrive in Bethlehem, they could not find lodging.  So they wound up camped out in a stable with the animals.  It was the best they could do.  And of course, this was the time Mary would give birth to Jesus.

            It wasn't too long before this time, about nine months to be exact, that Mary praised God in a song.  In Luke chapter 1 verses 46-47 she said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."  How much rejoicing was Mary doing while she was birthing a baby in a stable?  How much joy was in her heart at that time?  Did Mary have a "Grinch" that was trying to rob her of the joy she felt being the one chosen by God to be the mother of the Saviour?  Would she have wondered why God allowed her to give birth under such adverse conditions?

            And what might Joseph have been thinking?  Do you think he might have been feeling a little less than joyful as he witnessed what his new wife was going through?  Might he have felt helpless in this situation?

            The reason that we have "Grinches" in our lives is because of sin and Satan.  Satan doesn't want us to have any joy at all during this season.  He wants us to focus on how miserable we are because of the "Grinches" that threaten us.  He doesn't want us to focus upon anything else except how miserable we are at this time of the year.

            Tonight, let's take an inventory of ourselves.  Let's see if we can figure out what our "Grinches" are.  There are those things with which we have no control.  Inclement weather or car problems or flight delays could prevent some people from travelling and being with their relatives.  One with which I can identify is sickness, and the times I can remember having the flu over Christmas (that's why I get a flu shot).  Or maybe somebody close to us has died. 

            Another big "Grinch" is money.  People always seem to be running out of it this time of year; or they've got their credit cards maxed out and don't have a chance of getting them paid off before next Christmas.

            The list of "Grinches" is almost endless.  There can be work-related issues, family matters, arguments, and other things that are never-ending sources of stress for us.  What in the world can we do about these things?

            Let's hold that question for a few moments as we look once again at the message of the angels.  Verses 10-11 of our text this evening reads:  "...Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

            I believe that the main reason so many "Grinches" threaten our Christmas celebration is because we tend to lose sight of the message of the angels.  The main thrust of Christmas is the birth of Jesus, and not the Grinch!  The Grinch represents all that would threaten our happiness on this occasion; but like in the story of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the Grinch originally thought that Christmas was all about the presents and the external trappings.  He didn't realize that Christmas would come and still be celebrated regardless of what he did.

            If we look at ourselves in the mirror, I believe that we will see a bit of the Grinch in our own lives, whether we like it or not.  That's the ugly part of what sin does to us.  That's the honest truth about ourselves that we don't like to see.

            But if we look at what the baby Jesus in the manger means in our lives, then we realize that he came to free us from the power of Satan, and death, and hell.  Through faith in him alone, we find forgiveness, restoration, and life.  With Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, the Grinch and what he stands for will have no place in our lives.  We know Jesus is bigger and more powerful than any Grinch could ever be.

            A few moments ago, I asked the question about what we can do with the "Grinches" in our lives.  To answer that, we turn to Psalm chapter 42 verses 5-6 & 8: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me- a prayer to the God of my life."

            So each of us need to individually answer the questions:  Who is the God of my life?  Who is in control?  Is it the Grinch?  Or is it the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay?  To whom does my life belong?

            If all of the "Grinches" seem to be getting you down this year, it is because you have let them take control.  You have allowed them to throw Jesus out of the manger, and replace the joy he brings with misery.  If you've let this happen, it is because of a decision you have made, and not something God has done in your life.

            What God has done in our lives is to take away our sins and everything that would threaten to destroy us, and he has replaced it with love, and hope, and joy.  Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, God has caused this to happen in our hearts and lives.  He has defeated and overcome Satan and all those "Grinches" that threaten to rob us of the hope and joy he has so freely and lovingly given to us.

            In Dr. Seuss's fictional story, the mean old Grinch that thought he had taken away Christmas from the "Who-creatures" learned a valuable lesson, and so should we.  Even though the Grinch descended upon Who-ville and basically robbed and stole them blind, he couldn't steal Christmas from them, no matter how hard he tried.  In Dr. Seuss's story, he intentionally doesn't expound upon specific theological issues, but the focus is there just the same.

            Of course the story has a happy ending.  The Grinch sees the error of his ways, and repents.  Dr. Seuss illustrates it by saying that the Grinch's heart grew three times that day.  We can understand that concept in theological terms, by saying that even the coldest, hardest, most Grinch-like heart is no match for what God the Holy Spirit can do.

            In our lives, we have the absolute assurance that God loves us and Jesus died for us, regardless of what happens.  Those "Grinches" can come and take everything away from us and threaten our happiness at Christmas, but they can't take our faith from us.  What Jesus has done for us stands firm and unshaken.  Christmas indeed comes just the same.      

            This year, let's put the Grinch in his place, and put Jesus in his proper place as Lord and Saviour of our lives.  May we do as Isaac Watts' Christmas Carol says:  "Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing."