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December 22, 2019

Sermon Luke 2:11 . . .“The angel said:  ‘Unto you is born this day...a Savior’”

“The angel said:  ‘Unto you is born this day...a Savior’”

Luke 2:11

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

It’s been said that at this time of year, every day begs for decking the tree, baking and decorating cookies, sipping a cup of hot cocoa, and singing a Christmas carol or two.  And when it comes to Christmas carols, it seems that no matter where we go, whether it’s to the grocery store, shopping mall, or even our own doorstep, we can’t help but hear them--from the quiet solemnity of Silent Night, to the beauty and celebration of Joy to the World.

But of all the Christmas carols that have ever been written and sung, do you know which ones are the oldest?

As far as we know, coming in at number three is, The Friendly Beasts.  Originally written back in the 12th century, it tells the story of the animals--the donkey, cow, sheep, camel, and dove--that brought gifts to the infant Jesus.  It was translated into English back in 1920, and has been sung ever since by the likes of Burl Ives, Harry Belafonte, Garth Brooks, and Johnny Cash.

The second oldest Christmas carol was originally written in the 4th century in Latin, by a Roman Christian poet named, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens.  While he called it, Corde Natus Ex Parentis, we know it as, Of the Father’s Love Begotten.  It’s a beautiful Christmas song.

But of all the carols ever written or sung, the oldest, as far as we know, was written some three hundred years after Christ by a man named St. Hilary of Poitiers.  And though we have no idea how it might have originally sounded, we know the first verse, in English, reads like this:  “Jesus, devoted Redeemer of all nations, has shone forth.  Let the whole family of the faithful celebrate the stories.”

But if I could say, out of all the Christmas carols that have ever been written or sung, certainly one of the oldest and most beautiful of all is found in the words of Luke chapter 2.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1090 as I read the words of our text.  Luke chapter 2, starting at verse 8:  “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.  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 suddenly 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 among those with whom He is pleased!’”

Imagine how it all must have been.  There they were, a band of shepherds, minding their own business, keeping watch over their flock by night, just like so many others had done centuries before.

And when the Bible said “night,” it meant night.  Today, we live in a world where technology can bring light to night.  But for those shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, it was dark as dark could be.

Which is why the Bible says in verse 9, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, “they were filled with great fear.”  Or as the original put it:  “They feared a great fear.”

I would too, if an angel suddenly appeared to me!

And what did the angel say?  Verse 10.  He said, “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.

“A baby,” he said.  Not a Judge, not a King, not a feared, omnipotent Ruler over heaven and earth.  Instead, he said, a baby--a sweet, innocent, humble, cooing, little baby.

Who would have thought that God would come as a baby?  

If it were up to us, we’d say He should come with a trumpet blast or on a whirlwind or a thundering lightning bolt.  Kings should bow.  Men should cower before Him.

But there in that little town called Bethlehem, we find the beauty, the mystery, and the wonder of Christmas, that He was born just as we were born--small, weak, humble, vulnerable.

Is it any surprise?  It shouldn’t be.  After all, that’s what the writer to the Hebrews said:  “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  And John wrote in his gospel:  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory...full of grace and truth.”

Even more, do you remember when Elijah ran for his life from Jezebel, after he killed the prophets of Baal?  And as he hid in that cave, and the Lord passed by, first there was a wind that tore the mountain in pieces, but the Lord wasn’t in the wind.  After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in the fire.  But after the fire, there was a whisper.  And it was in that whisper that Elijah heard the Lord.

As the angel said, “And this shall be a sign unto you, you will find a baby.”

In the words of a prayer:  “O infant-God, heaven’s fairest Child, conceived by the union of divine grace with our disgrace, sleep well.

“Bask in the coolness of this night, bright with diamonds, for the heat of anger simmers all too near.  Enjoy the silence of the crib, for the noise of confusion rumbles in the distance.  Savor the sweet safety of Mary’s arms, for the day will come when neither she, nor Joseph, can protect You.  Rest well, tiny hands, for though you belong to a King, You will touch not satin, own no gold.  You will grasp no pen, guide no brush.

“Your tiny hands are reserved for works far more precious--to touch a leper’s open wound, to wipe a widow’s weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane.  Your hands, so tiny, so white, aren’t destined to hold a scepter, nor wave from a palace balcony.  The’re reserved instead for a Roman spike, bound to a Roman cross.

“Sleep deeply, tiny eyes.  Sleep while You can.  For soon, the blurriness will clear and You will see the mess we have made of Your world.  You’ll see our selfishness, for we cannot give.  You’ll see our pain, for we cannot heal.  You’ll see our rudeness, for we cannot hide.  O eyes that will someday behold hell’s darkest pit and her ugly prince bound in chains, sleep, please sleep, while You can.

“Lie still, tiny mouth, lie still.  Tiny tongue that will soon summon the dead, that will silence our foolishness, that will define grace.  Rosebud lips, upon which ride a kiss of forgiveness to those who believe in You, and death to those who deny You, lie still.

“And rest, tiny feet, rest, for many difficult steps lie ahead of You.  You’ll feel dust on the trails You’ll travel, seawater upon which You’ll walk, the invasion of the nail You’ll bear, and the steep descent down the spiral staircase into Satan’s domain.  Rest, tiny feet, rest, for tomorrow You’ll walk with power and millions will follow in Your steps.

“And little heart, holy heart, pumping lifeblood through the universe, how many times will we break You?  You’ll be torn by the thorns of our accusations, ravaged by the cancer of our sin, crushed beneath the weight of sorrow, and pierced by the spear of our rejection.  Yet in that piercing of muscle and membrane, in that final rush of blood and water, You’ll find rest.  Your hands will be freed, Your eyes will see justice, Your lips will smile, and Your feet will carry You home.”

As a hymn writer once put it so well, “Away in a manger, no crib for His bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.  The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay; the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the only child of a German father and a Norwegian mother, Charles Schulz, also known as “Sparky,” loved to draw.  In fact, when he was fifteen years old, he drew a picture of his family dog, “Spike,” who had the odd habit of eating pins and tacks, and sent it in to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

But life wasn’t easy.  For one thing, he was young for his grade, because he skipped a couple of grades in elementary school, which made him rather timid and shy.  And after his mother died of cancer when he was twenty, he was drafted as a machine gunner into the United States Army.  When he was discharged, he took a job at an art school.

And while he was there, he began to develop two comic characters--one, a shy and withdrawn boy named Charlie Brown; the other, a dog named Snoopy.  At first, he called them, Li’l Folks.  Later, he called them, Peanuts.  In just a few years, it became one of the most popular comic strips of all time, published in seventy-five countries and twenty-one languages all around the world.

Then in 1965, an ad agency based in New York called Schulz to ask if he’d be willing to write a Christmas special, featuring winter scenes, a school play, a scene read from the Bible, and a sound track with jazz as well as traditional music.  And they said, “The bad news is, today is Wednesday, and we need an outline in Atlanta by Monday.”

Six months later, they got it done, with only ten days to spare before it would air for the very first time.

Now I want you to think, for a moment, of the scene when Linus walks out on stage to read the words of Luke chapter 2.  Can you see him standing there with his blanket in his hands, and saying, “And there were in the same country abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night”?  Or better still, let me show you.

Now if you were paying really close attention, there’s something you might have noticed.  You see, when Linus walked out onto the stage, he was holding his blanket.  It was his ever-present sense of peace and security.  But in the moment he said, “Fear not,” he let it fall to the ground.

As one author wrote:  “Looking at it now, it’s pretty clear what Charles Schulz was saying through this, and it’s so simple, it’s brilliant.  Not only does the birth of Jesus separate us from our fears, it allows us to drop the false security we’ve been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to God alone.”

And that’s the message of the first Christmas, this Christmas, and every Christmas that’s yet to come.

 

Dear Father, an angel once said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Grant us the grace to kneel and worship, for He is our Savior and King.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

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