For generations Christians have celebrated the birth of our Lord by worshipping together on Christmas Eve. The word “Christmas” is a shortened form of “Christ’s Mass.”
This evening’s message is the fifth in a 6-part sermon series called “Hope Is On the Way,” during which we are considering how the past and future colliding in the present give us hope for today. Psalm 33:20 is our theme Scripture: “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Tonight’s theme is hoping in the truth that we “see” by way of faith.”
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
This past Friday evening another couple in our church invited Caroline and I to join them at the Croswell Opera House for the second annual “Carols and Candlelight.” It was truly a delightful evening as we listened to local professionals sing a wide variety of Christmas songs in a very intimate setting. At one point during the show I looked around and thought to myself that had we not been invited here, we’d be at home at that moment, totally clueless that such a wonderful event was taking place. This performance would still be happening, and it would be happening apart from us knowing about it. In other words, the reality of Friday’s show wasn’t dependent upon my awareness of it. And as I sat there I wondered how many thousands of people in the Adrian community had no idea this wonderful performance was taking place?
How about the night Jesus was born – how many were unaware of that event taking place? The answer: everybody in the world, except for a handful of Bethlehem shepherds, the owners of the barn in which Jesus was born, and maybe a midwife and a few others who happened to be around when the child was born. But other than that, everybody else in the world totally missed it. The God who spoke all of creation into existence, who holds the full expanse of space in the palm of his hands – all millions and millions of light years of it — had just taken on flesh and blood as a little baby boy. And for all intents and purposes, nobody knew about. The shepherds were awake to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth while the rest of the world was asleep – and missed it.
That the birth of Jesus occurred while the rest of the world “slept” is not insignificant. I think it says something about God’s personality. In one sense, there’s a bit of a dichotomy in God’s nature. On the one hand, he mandates our praise of and love for him. Psalm 150 decrees that we should “praise him for his acts of power” and “for his surpassing greatness” (v. 2) And the commandment Jesus identified as the most important one in the entire law tells us to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30). God deserves our greatest praise, and he knows it.
But even while he knows that there’s no other god like him in all creation, he nevertheless doesn’t force himself upon anyone. In a very real sense, he keeps a low profile. So low, in fact, that he’s easy to miss. And unfortunately, most of us miss seeing him at work on a daily basis. This week, an 8th grade boy at Lenawee Christian School went missing for most of last week. When he was located on Saturday, Facebook lit up right away with responses like, “Praise God!” and “Thank you, Jesus!” We easily see God in the big things, like finding a missing 8th grader after 5 days. Or the inexplicable disappearance of a tumor in a young girl. Or a young driver surviving after being in a car submerged upside down in a river of near-freezing water. It’s easy to see God at work in the big things.
But how about the less-obvious parts of life? Do we give God credit for the gentle snow fall? Or the teething baby? Or when you find a parking spot right outside the store when all the other spots are already taken? Or when you’re able to get that bad stain out of your new garment? The truth is, God’s constantly at work all around us, and most of the time we’re clueless about it.
How about in life’s challenges? Some of you are laboring through your first Christmas without a beloved spouse, or child, or parent, and this season of peace and joy feels like anything but peaceful or joyful. The question is, are you intentionally keeping eyes open so that you’re able to see God at work in the midst of your grief? Because he’s there…at work…in your painful circumstances…speaking words of hope into the ears of your heart. He really is!
How about in our national life? Do you believe God’s at work even in the midst of political gridlock, grandstanding, and policy fights? It’s my belief that no issue in human life is outside of God’s touch, even our politics.
Big things, seemingly insignificant things, and everything in between – God’s involved and he’s right there beside us all along. And the call, if you will, is for us to open our eyes to the truth of God with us. “God with us” – that’s what the name Immanuel means. And that’s one of the names of Messiah. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Matthew – the writer of the Gospel by his name – said that Jesus’ birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us.’)” (Mt. 1.23). So, the call for all of us is to open our eyes to the truth of God with us, seeing and living in that hope, even when others don’t see it.
My guess is that you’re here this evening because deep down you know there’s something significant about our Lord’s birth. There’s something about it that’s worth putting the busy-ness of this day on hold in order to not only acknowledge it, but also give thanks for it. We’re here this evening because we recognize the fact that Jesus’ quiet and unassuming birth changed the world. And it’s changed us. Because of his birth, and life, and ultimately his death and resurrection, we’ve been offered the wonderful gift of our own resurrected life, a life which begins here-and-now and goes on for eternity with God. And it all started with the birth of a baby which the world almost missed were it not for a few shepherds and others whose names we’ll never know.
God’s at work in your life at this very moment. Please don’t miss it. Keep your eyes of your heart open to him, to see what he’s working out. And as you catch glimpse of what he’s doing, don’t forget to stop and give thanks. Thanks for sending his Son to be with us, and thanks for continually being with us through his Spirit. In him we find a never-ending well-spring of hope for all that lies ahead. Let’s pray.