Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Thursday Dec 24th 2015 - / Luke 2:1-14 / Is Christmas Just Another Day? (Christmas Eve)
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Luke 2:1-14 - Is Christmas Just Another Day? Thursday December 24th (Christmas Eve)
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 great 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 Saviour, 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!”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. As you might imagine I say Merry Christmas to people and I like hearing people say it to me. Earlier this week I was in line at Tim Horton's to get a coffee and there were two people ahead of me, they were together - a man and a woman - co-workers. The cheerful Pilipino lady behind the till wished them a Merry Christmas and the man shot back at her, rather more gruffly than he needed to, "It's just another day ... Christmas is just another day," The woman with him, his co-worker seemed amused, the cheerful Pilipino lady behind the till was crushed, his words had hurt her and worse yet he didn't seem to realize it, they took their coffee and left.
Those words, "It's just another day ... Christmas is just another day," they were cynical. They were a sort of low-grade-bah-humbug: We'll come back to them - for now let's skip ahead, past Christmas, past Jesus' public ministry, past Holy Week and the Crucifixion on Good Friday, past the Easter Morning resurrection of Jesus and Jesus' Ascension, past the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Past all of it.
Jesus' apostles are in Jerusalem preaching and teaching at the temple, infuriated by this the High Priests and the Sadducees put them in the public prison and command them to stop preaching and teaching in Jesus' name, but in the night they were released from their prison by an angel who says, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life, [this Christ, this Jesus]” so they do and again they are arrested and again they find themselves, "before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this [man Jesus'] blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
When [the high priest and the council] heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honour by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to [the council], “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then [the apostles] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name [of Jesus the Christ].
Gamaliel's approach is similar to the guy in the coffee shop that I mentioned, the "It's just another day ... Christmas is just another day," guy. Gamaliel says this man Jesus and His followers are just like the rest ... leave it alone and it will eventually all just go away - Nothing to see here folks, just move along - He is a little different than the guy in the coffee shop though, especially when he says, 'but if this plan, or this undertaking, is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!' So here we are, it's been about 2,000 years and there are no Jewish High Priests any more, the temple that Peter and the Apostles were preaching and teaching in is all but gone, the Roman Empire fell over 1,000 years ago, kingdoms have come and gone and yet Jesus has remained.
If you were listening very closely to what that man Gamaliel had said you'll have noticed something in what he said that is Christmas Story adjacent, it's right there next to the Christmas Story helping paint a clearer picture of the time in which Jesus was born, "After [Theudas] Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered." In the days of the census, that would be the same census that we heard about in the Gospel lesson from the Gospel of Luke this evening, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." The baby Jesus was born in the shadow of a failed uprising, in the shadow of some Galilean man named Judas, and that Judas - not Judas Iscariot - wasn't the first man to come along as a "messiah." The shepherds in our Gospel reading, and really everyone in the area, would have heard of this Judas and all the other false messiah's before them. Would Jesus be any different or would He be just like the rest?
So for the Shepherds who were tending their sheep on the rocky hills that encircle Bethlehem, the day Jesus was born would have been, "just another day," or at least it would have been "just another day," that morning and "just another day," that afternoon and "just another day," that evening as they settled into the night, and they would have been looking forward to the morning which would likely have been "just another day," again ... except Luke in his Gospel tells us that that night, the night Jesus was born, was not simply "just another day." In that dark sky, "an angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great 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 Saviour, 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!”
And what did the shepherds say, what did they do? Did they say, "It's just another day," did they quietly go back to huddling around their fire, maybe go back to sleep? No. "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."
Not long ago I had the opportunity to be in Bethlehem with Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR) and in Bethlehem there is a church called Christmas Lutheran Church and connected to the church is a Lutheran college and underneath the college they found a 1st century home. A house from the time of our Gospel reading, from the time Jesus was born. Now was it the very house Jesus was born in? Could have been ... but it's very unlikely, it was however an excellent example of what Jesus' surroundings would have been like that night.
Most of the houses in Bethlehem at that time would have had an attached stable (like an attached garage) - really just another area in the house that the animals could be penned up in overnight, and while it doesn't get as cold there as it does here, the animals would provide heat to the whole house as the family slept.
Now because of the census the population of Bethlehem would have swelled and when the text says that the Virgin Mary, "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." We're not talking about a Holiday-Inn-Express that they couldn't get into, think of it more like Uber for houses, a sort of "bed and breakfast," sort of situation. Everyone would have had to have opened their houses up to the people streaming into town. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus that night just ended up with the short end of the stick, yes they had a roof over their heads but they didn't get the guest room - they got the animal pen. And the Manger wasn't this wooden sort of thing, it was a stone alcove built into the wall of that part of the house.
Thanks for all the neat details you say ... but what does this have to do with anything? Well think about it. In the dark of that night the shepherds came in from the hillside and basically would have had to go door to door to every house and wake everyone up thumping on the door to ask ... "hey did any women in your house give birth to a Baby Today?" They would have to do that over and over explaining what the angel had said to them over and over until they found the house where Mary and Joseph were huddled with the animals next to the stone manger and the baby Jesus ... just as the angel had told them.
When they saw the angel and the rest of the angels, when they heard their words, when they rushed down the rocky hillsides and pounded on door after door they were most certainly not having "just another day," plus shepherds weren't well respected at the time, they were looked upon with a certain amount of scorn and there would be people who might not even answer the door for fear of them especially at night, arriving unexpectedly; and the shepherds would have known that, so they would have had to set all of that aside to find the Baby, who the angels said was the, "Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
Motivated by the angels they would have basically been "Merry-Christmas-ing!" every house they came to until they found Jesus, they would have been saying "today is not just another day! Today the Christ is born!" And like the Gospel of Luke says, "all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them."
So back in the coffee shop earlier this week, the man and his co-workers leave with their coffee and I walk up and get my coffee, and when the Pilipino lady behind the till gave me my coffee she began to say, "have a nice day," but I stopped her and said "Merry Christmas," and she smiled, a big smile, and said, "Merry Christmas to you too!"
Maybe you've been the, "It's just another day ... Christmas is just another day," guy. Perhaps you've had to work on Christmas or maybe all the lights and jingle-bells get on your nerves, maybe Christmas is hard because you lost someone you love, or your family is aggravating. If that's been you, if it's you right now, remember that the day Jesus was born was not just another day, it was the day God came to live our life, to put up with the pain of death, the grief of lost loved ones, the ugliness of sin, the aggravating nature of life in this fallen world. Jesus experienced firsthand the emotions you feel, the day in and day out life we lead. Yet where we fail at living our lives perfectly He lived His perfectly and He gives His life to you - from His Conception, to His Birth, to His Death, to His Resurrection - He gives His life to you as a gift. A perfect gift of complete forgiveness and loving patience and it's all yours. If you're genuinely miserable today, remember the saying "misery loves company" and Jesus came into the misery to keep you company, to keep us company.
Now if it's more than that - if you've been caught, if you've caught yourself, being an ingrate toward Jesus, an ungrateful person, remember Christmas isn't about colourful lights and jingle-bells, it's not about having "perfect" family time or even "quality" family time with each other - though that's very nice when it happens - Christmas is about being adopted into God's Family, it's about the birth of your Brother Jesus - your perfect Brother who covers your sins, forgives your sins and saves you. Who presents you, presents me, to our Heavenly Father washed clean of the misery, sins and sadness's of life. The true Joy of Christmas is in having the knowledge, faith, hope and trust, in the fact that the day Jesus was born was not "just another day," next to His resurrection from the dead it is the best day and this is what we celebrate today, and tomorrow and the whole season of Christmas, so "Merry Christmas to you and to yours," and take courage: feel free to wish people a Merry Christmas - Christmas Day is only the first Day of Christmas! You get 12 Days! So go on and tell the world about your perfect Brother Jesus and His exceptional birth and the eternal salvation He won for you, the eternal salvation He graciously gives to us all. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Acts 5:20
 Acts 5:27-41
 Luke 2:1
 Luke 2:15-20