CHRISTMAS EVE, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 60:1-2, 20-21; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

     Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! Isaiah 60:1

 

What is Christmas all about? The love of family and friends, shared by the giving of gifts… sure. The birth of a special child… of course! Oh, but it’s so much more. The very way God revealed the news of Jesus’ birth – the glory of the Lord appearing to shepherds in a dazzling light that shattered the darkness, and a brilliant star appearing and leading the Magi to Him months later – indicates what was happening.

The first words that God spoke in the Bible were, “Let there be light!” Those words resonate to this night. “Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” Jesus – the eternal and ultimate Light of God – has risen upon us and now shines as the firstborn, the beginning of a new creation. We are celebrating far more than the love of family and friends. We are celebrating more than the birth of a child. “Your light has come!” In Jesus’ conception and birth God began a new creation. A new, never-darkening and never-ending day dawned. Jesus – God of God; Light of Light; God’s eternal Word and voice – has been spoken into flesh, that He might bring us who are flesh – and sinful flesh at that; broken, darkened, and dying – into God’s eternal light. His coming in our flesh is God shining among us: turning darkness into light… making all things new… creating for us a new and holy and blessed life with God that will never end. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” Look to Him, believe upon Him, and receive His light! This is what Christmas is all about.

Christmas is the great light of God dawning upon us in our flesh in the midst of great darkness. The world into which He was born – the people to whom He came – threatened to extinguish His light. Some did so by open hostility: King Herod sent soldiers to kill Him. But most responded with the darkness of indifference: ignoring the shepherds’ joyous news of Christ’s birth; and, years later, ignoring His ministry and His teaching. Their darkness was less menacing, but it was no less deep than Herod’s.

Occasionally today we still see the darkness of open hostility to Jesus; but what we especially see is the darkness of ignorance and indifference. May it not be seen in your life!! What do you do with Jesus? The pressures and concerns of daily life; of opposition to Christ’s teachings; but, mostly, the shrugged shoulders of indifference (“Who cares? What difference does He make?”) confront you every day. Confront them with the light of the Lord Jesus! Let His glory shine upon you by listening to His words, treasuring them your heart and mind, and worshiping Him! Christmas, you see, is not just about a baby who was born a long time ago. The baby Jesus is easy, for he demands little of you. But Jesus is a mighty Lord who followed God in all things, confronted Satan and every evil, and then died on a cross to put to death all sin and evil; including indifference! He demands that you listen to Him and follow Him and bear whatever cross, whatever hardship, that then comes. You must do so. For, as God’s Word says, If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie.” (1 John 1:6) God rejects liars. Christmas is about living the truth; living in the light of Jesus!

In Jesus we have a Savior who was born because of our darkness. As a bright light casts out darkness, so Jesus dawned upon us to cast out the darkness of our sins. And He has done so! “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us,” says Titus 3. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter how great the darkness that you struggle with, Jesus was born for you. He lived, died, and rose again for you. He has saved you from God’s anger and judgment of your sins, and so from living in fear, under the threat of them. He has saved you from a life apart from God.

He showed this by the very way He came. Although greater than all, Jesus was not born in the house of the great and powerful and laid in a soft bed. His birth was not announced to those considered the wisest and the worthiest – the priests and the rabbis. The eternal Light of God came in lowliness, and was announced to the lowly and despised, because God wants to receive and save the lowly. God sent His Son to shine in the midst of darkness: the darkness of the sin that shows itself within us:

Ø  Indifference because of the weakness of God and the lowly ways He works, and preferring instead that which excites and pleases.

Ø  Pride in our own status and abilities, which leads us to look down upon those who are considered lower.

Ø  The desire to have and be satisfied, and the avoidance – and even rejection – of what would work against our desires.

Many, and very dark, are the sins that struggle within us! The darkness of sins such as yours and mine led, not simply to the ignoring of the news of Jesus’ birth and the glory of it, but to the attempt to extinguish His light by putting Him to death upon a cross.

But He came for this. The eternal God and eternal light clothed Himself in the weakness of our flesh to lay helpless before Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. He did not lay before them as a brilliant light to make them afraid, but clothed in weakness to draw them – and you and me – to Him. The Light of the world had His tiny arms wrapped tightly to His body with swaddling clothes, that He might be warm and safe. Years later those same arms would be stretched away from His body and nailed to a cross. He would take upon Himself our sins and feel, not the safety and security of heaven, but the horror of God’s anger and of hell itself, to rescue us from them. The light of God’s love for you and the forgiveness of your sins shone there; and God has made it shine upon you and within you now. “The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared [and] saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3) In the washing of your baptism the Light of this night, the Light of the world who was born to go to the darkness of the cross for you, shone upon you to fill you with His light and make you new: God’s new creation. Your Baptism is your Christmas, for there Jesus saved you.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” Very soon all the lights that adorn this season – in displays at stores; on lawns and houses and town greens; on our Christmas Trees – will be taken down and put away, not to shine again until next year. We will resume our normal lives and routines. This is what we must do, for life goes on.

The shepherds went back to their lives and routines, also. But, they went back with the light of Jesus shining forth brightly through them to others. As they told others of the Messiah’s birth they became shepherds of people, and not just of sheep. Be like them! Let there be light! Let Christ shine in and through your life!

Let there be no indifference in you, as there is in many who sit in churches this night but go home unchanged. Your life is new! In Jesus you are God’s child, His light in this increasingly dark and sinful world. Let, then, His light shine; not the light of your own accomplishments, but the light of your Savior’s love of and service of all, even the lowliest. In how you live; in how you endure the darkness of this world; in how you work; in how you treat others, and especially the lowly and the different; shine forth with the joy of your new life and new day in Jesus! “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” In and through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.