Friday, December 29, 2017

A Birthday Celebration (Luke 2:1-15) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A father writes: “For two months before her third birthday, our daughter Sandie said, ‘I'm going to have a party,’ countless times a day.  When her birthday was over, she then told people, ‘I had a party’ and repeated it constantly. Finally, we told her not to talk about the party any more.  For one whole day, she didn’t mention it.  But as I tucked her into bed that night she prayed, ‘Dear God, I can't talk about it, but thank you for my birthday party.  Amen!’”  Yes, birthdays are special.

A 5 year old girl was singing carols all the time during Christmas.  Her mother asked:  “Honey why are you singing so much?” She answered:  “Mom, its Jesus’ birthday and I just have to sing.

In the Gospel of Luke the angel announces: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Christmas is about joyful news for all people. Scripture says: “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of woman.”

We don’t know the precise date of Jesus’ birth.  Christmas was first observed by the Roman Church around A.D. 325 or later.  St. Chrysostom says that Pope Julius I of Rome appointed the date, December 25, as the birth date of Jesus.

Prior to that, a Roman pagan festival had been held on that very date to celebrate the Winter Solstice.  In a bold action, the Church replaced a pagan festival with a Christian one.  From that time to today, December 25th has honored the birthday of the Son of God.

Now some Christians have argued that since the roots of the Christmas date, December 25 are pagan, with symbols and trappings still attached to it, like feasts and trees and lights and ornaments representing creation, stars and planets, we should not celebrate it.  The star of course, does not simply refer to stars in the sky, but the star that led the Wiseman to Bethlehem.

Other Christians have countered that argument by saying that the church was being faithful to Jesus’ great commission, to go forth and make disciples of all nations, to convert the world, to win the world for Christ.  So it was a good thing to turn a pagan festival into a Christian holy day.  They argue that symbols like trees, stars or ornaments for planets are good, God the creator made them.  Lights on the tree are good, God created light; Jesus is the light of the world.  Carols, singing songs of Jesus’ birth are good, the angels sang; giving gifts is good, the Magi brought gifts to Jesus.  So you decide which argument you agree with.

Why are birthdays special?  Birthdays say: “We’re happy you were born.  We are glad you lived for another year. We are happy you have a new year ahead of you.  You count and we want to honor you.”   We don’t commiserate with someone on their birthday.  We don’t look at them with sad eyes and dress in black clothing and say: “Oh no, don’t tell me you’ve had another birthday, I’m so sorry for you, I feel terrible for you.  No, we say Happy Birthday!”  And likewise, we say: “Merry Christmas in honor of Jesus’ birthday.”

Children can’t wait for their birthdays.  When asked how old they are they often say: “I’m 5 & 1/2,” they love sounding older.  Children know the significance of birthdays.   “A 5- year old boy was showing his Christmas presents to his grandma.  She asked him if he got everything he wanted for Christmas.  The little guy thought and said no grandma, but it’s not my birthday.”

Christmas celebrates that God entered this world and became a human being, one of us, one among us and one with us.  Christmas announces that this one who entered is Jesus the Savior of the world. There are some spectacular Christmas celebrations of Jesus around the world in cities like San Juan, Rome, and Rio de Janero. What about at your home?  Jesus’ birth was one of historical and cosmic significance.

Other holidays recognize but one day; Christmas is celebrated for 12 days.   That sounds right to me, for such an occasion as the coming of the Savior of the world.   We celebrate the good news of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds.  It’s good news, no matter who you are or where you are or what you have done.  It’s good news, not for a select few, but for all people.  It’s good news, in my view, for both political parties, who can’t seem to find much to agree on these days.

What is the heart of the good news of Christmas?  It's not –“Whew, I made it through another year,” or “I'm celebrating that I've finished all my shopping.”   It’s about Emmanuel, God is with you, God is for you, and God loves you.  God saw that because of sin and evil, the world needed a savior and God sent one.

Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback church writes: “Christmas reminds us that God is not mad at you.   God is mad about you.”  Scripture says: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.”

Listen to how the Gospel writer John speaks of Christmas:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Christmas announces that God the creator condescended, bent down to earth, came down from the heavens and decided to get his hands dirty.  The immortal God took on human mortality.  God showed up in our neighborhood. Christian music like Handel’s Messiah and carols like Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing, and Christian art like Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi honor the greatest birth the world has ever known.

Christmas celebrates God’s love. God loved us so much, God loved the world so much, that in Jesus Christ God came to earth as a human. Christmas celebrates God’s revelation, in Jesus we see who God is and what God is like and come to know him and trust him and follow him and worship him and love him.  Christmas celebrates God’s purpose.  God sent Jesus as the Savior to bring salvation to the world, to save us from our sins, to call us to worship, witnessing and service, to give us new life and hope for today and forever.

Christmas declares the truth that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly human, fully God and fully human. It is truth expressed in the language of paradox. In Jesus, God and humanity are uniquely united in one personal existence. That is a theological way of that Jesus was born of a virgin.  Being born accents Jesus’ humanity and being born of a virgin accents his divinity.

Christmas says:  “You are seeing God in Jesus.”  No, not everything about God, there is still lots of mystery, but in Jesus we see God in a greater way than ever before in history, we see God’s nature, God’s purpose and God’s motivation.  Christmas says: “Look at what God has done to get to know you personally and for you to get to know God personally.”  Christmas is an invitation from God – the invitation says: “See I’ve come near to you, now draw near to me.”

May all who do not know Jesus Christ, may those here this morning and around the world, open their hearts and minds this Christmas and receive by faith the one who out of love came to bring salvation.

I close with this poem by Ann Weems: “You should lead the celebration.  Run through the streets and ring the bells and sing the loudest.  Fling the tinsel on the tree and open your house to your neighbors and call them into dance.  For it’s to you above all others to know the joy of Christmas.  It is unto you that a Savior has been born this day.  One who comes to lift the burden from your shoulders, one who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.  You are not alone, for He is born this day to you.  Amen!

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