Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
December 24th, 10 AM, 2017
Luke 1: 26-38
“Name Him Jesus”
“Hear now the mystical, yet majestic accounting of the mother of the child named Jesus. This text is from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter one, verses 26 thru 38 as found in our New Testament.”
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the ‘Most High’, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the ‘Most High’ will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
“Let us not be fearful of this miraculous account, as the birth of the Christ Child is surely a miracle to behold!”
The angel Gabriel presents us with the news, the news which announces to us and to Mary, that she is to give birth to the baby Jesus. As this takes place, we must cling to the ‘miracle’ which is bestowed upon her. New life is never short of a miracle! Surely, joy ought to jump right into the core of our hearts, upon learning that God has graced us with the seed of new life, to develop and grow within our family! As an expectant parent, there can be: nothing short of hope, for the possibilities a new child may bring into the world and into your own life. Yes, this is a time of rejoicing! It is a time to allow love, at every level, to ring out in our hearts! Let us celebrate the love of God’s grace which is being bestowed upon the mother to be! Let us allow the rejoicing to last a good long time; celebrating the joyful moments, the joy of the child’s birth, and all the wonderful things that the miracle of new life brings! At such a time, it is not proper to begin wringing one’s hands at all the impractical realities that could be looming all around. If as young adults, when starting a new family, if we were to focus only on the possible trials and tribulations, as-well-as the oftentimes harsh realities that go with raising a child in this time, at this point in history, we might get cold feet and not venture forth… into such unchartered waters! What a tragedy this would be! No, mercy no, God wants us to multiply and grow our families, relying a bit on God’s grace and mercy to carry us through the difficult times. This is a fact, this is the way it is, and always has been and shall always be! Nonetheless, new birth is nothing short of a miracle! So, let us celebrate new life, as there will be plenty of time left for the full array of other emotions, which such a time as this also brings!
For me and my wife, Lois, Christmas is a time to rejoice with our children, our grandchildren, and the great grandchildren yet to be! Christmas is of course, all about birth, new life and the gift of God’s love. Every child’s birth brings with it a set of new possibilities, new hopes, new dreams. And once a child is born, no mother, no parent could possibly imagine life without this unique and special baby as they are held in a mother’s arms. Everything changes for everyone associated with the child’s birth, the child’s life. Will the child grow up to be a teacher, a Rabbi, a butcher or a humble carpenter! In the case of Mary’s child, we know that his birth changes everything. Over two thousand years later, virtually everyone has heard of Jesus. His teachings are honored and have reshaped societies around the world! Millions upon millions worship him and most of humankind is aware of the Christian celebration of his birth! Not every child has such an impact! Yet, every child impacts exponentially every life it interacts with, personally or through his or her actions!
For us modern Christians and non-Christians alike, Christmas is way more than simply the birth of a child named Jesus so long, long ago. Not only has Christmas become a major event for retailers and our American economy, it has also become a major trigger for human emotions! For millions, this event called Christmas awakens memories that are held deep down in our hearts, deep within our very souls. We each have our list of names, each bringing forth all sorts of memories. To express them all at the same time would most certainly be overwhelming, to say the least! Yet, for some, this is exactly what happens. Prompted by strong public emotions of joy and excitement, Christmas is a time when we lift-up all types of special memories. With this reality clearly hovering in and around us we need to be diligent about caring for our personal needs; needs which revolve amidst our human emotions. We need to continue to allow God to feed our spirits with divine love. Each one of us needs to turn to God in prayer, asking for the grace to keep Christ’s birth central in our thoughts, ever reminding us that we are not alone, reminding us that God’s love still reaches out to us every day.
Grounded in in our faith and standing amid our human emotions and realities, we can savor the fulness of this special time. Let us reflect for a moment on just how amazing this season is. Have you taken time to note how many ‘opportunities’ this time of Christmas brings for us? Have we grasped these openings’ and these occasions to feel the love of others all around us? Twice this week, I stepped into a line of shoppers at the grocery store with one or two items in my hands and someone invited me to go in front of them. They were genuinely smiling and friendly as they did so. Sure, this happens now and then over the years… but twice in the same week! Ha! It has got to be this Christmas ‘Cheer” thing! Surely, it is apparent that Christmas brings out the good in others! Have you ever dreamed about what it could be like if everyone acted like it was Christmas all year long? What a dream come true that would be! People sending nice greetings through the mail and our picking these beautiful loving and joyful cards from our mailboxes every day! Wow! Wouldn’t that be grand! The love, the friendliness and the good nature of everyone bubbling forth everyday of the year! Wow! That would really be a miracle!
If only everyday could be like this one:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, ….
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
/Night Before Christmas by Major Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828)/
It is OK to dream. It is Christmas Eve and the forth Sunday of Advent all at the same time! We are lifting-up God’s love and acknowledging the “Light’ of Christ all on the same day! What could be better than to consider that every day, every season could be like this! What dreams do you have? Do you dream about new hope? Do you dream about something special all wrapped up under your Christmas tree? Do you dream that love will surely flourish after the last ribbon and bow is pulled from some fancy wrapped present? Do you dream that good will and good cheer could be found in your family and in your community, in abundance?
OK, I know, there are deeper things we may be dreaming of. Perhaps it is that broken connection between you and a friend, or perhaps even a member of your family. I know, we all know, Christmas also stirs up memories of happier times; times when that loved one was still here, sitting beside you. It is ok to touch those memories of past Christmas joy… reach out and let those memories flow into your heart. They are also essential to the fullness of your understanding of Christmas. Isn’t that the story line in the movie “A Christmas Carol?” Sure, you know the story: “A Christmas Carol is a 1938 American film adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1843 fable, starring … Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve after visitations by three spirits.” /Wikipedia/ Old Scrooge is forced to reflect on his own past Christmases when he was younger. Bringing back the true meaning of Christmas into his present life. Thereby giving him a second chance to live the true meaning of Christmas once more. Scrooge is given a new opportunity to honor his past-memories and change his future and that of those around him. Perhaps, in your memories are the ‘keys’ to some of that which haunts you presently. What better time than this… take a chance, the love of God is in this space. The Light of Christ shines brightly on this Christmas Eve!
One pastor puts it this way: “We may find and follow our dreams, but only God can fulfill an impossible dream. And that is not to say that dreamers ought to simply sit at life’s sideline while God does it all.” /Richard Wills, Sr./ No, God expects us to carry our fair share of burdens and to face our lives, taking responsibly for things about and around us, as adults, when the time comes. The story of Mary and her miraculous birth of the baby Jesus is an impossible story and we know that the burden of the Angel’s greeting and the news given to Mary that day, would bring about a tremendous responsibility in her life. Joy yes, miraculous yes, and filled with mystical awe and wonder to be sure. Yet, we know the full story and the burden of responsibility which came with this greeting from the angel named Gabriel! Mark Allan Powell a writer and a professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary writes: “Mary turns out to be not simply the mother of Jesus but an ideal role model for all followers of Jesus: a servant of God who embodies faith and faithfulness.” Mary accepted the gift, the obligation, and the commission to bear the child, raising him amid the fullness of life… in the time and the place in which she lived. The birth of Jesus would most certainly fulfill her own dream, her very yearning for a child. Yet, the visit from the angel opened for Mary a whole new set of possibilities. Her heart must have leaped within her as she struggled to accept and understand it all!
It has often been said: “Nothing is too wonderful to be true.” /Ron Hansen, Daniel B. Clendenin/ Christmas is a miracle. Christmas is the promise of God’s eternal love, yesterday, today and tomorrow! Allow your hearts to soar. Dream the impossible dream. Allow memories and dreams of Christmas to fill your hearts.