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Christmas December 25, 2017

Sermon Galations:4:4-5  . . . Christmas Day

Christmas Day

Galatians 4:4-5

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Tradition tells us that Theodotus of Ancyra was born in Galatia, (modern-day Turkey), late in the third century.  When he came of age, he became an innkeeper, where he was a model of hospitality, respect, and love for his neighbor.

But Diocletian was the emperor, and with him came intense Christian persecution.  And for reasons we may never know, he arrested seven women and put them to death for their Christian faith.  Then men tied stones to their body, and threw their bodies into a lake.

But Theodotus wouldn’t stand for that.  So he took their bodies, and gave them a proper burial.  When word got out of what he had done, he too was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and put to death.

And while we remember him today for his great love for his fellow Christians and for Christ, we also know him for the words he wrote shortly before he died.

This is what he said:  “The Lord of all comes as a slave amidst poverty.  The hunter has no wish to startle His prey.  Choosing for His birthplace an unknown village in a remote province, He is born of a poor maiden and accepts all that poverty implies, for He hopes by stealth to ensnare and save us.

“If He had been born to high rank and amidst luxury, unbelievers would have said the world had been transformed by wealth.  If He had chosen as His birthplace the great city of Rome, they would have thought the transformation had been brought about by civil power.  Suppose He had been the son of an emperor.  They would have said:  ‘How useful it is to be powerful!’  Imagine Him the son of a senator.  They would have said:  ‘Look what can be accomplished by legislation!’

“But in fact, what did He do?  He chose surroundings that were poor and simple, so ordinary as to be almost unnoticed, so that people would know it was the Godhead alone that had changed the world.”

Today we’ve come to celebrate Christmas, a holiday that’s spanned centuries of history and tradition.  And across these many years, different cultures have introduced many different features into this one special day.

Three hundred and fifty years after Christ, Pope Julius set December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth—the same date as the Roman feast of Saturnalia, the Feast of the Unconquerable Sun.  Later, the Saxons brought holly and ivy, and the British, mistletoe.

The Christmas tree was introduced by none other than Martin Luther himself.  As he walked outside one Christmas Eve, he was struck by the beauty of the new-fallen snow and the trees standing out against the starry heavens.  Carried away by their beauty, he brought one into his home so his family and friends could share in his joy.  And to portray the starry heavens, he set candles on the tree.

In the 1800s, our present-day celebration of Christmas began to take shape.  Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber composed a hymn called “Silent Night,” Clement Moore popularized Santa Claus, and Charles Dickens wrote a book called, “A Christmas Carol,” probably the most popular Christmas story of all time.

But the first Christmas was so very different than it is today.  At the first Christmas, there were no presents to buy, no packages to wrap, and no decorations to hang on the tree.  Instead, there was a census, a taxation, and a long, hard journey to the place of your father’s birth.  And in the cool darkness beneath Bethlehem’s sky, a virgin gave birth to a Son.

And that’s why we’ve gathered today.  We haven’t come for history or tradition or decorations or trees.  We’ve come to worship Jesus, our Savior and King.

As an angel once said to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem:  “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly, as the Bible says, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Louis Cassels was an Army communications officer and correspondent with United Press International.  As a devoted Christian, he wrote a newspaper column called, Religion in America.  In the last ten years of his life, he wrote more than a dozen books about Jesus and the importance of faith.  He said, “The heart of the Christian faith is the assertion that God has revealed Himself in history in the person of Jesus Christ.”

And in December of 1959, he wrote a story, a parable, about a man and a flock of birds.  This is what he said:

“The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man--generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men.  But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmastime.  It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.  He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“’I’m truly sorry to distress you,’ he said to his wife, ‘but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.’  He said he’d feel like a hypocrite.  That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them.  And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

“Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall.  He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.  Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…then another, and then another.  Sort of a thump or a thud.  At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window.  But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow.  They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

“Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony.  That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.

“Quickly he put on a coat and galoshes, and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.  He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in.  He figured food would entice them in.  So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, and sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable.  But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.  He tried catching them…he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms.  Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

“And then, he realized that they were afraid of him.  To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature.  If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them.  But how?  Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them.  They just would not follow.  They would not be led or shooed, because they feared him.

“’If only I could be a bird,’ he thought to himself, ‘and mingle with them and speak their language.  Then I could tell them not to be afraid.  Then I could show them the way to the safe, warm barn.  But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear, and understand.’

“And at that moment, the church bells began to ring.  The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind.  And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.

“And he sank to his knees in the snow.”

As Paul once wrote to the Galatians:  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Thank God for Christmas.  Thank God for Jesus.  Amen


O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.  We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.  Amen


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