(This is last night’s Christmas Eve Sermon) It was somewhere around 1966. It was Christmas Eve and my dad asked us if we wanted to see the Christmas Star. Even though we weren’t church folks, we knew the whole “star in the east on Christmas morn” story, so we said, “Yes!”
He got us up sometime in the night. It seemed like 2AM, but I was pretty little and could be confused about that part. He brought us into the kitchen and pointed out the kitchen window. And there, in the EAST, was the brightest star I had ever seen. My dad said it was the Christmas Star. And I was amazed! I remember standing there, watching that star and realizing that this was a very singular event. I wasn’t sure what that even meant at the time, but I knew I was witnessing something significant.
Since then, I have tried, more than once, to Google the date and circumstances, to see if I could find out anything about this celestial event. Perhaps it was planets aligning. Perhaps it was a comet. Perhaps it was…whatever. But even though I have slid a few years each way from that center of 1966, I have never found ANY mention of any special event in the sky that night. I simply have NO idea what I saw. I just know…THAT I saw it. And it had a profound impact on me.
Of course, if that WAS 1966, I was 5 years old. And I was 36 years old when I entered the ministry. So, it’s NOT like this event had an immediate impact on my life. But I have found that God often works that way in my life. It’s not so much one event that stands out as a watershed event. Instead, it’s a series of often seemingly disconnected events that, when put altogether, make a larger whole that impacts me in a greater way. Either way, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t remember standing in our kitchen as a boy, in my pajamas, watching that star out the window and knowing…KNOWING…that something big was happening! And therefore, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think of my dad getting us out of bed and wondering- did he remember that event, too? I will NEVER forget it!
The world seems FULL of shock and scandals. Every time you read a news item or turn on the TV, there seems to be yet another scandal unfolding somewhere. But have you ever thought about just how scandalous the birth of Jesus was? If you peel away the layers of the story, dig beneath the “comfortable poetry” that the Gospel accounts of His birth seem to be, the story reads like front-page news on the nearest “scandal sheet”. In our current sermon series- Scandalous- we are focusing squarely on that fact…meeting it head-on. Is this story REALLY scandalous? If so…why? Three weeks ago, we began with Joseph- a simple man of faith. He was just hanging out when news came that would rock his world. Two weeks ago, we actually “backed the truck up” slightly and peeked into Mary’s visit from the angel. Last week, we journeyed to Bethlehem to see the humble surroundings that signaled the birth of Jesus. This morning, we looked at who was the first to receive the news of a Baby in a manger and we found that the lowest class of people got the most exalted of messages. Tonight, we put “the bow on the package”, so to speak, as we wrap up this series with The Incarnation. First, let’s listen to Luke Gospel account of the first Christmas:
Luke 2:1-20 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a Child.
While they were there, the time came for the Baby to be born, and she gave birth to her Firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” 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.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, Who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
We all know the story. As I said last Sunday, whether you are Christian or not, an avid church-goer or not, if you have seen A Charlie Brown Christmas (And REALLY- who hasn’t?), you have heard Luke’s Gospel account. It is a VERY familiar story. And over this past month, we’ve established that several aspects of this story are scandalous. While the story, on the surface, feels all “warm and fuzzy”, if you peel the layers of that onion away, you will find that it really is shocking and messy.
And that brings us to tonight. There are TONS of what I call “$65 seminary” words- terms that us pastors learn in seminary that we just can’t WAIT to share with other people! Sometimes, it’s because we’re so excited about learning them and sometimes- to be honest- it’s because we want to show just how smart we are!
But I find that simply tossing around those big words isn’t always very helpful. Often, they are words that I need to understand but the average person who sits in the pew doesn’t really need…or care…to EVER know. So, I tend to not use very many of those $65 words. But if I DO, I try to take a moment and explain them. Tonight’s word is “incarnation”. The dictionary says that incarnation means, “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality”. In Christian theology, incarnation means that Jesus is fully God AND fully Man. Simply put, He IS God in human form. He is Emmanuel- God with us. Incarnation means that God chose…CHOSE…to stoop down among us, wrap our injured flesh around Him, breathe our air and walk our sod.
And the fact that Jesus claimed to be the incarnation of God is scandalous. For Him to say, “If you have seen ME you have seen God” was His way of saying, “I AM God”. The incarnation. And that’s scandalous. So scandalous, in fact, it’s what ultimately got Him nailed to a cross.
Interesting, to be sure. But what significance does it have for us- here on Christmas Eve, 2,000 years later? It has HUGE significance. It means that God is not some cold, distant clock maker who made everything, wound it up to get it running only to wander off into eternity, never to be seen or heard from again. It means that God is not a tyrant- sitting on a throne, simply demanding allegiance or death from His subjects. It means that God is not simply some intellectual construct to be considered solely in our heads.
It means that God is our Father. Regardless of what kind of father YOU had, God is the BEST kind of father. He loves us. He wants what’s best for us. We are the apple of His eye. If He has a refrigerator, our picture is on the front in one of those magnetic frames. We are the pinnacle of His creation- the best saved for last. We may not always FEEL that way…but He does!
In the end, the story of Jesus is scandalous because it goes against the norm. It is not predictable. It’s not clean, warm and fuzzy. The story of Jesus is messy, often uncomfortable, scandalous because He came to change the status quo. He came to toss “we’ve always done it that way” out the window and imagine a new way of thinking, a new way of being.
On this Christmas Eve, don’t take my word for it. Go to the stable and look into the manger for yourself. See a tiny little Baby Who literally split time in half just by His very presence. His mom named Him Jesus. Tonight, we call Him Emmanuel- God with us.