Sunday, December 27, 2015
"Rejoice" Sermon: Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2015 Second Reformed Church
On Tuesday, I went to the bank, and there were two young men behind me – perhaps in their thirties, and the one young man said to the other, “I’m so sick of Christmas. I’m not going to celebrate Christmas next year. All this buying gifts for everybody is robbing me dry.”
I regret that I did not say anything, but I stood there thinking:
If he really thinks he has to give everybody gifts, he is not gift-giving; he’s fulfilling a perceived obligation. Because no one has to give a gift – in order for a gift to be a gift, it has to be given – just because you want to – not under any obligation. That’s why we don’t call our pay checks a “gift.” Our pay checks are not gifts – they’re obligations.
If I give you a gift, you should not feel under any obligation to give me a gift – and so forth. Gifts are given freely out of joy – if they are truly gifts.
And our gifts – I like the whole thing of gifts – especially “just because” – giving a gift because it gave me joy to give it and there was no specific date or reason. And our gifts – to an extent – mirror the gifts of God – and especially the Greatest Gift that we especially think of at this time of year.
And He is a gift – John wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). God the Father loved the world and gave His Son to Incarnate – to put on human flesh – because it gave Him joy to save a people for Himself through the work of His enfleshed Son.
God is the Creator of everything that is, but in the Incarnation, God experienced being in the womb, His body’s growth, being expelled through the birth canal, experiencing the impact of His Creation on human senses, and needing help to eat and clean up after digestion.
As Paul wrote, “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, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5b-6, ESV).
The Almighty God – in His Joy – came to earth in the person of the Son – becoming enfleshed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – and for those years, He put aside the glory that was due Him – He kept the radiance of His Glory – except for a few glimpses – aside, and become eternally enfleshed – the One Member of the Godhead Who is also a human – and was not ashamed to put on swaddling clothes as a gift for us.
In our text this evening, we see that the result of receiving a gift should be rejoicing. Gifts ought to humble us and cause us to give thanks and praise to God and should fill us with joy.
Luke opens this text in joy:
“On 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.”
We remember that Luke was a historian – as well as a doctor – and he gives names and places, so, as his gospel is read, people could check what he said and confirm that it is all true – it all happened when he said and where he said and how it came to pass.
And Luke draws his line for the date of Jesus’ birth: when Augustus Caesar reigned, crossed with when Quirinius was governor of Syria, crossed with the first census – the first registration – he took.
And Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary went – with everyone else – to the ancestral home of the husband. In this case, even though they were living in Nazareth in Galilee – which is was Jesus would be called, Jesus of Nazareth – they went to his ancestral home – coming from the line of King David, from the city of Bethlehem in Judea.
And here we see that flashing light of joy – the people of Luke’s day would have heard the prophecy: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth from me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV)
And, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1, ESV).
As Luke draws these historical lines, we can hear the joyful refrain underneath: “He was born in Bethlehem! He was born in Bethlehem!”
And then we have the very subtle announcement: “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.”
Perhaps so subtle at this point to give us the joy of knowing that the Savior is a human being, born of a human woman, born in the human way, born in the place that was available for them when the time came to pass.
The Savior is human like us. The Savior understands what it is to be human. The Savior can legally take our place before the Father as our Substitute – rejoice!
Second, the angels came rejoicing.
“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.”
Picture the scene: you are out in the hills and pastures, feeding your sheep with some of the other shepherds. You are guiding the sheep along, making sure they don’t fall into a hole, or wander off into the woods, watching out for any predators. It’s night, and all is quiet, except for the baa-ing of the sheep.
And then – in a split second – the sky is filled with the bright and weighty light of the Glory of God, and the angel of the Lord appears. And you and your fellow shepherds are down on the ground shaking.
“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 Savior, 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, as angels are want to do, the angel of the Lord said, “Fear not. Don’t be afraid. I’ve got good news of great joy which is for every type of person who ever exists.”
The first good news is that the angel wasn’t there to kill them – or you, if you are still playing along.
The second good news is something so great and so joyful that it will be received as great and joyful by every type of person – Jews and Gentiles. And if the shepherds had a moment to think, they probably wondered what good news would be a great joy for every type of person?
But the angel told them: The Savior has been born in Bethlehem and He is God, the Savior. And He is a human baby, and you will find him in swaddling cloths in a manger.
Again, if they had a moment to think: The Savior has been born! And He is God and He is human and He is a baby?
Maybe not – maybe they would have remembered what the prophet said, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name, Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14b, ESV). Which means, “God with us.”
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and one earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’
As this good news begins to sink into their minds, the angels break forth in praise – they can’t hold back any more – the angels rejoice from one end of the sky to another.
Luke tells us there was a multitude of hosts. Multitude and host are synonyms for a massive number – so a massive number of massive numbers of angels appeared praising God, glorifying God – rejoicing in God – that with the birth of this Baby, Who is God, everyone with whom God makes peace is at peace.
Remember, we have said the greatest question – the biggest problem for humanity – is to find out how to be right with God – because it makes all the difference for all of eternity. And here, the angels announce that God is going to make a people right with Himself – from every type of person – Jew and Gentile – God is going to make a people right with Himself by Himself through the Savior, God the Son, Who had just been born on that first Christmas.
And the angels were filled with joy for the Gift that God had given and was giving for the results it would have for all those who would ever believe. Salvation was made for the people of God in the birth of Jesus – rejoice!
Third, the shepherds rejoiced.
“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 and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning the 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.”
The shepherds took the gift of the knowledge of the birth of the Savior and they went to see it for themselves – to see that it was true – to see the thing that God told them had happened.
And they went and found Mary and Joseph and Jesus in the manger. And they told them about the angels and what they had said – that Jesus is God in the flesh come to make a people right with God of His own accord – and how they saw innumerable angels and the Glory of God and how the angels praised God and glorified Him for what He had done in sending Jesus to make all those who would believe right with God.
And the shepherds were so full of joy, when they went from the manger – they kept rejoicing – and they told everyone they met about what had happed and what they had seen in Bethlehem – the birth of the Gift of love from the Father. It was such great news they had to keep telling people – telling people –
And the people who they told wondered about what they said: was it true? Did the shepherds really see the angel of the Lord and the Glory of God and the heavens explode with angels praising and glorifying God for sending the Savior? Did they really see the Savior in Bethlehem? Is He really here? Is every type of person now able to be right with God?
And we might wonder about the people who wondered: how many of them went to check the story? How many of them came to believe that the shepherds told the truth – the angels announced the birth of the Savior – and He is the Man, Jesus?
The shepherds were convinced – and they couldn’t keep quiet: God the Savior has come as a baby! Rejoice!
Fourth, Mary rejoiced.
When Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, she sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estates of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46b-49, ESV).
Over the past nine months, Mary had showed herself devoted and humble, a woman who sought to serve her God whatever it may entail.
She rejoiced in hearing the words of the angel and the words of Elizabeth, and now, with that peaceful humility she rejoiced and quietly received the words of the shepherds – and we are told she “pondered them in her heart” – literally, “she carefully stored them away in her heart – in the deepest part of her being” – all of this – something to have joy about and to recount and ponder anew – and rejoice.
Throughout her life, Mary looked back on these words and these occurrences and rejoiced!
Did buying Christmas presents rob your wallet dry?
Perhaps you should give less presents next year and focus on the Gift that God gave to all those who will believe – the way to be right with God through His Son.
If you have received this Gift of God – if you have been made right with God through Jesus – focus on rejoicing in Him – giving Him the praise and the glory.
And then, as you are joy-filled, you may find yourself rejoicing and giving gifts to others – especially the gift of the knowledge of Jesus and His salvation.
Almighty God, we rejoice and give You thanks for loving us and sending Your Son that first Christmas that we would be made right with You through Him. Help us to stay focused on this truth and joyfully let others know. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.