December 24, 2018

To You is Born (Christmas Eve)

Passage: Luke 2:1-20
Service Type:

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

I would suspect that most children whose families celebrate Christmas have been asked the annual question—what do you want for Christmas? Parent, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends want to give a present that the child would like to receive. Of those children who have been asked what they want for Christmas most are very discerning; they know who to ask for what. Children are very quick to categorize givers according to level of gift they are likely to be able to give. I may even know a certain grandchild who wanted something he figured was out of reach for any one giver so thought it best to ask for a gift of cash for two of three gift givers—hoping to have sufficient to purchase what he wanted. Have you known (or been) just such a child?

Most of us understand financial limits to this gift giving business. Children know they don’t have enough money in their bank accounts (if they have one) to buy the gifts they want and so are happy to ask. We know our own limitations in being able to give.

The point I invite you to consider is—we humans do not have, individually or collectively all together, the resources to purchase the gift we need from God. The human condition before God; dead in our trespasses and sins, is the way the Apostle Paul described it; that inner self-contradiction that we cannot cure; the perverseness of heart we cannot correct; we do not have the resources to fix. If you collected together in one place a printout of the daily news of the past year—fake news and all—it would be evidence that the world needs a fix that we cannot generate; the world needs a saviour that we cannot provide for ourselves.

Throughout Advent this year at we have been probing this Biblical theme that the world’s saviour has to be given to us. Humanity will never produce its own saviour. It has to be given—as the angel made clear to the shepherds—to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour. This is the message of Christmas; God gives us what we really need. It has to be given for we could never generate this ourselves.

Further, just as a child gets to know who to ask what from the story of Christmas shows us what to ask for and who to ask for this gift from. The fact that God give us a Saviour tells us what to ask for—we need the remedy of heart that only relationship with him in the Son can give. And the story shows us to ask God for what only he can give.

I wonder if you find, as I do, that the messages regarding Christmas coming from our culture seems to add a crushing sense of responsibility to make Christmas ‘something.’ It is to be a magical time with gifts a-plenty as if there will be moment when we will be overtaken with sheer wonder. I find that hard to generate. Or then there is the moral responsibility in the reminders to be a little kinder, a little more generous. And we get past Christmas and note that the “magical moment” somehow passed us by and my added generosity only served to make January’s credit card bill higher. And if all that the world needed was a simple annual reminder to be a little kinder then January ought to be the kindest month of the year—but it doesn’t seem to work out that way. So I am left thinking that I have failed in Christmas responsibilities—not that there is anything wrong with being generous and kind and magical moments—but will these alone fix what is manifestly wrong with humanity?

“to you is born a Saviour,” say the Angels to the shepherds in the Christmas story. When a child is born into a family everything changes. For the older siblings there is no going back to the time before the arrival of the baby brother or sister. Parents will soon forget the time when this person was not in their life. Grandparents are forever changed because they instantly fall in love and the welfare of this tiny person commands attention.

The gift of Christmas is the story that God gives us what we need by giving us himself. God has given the world its saviour and there is no going back. He has entered our world for the express purpose of giving us what we need. Everything changed with the coming of Jesus. Everything is before and after this event. This same Jesus born in Bethlehem and crucified outside Jerusalem and raised from the dead and ascended as ruler of all things. Yes, this truth is now apprehended by faith in a world that contradicts his sovereign reign. But a day is coming when that which is apprehended now by faith will be sight and all will acknowledge it to be so. The world has changed in the act of God giving us the Son. “To you is born a Saviour.”

Now the gift of a person has some unique features. When someone loves you they don’t wrap up a ‘thing’ called love and give it to—love is what they do. When a family gathers to play a game love is everyone participating with one another. In fact there is no such thing as love. No such thing as love, you say? Exactly! No such thing as love. Love isn’t a thing; love isn’t something. Love is a relationship; specifically, love is the relationship of self-giving; love can never be a thing! Love doesn’t exist and never will; a person who loves is what exists. The God who loves is what exists. In the same way faith isn’t a thing that we are to possess. Faith is a relationship, the most significant relationship that can occur in anyone’s life. It is relationship with God. This is the story of Christmas—God has given himself to you in the Son.

“to you is born in the city of David a Saviour.” You notice that the shepherds were told where to find him. The gift of Christmas cannot be reduced to a tagline nor a moral aphorism nor an improved philosophy for living. When we announce the birth of a child we typically name the child and say he or she was born to, and then name the parents. When my son called me to announce the birth of a grandchild he didn’t’ say “to you is born.” It was wise of him to acknowledge that it was his wife who had given birth. But here in the story of Jesus’ birth the Angels announce to shepherds “to you is born.” And the gospel story is that this announcement wasn’t just for the shepherds. The news was of great joy for all the people.

Another feature of personal relationship is that each is unique. Think about your friends for a moment. Yes, you categorise them as friends but each friendship is unique. Only you and that one other person can have this relationship that the two of you can have. In other words, friends aren’t plug and play. If I wanted to play golf I know which friend to call; if I need help shovelling snow I may call a different friend. In our families a parent indeed loves each of their children but relates to each according to the individual character of the child.

Relationship with God is a personal relationship; this means that only you and God can have the relationship that you and God can have. “to you a child is born;” in this gift from heaven is the invitation to receive this child as you own. The Saviour of the world holds out his arms to embrace us—the question is will we embrace him. We receive this child born in Bethlehem by faith; faith being encounter with God saying yes to his embrace. God gives us what we need by giving us himself.

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.