Great Joy to All People – December 20, 2020, The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-14
December 20, 2020
When I read this story, it never ceases to amaze me. And this is why. In Luke chapter 2 – the “Christmas Story” – we see an amazing contrast in how the Lord of all creation, humbled himself to become a human being like us! To me, that’s mind boggling! I try to comprehend that, and I just can’t!
As I think about that, there’s no doubt that this is the most powerful example ever of humility. Nothing else even comes close! And as I think about it, it reminds me of the words of Paul in Philippians, which I read today. (And I’m grateful for my Bible search program!) Paul was trying to teach the people of that church the importance of humility in living the Christian life. And he uses Jesus as the greatest example. Here again are his words from Philippians 2.
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look, not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped – to be held on to, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
That’s the Christmas story! God, in Jesus, “emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” That’s the great contrast we see in this story! God humbled himself, and that’s enough to boggle the mind right there! But more than that, he came to this earth in this very lowly way. We see that in this story.
Luke tells us of the heavenly announcement of the birth of the Savior. Now thing about it. This is a momentous event! It’s a turning point in history! And it’s everything you might expect. Here, we have all the host of the angels in heaven singing “Glory to God in the highest!” But again, the contrast in this story is the amazing part! This heavenly announcement came to “shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” There’s no mention of a vision given to high priests or rulers or powers of this earth. It came only to shepherds, those who were seen as being fairly low on the social scale.
I do wonder, though, who else might have seen this vision. Was it somehow supernaturally directed only to these shepherds? Were they the only ones who were somehow made to see this? Or could anyone who looked to that part of the sky see it? Or at least see something?
Being an amateur astronomer, it’s always amazing to me that, when something happens in the night sky, I can describe it to my kids in Kansas City, or my Family in Tucson, and they can see it too. Or they’ll be able to see it as soon, as the earth turns a little more this way.
For instance, if you don’t know it yet, we have an important astronomical event happening right now. Jupiter and Saturn are approaching each other in the sky. And tomorrow night, December 21st, they will be at their closest conjunction in 800 years! That was the time of Galileo! I can picture him looking at that event through his crude telescope!
And some have speculated over the years, that this conjunction, or one like it, may have been the astronomical event that the Magi saw, that compelled them to go searching for the newborn king of the Jews!
By the way, my weather app says it should be clear that evening. So, go out and look in the high southwestern sky right as it gets dark. Remember, planets are always the first things you see in the night sky! (And if you look up and to the left, you’ll see Mars, too!)
But again, depending on the local weather, I, my kids, and my brother will all be able to see this at the same time, even though we’re thousands of miles apart. So, I wonder if the heavenly host of angels could be seen only by the shepherds, or could the people see it in Jerusalem? Maybe it was just a glow in the distant sky.
I think it’s possible they saw something. But this heavenly announcement, that told of the birth of the savior, was directed to these shepherds. And what were they told? This adds to the great contrast I’ve been talking about. “And this shall be the sign unto you. You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” Yes! The Savior! The Messiah! A baby in a manger! A food trough for animals!
What an incredible contrast! God emptying himself, humbling himself. “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
We might add to that contrast and say, “And he was born to a peasant woman, with a father who was a carpenter.” And some scholars say that the word “Carpenter” may have referred to one who tended the tools of a carpenter. That was a person who was even lower on the social scale! What an amazingly humble beginning for the Son of God.
Then, I think about how this baby grew up, and began his public ministry. And it’s no wonder that he was not well accepted by the aristocracy and those who held high social status. They who were the high priests and prominent rabbis of the time looked with scorn on this “rabbi Jesus,” born of lowly status, choosing fishermen to be his disciples!
That reminds me of the story of William Tennant. Do you remember him? William Tennant was the pastor of several churches in Bucks County over 300 years ago, including Bensalem Presbyterian, Neshaminy-Warwick, and Doylestown! And Tennant was looked down upon by the “established clergy” of the early 1700’s. They had all been trained in the ivy-covered, stone-walled institutions of the Old World. And here was this “upstart preacher,” in the Pennsylvania colony, training clergy in his rustic colonial building, which they referred to by the derogatory name “The Log College.” Yet, it was the students of William Tennant who went on to spark “The Great Awakening,” which was the greatest religious resurgence in the history of the New World! And it happened all right around here!
It’s been said that God rarely calls great people to do great things. He calls humble people to do great things! And that fits the paradigm he established long ago, with people like Moses, and Jeremiah, and David. And there was no greater example than that of Jesus Christ. “Who, though he was in the form of God, emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” And that humility has ever been hallmark of God’s kingdom. Jesus himself taught that “The last shall be first, and the first last.” And “He who would be great among you must be a servant – like me!”
As we think about that humility, exemplified by Jesus, and taught by Paul, I hope we also hear the power of the second part of the angel’s song. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, and goodwill among men.”
Boy, is that a message we need to hear today! Our world longs for peace. And I don’t mean peace only as in “the absence of warfare.” I mean peace that goes hand in hand with goodwill! And of course, I mean inner peace – peace of mind, peace in our hearts, no matter what the circumstances of life. You’ve heard me say that many times.
The world is in such desperate need of that peace. It so needs “peace and goodwill among men.” But that’s not easy! And let me tell you, there will never be peace without humility and compassion. When selfishness and conceit prevail and meekness is lost, when conquering and controlling is greater than caring, when power is more to be desired than love, there will be no true peace!
Jesus came to show us that. Paul pleaded for us to know that! And we, as God’s people, should know it best! As we look forward to the new year, it is my prayer that we will live that peace and goodwill in our lives. And may it grow in our world throughout the year, and not just as part of this Christmas story. May we remember this amazing contrast in the birth of our Savior, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Eternal God, we give you glory and praise, as did the angel host on that night long ago. May we know the peace that he came to bring, and may we grow in the compassion he lived. May we have the strength to be the humble, loving people he has called us to be. For we pray in his name, Amen.