A story for all times
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.— Isaiah 9: 6
Okay, who can read that verse without immediately hearing it belted out in the Hallelujah Chorus? I know I can’t. It’s been years since we have been to a performance of Handel's Messiah. Thanks to the wonders of the internet this morning I got to listen to it performed by the Royal Choral Society of London. It brought me to tears. King of kings, Lord of Lords, he reigns forever and ever. When I feel anything but joyful at this time of year, all I need do is remember what we celebrate – a humble yet royal birth, and who we celebrate – Christ born of Mary, Savior and Redeemer.
Jesus is the center of Christmas, but he is so much more. His birth, life, death and resurrection are beyond reason and outside the realm of our understanding. Think about it. God so loved insane, pig-headed, selfish humanity so much he gave himself in a most mind-boggling way. We are his. He made sure of our redemption by becoming as we are, human and subject to human frailty, and yet he was divine, able to give us a vision of ourselves we could never have imagined: we can be compassionate, merciful, loving, selfless and giving. We can never achieve Christ’s perfection, but we aren’t required to. All we are asked is to believe and live in keeping with God’s will. Christ in the manager was also Christ on the Cross. The significance of each is God’s compelling love, outside our understanding, beyond our imagination, ours not because of who we are, but because God loves us, just as we are.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Luke 2:1, 4-5 NIV
It had to take a lot of courage and faith to make a long journey with a pregnant woman, one who carried a child not of your seed, but of your heart because you were following your instructions from of all things, an angel. None of us can understand Joseph’s heart and mind as he made this trip and we can only guess at Mary’s discomfort and maybe even fear; fear for her unborn child, fear for herself, and fear for her future. And yet this couple visited by angels telling them of a common event – the birth of a child – made the trek, unaware the birth would have uncommon consequences: awe and celebration of the shepherds; terror in the heart of despotic king. The Christ child changed lives, and he changed the world. And it's still happening.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:11-14
The greatest story ever told isn’t simply a story; it is a truth that sustains us in all of life. We have been given a great gift. It is a living reminder that in all of life we have hope. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. We are God’s. He loved us so much he gave us his Son, the incarnate Christ, to live among us, teach us and open us up to grace unimaginable. We are God’s children, and brothers and sisters of the child born of Mary. Living in families. Struggling with unexpected news. Living in faith. Growing in trust. We are blessed because of the blessed birth; we are redeemed by the Redeemer. Even when we do not know the questions, we know the answer.
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:28-32 NIV
Our future is assured, not because of anything we can do, but because of the babe in the manger and his place at God’s side. He gave up his place of perfection to live as we live, to see the corruption of the times and not be swayed, to teach and touch those in need of a new vision, a redeemer and healer. He made no claims he could not substantiate and listened without condemnation to those who would bring him down. “Not my will but thy will,” he prayed in his final hours of freedom. Now as we head into the New Year we can be assured that the Christmas spirit is not simply one of generosity nor is it seasonal, it is one freedom, freedom to live in joy knowing our future is assured – not to mean perfect, but in the hands of one who loves us so much he gave us is son.
Live in joy. Believe the promise: "Be strong, banish fear and doubt. Remember, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year