2020-12-13 “That’s What Christmas Is All About”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          December 13, 2020

“That’s What Christmas Is All About”
Luke 2:8-14

It’s supposed to be a joyous time—these days and weeks leading to Christmas.  It should be, as the old song goes, the most wonderful time of the year.  Presently we shall see, once again, the supreme, fundamental reason for joy.  Yet, either this year, or generally at this time of year, these days don’t seem joyous to many of us.  A few reasons for this feeling come to mind; let’s look squarely at them.

Some of us struggle for joy in the face of the short days, long nights, and inclement weather common this time of year.  Others of us tire from all the rush—to this event or that, to shopping that never seems to end, and the like—and the rush rushes the joy right out of our lives.  In this year, not quite like any other, we endure sickness, or threat of same—dire or otherwise—with attending misery, isolation (itself a form of misery), and the like.  Some us also struggle against holiday grief.  These times bring the unwelcome reminder that some whom we would love to have with us this year are not here.

Yet, as noted earlier, we have a supreme reason for joy—even amid the aforementioned woes.  Indeed, may the Lord Jesus give us His joy as we hear His Word once again read and proclaimed in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Let us leave, for a few moments, this time and place and go to a time long ago and a land far away.  See a field, under a tranquil night, not far from Bethlehem.  See shepherds watching their flock: watching against thieves that will steal, and watching against predators that will kill.  It is, apart from the aforementioned threats, a bucolic scene—but into this scene comes a most unusual sight.

An angel appears to these shepherds, and at the appearance of the angel the glory of the Lord shines round about them.  The shepherds, seeing all of this, fear exceedingly—likely they would have feared a wolf or a robber much less.  The shepherds’ collective sense of sight causes them great fear, and their collective sense of hearing would cause them even more fear—except for the message they hear.

The angel speaks, saying, “Fear not,”—the most oft-repeated command in Scripture.  Then the angel continues, “…for, behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  When the angel says, “I bring you good news…,” his statement is tantamount to, “I preach to y’all the Gospel.”[1]  This Gospel, of course, is great joy—a joy not limited to the shepherds, or to the whole of God’s covenant people that night, but which is for folks from every tribe, language, and people (cf. Revelation 7:9).  Now comes the reason for great joy, now comes the content Himself of the Good News—Christ Jesus.

A Savior is born, declares the angel—Christ, the Lord.  He is born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as prophesied centuries earlier (in Micah 5:2).  This Child is the promised Messiah, the promised Christ.[2]  Being born of Mary, He is fully human and able both to identify with us to the uttermost in our weakness and to bear the sin of the elect to dark Calvary decades later for atonement.  Being born of the Holy Spirit, He is fully God and able to accomplish His will without fail—including saving to the uttermost those who trust in Him.  This Savior, this Child, this Jesus Christ, will saves those who trust in Him from sin (and death, and hell), and He will save us unto life—a life both abundant and eternal.

The angel continues the short discourse, declaring that the shepherds will know these tidings came to pass by a sign—namely, that the shepherds will find the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  What a way for the King of the Ages to enter the world, and His initial presentation comes upon hay—in the stall of an animal, in the feed box from which an animal eats.  Then the angel no longer stands alone.  The heavenly host appears, and speaks.  They speak doxology God-ward, “Glory to God in the highest,” and they speak benediction human-ward, “…on earth peace among those with Whom He is pleased.”

After this praise from the angelic throng comes the denouement (2:15-20). The shepherds go into Bethlehem and find things as they were told.  Then they tell what they saw and heard, and all who heard were amazed at the shepherds’ tale.  Mary, however, treasured these things, pondering them in her heart.  At the end of it all, the shepherds return to their posts, glorying and praising God for all they saw and heard.

What joyous tidings we receive from the Lord in His Word today.  Yet, even knowing this, we struggle—for reasons named earlier, among perhaps others—to grasp the joy that is ours in Christ.  Someone else—one of my favorite guys—struggled to find joy near Christmas.  In fact, by about ten before eight on Thursday night, December 9, 1965, this guy had had it—and he vented his spleen to those around him, plus about fifteen million overhearers via CBS, saying, “Does anyone here know what Christmas is all about?”

Charlie Brown’s friend, Linus van Pelt, responds with today’s text—the Gospel of our Lord—and then he tells Charlie, as millions more overhear, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”[3]

Our world seems darker now than then—though let’s not at December 1965 through rose-colored lenses, for our nation and world had enough trouble then.  Yet, on the whole, it appears today that we as a nation have less faith in, and devotion unto, Almighty God.  There seems less love in our world today—and, alas, there seems more hatred.  There seems even less righteousness, and even more evil, today than then.  There seems today less hope, maybe much less hope, than formerly—and there seems more despair, maybe much more despair, than in bygone years.

Yet we hear the Gospel afresh today—and, in the hearing, the Holy Spirit either kindles or rekindles joy in our souls.  After all, the Babe of Bethlehem is Christ the Lord.  His Person and work are the ground—the sole ground, yet unshakable ground—for our joy in this life and in the life to come.  Beloved ones, both within the sound of my voice and within sight of these words, this is what Christmas is all about.

AMEN.

[1] The Greek verb euangelizomai (euaggelizomai), translated in classical Greek to announce good news, everywhere in the New Testament refers to the preaching of the good news—the Gospel—of God in Christ Jesus.  See Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).

[2] Both the Hebrew Maschiach (Messiah) and Greek Christos (CristoV, Christ) mean Anointed One.

[3] A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).