O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
He’s Here ... and He's Yours
He’s Here ... and He's Yours
Based on St. Luke 2:10-12
Preached on Christmas Eve: The Nativity of Our Lord, December 24, 2016,
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In the Virgin-Born and Prince of Peace, friends!
It’s annoying! You sit down to dinner and hope for a few family moments at the table. Then the phone rings … again. The instant you pick it up, you can tell it’s not a real person on the other end. It’s a recording. Some canned voice tells you how lucky you are to have been selected to win a million dollars, or how they’re offering new storm windows to people in your neighbourhood at an amazing low price. All you have to do is press “1” … or if you’re on the internet, to click on the little link included in the e-mail. It’s funny. If you’re like me and somebody calls or e-mails to say you won some big prize, it’s automatic. The words, “Yeah, sure” are already waiting to hop off my tongue.
Good news is hard to believe in. A new premier, prime minister or president gets elected. On victory night the winner tells how he will change politics forever. Then a year goes by. You read in the paper how the new bigwig is doing the same stuff he bashed his predecessor for. We’re to the point where we don’t have to wait a year. We already know on victory night that the good news being celebrated is most likely unreal.
Or you end up with a new job, or a new personal relationship that promises to be fresh and exciting. But such relationships often break later on. Or they run out of gas. Or turn into drudgery. I don’t blame people for being cynical about a lot of what’s going on around them. Good news may be hard for you to believe in. At best, it seems like the possession of a very few
who “made it” in a way the average person never does.
The angel in the night sky over Bethlehem didn’t come to talk about anything like that. He’s not peddling joy that goes sour once you click on the internet link, only to discover it turned a virus loose on your computer; or like one of those calls where you stay on the line and find out what the big “catch” is.
I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF THE BIG JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE, . he says. No need to wait for fine print. No request that you read your credit card number over the phone. This angel breaks right in on some sheep-herders during the night shift to announce the real thing … pure good news … an offer that is totally free … and which comes to you as an unmitigated gift.
It’s aimed at everyone and anyone, the angel says. You don’t have to qualify, nor find out that the first 100 people who already called are the only ones eligible. It’s there for lapsed Jews like you, the angel told those sheep-keepers. It’s also freely offered to non-Jews who didn’t know the true God and never picked up a Bible in their lives. In the text we have here the angel holds it out again tonight to long-time churchgoers. He also extends it to men and women who have been totally distant from God, avowed atheists and agnostics and people who – for whatever reason – just couldn’t be bothered with the Lord Who loves them. I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF THE BIG JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. God aims it at people who figure they have life nicely under control, thank you very much. He also aims it at anyone who feels as though his life has
hit the rocks. The angel’s word, ALL THE PEOPLE , makes clear that it includes human beings who are exactly in the situation you’re in tonight, whoever you may be.
Almost nobody would have expected this particular kind of good news. This big joy comes in a way the vast majority of people simply weren’t looking for. That’s why a great many of them missed it in Bethlehem, even if they were only a few steps away from where it happened.
God’s angel came right to the point. He announced why this news is good, and what makes the joy so big: THE SAVIOUR, WHO IS CHRIST THE LORD, WAS BORN FOR YOU TODAY IN DAVID’S TOWN. “Christ is born” … do you know what that means? Let me tell you first what it does not mean. Unlike the election night victory speeches or the “rah rah” corporate business announcements, it does not mean, “Look at the wonders we achieved!” or “See what marvelous things we can do together!” That stuff is really not such good news at all; it’s only good until your winning candidate goes corrupt or your corporate achievement gets wrecked by a stock market crash.
“Christ is born” is unadulterated good news, because it means “Look what God does!” Look closely, because He does it for you; He doesn’t want you to miss it. Here’s what He’s doing: THE SAVIOUR, WHO IS CHRIST THE LORD, WAS BORN FOR YOU TODAY…
If there’s one thing people learned about God in the Old Testament part of the Bible, it is that God is holy. And we human beings are sinners; there’s no nice way to say that. Furthermore, God in His holiness stands apart from sin. He cannot have anything to do
with it; He doesn’t want it around. So there was this gap between the holy God and sinful human beings. You cannot bridge that gap. I can’t, either. On this holy night our fortunes changed fundamentally, because what you and I could never do, God Himself went ahead and did. He came near to us! He bridged the gap and came down here, since we were powerless to climb up to Him.
Look what God does! He did not come as a judge, a king, a dictator, a source of sage-wisdom, or as a motivational-speaker. He is all of those things in one way or another, of course. But on this night God comes in Jesus Christ as a Saviour, an undeserved Rescuer, a Helper, a Ransom, a pardoner of all your wrongs. He comes to reach across the gap you could never bridge.
Look what God does! It’s for real! It’s not just fake good news courtesy of a robo-call which turns out to be a marketing trick to get you to shell out some of your money. It’s not some propaganda line from the world of politics which sounds good on victory night but turns out to be hollow. It’s real, the angel said. It happened today. You don’t have to wait for it, or do anything to qualify. It’s not conditional on how many peachy things you did in the past to deserve it. In fact, the people who realize they don’t deserve it are in the best position to receive it, because this good news of the big joy has to come as a sheer gift … or you don’t get it at all.
It’s for real, the angel said. It happened today in David’s town, Bethlehem, a real place you can find on the map. The true God has bridged the gap. He has come
near to forgive you, to save you, to heal you, to take you in – sins and failures and all – and He has done it in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The shepherds would have wondered, “How will we know for sure?” The angel didn’t mess around, waiting for them to ask. THIS THING IS A SIGN FOR YOU ALL, he said. YOU SHALL FIND A BABY HAVING BEEN WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.
This particular sign – a Baby in a manger – sent an unmistakable message. The little Child did not come dressed as a warrior with a sword in His hand and riding on a horse. He wasn’t robed in purple like the old kings were, with a crown on His head and jewels around His neck. He came as a real human being, starting out as a Baby, the way we all do, having to cope with the hard knocks, the disappointments and sorrows of real life, just like you’ve done. He came, weak and helpless and vulnerable, capable of being threatened and of being hurt … as many people tried to do to Him, and as some succeeded. He knows what you are up against. He understands you from His own life’s experiences. He sympathizes with you even you feel lonely because other people don’t.
God’s Saviour came as a Child, destined to grow up and suffer, to bleed and die. His Mama wrapped Him in coarse strips of cloth that night. They were poor people. It’s all she had. It wasn’t the last time He got wrapped. Years later weeping friends wrapped Him up again on a late Friday afternoon in a rushed burial, just after He had bled to death in the sunshine on a
rough cross, where He laid down His life for the sins of the world.
The apostle St. Paul looked at all of it: Jesus coming down from heaven to Bethlehem, and Jesus bleeding to death for our wrongs. Then he wrote to some of his friends about it: YOU KNOW THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST; HE WAS RICH, BUT BECAME POOR FOR YOU TO MAKE YOU RICH BY HIS POVERTY. He became what He was not … a helpless Baby, a condemned criminal … so that you, by His undeserved love, could become what you were not; a son or daughter of the one true God, standing safely beside Him with a pardon-letter in your hand.
Once the angel brought this news flash to the shepherds, there was no holding back. They hurried over until they found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. I imagine they couldn’t do much or say much except to kneel down and adore Him. This Child laid hold of them in heart and life.
Through the word of God set before us tonight, the Bethlehem angel has made it all the way to St. Mary’s Road in Winnipeg. And it’s happening again, today and for real. This holy Child is held out to you. He stands ready to rescue you, to walk with you, to be yours completely. He stands ready to let Himself be known by you and embraced by you. He yearns to have your love, since He long ago already gave you His. Because His angel came to announce good news of the big joy for all people, you must understand by now that it’s the big joy He means for you to have. He’s here … and He’s yours.
Will you take your place at His bed of straw and believe Him? I ask you this very personally. It is an unspeakable sorrow how countless people slide through Christmas after Christmas without ever seeing how He is offering Himself to them. But nothing else in all the universe can warm God’s Father-heart as when an ordinary person like you or me takes hold of the treasure He has laid in this manger.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own Him,
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
May your heart be one of them! Amen.
Rev. Robert Bugbee