Good morning to you! On this Christmas morning let me wish you a very happy Christmas Day.
I hope today is a day of celebration for you. It’s a public holiday, so most of us are free from work – and that’s something to celebrate! Perhaps you’re gathering today with family and friends. Why not attend a Christmas Day service in a church nearby? If you’re alone, I hope you’ll be able to enjoy special programs on the radio or TV. It’ll be a special day here on 2CH.
I hope this next 25 minutes will help you reflect on Christmas Day and what it means. We’re celebrating a birthday – the most widely remembered birthday in the world – the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stay tuned as we listen to Christmas music and thoughts which will assist us to celebrate that birth.
Every person has a birthday, and most birthdays are remembered at least by the person themselves and usually by their immediate family. But no birthday has ever been remembered so widely as the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know that there’s no real evidence that he was born on 25th December. In fact, the one small bit of evidence we do have goes against that date. We’re told in Luke’s Gospel that an announcement of Jesus’ birth was made to shepherds when they were in the fields with their sheep, and that’s normally true only during the spring and summer months of the northern hemisphere, between March and September. Actually, we observe the birth of Jesus on the day we do because this date was agreed on during the first Christian centuries and has been preserved by tradition. But that’s relatively unimportant. The important thing is that Jesus was born, and the interesting fact is that so many remember his birth.
Why is this? It’s true that many remember the birth of Christ because they are Christians and therefore love and cherish him. But millions of others are not Christians and yet also celebrate Christmas. Why has the birth of one man so seized upon the minds and imaginations of people?
One important answer to that question is the contrasts in the account of the birth of Jesus. It’s those contrasts, and paradoxes I want us to consider this morning. We see those contrasts clearly in Luke’s Gospel, chapters 1 and 2, as he tells the story of this amazing birth. The contrast which stands out above all the others is between the angels who announce the birth, and the people who hear these announcements – people from the lower levels of Jewish society, people in lowly circumstances.
Think, on the one hand of these angels. They are messengers sent from almighty God, figures of great stature and glory. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce she was to become pregnant, she was afraid of the splendour of this powerful creature. The angel’s words added to the awesome scene. He announced that the child to be born will be ‘great’, the ‘Son of the Most High’, the long awaited King who will reign on David’s throne forever (1:32-33). This child will be holy, and ‘will be called the Son of God’ (1:35).
Other angels appeared to the shepherds on the same day Jesus was born. Luke records that ‘the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified’ (2:9). An angel declared that this child is the Saviour born to the shepherds, the Messiah, the Lord (2:11). Luke adds this: ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests”’ (2:13-14).
What a contrast these angels were to people like Mary and the shepherds. Let’s reflect more on that after this next song.
This morning on Christmas Day we’re reflecting on what it is that makes this day so appealing and captivating to so many people. It’s the birthday of Jesus Christ, but what is it about Jesus’ birth that causes so many to celebrate? I think one of the important reasons is the contrasts of the story of Jesus’ birth.
One the one hand there are the angels, announcing the birth of Jesus. The angels describe the identity of this child: even as a baby he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is God. But on the other hand the people who hear these announcements are ordinary people, from the lower strata of Jewish society, in the small country of Palestine in the far eastern parts of the Roman Empire.
Luke emphasises how lowly these people were as he tells the story of Jesus’ birth. He mentions that the Roman emperor at the time was Caesar Augustus (2:1). In that day Augustus Caesar was the supreme and powerful leader of the world, the sole ruler of the mighty Roman Empire, at the peak of his prestige, fame and glory. Augustus declared a census, and the entire Roman world had to obey. In contrast, Luke focuses in on Joseph and Mary. Joseph is just a working man from Nazareth in Galilee. Mary is a woman, and therefore further down the social scale according to the values of that day. They are obscure and humble people, travelling to Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem, to register in the census.
At the very end and at the lowest point on the social scale is Jesus. He is just an infant, the poorest of the poor, as far from Caesar as anyone could possibly be. He was weak and vulnerable. There was no guest room available, so the baby had to be placed in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough, on the ground level of a house (2:7). This ground floor was often used for animals, while people who lived in the house normally stayed upstairs.
So Jesus was born in such lowly and humble surroundings. Yet he was infinitely above Caesar both in the majesty of his person and his dignity. He was the God of glory, whose splendour before he came to earth surpassed that even of those heavenly beings who announced his birth to Mary and the shepherds. Here is a baby. But he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, the supreme King. He is the immense God in an animal’s feeding trough. What a contrast! No wonder this story of Jesus’ birth so captivates the minds and imaginations of millions of people, in every generation, on Christmas Day!
This great contrast has enormous implications for us. The Bible tells us that Jesus descended from the peak of glory to his lowly position in order that he might raise us from our lowly position to his glory. The apostle Paul mentions this in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he writes: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’
The account of Jesus’ birth presented in the Bible is so incredibly engaging. One major reason for the attractiveness of the story is the contrasts. The mighty Son of God comes from heaven to earth, announced by awesome angels, with Augustus Caesar at the peak of his power and prestige. In contrast, the people who hear the announcements from angels are lowly folk like Joseph and Mary, and the shepherds. The newborn Jesus is born into humble surroundings, weak and obscure. These contrasts remind us that Jesus left his glory to give us glory. He became poor so we could become rich. This is the great paradox of the Christmas story. It’s the reversal of roles at God’s cost for our benefit. It’s like the acronym for GRACE: ‘God’s riches at Christ’s expense.’ G.R.A.C.E. – grace.
If we understand this contrast or paradox, it challenges us to live it out in our own lives. Jesus came into this world to include us in God’s blessings. He came to die for our sin on the cross so that we, who are unclean and unholy, might be cleansed of sin and made holy. After he died Jesus was raised from the dead, the mighty victor over sin and death. The grace of God in Christ is free. Just as we receive gifts at Christmas and thank the giver, so we can receive God’s love and forgiveness in Christ, and thank God for his generous gift of grace. If you haven’t taken that step yet, why not pray right now, and quietly invite Jesus Christ to come into your life, to be your Saviour and Lord. He came among ordinary people like Joseph and Mary and the shepherds, and he invites you to follow him and keep company with him.
Another implication of the contrast of the Christmas story is that if we do know Christ and love him, then we’ll reach out to others. The humble birth of Jesus challenges us to humble ourselves and give of ourselves to others. Jesus emptied himself for us. He laid aside his great glory to help those who need help. We should be willing and should actually help others at any season of the year, but at Christmas think especially of those who are left out of the joy that belongs to most of us. We have our families, our parties, our gifts, and our other good times. But our communities are literally filled with others who won’t be a part of these things, and so feel the loneliness of Christmas deeply.
‘Loneliness?’ you ask. ‘At Christmas?’ Yes, particularly at Christmas! For thousands, this is the worst time of the year. Some will be left to themselves and to sad memories. For some it will be the first Christmas since the death of a much loved husband or wife, son or daughter. Others have poor health, and they will be left out. Still others are separated from their families – foreign students in our country, those who have to work today, spouses who are divorced from their former spouse or children through the failure of their marriage. All these are left out. Is it possible for you to include one or two of these people in your Christmas Day? Perhaps a student, a nurse, a single person, some poor homeless person? Maybe you could make a phone call or send a text message or email? Perhaps you could walk a few doors down the street to say ‘Happy Christmas’ to someone who’s alone.
Christmas Day is a wonderful day to celebrate. We rejoice in the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me encourage you today to reflect on the amazing contrasts of the Christmas story. The glorious Son of God, proclaimed as King and Messiah by the awesome angels, was born in such lowly and humble surroundings – of poor parents, laid in an animal’s feeding trough. The paradox of the story should fill us with great joy and wonder – to recall that God has stooped so far to show his love and grace and mercy to ordinary people like us.
Let’s pray: ‘Loving God, our Heavenly Father, thank you for this day of celebration. We are grateful for the gift of your Son, the Lord Jesus. Show us today how we can humbly demonstrate love to others who might be lonely. In Christ’s name, Amen.’