[scriptural references are reprinted in full at the end of this post]
Christmas Day falling on a Sunday feels a little strange. It only happens once every six or seven years, so we only experience this around 10 times in a lifetime. And if you’re here in church on Christmas Day more than likely it’s because you were busy last night. You may have been traveling; you may have been working (in which case I want to say “thank you” for your service to others on Christmas Eve); you may have had house guests; you may have been volunteering here at the church and didn’t get to sit down during the Christmas Eve service. Or maybe you’re just here on Sunday morning looking for a quiet moment with God now that the holiday rush is over.
Christmas Day Sunday is, in one way or another, out of the ordinary. Last night the Christmas Eve service featured candlelight and choir songs, and extended families, and friends we hadn’t seen in a long time, and the sanctuary was warm and welcoming. The feeling was holy and mysterious as we celebrated the arrival of Emmanuel, God with us.
This morning the mood is different. Christmas morning feels almost like any other winter morning. Outside the sky is gray and the air is cold. Inside, the lights are on, the congregation is smaller than last night, the choir is sleeping in (except for the band – thank you for being here!). It could be disappointing – except that people who are here today are here for different reasons. We’re not here because of holiday tradition or because we’re trying to recapture the feeling of Christmases past. We’re here because we really want to start Christmas Day with the family of God, and with our newborn Savior.
Christmas Day Sunday is a ‘faith thing’. In the eyes of the secular culture around us Christmas is over now. The radio isn’t playing carols any more. The Christmas specials have come and gone, and the stores are reminding us it’s time to start shopping for Valentine’s Day. In the eyes of the world, Christmas is done and we’re on to the next thing. But in the eyes of faith, and in the eyes of God, the adventure of Christmas is just beginning.
This day – this ordinary day that feels almost like any other day – is exactly where Jesus chooses to meet us. Imagine what it was like in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, the morning after Jesus was born. Imagine the Holy Family, the morning after the angels sang, and the morning after the shepherds visited. The sun came up, just like any other day. The people of the world keep on doing whatever it is they do every day, most of them unaware that the course of history changed last night.
In a few days the wise men will visit Jesus and his family. They will refuse to tell King Herod where Jesus is, and Herod will commit one of the most infamous massacres in history, and Jesus and his family will become refugees in Egypt. For them, daily life will go on, ordinary day after ordinary day. That starry night when the angels sang will begin to recede into the distance of memory.
But for the next thirty years the song of the angels will linger in the minds of the shepherds who heard it. And the story will be told among the hill people of Judea. When John the Baptist starts his ministry, they will recognize echoes of angel-song in John’s words. And while kings and religious leaders carry on unaware that the King of Kings has arrived on the earth, the shepherds and the common people are watching for the words of the angels to come true. They will watch until Jesus finally starts his public ministry.
It is in the ordinary everyday that God’s plan unfolds.
And it is in the ordinary everyday that “The Song of Jesus” can be heard. This Advent season we’ve been looking at the different songs associated with Christmas: the angels’ song, Zechariah’s song, and so forth. Today I’d like to talk about Jesus’ song. When Jesus was a baby in the manger, he had a cry rather than a song – which I think is part of his song – but if one could put into words the song Jesus sings throughout his life and ministry, throughout history, it would be “I love you… I love you… I love you.”
From the beginning of history to the end, from Genesis to Revelation, Jesus sings to us a song of love with his life.
From the very beginning of history… The apostle John says:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him… […] 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to… his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God….”
From the very beginning, Jesus was rejected by the people he helped to create. But Jesus still comes to us in love, giving power to become children of God to any who will receive him.
As we continue through the Biblical story, in the book of Isaiah, the prophet writes:
“Thus says the LORD, he who created you… he who formed you… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God…your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3, edited)
Here in the middle of the story God’s people still rebel against God and ignore the invitation. And the world carries on like nothing has happened.
And a little further along the story, the prophet Zephaniah gives us a vision of God’s love. He writes:
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; […] he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing…” (Zephaniah 3:14-18, edited)
Even in the Old Testament, this is Jesus’ song. God will take away our shame. God will turn away all enemies. And Jesus will sing… over us!
And all these words – from the beginning, from Isaiah, from Zephaniah – come together and become physical reality on Christmas Day.
And at the very end of the story, at the end of history, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John writes:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes…” Revelation 21:3-4 (edited)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:13-16)
And the apostle John adds:
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:17, 20)
From beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation, the song Jesus sings is a love song. God loves you. Jesus loves you. The Spirit calls you and says “Come”.
The Advent season is the season in which we live our lives: the now and the not yet. God is with us, but Jesus’ kingdom is still coming; and the world is still doing business as usual, unaware of what’s happening in Bethlehem.
Today, Christmas Day, is not just the end of Advent. It is the beginning of the completion of God’s plan. And above all it is Jesus’ love song to us. And so we sing love songs in reply – and for right this moment, using words written by Ray Charles:
“He is born, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord, King of Kings
Prince of Peace, for all the universe
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.” – Zephaniah 3:14-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:1-13
Preached at Spencer United Methodist Church, 12/25/16