It was 29 and a half years ago that my first son, Philip, was born. My second son, Matthew, just 28 years ago. And as any parent of a new-born will tell you – having a baby – well – it’s kind of a big deal.
But I remember the joy Nancy and I experienced! Well – for Nancy joy – and relief! I remember at first feeling somewhat awkward – I didn’t know what to do. Could I touch him? Could I hold him? Could I tell him how long I had waited for this moment? And when Matthew came along 18 months later – it was another joy – and relief.
Most of you know – as Nancy and I do – that a child changes everything.
And that’s why you’re here tonight. It’s kind of a big deal! You’re here tonight because you know that not only does a child change everything – you know that this child – this baby whose birth we celebrate and remember tonight – the birth of Jesus the Christ over 2000 years ago – it’s kind of a big deal because it changed everything.
When the future king of England – Prince George – was born back in July – the whole world heard about it – and watched on the news. But when Jesus was born – he came without fanfare. No flags waving. No trumpets blaring. Yes – there was the angelic chorus who made the announcement to shepherds – but still – his was a simple birth in an out of the way place called Bethlehem. Born on the dirt floor of a filthy stable. Placed in a feeding trough for farm animals. That’s the Christmas story. That’s the story we know. But the story of Jesus – the complete story of Christmas – is so much more than shepherds and angels and wise men. This is more than just a cute story of a cute baby born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.
His birth is different than any other birth. Why is that? Glad you asked. Let me tell you why.
In Jesus Christ God has come to earth. And the fact that God has come to earth in the person of His Son Jesus Christ tells me that God has not given up on us. Did you know that? God has not given up on you.
God could have given up. He could have abandoned us and His entire creation. He could have started all over somewhere else. But He didn’t. He loves us. So he came to earth to be like one of us. And through the life that Jesus lived – and the death he died – and the fact that he is raised from the dead means that God’s love is kind of a big deal.
What does the Bible say? “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” Kind of a big deal.
God loves the world. God loves this world that He created. He’s not going to abandon it. He’s not going to abandon you. No matter what’s going on in your life right now – God’s not going to abandon you. And I know that some of you are struggling. With finances. With a broken relationship. With illness. With loss. With grief. You’re out of a job or you’re struggling in school. Or maybe you’re just not sure about this whole Jesus thing. Maybe you don’t even know why you’re here tonight.
The whole purpose of tonight is to remind us that in Jesus Christ God has come to us. He wants to be with us. He wants to be with you. And through the person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit – we can get to know him. Not just know about him – but to get to know him. And in getting to know him – he can touch our hearts and change our lives.
Look. Just about everybody – whether they are believers or not – just about everybody knows the story that we are telling tonight. But let me tell you something. Knowing about God – knowing about Jesus – or just knowing the Christmas story about his birth in Bethlehem is not enough. We can know him.
That’s one of the things that Jesus prayed for – that we might know him. In the Garden before His arrest, he prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
In the Old Testament, God is known as the great “I AM.” In the New Testament Jesus comes along – and he changes the message to “I am here.” You see, this God that we worship – this God who reveals Himself in the person of Jesus Christ – is not a God who is somewhere way out there. No. The Christmas message says, “I am here, and I want to show you how to know me.”
So you see, you can know him. You can get to know him. But just how do you do that? Again – glad you asked. First he comes to us in His word – the Bible. He comes to us in his holy supper. He comes to us in our fellowship. Remember what Jesus Said?
“Wherever two or three [or more] are gathered together in my name – there I am in the midst of them.” And because we can know him – not just know about him – not just know the story of his birth – he can effect real change in our lives. If we let him.
The problem is, however, that sometimes the only one who really wants change is a wet baby. We don’t always like change.
But the fact remains that Jesus Christ makes a difference in your life and mine. I like what the Bible says in 2 Corinthians. “So if anyone is in Christ, that man – that woman – is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 5:17)
At this time of year, we are treated to a great number of Christmas specials on TV. One favorite is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” So when I say the name “Ebenezer Scrooge,” what comes to mind? Let me read to you something written by a man named Steve Goodier.
He says, “I have a friend who used to teach literature to high school students. He once told me how maligned the name of Ebenezer Scrooge has become. ‘Dickens never meant for Scrooge to be a villain. Yes, Scrooge was a miser and disliked by pretty much everybody. But my friend reminds me that the story doesn't end there. It doesn't end with Scrooge dying a miserable and lonely death. The point of the story is that Scrooge WAKES UP. After the restless night of ghost visitations, he wakes up and decides that things truly can be different. He can choose to be compassionate, generous and happy. He understands that he can behave toward others in a different way. He can look at things differently. His miserable past does not need to determine his future. It’s an amazing story of grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – grace, repentance and forgiveness – which lead to a life that was changed.
“His life story illustrates the words of George Elliot: ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’
“‘To this day, the name of Scrooge is synonymous with somebody stingy and selfish when it should be just the opposite. Scrooge woke up and made different decisions. He lived the rest of his life a model of generosity and joy and goodwill toward all. Nobody ever ‘kept Christmas,’ Dickens tells us, like Ebenezer Scrooge.
And then Goodier goes on to say, “I regularly remind myself that it is not too late to be what I might have been. And I'm learning that anything can happen...when I wake up and make different decisions.”
Yes, I know, “A Christmas Carol” and Ebenezer Scrooge are works of fiction. But the point should not be missed. The purpose of Christmas – the birth of the Christ child – is to show us just how much the Father does love us. How much the Father does love you. And that we can get to know him – not just know about him. And that he came for a purpose – to make himself known to us – to forgive us – to welcome us into his Kingdom – and like Ebenezer Scrooge – live lives that are different from our old way of life – not just to realize that we are forgiven – BUT also to give us a home in heaven – a home with God forever.
That’s what this night is all about. The Christmas story that we tell here is a wakeup call. It’s a call for us to WAKE UP! And that’s why we tell the story – and will keep on telling the story. The whole story of Jesus. We tell the story – because his story can change your story.
The angels shout the story to the shepherds. But it is up to the shepherds to decide what to do with it. You have heard the story tonight. What will you do with it? You can listen to it, and leave it behind when you leave here tonight. Or you can let yourself be embraced by it. You can let Jesus make a difference for your life now and for the life to come. Eternity hangs in the balance.
So yes, we are named – we are claimed – we are welcomed into the Kingdom of God in the waters of baptism – but still there is that moment – or more likely a long series of “aha” moments – when the meaning becomes clear. When the purpose of the Christmas story takes on meaning – again, more than just a cute story about a cute baby born in Bethlehem – when you and I have those “aha” moments when the message becomes real.
So when you leave here tonight, I don’t want you to say, “Wow! Wasn’t that a wonderful Christmas Eve service!” I want you to say, “Wow! Don’t we have a wonderful Savior!”
You see – something very special happened in our world two thousand years ago. A baby was born in Bethlehem, a baby who makes it possible for us to know and to love God. And if you’re willing – he can and he will make a difference in your life.
Yeah! It’s that kind of a big deal Amen