... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Christmas Eve
Message December 24, 2014

The Meaning of Christmas

Text: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

What does Christmas mean to you? Santa, time off from work or school, a long weekend, a short work week, family get-together, nostalgic TV shows, shopping, cleaning, turkey dinner gifts, tree decorations or emotional swings? We all experience these – joys, hopes, sadness, despair, grief, a sense of the magical, an inner desire for the ideal, and the connection with the spiritual or the divine! Each and every one of these perspectives of this season are correct and after felt by us at some point in our lives. And each is a perspective on God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps this is why the scriptural texts resonate with us this evening: for they provide the complex array of how people in Biblical times experienced God’s promises actions and presence.

The Isaiah passage written around the time of the return from Babylonian captivity tells how the people returned to Jerusalem with an expectation that God would be making good on the promises to restore the city in general and the Temple in particular, to a glory greater than what they had been in the days of King David. Yet on their return and for years thereafter the city and the Temple lay in desolation and even their own efforts failed to accomplish any rebuilding. Their hopes and dreams for a return to the days of opulence had been dashed and they experienced such a disappointment. Yet Isaiah informs us that this disappointment becomes a prayer appealing to God to act in such a way as to fulfil the divine promise. In the midst of disappointment and despair they clung to hope faith and trust in God. In this faith they avow that they will await God’s time in coming to fulfill the prophecies of a new Jerusalem.

While they might well have expected a new physical Jerusalem of greater glory than David’s such would never come to pass. Jerusalem would be rebuilt, the Temple would be erected but never to David’s splendour. However, there was another perspective to the prophecies – a view to the future of a greater Kingdom and a greater promise – God’s presence in another form other than a building, God’s presence in a Messiah! In fact many scholars have posited that the New Jerusalem was to be Jesus, and in him the church. John Calvin looked at the New Jerusalem as the whole body of faithful believers waiting in hope for healing wholeness and newness. Others have seen in the Isaiah passage a metaphor for Jerusalem as the new creation – the new Garden of Eden wherein the sins of Adam would be wiped away and people would return to the glory of the Garden. And still others, harking back to the dwelling place of God, see the New Jerusalem as God’s Kingdom coming down to earth such that the city Jerusalem the dwelling place of God in David’s time, now becomes the kingdom of God and in Christian perspective the Kingdom of Jesus.

The psalmist’s perspective of God’s presence and action also follow from an interpretation of God’s kingship. This perspective based in faith that God will arise to the throne and rule all in equity becomes a celebration of royal power and a hope that all the enemies, the idolaters and the nay-sayers would be put to shame. Whereas those who opposed God are reduced to ashes, the faithful and righteous will be lifted up to enjoy the peace and joy God’s kingdom brings. The psalm is a triumphalist view of God’s presence correcting all previous wrongs despairs and troubles. It promises justice equity and a restoration to a proper relationship.

In the Lukan narrative we become aware of the various human takes on that first Christmas. From the comparison of the opulence of the Roman Empire and the false saviour to the poverty of Joseph Mary and Jesus we connect to the shepherds as the angels announce the birth of the true Saviour. At first there’s fear doubt disbelief and then curiosity and action. As the angel appears by night to these shepherds we can imagine their fear – even with the words, “Do not be afraid”. Right – an angel – a super powerful being capable of destruction whose mere breath wiped out Sodom appears and says do not be afraid?! I think I would be frozen in fear. But the fear becomes disbelief and the curiosity and so they travel to Bethlehem to see for themselves. Their disbelief and doubts dissolve when they come into the stable and find the child exactly as had been told them. Hope joy rejoicing replace their fears and doubts and they return to their stations praising God. The vast array of human emotions were there that first Christmas, and despite all the bejewelled encrustations we have placed on Christmas – ever since those basic human emotions still exist still propel us and still define what Christmas is.

The reading from Titus which appropriately is combined with the angelic visitation to the shepherds puts a theological understanding on what Luke gives us as a narrative. We get a before and after picture of what Christ’s birth brings. Fears, obsessions, disobedience, slaves to various pleasures and passions now give way to health healing righteousness and salvation – not because of who we are or what we have done, but on what God has cone in Christ. God’s coming to us in the form of an infant frail vulnerable and in poverty has opened to all the opportunity for redemption and the means of salvation.

What does Christmas mean for you? I invite you to reflect and experience the greatest gift you’ll get this Christmas – the gift of God with us, Emmanuel, the infant Jesus, the Messiah of God.