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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why the Christmas Story Matters to Me (Is 11, Lk 1-2, Mt 2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 24, 1012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Pastorale (from "Messiah") (Handel)
Prelude: "Once in Royal David's City" (Behnke)
Prelude: "Carol of the Bells" (handbells) (Leontovich/Peninger)
Hymn of Praise: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Word in Music: "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" (choir) (Andrews)
The Word in Music: "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven" (worship team) (Enfield)
The Word in Music: "O Holy Night" (choir) (Adam/Rene Clausen)
The Word in Music: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" (worship team) (Peterson)
Hymn of Response: "Sing Aloud on This Day" (PERSONET HODIE)
Candlelighting Hymn: "Silent Night, Holy Night" (STILLE NICHT)
Hymn of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH) 
Postlude: "Noel" (Louis-Claude Daquin)

"Why the Christmas Story Matters to Me"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Isaiah 11:1-5,9-10; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-8; 2:8-20; Matthew 2:1-12

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

I’d like to do something a little different for my Christmas Eve message tonight.  Rather than preach the usual kind of sermon, I’d like instead to share briefly about each of the scripture lessons you heard read (and sung) tonight and why they collectively matter to me.

Prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-5,9-10)

This passage from the prophet – the preacher – Isaiah, like several others we’ve heard in the past few weeks, speaks words of hope and promise to those who are suffering and struggling.  God will send help, says Isaiah, and it will be a fulfillment of earlier promises God made to King David. 

I’ve been struck in recent weeks at how gritty and real the messages of Isaiah are.  It is clear that Isaiah the preacher knows his audience and the depth of suffering they are enduring as a conquered, displaced, and discouraged people.

Unlike the people of Isaiah’s day, we have already seen the Messiah, God’s Promised One.  We don’t have to wait for that like they did.  But the promises about righting all wrongs and no more suffering and no more sadness?  We’re still waiting on that.  So, in a way we have the same two things Isaiah did – 1) trust that God will come through in the future as he has in the past; and 2) a very long wait.

Bottom line, the prophets give me HOPE in a God who knows the human condition and delivers on His promises, and who waits with me in the meantime.

The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)

The Annunciation is the account of a very ordinary girl being given an extraordinary message.  And while none of us will be asked by God to do anything quite so extraordinary as bear the Son of God, we are nonetheless asked to bear the Son of God into the world!

One of the descriptions we use at Good Shepherd is “ordinary people, extraordinary God.”  Mary’s story reminds me, as do many of the people God called upon in biblical times, that God uses everyday people like you and me to accomplish the really significant things He is doing even now in the world.

Mary challenges me to respond with faith and obedience, to say ‘yes’ – “may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)

What shall I say about the short account of the birth of Jesus.  It’s actually only half of one verse – “and she gave birth to her firstborn son.”  All around that are the mundane details that any of us might be dealing with around the birth of a child.  We had to submit our taxes; we had to register for baby gifts; we had to drive a ways to the hospital.  If anything, this birth was a little less than ideal – out of town, area crowded with visitors, a feeding trough for a place to sleep.

I suppose there are a number of things to say about the birth of Jesus, but if I just look at this account what probably stands out the most is that God didn’t just come to earth, but came all the way down.  Jesus wasn’t born like Moses, God-directed into the family and court of the King of Egypt.  He was born into a family of little means, from the country, and without connections. 

One of the really meaningful things I take away from the birth story is that Jesus is one of us.  And that’s a big deal.

Angels and Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

I preached on the angels and shepherds a few weeks ago, so won’t repeat all that tonight.  The thing that stood out to me so much about this part of the story was the way Heaven opened up and connected with earth in that moment.  It was like a Heavenly birth announcement and gave us a little bit of a preview as to what Jesus would be about.  He, too, would be Heaven come to earth – and it’s what he would eventually talk about so much in his earthly ministry.

It is a continuation of the birth narrative: we just split it into two readings for tonight’s service.  But it continues right after the birth of Jesus and also reminds me that Jesus came for ordinary people like shepherds – working-class men just out doing their thing.  And they responded faithfully.

The shepherds challenge me to pay attention and respond to what God is doing all around me.

Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12)

The wise men, or magi, are an interesting part of the story.  Best we can tell, they were scholars of another nation and religion who were paying close attention to world events and were led to Jesus, eventually finding him and even hearing from God in a dream.

There is a modern saying about this story, that “wise men still seek him.”  I think that gets at one of the things I take from this part of the story.  If there is something so compelling and true about Jesus – something that will even draw those who did not grow up surrounded by the community of faith – then surely He is worth seeking and finding.  And for my part, surely he is worth making known.

The wise men challenge me to do a better job studying and seeking the one in whom I already believe – they put me to shame a bit.  They also challenge me to make Him known, as one worth seeking.

Much More…

These Christmas stories are so much more than stories, more than fables or myth; and they are more than a tradition that means a lot to many people.  These purport to be the story of God – the very story of God come among us, and I believe them to be true.  More than that, I don’t just believe them to be factually true, but True with a capital ‘T’ – that is TRUTH… the kind of thing that you not only can live your life by, but stake your life on.

As you turn to these stories again and again – and to God’s Word in general – I hope they will encourage you and strengthen your own faith, perhaps inviting you to listen to them in a new way and respond to them with fresh ears.  Amen.

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