Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christ Mass Day - Luke 2

(wma audio download link)

There’s a star in the sky. It’s unlike any star the world has ever seen. It moves. It leads. It shows the way. This is no haley’s comet. This is no evolution of nature. This is God’s own guidance, moving, leading, showing that tonight, today, is unlike any other day the world has ever known.

There are kings who see it. Magi. Wise men. Learned of the pagan arts. Gentiles who cannot know God. But they see the star, and it leads them. They see the star and it brings them to Jerusalem, to the puppet King of the Jews, who unwittingly gives them the Word of God: “Born in Bethlehem!” To Bethlehem! The true King will be found in the city of royal David, and he is unlike any other king the world has ever known.

But in the fields there were shepherds, and they kept watch over their flocks in the deep of the night. With only a cloak and a fire, they slept beneath the starry hosts, much as they always did. But lo and behold, angels from the realms of God’s own glory filled the sky, dazzling, daunting, daytime light, and they sang, “Glory! Hallelujah! Peace to you men for God has placed his favor upon you!” And off the men went to see this great thing that had happened, for it was unlike any other great thing the world had ever known.

In a stable, in a manger, with ox and ass to warm the air, and all because their was no room for him in the inn, no room in the first come first serve hearts of men, no space to make straight a way for this light to enter our darkness. In a stable, in a manger, with feces on the floor and kings already seeking his attendance, with a virgin mother who treasured up in her heart the very sky itself which said, “Noel. Noel. This is unlike any other birth the world has ever known.”

Its such a wonderful story.

And we have such a wonderful celebration to remember it. We have such wonderful family gatherings. We have such beautiful lights and decorations. We have such wonderful gift-giving and candlelit services. We, with good reason, want to remember that even still, today is unlike any other day the world has ever known.

And yet for all of our pomp, (which I am not condemning!) and for the angels and the wise men and the shepherds (which are the truth of history!) and for the lyrics of the songs (which hold the Word of God,) it must still be asked whether or not we too easily forget that Luke chapter 2 and John chapter 1 are chapter 2 and chapter 1 in books! They are only the beginning of the story, which does not end once the gifts from the wise men were unwrapped, or after the shepherds and the in-laws returned to their homes. Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head, but that swaddling babe, in that story so nice, did not come to sleep. He came to pay a price. And from the moment of his birth, from the moment of celebration by angels in the sky, from the moment that shepherds and kings alike bowed down before a child, that full story was in motion, long prophesied of old, and moving toward a dramatic ending that the sweet and faithful mother could not have possibly even dreampt!

Yet it was foreshadowed so plainly: there was no room for him in the inn. When the child had grown, there was no room for him in the temple that was his own court. And even today, though we meet him with such festivities, there is truly no room for him in this world. He hasn’t merely been replaced by a fat man in a red suit and songs about snowmen and reindeer, but worse than that, that infant’s arms were taken and spread wide as we pounded heavy nails through his wrists and thrust a spear into his corpse to make sure he was dead. Yes, when this child who lay to rest on Mary’s lap asleep had grown into a man and began to speak, we hated him that much.

O come, all ye faithful, and confess that bowing down is not what you have done to your King, but that you would have him bow down before you, and that is what he did: stricken, smitten and afflicted by the cruel price of sin, death, evil and hate. We are men, and men love the darkness for our deeds are evil, and this is most clearly seen in what we did to that child at Golgatha, at Calvary, on a green hill far away outside a city wall where our dear Lord was crucified in a death unlike any other death that the world had ever known, a death which brought not more stars to the sky, but took the sun away, and covered the land in darkness and shadow, our self-chosen darkness and shadow, brought down from heaven by the murdering of the Son the God…and isn’t it ironic that the world still celebrates his birth by killing a living tree.

But that part of the story is not so nice as angels and shepherds. It’s much better to think about eggs and bunny rabbits, cookies and milk by the fireplace and Jack frost nipping at your nose. There is no room for him in the inn.

So isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it marvelous? Isn’t it terribly unbelievable that even though there was no room for him in the inn, in the world or even now, in our hearts, that little infant King came down to save us anyway? Isn’t it profound that even though that boy knew full well that, for his entire life, every step he took was a step closer to holes in his wrists and feet made by iron spikes, and to a scourged back dragged along the splintery rugged wood of a cross, that Savior came anyway? Isn’t it stupendous that, even though his own prayers begged with sweat and blood that he might not have to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath if there was any other road, that Prophet came anyway? Isn’t it grace to see that even though it was for the sake of an entire race of flighty, self-centered, godless people, that the Messiah came anyway?

Oh, that little infant so lauded on that night so silent came anyway because, despite our broken condition, he knew full well the meaning of true, unconditional love. Room for him in the inn, or no; people who truly deserved it, or no; rejected by his own and killed dead or no; the Word become flesh was the kind of new man who could not be put aside, rejected or killed for very long…and so he went through it all; he laid down it all; he poured out it all anyway to demonstrate the kind of real and tangible love that the world can only know in him – and then – at the very place where it seemed that those angels at Christmas had been proved mistaken in their songs, he opened his eyes for the first time for a second time; and he got up from the stone on which he lay; and he folded those burial rags stained with blood; and he walked right out of that tomb in order to say once and for all: “I don’t need room in your inn because I am making a new heavens and a new earth. And in that mansion there will be many, many rooms, rooms unlike any the world has ever known. And I have done it all…for you.

How marvelous is this good thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us; this death and resurrection the holy Son of God to take away the sins of the world! How beautiful is the cross most especially on this the High Feast of Christ Mass, where we eat and drink the proclamation of peace on earth, good will to men! How awesome is the good that comes to you because this Christmas story refused to stay nice the way we would have written it but insisted on staying necessary, staying on track, doing what we couldn’t do but what needed to be done anyway. How great is the greatest story ever told when told all the way to its end: and its not done yet! For lo, he comes descending with clouds, with the tokens of his passion on his body and the ransom given in worship to rapture us in those glorious scars. Now and today it is still in the making, still here for marveling, still coming to give to us people whose King died on the cross that we deserved the risen King himself so that we may know our cross has died in him

Once in royal David’s city, Christ’s birth, happened…and once on lonely Golgatha, Christ’s death happened…and it was all so that once at dawn on Sunday, at a dawn unlike any other dawn the world had ever known, a man who could raise Himself from the dead happened…and that changed the universe forever. It began something new forever. And that forever comes, comes very soon, and even comes a bit early right now, in a meal unlike any other meal the world has ever known. Yea. Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, springing with exultation, and with voice and heart united in song. Let all together praise our God, before his glorious throne. Today he opens heaven again, to give us his own Son, to give us his own Son. Oh yes, Merry Christmas to all, and to you, peace, for on you his favor rests. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen. In the name …Amen.

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