Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Luke.2.1-20; Christmas Eve; Candlelight Service; December 24, 2008

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20, ESV)

From a sermon by Tim Pauls.

“The Manger”

Go ahead-take a look inside. There's no need for you to be anxious or frightened. Go ahead-take a look: The angels already told you what you will find. You'll find “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Look there, inside and you’ll see glory, because God is there and wherever God is you’ll see glory. As you look think about the Exodus, when God led His people out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud and fire. Remember how he parted the Red Sea, and gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. There was fire and smoke and lightning. The glory of God can be a terrible and magnificent and wonderful thing. But, the angel said that there is better glory here. God ahead take a look.

Look again, there’s peace on earth there too; and right now with all the talk about war we sure could use some peace. There’s wars on foreign soil, rumors of wars, threats of terrorist attacks with biological and dirty bombs. Or nation is deeply involved in warfare. “Peace through strength,” people say. Peace is just what we need. Look there and see strong peace.

Look inside and you will see goodwill toward men. It’s a tall order these days to even find a “strong will.” Someone who’s willing to stand up against the prevailing culture and speak his mind. Tolerance and acceptance must be accepted at all cost, and disagreement is bigotry. Resolve and purpose are not qualities that are favored these days. And good will… well you’ll be looking for a long time to find someone who has unselfish good will. That really belongs to God alone. It’s ok, look in again. You’ll find good will to men there.

Look in the manger, right there. The angels told you what you’d find: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Look inside, what do you see? A baby? But, how can that baby be everything that we’ve been talking about. How can a baby bring help and solutions to the real problems in the world? When you look at a baby you might see hope for the future, but I’m not sure you see, peace and good will.

Babies don’t seem all that glorious either; especially this one, born in a manger with the smell of animals around. His mother is beaming, but the baby in a diaper, breathing quietly, isn’t a commercial for glory.

Maybe peace is found here. After all a sleeping baby may be quite peaceful, for the moment. But the peace can quickly end. Parents know that very well, as they sneak quietly around the house when their children are sleeping. No it doesn’t seem like peace is to be found here either. Not one that ends violence and trouble.

What about good will. You know as well as I do that babies have no will but their own. If your looking for strong resolve for the good of all mankind we don’t see it in a baby either.

You’ve left your flocks, your work behind and walk all the way here looking for what the angels told you you’d find. But you just found a baby. Of course he’s cute, just like any baby is. But the world is full of troubles and problems and you’ve got your share of them. You’ve got sin to deal with too. Satan always makes things harder than they should be. He fills your life with grief, because you all too often listen and believe what he says. Death is out there too keeping track of you. The clock is ticking and every day brings death closer. Babies can’t be of help with problems like that.

It’s time to understand that you are wrong. Instead of living by your ears, and believing what you’ve heard, your living by your eyes. “It’s just a baby!” your eyes tell you, and your experience tells you that babies aren’t much help at all. But your ears have heard differently. The angels sang to you “Glory to God in the highest!” They sang God’s Word to you. Listen to what you’ve heard instead of trusting your eyes.

This baby is glorious, just not terrifying. When God showed himself before he was also terrifying. The baby here hides his true glory in human flesh and blood. His purpose isn’t to terrify, he has come, instead to give glory to God the Father. He is glorious in that manger because he lives up to God’s standards of glory, not human standards. He is glorious in the manger because of what he will do, and because he has humbled himself to do it. His glory will come, as he lives and breaths, like every human being. His glory comes when he suffers and dies on the cross, for every human being. If you think his glory is hard to see now, just wait until he hangs there, on that cross-shaped throne.

This baby brings peace. Not peace through strength, like the world does. The world uses laws that only contain violence. But this baby will destroy evil. He won’t just slow down the devil; he’ll remove him from power completely. He will completely destroy Satan and the curse of sin. He will do that by sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world. That will bring peace between man and God.

And goodwill comes through this baby too. His will is a good will. He will do exactly what he has been sent to do. He will endure hunger in the wilderness, betrayal of his closest friends. He will feel the Roman scourge and the nails that will pierce his hands and feet. This baby is good and his will conform completely to the Father’s will. He is sent to suffer and die for you and for me.

So believe you’re ears, in spite of what your eyes may show you. Your ears have heard the angels song, they tell you what you will find in the manger: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Gloria in Excelsis

The good news sung by the angels is far too good to keep just for one day a year. We sing it often, most of the time when we gather for worship. It’s called the Gloria in Excelsis: “Glory to God in the highest.” We sing it all year round and it’s a way of keeping a little bit of Christmas all year round. You see we don’t want to forget the Glory of God found in the manger. We don’t want to forget the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. We sing it so that we remember.

As we’ve said before it’s not just past memory that we remember when we sing these songs of Immanuel. Of course, we rejoice in the Baby in the manger, he’s not there anymore, he grew up, walked among people, healing and teaching. We remember the price he paid for us on the cross, but he no longer hangs there either. We remember Jesus in the tomb, but the tomb is empty, He is risen! We remember in this song of Immanuel how he comes to us today, with glory. “God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

And we still need help: Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and the devil. But we still deal with their effects every day. Satan tempts us every day. Our weak sinful flesh battles us every day, wanting us to live in sin instead of the forgiveness won by Jesus. We look forward to the day when Jesus finishes what he has begun. We look forward when they are all sent into hell forever.

Jesus promises help for us. He is as much here as he was in that manger. He is God and man, the “Word made flesh.” When His Word is proclaimed He is there. When His Holy Supper is given He is there also. He is present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, and for strength and courage to live in the face of sin, death and Satan.

You struggle every day with temptation, sin and guilt and you will as long as you live. Listen to the angel’s hymn gain “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” It rings out to remind us that the Savior is here. He is here to bring peace and goodwill. He comes to you now to bring you the forgiveness he has won for you on the cross.

Today, Christmas day we do rejoice. We gather to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And even though we only see a baby in a manger, our ears have heard the true story. In that manger is God’s glory. He has come, himself, to bring peace and goodwill, and to reconcile you with God again.

Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. Amen.

The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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