"Christmas is about Others"
Pastor Tim Inman
Today we will journey through 30 verses of the gospel of Luke covering the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the birth of John the Baptist, and Zechariah's prophetic song of praise. Beyond enjoying the Christmas story, we are asking: What does this 2000-year-old-story mean for each of us today?
Our series title is an acronym of JOY: Jesus, Others and you. This Sunday we will be especially answering the question:
What does Christmas mean for our relationships with God others? Our social sciences’ concept of other is anyone outside of yourself - especially those who are opposite to you. For men, women are the other, for adults, children are other. If you are a Republican, Democrats are other, and so on. What groups are you part of? Are you native to the Bay Area or a newcomer? A homeowner? A manager? Are you part of the Raider Nation or Niner Empire? Then there’s race, religion, and whether or not you’re one of those people who irritatingly put the toilet paper on the roller backwards... People typically struggle to empathize with others and to make matters worse, we intentionally and unintentionally step on each others toes when really all we are just trying to do our own thing. The human way is for self-preservation first, and those close to us next. It sounds innocent enough but this self-orientation has had horrific consequences throughout history. Max and I have been watching a WW2 documentary.
I was shocked to learn that 60 million people were savagely killed in WW2 for being an other to someone else. 60 million is a number that is hard to fathom, but it’s roughly the population of the Western United States - equivalent to every man, woman, and child, West of Texas, killed because they were part of a group that was another group’s other. Man’s inhumanity to man is not our biggest issue, it’s really just a symptom of a deeper problem that started with adam, as humans, we have believed we were sufficient in ourselves, decided to prefer ourselves, and ultimately rule ourselves. Humanity’s biggest challenge is self-orientation, but Chistmas is the Antidote.
Christmas Challenges our Self-Orientation
To our own detriment, we have declared war on God by rejecting His good rule. Surprisingly, His response was to seek our rescue, by humbling himself and becoming one of us. Christmas is the story Jesus Christ, co-equal with the God the Father, who was present at creation being born into human creation.
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. LUKE 2:1-7
With all of the hubbub around Christmas, it’s meaning and importance can get lost, even for the religious. There is a danger that in the retelling, Christmas starts to feel distant and quaint, or worse: imaginary. We sing of a silent night, calm and bright. The birth of Christ was doubtfully silent, calm or bright, and it’s the fulcrum of history which has turned everything upside down. Just like the cross, we have grown familiar with the stable-birth, it has lost it’s stigma. Being born in what was likely a small stall with animals and their waste was the modern equivalent of being born in a gas-station public
restroom, or under a freeway overpass. There are people living and surviving in places like that today, and they are ‘the other’. Jesus was born to a couple whose homelessness was forced by an oppressive government in the middle east.
Do you suspect that a pregnant woman would volunteer for a 90-mile journey on foot? (I know our Sunday School coloring pages picture a donkey, but scripture makes no mention of it.) Likely they made the journey to Bethlehem for census, because the
alternative was punishment. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the family refugees. There are thousands of families which meet that description in our world today - they are ‘other’ to
With so many in town to be registered, there were no available rooms to be rented. Jesus, creator of Heaven and Earth would be born in the rough, wrapped in cloths, and given an animal trough for a bed. What could be more ‘other’ for to God than to become human? God on High made Himself low. The king became a subject. He volunteered himself to be
limited by human speech, human need, and human pain. He arrived into questionable birth circumstances and a questionable family-tree. Later He chose questionable friends: prostitutes, traitors, and the like. God made no bones about putting himself right into the mix and the mess of humanity. We can be sure that God knows our trouble, because He Himself experienced what it is like to be human. The Book of Hebrews states:
We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15,16 The Message
Jesus desperately seeks to reconcile Humanity to His Father, and to do so he has gone far beyond empathy, being God Himself, He became ‘the other’, one of us, in order to reach us.
Philippians 2:5-8, NIV
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature a God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature b of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
In fact, scripture tells us that JOY was his motivation: For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the cross. What was the Joy set before Him? He knew His suffering on cross paved a way for us to forgiven and reconciled to God. The author of creation wrote himself into our story on Christmas night. That event demands our attention and response, even 2000 years later.
Christmas assaults our concept of self-determination
Jesus unequivocally claimed, not only that he was the prophesied Savior, but Lord and one with the Father. He set himself up as the only one through whom we must access God, the only one who could save us, and then confirmed his commitment to us by enduring death on the cross. Like Narnia’s Aslan, the true Christmas story is not safe but it is good. It’s the one big story that gives meaning to everything else.
If Christmas is true - and with the prophecies fulfilled, miracles witnessed, including his own resurrection from the dead, eyewitness account, external verification, modern-day miracles, and my own story. I believe it is. The purpose of this talk is not to establish all of the proofs that Jesus was who he said he was, but if you want to look into that further, Lee Strobel, was an atheist and an investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune. When
his wife put her faith in Christ, he pursued Christ’s story like a case to crack and became a believer.
He’s written some great books on the subject, including The Case for Christmas, and The Case for Christ. A film based on the book is being released in 2017. You may want to check it out. It would take more ‘faith’ for me to believe Christmas is not true - If it IS true, and it is… then we are not Masters of our own destiny, we owe Him everything, our very lives.
In last week’s talk, the stage was set for the birth of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, who would prepare the way.. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin had miraculously become pregnant in old age. Her husband Zechariah had been struck silent when he doubted the angel’s announcement.
Read (and Summarize) Luke 1:57-66
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that
name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Christmas is a story of people obediently putting their self-interest in God’s
hands. In obedience, Jesus left the glory of heaven and subjected himself to pain and death. Mary obliged and become the girl with a questionable past. Joseph took courage, put aside his own questions and married her. And Zechariah gave up the right to name his own son and regained his speech. If you find yourself lacking joy, obediently let God look after your best interests and go looking after someone else’s.
Christmas relieves us from self-sufficiency
Just like Jesus’ birth, John, who would prepare the way, was prophesied about hundreds of years previous. His own destiny was tied to his cousin, Jesus. The last part of Luke chapter one is Zechariah’s Song, one of four songs in the christmas story. Elizabeth, Mary and the Angels also had songs. You didn’t realize Christmas was a musical? Actually this song ties in prophesy with poetry. It confirms prophecy which is fulfilled in the coming of Christ and details what it will mean for mankind. The first seven verses establish that Jesus is the fulfillment of ancient prophesy regarding Jewish messiah - that God would rescue Abreham’s descendents from their enemies, and Jesus does fulfill this, although not in the manner and time that some expected.
The next verse, 75, takes a unique twist more specific to the nature of Christ’s salvation:
75“... and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And then the song gets specific about the mission his son John and Jesus’
life: 76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Our rebellion ainst God’s good rule could have - should have, cost us everything, but Jesus came, lived and died, so that we could receive God’s forgiveness.
John 3:16 puts it plainly:
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5 tells us:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Our instinct may have been to make it on our own, but as Christians, we realize that everything we need is from him. We don’t even earn our way into His good graces. Whatever good deeds we do, sacrifices we make, even our attempts to live righteously are not to make a way for ourselves, but just expression of gratitude to the one who made his way to Earth and made a way for us.