Carols by Candlelight 2000 - Luke 2:8-20
A little boy was given some homework to do on his family tree. So he went home and asked his Dad, "Dad, where did I come from?" Dad was a little embarrassed and said, "The stork brought you." Not satisfied, the boy asked his Mum, "Where did you come from?" "The stork brought me." Still not satisfied, and a little confused, he asked his Granny, "Gran, where did you come from?" Holding the party line she said, "The stork brought me." So the boy sat down and began his assignment. "There has not been a normal birth in our family for three generations".
Nathan James Buttery was born in a small town just outside Bristol in the latter half of the 20th century. He has lived for what he hopes is about a third of his life and hopes to achieve something worthwhile in that short life. But in two thousand years time, it is extremely unlikely that there will be people celebrating my birth or singing carols like "O little town of Weston-Super-Mare". And yet the birth of Jesus Christ continues to be celebrated 2000 years later, and he has had a profound impact on human history ever since.
You see the centre of Christmas is Jesus Christ, a man who was born 2000 years ago in a small Roman province, who lived a remarkable life and who claimed remarkable things. He claimed to be able to forgive sins, to give people eternal life, and perhaps most amazingly, to be God in the flesh. And yet today people are more inclined to ignore Jesus Christ, even at Christmas time. This happens in very subtle ways, like the Advent calendars that do not stop at Christmas, but are rather New Year calendars, so that you get 31 chocolates, instead of 24. Or how about these comments which I read in the paper this week: "The religious significance of Christmas has faded over the past 50 years. As the symbolism of the Nativity declines, the expectation rises that the family, aided by consumerism, will fill the gap." Or how about this comment in the same paper the next day talking about Christmas cards: "With Christianity all but sidelined in our pursuit of more important matters such as acquiring PlayStation 2 for your offspring, Christmas cards are more likely to be used as vehicles for personal vanity, instead of messages of peace and goodwill." Well those comments are only in passing but they are very revealing, showing that for many in our country, Christ has got very little to do with Christmas.
And yet we need to pause before we right Jesus off that quickly. For the Bibles claim is that the Christmas message about Jesus is so important that there is no-one on this planet who can possibly afford to ignore it. And the reason is that this message about Jesus affects our very destiny. So what is Christmas all about? Who is Jesus and why did he come? Well to help us answer that question were going to turn to one of those stories we had read, about the shepherds and the angels from Lukes gospel. An angel appeared before these shepherds and gave them a remarkable message. He said: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in Davids town a Saviour is born to you; he is Christ the Lord." So what do we learn about Jesus from this message? Well two things:
1) Jesus is the Saviour
2) Jesus is the King
1) Jesus is the Saviour
So first Jesus is the Saviour. In Bethlehem, says the angel, a Saviour has been born. Now presumably if Jesus is a Saviour then that means we need saving. If I am swept out to sea by a freak wave, I dont need a therapist or a beautician- I need a Saviour, someone to rescue me. And the Bibles claim is that all of us are in trouble. Our problem is that we are natural rebels against God. We are very happy to run our lives our way, and God very rarely gets a look-in. It is the fatal disease of self centeredness. But as our creator and rightful Lord, God is not pleased. He longs for us to run our lives the way they were designed: Freely serving him and living life joyfully in relationship with him. But our willingness to go our own way has led to a breach in that relationship. And as a just judge, he must punish us for that. And the punishment is to be separated from him forever.
You can see this disease even in small children. The first word my godson said was No. And you only have to watch a childrens playpen for five minutes to see that children can be very self centred, as the fight over the yellow Telly Tubby intensifies. And we adults are no better. We know that the world is in a real mess. Education can get us so far, social action can get us so far, and yet there is still the same old problem- the problem of the human heart. Winston Churchill said that mans worst enemy that he had to overcome was himself. The heart of the human problem is actually the problem of the human heart. So what can be done? Is there any hope? Will anyone rescue us? Well the good news of Christmas is that God has done something about it. He has sent a rescuer, a Saviour, Jesus Christ. That was the news that the angel told to those shepherds that day. That a saviour had been born.
And so it happened. From the very first hour of Jesus life, his death was hanging over him. He was, if you like, born to die. Thirty three years after Jesus was born in that stable in Bethlehem, he was hanging on a cross. And it was on the cross that, strange as it may seem, he was rescuing us. For on the cross he was taking the penalty we deserve for our rebellion against God. He was dying in our place so we could have forgiveness and a fresh start. It is the offer of rescue, held out to us by a nailed pierced hand. Very strange except that it is the way God has provided for rescuing you and me from an eternity without God, which otherwise would be a terrible prospect. He has sent his Son on a rescue mission.
One of my favourite programs is 999 Rescue. Well a couple of years ago I witnessed a real life 999 rescue. I was on a beach with some friends, when we began to notice that a small boat was in trouble a few hundred yards offshore. There was a strong wind and the boat kept on capsizing. The people couldnt right it, and eventually they were separated from the boat and it disappeared down the coast. So we called the coastguard, and just five minutes later a huge Sea King helicopter flew over our heads and circled round the people in the water. A rope was let down in the water and the people were winched to safety. The helicopter then landed on the beach and the people were taken to hospital. It was a dramatic real life rescue. And Jesus has come on a rescue mission, to rescue you and me not just from an icy cold sea, but from spiritual death, to bring us back into friendship with God, to receive forgiveness and a fresh start. And that is why the angel said to the shepherds that this is good news of great joy for all people. It is not mediocre news of mild mirth for a few people living in Surrey. Good news, great joy, for all people, including us. Because in Jesus we have a Saviour, someone to offer us forgiveness and a fresh start with God.
Now let me ask: what better news could we possibly want to hear than that God has provided us with a rescuer, someone through whom we can have forgiveness, someone who can bring us back in to friendship with God. There can be no better Christmas gift than Jesus Christ. And it shows Gods immense love for us. Thats the first thing we discover about Jesus- He is the Saviour.
2) Jesus is the King
But the second thing the angel tells us is that Jesus is the King. The angel says that he is bringing good news of great joy because today in Davids town a saviour is born who is Christ the Lord. Jesus is the Christ. Now what on earth does that mean? Well many people think that Jesus was called Jesus Christ and that Christ was his surname, like Nathan Buttery. So Jesus Dad was called Joseph Christ. Well Christ is not really a name more a title or job description. And the same happens today. When I was a child and something went wrong with the washing machine, my mother would say, "Oh well phone Bill the plumber." Or if something big needed doing in the garden, "Oh well get Jack the gardener to do it." So Jesus is the Christ. Now what was the Christ? Well for the Jews, the Christ was a very important figure. Literally Christ meant the anointed one, and the Christ was the anointed one who would come from God and bring Gods kingly rule to earth. Kings were anointed with oil. He would be Gods King on earth and would right all the wrongs and defeat those who opposed God. So when the angel turned up that night in front of those shepherds and said that the Christ had come, this was big news. Jesus was that promised King from God. There was absolutely no doubt. This was the biggest event in the history of the world.
The King was here in person to bring about a rescue of all mankind.
Now if that is the case, then this is really is the greatest story ever told. Because it is the story of the King of kings coming to earth to meet mankind and rescue him. And the big question for you this Christmas is what will you do with Jesus? The claim is that he is the King, the one to whom we must bow in allegiance and receive that rescue to bring us forgiveness and new life with God again. Thats the claim.
Some time ago during the war, a famous American art collector learnt that his Son had been killed in action saving the life of another soldier. The following Christmas the soldier who survived and who himself was an amateur painter, gave the art collector a simple portrait hed sketched of his son. It was nothing like a master piece, but it became very special to the man in his loneliness. Not long afterwards the art collector died; and his paintings were to be auctioned, according to his will, on Christmas Day. To everyones surprise the auction began with a painting which no-one had ever heard of or seen. It was the painting of the art collectors son. "Who will open with $100?" the auctioneer asked. Nothing was offered. It was suggested they move on. But the auctioneer said: "No! We must sell this painting first." Eventually a friend of the old man, not a collector, and not very rich, offered a small sum: "I knew the boy, he said, so Id like to have it." "Will anyone go any higher?" the auctioneer asked. There was silence. So the auctioneer said: "Going once, going twice, gone." There was a huge sigh of relief around the room as people hoped they could now get on with the real business. But the auctioneer stood up, looked at the audience and declared that the auction was over. There was stunned disbelief. "Its very simple," said the auctioneer. "According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son .gets all."
Jesus Christ is the greatest gift God could offer this broken world. And its still true today that whoever accepts the Son and the forgiveness he brings takes it all- new life with God, the friendship restored, life lived in the way it was meant to be. But we wont always have that opportunity to accept that gift. For one day Jesus will return, not as a little baby, but as the King who will judge, and we need to be ready.
Well I suggest that this Christmas we take time again to think seriously about Jesus Christ. The Bibles claim is that he is the Saviour and the King. Its too important to dismiss, and its vital to investigate it. Ill be standing at the back with some booklets which explain something more about this amazing gift. Do please take one and read it and investigate the claims. Or you may wish to echo in your hearts this prayer I am going to pray asking that you can receive that forgiveness which Jesus offers, and to begin to live life the way God intended with him as your Lord. For that would be the best gift you could receive this Christmas.
Father God, Were sorry that we have run our lives our way and kept you at arms length. Thankyou that you sent your Son, Jesus Christ into this world to be our Saviour and King. Help us to accept the forgiveness he offers through his death on the cross and to live with him as our Lord.
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