Whether or not you attend church, whether or not you are a Christian, today and tomorrow are significant days in our year… at the very least we are bound to notice at this time of year that everyone else round about us is preparing for Christmas parties, Christmas dinners, visits to family. But I can guess that all of us are directly affected by Christmas… all of us are here! So that means in one way or another we think there is something special about Christmas.
Regular special times of the year become markers in our life story…birthdays, anniversaries… as we get older we remember more and more of them… and our experience of each new Christmas changes… at one time we ourselves were children, caught up in the excitement… perhaps now we see our own children caught up in the excitement…perhaps at one time we always stayed at home for Christmas, but now we travel to see our own children look after their children at Christmas.
And because Christmas is like that… because it such a regular yet changeable part of our lives… every Christmas is usually a time when we stop and reflect or think about things more than we usually do… Where have I come from, where am I going to? Why or how did such and such a thing happen to me?
And the thing about that kind of reflection is that no-one can answer those questions for you. And your own attempts to answer them are probably very vague or wishful… we put the best slant we can on things, or maybe we’re the opposite and we’re prone to read the worst into everything.
Perhaps you are not the kind of person given to that kind of personal reflection… if you’re not given to personal reflection… I guess that you are passionate about other things… you’re political, or you’re obsessed with sport… you get angry at things, you want to make a difference… but Christmas comes, and Christmas goes… and so it is Christmas again, and what have you done… another year over, and a new one about to begin… and all your obsession, commitment, anger… it doesn’t seem to have made all that much of a difference.
A question for all of us this evening, and tomorrow perhaps… Why Christmas? Why Christmas? What’s different or special about the Christmas message that it has created such a significant time of the year...
Well, for one thing, the Christmas message is a big message, it’s a universal message… it’s for everyone, it’s aimed at everyone… whether or not you believe or think it is true – the message of Christmas is big… the claim is that God did something, that’s big in itself… the Christmas promise from our first reading is that the greatness of this baby king will reach to the ends of the earth… so there is no restriction… everyone will see the Christmas message being worked out. Whether or not you believe the Christmas message, the Christmas message is for you, it includes you whether you like it or not.
But what is the message? Well, the message is that a baby was born in Bethlehem. And – given all the problems in our world – you might ask yourself… why a child? Why Bethlehem?
I want to read something to you… it’s an account of how one man came to believe the Christmas message… as a teenager his friends had tried to persuade him, but he wasn’t religious, wasn’t interested… then he goes on
"… a funny thing happened a few years later. I had just started my first semester at a nearby community college and was reading sections of the Old Testament (I hadn’t picked it up since before my Bar Mizpah at age 13). In my readings I came across a passage that really shocked me: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). I had seen all of the animated Christmas specials year after year, so I knew what the implications of “Bethlehem” were, but no one had ever shared with me the connection between the Jewish messiah and Jesus Christ..."
Remember, this guy was from a Jewish family, but he wasn’t interested in religion….
"...Why was I so surprised to see the passage I found in Micah 5:2? Because no one ever showed it to me. In their zeal to convert me, my friends spent all their energy thinking of techniques by which I could be saved, rather than approaching me with sound arguments in support of Christianity. What they didn’t realize is that I thought all religion was absurd, so all of their attempts to get me to read Christian books or to listen to Christian tapes were equally absurd. But in my case, a simple discussion of fulfilled messianic prophecy could have been an open door to sharing the Gospel with me. All they had to do was to give me reasons for their faith."
"All they had to do was to give me reasons for their faith…" !!!
Why a child? Why Bethlehem? Because that’s what God promised long before the first Christmas. God’s interest in us isn’t a recent thing, it’s not a new thing… and it’s not a desperate attempt to impress us or shock us or do something fantastic because it’s fantastic.
To be God with us, to be our Saviour, God had to become like us, he had to take on a human body and possess a human mind... in and through Jesus God builds his kingdom for us… you cant have a kingdom without a king, you cant save people without a saviour, you cant look after sheep if you are not prepared to be with them as a shepherd....
God could hardly promise to do all these things, and not follow through on that promise. And because he promised, he kept the promise. And that’s where we are now… God has kept his promise to send a child… we’ve seen him, we’ve heard about him, we sing about it every Christmas… and because he’s done that much, we can be sure that his promises for the future will be fulfilled too… God’s full and final kingdom will come… we can know peace now… but there is a day coming when we will see peace on earth… there is a day coming when we will see Jesus as one of us, as Saviour, as the Prince of Peace reigning and ruling for us.
So the Christmas story is significant, is special, because it’s part of God’s story. And if you are able to fit your story into his story… if you understand that your questions about your life find ultimate answers in his life… that’s when Christmas can be truly happy, truly merry, truly joyful…