Christmas Eve 2019

Text: Luke 2:10-12 (NIV)

The angel said to them (the shepherds), “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

From heaven to hay

Let’s suppose that you are a visitor in Australia. You are interested in Australian politics and you know that our chief politician is the Prime Minister. You would like to meet him but you don’t know who he is or where to find him so you ask me for help.

I would say something like this, “This is what you need to look for. Go to Canberra and look for this large building with this huge Australian flag flying above it – that’s the Australian Parliament House. If you see someone in a suit welcoming some dignitaries from other countries with a lot of pomp and ceremony and speech-making, flanked by security men, journalists, TV and newspaper cameramen and reporters, that’s the Prime Minister.

An angel visited some shepherds near Bethlehem and gave them some signs to enable them to find a special baby in the nearby town. They were told that this child would bring great joy to all people. This child born in David’s town was the Saviour – the Son of the Most High God, a king like his ancestor David.

Then a great crowd of angels fill the sky and sing the praises of God at the birth of God’s Saviour into the world. What signs were the shepherds given to help them find this heavenly prince? They were told, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What a contrast this is to the usual signs of important people. If royalty were about to visit [name of town or city you are in], the signs would be evident. Newspapers and magazines would have photos and stories of the royal family and what preparations were taking place in the town. The streets would be tidied, the dignitaries of the shire would have the place where the royal reception was to take place spruced up and lessons would be given on protocol, what should be worn and how to address the royal family. Curious on-lookers who would want to catch a glimpse of the royal visitors would line the streets. The signs that someone important was arriving would be quite clear.

But when the Prince of Peace, the son of the Most High God, the Saviour of all humanity arrived in Bethlehem, the sign was “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”.

Let’s suppose that you were one of the shepherds and all that you know about this important child is what the angel had told you when he said, “This is the sign that will tell you that you have found the Saviour – Christ the Lord. You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying on a bed of hay in a feeding trough.”

You can imagine the shepherds talking about this angelic message on the way to Bethlehem and discussing what this was all about. But once they had seen the baby lying in a bed of hay in a manger, what the angel had told them about the baby made good sense and nothing could stop them telling Mary and Joseph and anyone they came across what the angels had said and what they seen in the manger.

What did the message of the angel tell them, and us, about Jesus?

Firstly, these words tell us something about his humanity. The angel announced that the shepherds were to look for a baby, a newborn child. He came into the world the same way as all of us. It is true that this baby’s conception took place in a miraculous way, but apart from that, Mary carried this child for the usual nine months, felt the movement of her unborn child, and experienced the pain of childbirth in the same way as all mothers do.

We are told that the baby Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth. In a world with little medical care, where babies often died before their first birthday, it was a way of providing a crude kind of protection. The Son of the Most High God was born as helpless and as vulnerable as any other child born at that time.

To say that Christ was born as a baby brings us face to face with the truth that Jesus was as human as you and I.Although he was fully and truly God from all eternity, the Son of God took on true humanity when he was conceived in Mary’s womb and born in Bethlehem. He was not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man. He did not cease to be God, but was at the same time fully human with the same emotions, same temptations, same physical needs, and same pain that we all experience.

Secondly, the words of the angel: “This very day in David’s town your Saviour is born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” told the shepherds something about the humble circumstances in which they will find this baby. They found the baby lying in a manger. In Bethlehem, there were probably a number of newborn babies wrapped in strips of cloth, but I’m sure that there was only one lying in an animal’s feeding trough. The mention of a manger indicates that Jesus was born in a stable, or a cave where animals were kept, or perhaps even in a very poor home where the animals lived inside the house with the family.

Before the birth of Jesus, the ancient writers never used the word “humble” as a compliment and would have certainly never referred to their gods as being “humble”. But the events of the first Christmas give us a picture of a “humble God” – an incomprehensible idea in the ancient world. Philip Yancey describes the humility of God in this way:

“The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind nor a devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become a single fertilised egg, barely visible to the human eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a foetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager. … God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food, and love” (The Jesus I Never Knew p 36).

There were no halos, no angels hovering over the stable, and no choirs singing in the background.

Maybe if you had been there you might have commented to another passer-by something about how terrible it was that this couple had brought a baby into the world and they only place they could lay the child was in an animal feed trough. Stables were dark, dirty, smelly places made for animals. The shepherds were told that they wouldn’t find the baby in a nursery but outside in a barn where the ground was covered with dirt and the air smelled of manure.

God does do some strange things some times. Occasionally he does strange things to get our attention – and he certainly got the attention of the shepherds. He always does strange things for a purpose. God became a human so that we could relate to him and so that people could experience the powerful love that God has for us.

God became human in order to save his people from their sins as the angel said to Joseph (Mt. 1.21). Beyond the cradle, see the cross. This baby in the hay was born for you and me. He was born because of God’s love for each of us. He was born into our world to bring us forgiveness and eternal life.

The island of Molokai is a part of Hawaii and has quite a history. Back in the late 1800’s there was no cure for the horrible disfiguring disease, leprosy. In order to keep it from spreading and creating an epidemic, lepers were sent to a colony on the island of Molokai.

In 1873, there was a young Belgian priest named Father Damien who volunteered to spend his life serving the people secluded on the island of Molokai. When he arrived, he was shocked to see the condition of the people. Not only were they physically sick but they were also disheartened. There was drunkenness, crime and an overall sense of hopelessness. They needed God’s presence in their lives. And so, in 1873, Father Damien lived among the 700 lepers, knowing the dangers, realizing the inevitable results of so much personal contact with a highly contagious disease. In fact, in 1885 at the age of 45 he himself contracted leprosy.

God has seen that we need his help. Sin has become a part of our lives and there is nothing we can do to free ourselves of its effect on us or our relationships. God was determined to do something about it. God loves us so much that he wanted to stop this procession toward death. Like Father Damien who made his home among the lepers to show them God’s love, God has made his home amongst us who have the leprosy of sin. 

He came to show us his love for us and to save us. He came down to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves – get rid of our sin and the punishment we deserve because of it. He came down and was born a human so that he could die for us. He wants us to be his and to live forever with him in heaven. We have a God who loves us, cares for us, forgives us and welcomes us into his kingdom.

The question that remains is – what is your response to this gift from God?

How is your life different because of what God has done for you?

The visit by the shepherds certainly had an impact in their lives. They couldn’t help but tell everyone they saw about what they had witnessed that evening both in the fields of Bethlehem and in the stable.

God came to earth to bring about change in our lives –to give us peace and hope in the face of difficulty, to clear away guilt for our sinful actions, to tear down old barriers and restore love and forgiveness between people. Let us also sing “Glory to God in the highest” We have our Saviour – Christ the Lord – who came down from heaven to be laid in hay!

Christmas Eve 2018

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is give. That child is Jesus, the son of the living God. Joy to the world, rejoice! This child who came all those years ago is the Prince of peace, The mighty, heroic God, wonderful counsellor. In Him is gladness, in spite of our sadness. Born that humans no more may die. About 30yrs after the events we are remembering tonight He declared, ‘repent and believe the Good News, the Kingdom of Heaven is near!’ (Mark 1:15). His kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness that lasts forever.

This is the reason for Mary’s great joy, the excitement of the shepherds and the singing of the angels all those years ago. The one to come had come. You, like the Israelites before you, struggle and suffer in this corrupt world. There are natural disasters, like the drought, there are people who see you as just another obstacle, there is death and the deterioration of your bodies, and there is your own selfish/sinful desires that destroy good steering you away from God the righteous. Here in the life of this world we are dying, enslaved to our evil desires. We need help! Jesus, The Lord, saves, bringing us into His wonderful peace and righteousness, rescuing us from the evils of this world and cleansing us from all sin. So we rejoice and celebrate thanking God for the marvel that He has done, taking on human form and living among His people; relating to us as we do to each other rather than the fire and blazing light that He revealed through the Old Testament. Now, in Christ through Baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can approach God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and ask Him for help because of His great love, mercy and zeal.

God keeps His promises, and thank God for that! He promised a son would be born, who would bring His kingdom to this world, and in Jesus He has done it! Thanks be to God! Now, you have some peace and assurance in Jesus, so continue to ask Him for all the help you need and rejoice when He gives it.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come. Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns. No more let sins and sorrows grow For He rules the world with truth and grace. And may His peace protect you now and forever. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham.

Christmas is a busy time

Isaiah 9:2-7


giftsAs the word of the Lord came to the prophet Isaiah, Israel was going through a dark time. The northern kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrian king and his forces. Many of the people of Israel were deported and replaced with foreigners from the Assyrian kingdom. For many in Israel it must have been unthinkable that God would allow Israel to be conquered by a foreign, pagan power.

In these dark, depressed times God speaks a word of promise. A great light appears to people walking in darkness. It can be argued that we, too, walk in dark times. We live in a world at war with terrorism. We live under the threat of weapons of mass destruction. There is poverty and injustice experienced by millions. So many people are living in spiritual darkness. Things may be bad. But there is hope .God has not abandoned his people. He is about to act. He will send the Messiah-King into the world to rescue all people from sin and death.

The prophet Isaiah mentions the titles that Lord God will give to his Messiah-King. Wonderful Counsellor,  Mighty God,  Everlasting Father,  Prince of Peace. Let’s have a look at these titles, one by one.

Wonderful Counsellor

A lot of people turn to human counsellors these days. Counsellors listen to people express their fears, misgivings, needs. Counsellors discuss various courses of action with their clients. Counsellors encourage their clients to make and own their final decisions. Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor. He knows the needs of every individual person. He is aware of the problems in people’s lives brought about by the sin disease. He knows the fears, troubles, disappointments experienced by people. From eternity God planned to send this Counsellor into the world. God laid out his plans and pointed to them in promises he made to the patriarchs and prophets. God promised that a Saviour would come into the world. These promises were fulfilled when  Jesus the Wonderful Counsellor arrived on the scene.

Mighty God

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. That’s the great news that we share at Christmas. And this child is no ordinary child. He is true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And yet he sets aside the power and glory that belong to him. He takes on the form of a human being. He is born in humble circumstances; he leads a holy life in obedience to God’s will; he suffers and dies on the cross to make payment for the sin and guilt of humanity; he rises from the dead and give eternal life to all who believe in him.   As we celebrate Christmas we see God showing might in the child in the manger at Bethlehem, in the man on the cross at Calvary, in the empty grave which once enclosed Jesus. Perhaps we might expect to hear the might of God in a big booming voice, to see God in the brimstone of fire and judgment. With the eye of faith, faith given by the Holy Spirit, you and I can confess that the child born in Bethlehem, is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. We bow the knee before this Jesus and say with St Paul:

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.
    (1 Timothy 3:16)

Everlasting Father

In the Book of Revelation we learn that John had a vision of Jesus. Jesus says: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:13) Jesus always was. The world and the universe has its origin in Jesus. In the Gospel St John states:  

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.   (John 1: 3)

We take our purpose and meaning from Jesus who is one with the Father.

Prince of Peace

Jesus came into the world to establish peace between his Father and sinful human beings. He accomplished this not with the aid of guns and tanks, not by purchasing our freedom with economic wealth, but by his death on the cross. Because of all that Jesus did for us, we now have peace with God.

Suppose that someone hands you a Christmas present and says: I am giving you this because I love you. After taking off the bright wrappings you find in the parcel a book with a title about self-improvement, and though it may contain some good advice, you may or may not appreciate such a gift given the innuendo it may bring of your status before the gift giver.

But the great loving gift that God offers is peace. In fact, Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who offers true and lasting peace to people. Unfortunately, many people do not want the peace that Jesus gives. Once again, as we celebrate Christmas, we thank God for the wonderful peace that Jesus gives, a peace which the world cannot give or take away.

Christmas is a busy time. There is the constant rush of Christmas parties and end of year activities. But it’s wonderful to be able to gather with Christians at church and focus on what Christmas is all about. It’s good to hear again the message of God’s love to us in Jesus. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.  He is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The love, joy and peace of Jesus be with you. Amen.