We are here tonight to tell a story. It’s the story that most of us know well. And we never get tired of hearing it. And quite frankly, I never get tired of telling it. And I’ll tell you why. This story is not just any story. It is not myth. It is not legend. We tell the story tonight because it is my firm belief that this story – His story – the story of Jesus has the power to change your story.
And I’m not just talking about the Christmas story. There’s so much more to Jesus’ story than just what we know about Mary and Joseph, of shepherds and angels, of mangers and no room in the inn. We know that story. As I say, I love to tell it. I love to hear it.
By the way – have you ever stopped – I mean really stopped – and wondered – why in the world is there such a thing as Christmas anyway? Why? Did somebody make these stories up? If so, then why do we keep on telling these same stories year after year after year?
I mean, if you and I were to make up a story about the eternal God entering into the world as a human being, we probably would have written a different kind of story. We would have written a story about the conquering hero on the white horse that everyone in first century Palestine expected the Messiah to be. That’s how the story would have been told – if the story had been made up!
And yet we are told that he arrived on earth as a baby. He came without fanfare. No flags waving. No trumpets blaring. Just a simple birth in an out of the way place called Bethlehem. Born on the dirt floor of a filthy stable. Placed in a manger – a feeding trough for farm animals. That’s the Christmas story. But the story of Jesus – the complete story of Christmas – is so much more than that. So this is not just a Christmas story. This is God’s story.
You see, Christmas begins in the heart of God. God sent His Son – in a way that you and I might never have imagined. Think about it. What better way for God to enter into the human story? To be like one of us! You see, there’s something about a baby that changes everything.
Bret Harte, in his classic short story "The Luck of Roaring Camp," tells of the birth of a baby on the American frontier – a baby that made a radical change in a rough-and-tumble mining camp. The only woman in the camp, Cherokee Sal, a disreputable woman at best, died in childbirth, leaving a healthy baby boy to be raised by the now all-male camp.
These rough, hard men made a decision that would reflect changes that would come later. They considered hiring a woman nurse to care for the baby but eventually decided not to. Their logic was this: a nice nurse wouldn't come to their camp, and they didn't want any more women who weren't nice hanging around their baby. And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp.
The cabin assigned to little "Tommy Luck," as they called him, was kept scrupulously clean and whitewashed. The beautiful rosewood cradle that they purchased for the baby made the rest of the cabin look shabby, so they had to fix up the rest of the furniture in the room. Then a quarantine was imposed on those who wanted to hold little Tommy Luck, so the men had to bathe first – before they would be given that privilege.
Each act of cleanliness exposed that much more dirt and filth in the vicinity, so that new measures were taken to keep an ever-wider expanse of the camp clean. Since the baby needed rest, the camp became quieter and more dignified, less noisy and boisterous, no longer the "Roaring Camp" of the story's title.
The story of the baby of Roaring Camp is the story of the regeneration of a people. A baby changed the whole atmosphere of the Roaring Camp. So it was two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. A baby changed the atmosphere for all who have come to know him.
Folks, we live in challenging times. Fiscal cliffs. Violent overthrows of governments. The tragedy of Newtown Connecticut. It’s still fresh in our minds. Still raw. This darkness. The human condition has always had its share of darkness. Life under Rome in first Century Palestine was hard. But it was into this setting that God stepped into the world. And when God stepped in, love stepped in. Hope stepped into the world. Into the darkness of this world – light entered into this world – the night that God stepped into the world.
Isaiah 9 tells us that “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Folks – that’s what this night is all about.
Now, quite frankly, we don’t know exactly when it was that Jesus was born. One of the reasons given for choosing the 25th of December was that it occurs at the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And that’s important for us to know. Because it was – it is – into the darkness that Jesus comes. Into our darkness Jesus comes to us tonight. And there isn’t a one of us here tonight who does not know what it is to walk in darkness at some time in our lives. Loneliness, pain, grief, confusion, heartache.
Now I don’t know what might be going on in each one of your lives right now. But let me tell you that if you are experiencing any darkness in your life, there is a light. In Jesus Christ – God chooses to push back against the darkness. I think we need to hear, that tonight God is here to push back against the forces of darkness. Jesus comes to us as light. As hope. And let me tell you something. That light never dims. That light never goes out.
Let me share with you another story. “On The Protestant Hour sometime back, the Rev. Harry H. Pritchett, Jr., told about the worst nativity pageant he could ever remember. It was at the church where he grew up. The youth group was staging a manger scene. Pritchett was chosen to play Joseph and his future wife, Allison, was chosen to play Mary. They did their parts with seriousness and commitment, looking as pious as possible. And then it came time for the shepherds to enter.
“The choir was singing ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night,’ and some of their fellow young people dressed in flannel bathrobes and toweled head gear proceeded to the altar steps. Young Pritchett and Allison both managed to gaze solemnly at the straw which contained a naked light bulb. But then one of the shepherds broke the sacred spell. With his back to the congregation, he said in a very loud whisper for all the cast to hear, ‘Well, Joe, when you gonna pass out cigars?’
“The spell of that occasion was not simply broken by his remark, it exploded. The Mary and Joseph cover was completely destroyed as it became impossible to hold back the bursts of laughter. The chief angel, standing on a chair behind them was the worst. She shook so hard that she fell off her chair and simply rolled over on the floor, holding her stomach.
“The strains of “Silent Night” and “0 Little Town of Bethlehem” were hardly sufficient to cover the uncontrolled snorts of the main characters. Their much upset but good‑sported youth advisor said, ‘The only thing that didn’t go to pieces was the light bulb in the manger, it never went out.’
“Harry Pritchett thought to himself later, that’s a nice image – the light in the manger never goes out regardless of any mess we may make of things.”
That light of Christ never goes out. No matter how dark or tragic events in the world seem to be. If you are experiencing a time of darkness in your life, there is hope. That hope is all because of Christmas. That hope comes to us tonight because God sent His Son Jesus to earth. As a baby. And as you know, a baby changes everything.
But you need to know that His story does not stop here. Jesus grew into a man. He brought light into our world. Showed us the way back to God. Died that we might be forgiven. And God raised Him from the dead. And because he lives, we can live also! I never get tired of telling that part of the story either.
Do you know what that means? We don’t need to live in fear. We don’t need to be afraid of death. We don’t need to fear the dark places of our lives – the dark places of this world. We were not meant to live in fear. Love is stronger than fear. Light is stronger than darkness.
When God stepped into the world, God’s story touched your story. God’s story has touches your story this night. And I am here to tell you tonight that His story can change your story. If you let Him, He will come into your life and turn your darkness into light.
Just invite him in. Into your heart. Into your life. Into your home. “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”