Just as the minister was about to start preaching on Christmas Eve, the power went out in the church. After the ushers took several minutes to find some candles and get some light in the sanctuary, the minister stepped back into the pulpit and started shuffling his papers. “Now then…where was I?” From the back of the sanctuary came one lone, hopeful voice, “Almost done?”
So…here we are! Christmas Eve. When you’re 4 years old, it seems like Christmas will NEVER come. When you’re 54 years old, it feels like you are on a runaway train and Christmas Day is the station! Advent- the season leading up to Christmas- began 4 weeks ago and, along the way, we have been considering what we have been calling The Greatest Gift of All. We’ve walked the journey Mary and Joseph walked as they traveled to Bethlehem and drew closer and closer to tonight- the arrival of a baby in a manger Who would literally split time in half…and change the world. The first week, we focused on Mary and Joseph having no choice but to make the 3-day trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. And we said that seemingly random event was, in fact…The Opportunity. And we decided that
Sometimes, the best outcomes grow out of the most unlikely sources.
The second week, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, found no room in the inn and ended up in a stable. They then settled in ahead of the blessed event- The Baby. Last week, we focused on
The Announcement. The News was SO Good that it HAD to be shared! The opportunity. The Baby. The Announcement. They all lead up to tonight. They all lead up to The Endowment. I want to take a few minutes and walk through the Christmas Gospel as found in the New Testament Book of Luke. Now, if you know me very well at all…you know I don’t tend to be a “King James” sort of preacher- it’s just not my style. But there are just some passages that need to be heard in that marvelously poetic language. This passage is one of them here these words.
Luke 2:1-20 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 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.
Why Bethlehem? Makes no sense. would have picked Jerusalem- the capital city. Or Rome- the power center of the Ancient Near Eastern World. Or at least Nazareth- Mary and Joseph’s home town. Why Bethlehem? Did you know that “Bethlehem” means ‘house of bread’? Jesus came down to earth to be the “Bread of Life”. SO, God saw fit for His Son, the “Bread of Life”, to be born in the “house of bread”. And notice that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Wrapped. It’s the 1st Christmas and Jesus was “wrapped” as a present from God to the world. Jesus is a love gift from God. The time was right. The stage was set. Everything was ready. And then…Jesus was born. It was God’s plan, God’s timetable and God’s design. God was in charge- God had a purpose.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 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. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth announcement delivered to the Mayor of Bethlehem? Or the City Council? Or the Priests? I mean, almost ANYBODY but the shepherds! They were 2nd class citizens. They didn’t smell good, They didn’t dress well. They didn’t have much book learnin’. Most of them were shepherds because they didn’t really know how to do anything else. So why them? They weren’t asleep. Everybody else in town was sound asleep. But these lowly, poor, humble shepherds were READY!
There are a lot of Christians who are “spiritually asleep”- and missing out on the peace, joy and blessings of God. If salvation could be purchased, only the rich would be saved. If salvation could be gained by being very moral, only the good would be saved. If salvation could be reached by prominence, only the famous would be saved. If salvation could be earned by strict adherence to religion, only the pious would be saved. But God doesn’t call those who are equipped- He equips those who are called.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
A church was putting on their annual children’s Nativity play and there was one little boy who desperately wanted to be Joseph. But when the parts were announced, another kid was given the role of Joseph and he instead was assigned the part of the innkeeper. He was NOT happy about it. So during rehearsals, he plotted and schemed about how he could end up as the hero of the story. Finally, the time of performance came. Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn and the innkeeper answered- this was the moment he had been waiting for. “What do you want?” “We’d like to have a room for the night.” There was a pause and the he smiled, flung the door opened and announced, “Great, come on in! I’ll give you the best room in the house!” He had succeeded…or so he thought. But then Joseph snatched victory back from the jaws of defeat. He stood stock still for a moment, then replied, “Come on, Mary! No wife of mine is going to stay in dump like this!”
We have a saying at this church- “God is good, all the time!” And that’s easy to say when everything is all kittens and moonbeams. But what about…when it’s NOT? Well, I just stopped by here this evening to tell you that God is good on the good days AND the bad ones. When our stress level is about to pop the overflow valve and spew everywhere…God is good. When we’re in the hospital, God is good. When we’re facing an uncertain future, God is good. When we’re struggling financially, God is good. When we lose a loved one, God is good.
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there.I’ve walked through hard times with God and without God. And while I can’t speak for you, I would MUCH rather walk through the hills and valleys of life WITH God than without. Having God in your life doesn’t suddenly make your life perfect. Instead, it provides you with Someone to walk the journey with you- to walk ahead of you, encouraging you, to walk behind you, gently nudging you, to walk alongside you, arm in arm, and on those days when you’re pretty certain you can’t even put one foot in front of the other…to carry you.
A Baby, born in a stable- the humblest of surroundings. How can He POSSIBLY save me? Dig a little deeper- you’ll see the enormity of the gift and the sacrifice it represents. Jesus is the perfect gift for a hurting world a world that often seems so undeserving! Why does God offer us the gift if we don’t deserve it? It goes the promise found in John 3:16- “For God SO loved the world…” God’s grace can’t be earned. It is simply…given, as a gift to anyone who will receive it.
Many of us are going to exchange gifts in the next few hours. Perhaps you already have. And I’m no Scrooge- I pray you get a little somethin’ somethin’ that you want, that means alot to you. Just don’t lose sight of the best gifts you could receive this Christmas- God’s Son, God’s love and God’s grace. Into this cold, dark world Jesus came as a baby. He came to touch our lives. He came to change us forever. He reached down into time and space to save us from our sins. He came to show us a better way to live.
So earlier, I claimed that tonight we would focus on The Endowment. And yet…I haven’t mentioned it since. Let’s take a moment and look at the word “endowment”. Dictionary.com says this about the word “endow”- “to give a large amount of money to a school, hospital, etc., in order to pay for the creation or continuing support of something”. Well, for our purposes, that’s not very helpful. Unless somebody came this evening wanting to make a major endowment to the church…no? Didn’t think so!
But there IS more to the definition that IS helpful- “to freely or naturally provide someone with something”. “To freely or naturally provide someone with something”. Tonight, God freely and naturally provides us with something- life abundantly. Life is a blessing…a gift. And life can’t be fully explained in human terms. It’s mystery. As Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We’re called to something so much bigger than ourselves. Life is found at its fullest when we trust in God, when we walk by faith and not by sight…even through the failures and disappointments. Life is measuring ourselves by how Jesus sees us and not by how the world sees us.
The mystery of Jesus birth is that He wrapped Himself into our flesh and became like us. And, if we’re honest, that fact is, at some level, simply beyond our ability to understand it- the Creator of the cosmos would CHOOSE to take on the weakness of a newborn baby.
This Christmas Eve, remind yourself that the gift God’s given us is WAY better than the socks from Aunt Tillie, the hand-knitted sweater from Grandma or the Old Spice deodorant and cologne collection from Uncle Delmar. It’s an awesome gift that simply cannot disappoint.
We spend a lot of time…and money…every year picking out the perfect Christmas gift for those we love. God spent a lot of time on the very first Christmas gift … His Son, Jesus. And He’s the PERFECT gift. “1 size fits all.” The gift you’ll never return. Never exchange. God offers us a gift tonight. And unlike the socks, the sweater and the Old Spice, this gift can change your life…if you let it. It is THe Endowment.