Last week we celebrated Christmas with our children’s presentation, which I’m sure Marilyn and her crew would testify is kind of like herding cats. And that was part of the process that led Charlie Brown to ask in frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
And that is the question that we’ve been attempting to answer this year, which bring us to week three of our Christmas Series: What Christmas is all about.
This is the fiftieth anniversary of this iconic Christmas special, and for a Television special that was supposed to have a very short shelf life. . . one year it has had an incredible staying power. Even if you have never seen the original show you know what is meant by “a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”
And so in week one we looked at how the various characters in A Charlie Brown Christmas responded to Christmas. You’ll remember that we discovered how for Snoopy Christmas was all about the season of Christmas, the lights the food, all the glamour and glitz that surrounds Christmas. For Lucy Christmas was all about what had to be done, all about the effort. From organizing the Christmas Play, to making sure they had the perfect tree to counselling Charlie Brown on how to achieve Christmas bliss, her solution. Get involved. For Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister Christmas was all about Sally, what she wanted and expected Santa to bring her on the big day. And for Charlie Brown himself Christmas was about despair he was down and depressed and the holiday did nothing to improve his mood.
And then there was Linus, two weeks ago I mentioned that for Linus Christmas was all about the Christmas story. But I wondered if that was as far as it went with Linus. While Snoopy was quite happy for Christmas to be nothing more than a holiday it seemed that for Linus it was nothing more that then that fragment of the Christmas story.
Two weeks ago we went a little deeper and dug into the scripture that Linus has been reading for us and we discovered that for Linus Christmas was all About the Shepherds, the Angels and the Baby. But even that doesn’t tell us all of the story. Because none of those things in themselves truly explain Christmas. Not even the baby in the manger.
This morning we are going to dig a little deeper into what Christmas is all about and we’ll start with Mary’s story.
Luke 1:30, 35, 37 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son.” . . . "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” . . . For nothing is impossible with God."
The first thing that The First Christmas was all about Faith The visit of the angel Gabriel was really where the entire story began; now you know the rest of the story, the Angel tells Mary that she is going to have a child who will be the son of God, Mary tells the angel that isn’t going to happen because she isn’t married and besides that she’s still a virgin, even then the two didn’t necessarily go hand in hand. And then the angel tells her, no problem, the father will be the Holy Spirit.
Now before we go on with the story I have a theory, which I’m sure you’re dying to hear.
This would probably be the time to insert my theory on the Angela Gabriel, do I hear groans? I think that we mispronounce the angel’s name. I don’t think it was Gabriel I think it was Gabrielle. Think about it if you were God and you were sending an angel to talk to a teenaged virgin about reproduction would you send a male angel or a female angel?
Now I know that you’re thinking, “That’s just dumb Denn, angels aren’t male or female they are asexual.” So, close your eyes and picture an angel. Now is your asexual angel a boy angel or a girl angel?” But my theory really isn’t all that important because we aren’t all that interested in Gabriel or Gabrielle this morning we are interested in Mary and her response to the angel. So the angel comes tell this young virgin that she’s going to have a child and the father’s going to be the Holy Spirit. Listen to Mary’s response: Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Can you imagine the faith that Mary must have had? She must have known that people would talk about her and question her morals.
And when she tried to tell people that she was still a virgin I’m sure that people were thinking, “You keep using that word but I do not think that word means what you think it means”
And so Mary responded with faith. Even though Mary couldn’t understand everything, even though she didn’t have all the answers or even know where this was going to lead she was willing to trust God.
That’s why they call it faith, remember how faith is defined in Hebrews Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Listen to how it is written in the New King James Version
NKJV Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. What is it that you can’t see that you can only hope for?
Edward Teller gave this great definition of faith, “When you get to the end of all the light you know and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
Mary had no idea how she could conceive a child without a man being involved, had no idea what would happen after she conceived the child and no idea what would happen after the child was born, but she believed that Her God was in control and if He said this was what should happen then far be it for her to disagree.
If we are walking with God then there will be times that he asks us to do the incredible and even though we won’t be able to see the end result we are going to have to step out in faith and say, “Ok God, you are in control.” It’s at that point that we are going to have to believe that he will give us something solid to stand on or teach us to fly.
We need faith to exercise our Christian life to the fullest and we need faith to be everything that God would have us be as a church. If we only ever try to do what we know we can do then we don’t need God. It’s by faith that miracles happen, it’s by faith that people come to know Christ personally, and it’s by faith that people are healed and the bible tells us in Hebrews 11:6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. And faith will never ask more than that you believe.
But the story didn’t end with Mary, let’s pick up Matthew’s account Matthew 1:18-20 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” And so The First Christmas was all about Trust.
You see Mary wasn’t the only person visited by an Angel. You may remember that although Mary was a virgin, she was engaged to be married, to a man named Joseph. And she was about to have some heavy duty explaining to do. What would she have said, “Joseph you know how much I love you and I know that you are the most understanding and trusting man in all of Nazareth and I have something to tell you.”
Mary gets a lot of Credit for the Christmas thing and while she should but let’s not forget about Joe, after all Mary knew what she did and didn’t do, Joseph didn’t have the luxury, he could only take her word for it. “You’re what? Pregnant? How could that happen, I mean I know how it happens but how did it happen without me? I thought you loved me, I thought we were waiting until we were married, and now this. Oh an angel, right, an angel and the father is the Holy Spirit. Sure, so now you think I’m stupid as well, no don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, I need time to think.”
Now let’s be honest, if your daughter came home with that story you wouldn’t believe her, so why should we expect Mary’s fiancée to believe what she said? It shows us the type of man that Joseph was that even though he could have publicly denounced Mary for having been unfaithful to him he chose to quietly end the engagement without any fuss. But that night an Angel appeared and basically told Joseph that he would need to trust Mary on this one. Joseph’s response is found in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
Now people weren’t dumb then, they knew how long it took for babies to be born. Joseph would be viewed as the guilty party in this case and yet he must have just smiled and nodded and protected the virtue and reputation of his fiancé. Maybe he had adopted the philosophy of Elsa Einstein Albert Einstein’s wife who said “No, I don't understand my husband's theory of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.”
As we go through life we will either make a conscious decision to trust the people we meet or trust no one and while it might be safer to trust no one it’s not a great way to live. Author Frank Crane said “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.”
And so after his encounter with the Angel Joseph believed Mary and gave her his trust. And with that decision he became the earthly father of the son of God.
And the story continues Luke 2:8-11 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”
The First Christmas was all about Praise It’s obvious that the Angels weren’t unionized because they even worked on Christmas day. Jesus had been born in the stable and the heavens were rejoicing, and the angels think, “Hey this is too good to keep to ourselves; we need to share it with others.”
Put yourself in the Shepherd’s place, so there you are out in the field, minding your own business and minding your sheep when suddenly the entire field lights up and there stands this dude in a shining white robes with great big wings, I know what I said earlier about wings, this is artistic licence. I don’t know what your reaction would be but mine would probably be the same as the shepherds, sheer terror. But quickly the angels reassure them and tell them, we bring great news, the Messiah has been born.
Two weeks ago I spoke about the Shepherds and if there was one group in the Christmas story that we can identify with it would be the shepherds.
They weren’t renowned scholars from the East who travelled across countless miles of desert to be there, they weren’t a King like Herod, they were just ordinary folk, who had an extraordinary encounter with the son of God.
No other group in the story better exemplifies the concept of grace than the shepherds. They hadn’t done anything to deserve the invitation to meet with Jesus, there wasn’t anything they could bring, no gold or myrrh or frankincense. All they had was themselves and that wasn’t much, when you think about it they weren’t much and they really weren’t all that important, they were just hired hands, and they had no place in the society and certainly weren’t listed in “Who’s Who of Israel”.
And yet they were offered a gift they didn’t deserve and could never earn, kind of like salvation, we don’t deserve it and we could never earn it.
You know the story, the shepherds went and saw the baby in the manger and after meeting the messiah went away telling everyone they met about the child.
The scriptures tell us that this went on even as they returned to their flocks. Luke 2:20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
What is your reaction to meeting Jesus? He has given you eternal life, or at the very least he has offered it to you, it’s really up to you to accept it. Because of what God has done for you do you praise him? Do you thank him? Probably, you may not skip and dance and tell the world but I’m sure that you tell God. You probably don’t regret becoming a Christian, and you probably aren’t bitter with the person who told you about Christ.
This Christmas the greatest gift you can give someone is to tell them what Christmas is all about, remember what the angel said, Luke 2:10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” And that is what you have to offer those who don’t know Jesus, Good news of great joy.
But the shepherds weren’t alone in celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus. What would Christmas be without the Magi? Their story is told in the book of Matthew, we pick it up in Matthew 2:9-11 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
The First Christmas was all about Worship
There are those who would deny that the wise men made it to the first Christmas, that they probably showed up two years later, some would say because they were Wise “Men” that they had probably gotten lost and wouldn’t ask for directions.
But we won’t spend any time on that this morning, this year if you want my opinion on that it will cost you a coffee.
What we do agree on, even if we don’t always agree on the time frame was what happened after the Wise Men arrived. Matthew tells us that they bowed down and worshipped the Christ child.
But what does that mean? For many people they see worship as simply the act where the Magi knelt at the manger. And so for folks like that worship is simply the act of attending Cornerstone and singing some songs, listening as Denn tries to make a point and then tossing a few dollars in the offering box.
But the reality is that for the Magi the act of worship began when they left their home in Persia long before they presented their gifts to Jesus.
And most of know what the gifts were that the Wise men brought to Jesus, gold, frankincense and myrrh. And they were really nice gifts, a little impractical for a baby but again they were men and shopping for baby gifts really wasn’t really their thing.
But the most valuable gift they gave was the gift of worship.
There is a difference between what happened with the Shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds, came and praised God but it really didn’t cost them anything. And there are folks today who still misunderstand, they think they have come to worship God but really they have come to conveniently praise him.
It is interesting that in all of the gospel accounts this is one of the few time it says that someone came to worship Jesus. There are any number of times we are told he was praised, often by the very people who would later turn their backs on him when he was arrested and crucified, but there are only a couple of times that we are told Jesus was worshipped.
The Magi’s worship started when they gave up their time. There are different estimates of how long it would have taken the magi to have made the trip from Persia to Bethlehem, the longest being measured in years and the shortest in months but the reality is that these men gave up a precious commodity to worship Christ and that was their time.
And that’s where worship begins, when we step away from the ordinary to spend time in his presence.
And I know that our time is valuable, and I know that there is so much going on that it’s hard to carve out time on a Sunday morning, but that’s part of what makes it worship, giving God the gift of your time.
And the trip certainly wasn’t convenient, they had to make their way across inhospitable terrain, with only the promise of a distant start to guide them. In the heat of the day and the cold of the night I’m sure there were times that they wondered what they were doing. When they explained their upcoming trip to friends and family their sanity was probably questioned.
Serving Christ won’t always be convenient and neither will church, it goes back to: If it was easy everyone would be doing it. There are times that people won’t understand your decision to follow Christ and maybe even times that you will question the decision you made. There will be times that even the guidance of a distant start would be welcome but that’s when we just have to take it on faith. I’m sure the Magi could agree with the words of Hebrews 11:1-2 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
And their worship was made complete with the gifts that they brought. I joked early about the gifts being impractical but there are two things you need to know, there was all kinds of symbolism wrapped up in those gifts and they were incredibly expensive.
From the very beginning of the bible worship has always involved sacrifice, worship has always involved giving back to God part of what he has given to us.
And so this year will your Christmas involve Faith, trust, praise and worship? Because unless it does you will be missing out on what Christmas is really all about.