Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 26, 2015

Sermon for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Eve 2015)

Christmas Eve — December 24, 2015 — Sermon starts at 24:15

WE WISH YOU A M-A-R-Y CHRISTMAS!

  1. Rejoice in Jesus, Mary’s Savior and your Savior
  2. Marvel at Jesus, Mary’s Son and your Brother

Text: Luke 1:46-49; 2:1-719

Introduction

StarbucksHolidayCupI would like to begin this Christmas Eve sermon by showing you something that is quite offensive to some. (Take out the Starbucks 2015 “Christmas cup”). This red cup is the source of a great scandal in some circles—especially the circles of Joshua Feuerstein, a 34-year-old pastor and internet personality who suggested earlier this year that the plain red cup was Starbuck’s contribution to the overall cultural war against Christmas. Now, as a Christian, I don’t like it when Christmas is put on an equal level as any other quasi-religious, late-December holiday, but I just cannot get upset at a coffee company (that makes a great chai tea) for not proclaiming the Christmas gospel on its paper coffee cup when that’s not the company’s job in the first place.

But there were some who, along with Joshua Feuerstein, were quite offended at the plain red cup, as if it were less sacred the previous years’ cups with ornaments, snowflakes, snowmen, and sleds. And some of those people thought they would “one-up” Starbucks by placing their order and then saying their name was, “Merry Christmas.” So when the 21-year-old barista who’s just trying to make some cash while working through college calls out your drink order, he will have to say, “I have a venti, no water, no foam, whole milk chai latte for Merry Christmas.” The CEO of Starbucks hasn’t exactly been a friend of traditional Christians and their values, but neither he nor anyone else has said that the company employees cannot use the phrase, “Merry Christmas.”

From my standpoint, the whole ordeal is much ado about nothing. And it’s also a shame that the expression, “Merry Christmas,” an expression that should be a joyous, sincere greeting among Christians, has now been added to the overall Christmas cultural controversy of 2015.

Tonight, I want us to rise above the cultural silliness. Tonight, I want the Word of God to help us put these debates and controversies aside and put real, proper meaning back into the expression, “We wish you a merry Christmas.” And one way for us to have a truly merry Christmas is to see Christmas from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus. For us to have a M-E-R-R-Y Christmas, we need to have a M-A-R-Y Christmas. As we work through some key verses in the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit will help us to have Mary’s perspective on Christmas. We wish you a MARY Christmas! Rejoice in God—Mary’s Savior and your Savior. Marvel at Jesus—Mary’s Son and your Brother. 

I.

new-testament-illustrations-006The account of Jesus’ birth comes from chapter two of Luke’s Gospel. The account of Jesus’ birth announcement comes from chapter one of Luke’s Gospel. Normally a birth announcement is something that parents announce, but in this unique case, God made the birth announcement to the soon-to-be expectant mother, Mary, through the angel Gabriel. Shortly after Mary received this angelic message, she traveled to be with her relative, Elizabeth, who was the expectant mother of John the Baptist. And as Mary visits Elizabeth, she responds to the entire situation by singing a song that has been set to music by countless Christian composers through the centuries, the Song of Mary. Here are Mary’s first few statements from her song: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.”

Mary doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of candidate we would have selected to be the mother of the Son of God. She doesn’t sound like she was in the running for Miss Universe. She acknowledged her humble state. She realized that in the minds of many she would be recognized not for her greatness but for receiving a great honor from God.

It’s also very insightful to see what Mary calls God at the start of her song. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God….” What word would you have said next? “God, my blank.” How about, “God, my Creator.” “God, my Provider.” “God, my daily Inspiration.” Or if we really wanted to Americanize the Christmas story, we would say, “God, the big guy upstairs!” But she doesn’t call God any of those titles. She calls God, “My Savior.” And in that title for God, Mary more than implies that she needed a Savior!

Christmas is a very romanticized holiday. We enjoy listening to and singing the songs of the season. We love the Christmas recipes and the holiday drinks that make mental associations to the holidays for us. We drive around and ooh and ah at the light displays around the neighborhood. And all of that romantic, nostalgic, Christmas ambiance is perfectly fine. It makes for a MERRY Christmas. But it can’t make a MARY Christmas.

For us to have a MARY Christmas, we need to add our voices to Mary’s song, and to rejoice in “God, my Savior.” That thought may not exactly resemble the Christmas romance and ambiance that we enjoy all around us. For us to call God “my Savior” means that I need to be saved. For us to call God “my Savior” means that somehow I am already separated from him. For us to call God “my Savior” means that I am stuck in a condition that I cannot get out of.

That condition is called sin. That condition shows up in the ways we don’t love God above all things and love others as we should. And that condition is a real problem that is really easy to underestimate. I think we can easily treat sin like just a bunch of annoyances and grievances. Remember the made-up holiday, Festivus, from the show Seinfeld? Part of Festivus was to air your grievances at the dinner table. Perhaps that’s how we treat sin—like it’s just a bunch of things that someone doesn’t like about us. But when God has a grievance against us, it’s not something he blurts out at the dinner table. It’s something that condemns us with God’s unending punishment.

Mary knew what sin does to us, but she also knew that the birth announcement she received from the angel was a part of God’s plan to rescue us from that condition. And so, with humble hearts, we too can have a MARY Christmas, recognizing that God is not just your creator or provider or the big guy upstairs, but that he is your Savior! He became one of us to be perfect for us. He became one of us to take on the punishment for sin that we should have endured on the cross. He became one of us so that, just as he has risen from death, so all who celebrate a MARY Christmas, all who recognize Jesus as their Savior, will rise from death to eternal life at our Savior’s side.

II.

We have seen Mary’s reaction to the birth announcement of Jesus; now we’ll see her reaction to the birth of Jesus. The Christmas Eve Gospel begins, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

new-testament-illustrations-012Luke helps us to see that the birth of Jesus took place in real history. Scholars look at Luke’s words and secular records of that time and conclude that Jesus may have been born around 6-7 B.C. But Luke also helps us to see the simplicity and humility of Jesus’ birth. The birth was preceded by an 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jesus was born in humble circumstances with a cattle feeding trough turned into a makeshift crib. There is not a lot of fanfare or pomp and circumstance accompanying the birth of the Son of God.

Birth is not a glamourous experience. Jesus’ birth was no different. But when we add up the circumstances around his birth, we’d have to say that this is a lot for anyone to go through. This is certainly a lot for a first-century B.C. Jewish peasant girl to go through! An angel’s birth announcement. Untimely and uncomfortable travel. Country shepherds as unexpected visitors to see the baby following an angelic choir announcement. What would be your reaction to all of this? Here’s how Mary took it all in. “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

When you are enjoying Christmas dinner tomorrow, there are two ways you could eat your meal. You could scarf it down quickly. Or you could savor it: take your time, enjoy all the flavors, soak in the family time around the table. I suppose we could describe Mary’s reaction in that way: she savored it. She was keeping and guarding all of these events and memories in her mind like a treasure. She was pondering them—savoring what had just happened and marveling at the miracle that had just taken place so simply. For the son she held in her arms was no ordinary boy, despite his simple appearance. The son she held was the Son of God in human flesh, who came to be your brother and your Savior.

I don’t need to tell you that Christmas is a big deal. But it’s not a big deal because of travel or concerts or presents or parties or Christmas dinner. It’s a big deal because the son born to Mary came to be your brother. It’s a big deal because God’s plan to send you a Savior meant that God became one of us. This is not just interesting Christmas trivia. This is the miraculous truth of Christmas that made our miraculous rescue from sin possible. This is a truth to marvel at!

Who would have made up a story like this? Who would have imagined that the God who made heaven and earth and who fills heaven and earth would become our brother here on earth? Who would imagine that God’s plan to be our Savior would involve him entering our world and enduring the same hurts and pains that we endure, so much so that when we pray to him, we can know that he has endured the same kinds of trials and troubles that we have? Who would imagine that God would trade places with us on the cross so that we could take our place with him in heaven?

Don’t just scarf down those truths. Savor them. Ponder them. Marvel at the gift of Mary’s Son who is also your Brother. And in that way, you too can have a MARY Christmas.

Conclusion

MySonMySaviorIf you are a guest at St. Mark’s tonight, we have a present for you as you exit the church sanctuary. Our national church denomination has produced three short movies that deal with different aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, and we’d like to give you all three as a thank you for visiting with us. The newest movie in this set is a Christmas movie, called, “My Son, My Savior.” And just the Word of God shows us how to have a MARY Christmas, I hope the movie’s presentation of the Word of God also helps you to rejoice in your Savior and marvel at your Brother and have a truly MARY Christmas.

For us to have a truly MERRY Christmas, we need to see and celebrate Christmas through the eyes of Mary. May God bless you all with a MERRY, MARY Christmas! Amen.

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