All I Want For Christmas Is Jesus
✠ Do you notice how ordinary the birth of the Lord is? Luke gives us the actual birth in very stark terms. It says that Joseph went to Bethlehem with Mary who “was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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.”
That’s it. The greatest happening in history, the Son of God being born as a human being, and it gets a line or two. The baby isn’t even named. There are other events in the Bible that get lots more description and attention than this. Things get a little more exciting when an army of angels appear to some dazed shepherds in the fields, but no angels or special spiritual fireworks when Jesus is actually born.
And Jesus was born in a manger, which was a smelly animal trough. There is nothing clean or pure or For all that the account of Jesus’ birth really doesn’t tell us, it is interesting Luke notes the manger. It wasn’t the prettied-up and artistic manger like our cards, paintings, and Christmas pageants.
Someone observed that, “It was not by chance that Christ was born in a stable. What is the world but an immense stable where [people] produce filth and wallow in it?...Upon this earthly pigsty, (that’s what he called it) where no decorations or perfumes can hide the odor of filth, Jesus appeared one night, born of a stainless Virgin armed only with innocence.”
Jesus appeared in this earthly pigsty.
Even the optimists among us have to say this year hasn’t been the best smelling year. We humans are pretty good at producing the filth of division and greed, arrogance and hurt, suffering and trouble.
One of the promotional slogans of these COVID days that you find printed here and there is “we’re all in this together.” Well, when it comes to the brokenness of this world – what that one writer called a pigsty – we’re all in this together. Blame whoever you want for the state of things, but then point the finger at yourself, too.
We try to perfume our brokenness with Instagram posts showing how great our life is. We wear masks – figurative and literal this year. But I know what I am like inside, and even though I am a Christian, and a pastor no less, and continually ask God to make me better, there are dark, hard, and places with bad odor inside of me.
That stench comes out of us with the harsh comment, the vengeful attitude, the impure thought, or offensive actions. It can hurt those around us, and sometimes it hurts larger parts of our society and world.
We can be the cause as well as the victim. We hurt and get hurt. We break promises and have promises broken. We cause anxiety and carry anxiety.
We think it will all just get better if we try harder, meditate more, find a new spouse, a new place to live or new job, exercise more, eat better, or kick our addiction. None of those things are going to do it.
Which is why we need a Savior.
✠ The angels declared to those shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Jesus Christ is that Savior. And we need him.
Jesus is not going to save us from our political issues. He is not going to lower the national debt. He is not going make your life happier, and make sure you get that promotion. Because those things are not our greatest need. Jesus goes much deeper.
He goes to our hearts. Jesus goes to that place that no vaccine, no doctor, psychologist, or pastor can ultimately touch. Jesus goes to our hearts and convicts us of our sin. He lets us get a whiff of ourselves. He opens our souls to our need for God.
And then he takes up residence in us. I don’t know what’s more miraculous that God lay in a wretched, slimy manger when he entered this world, or that he actually comes and lives in us. But he does. He will come to our lives if we open that door. And when he does come, he is a constant presence who speaks, strengthens, convicts, guides, and saves.
Our sermons over Advent have been about what we want for Christmas. “All I Want For Christmas Is…” The better question is what we need for Christmas. We need Jesus.
We need Jesus’ forgiveness because we all fall short of doing all and being all God wants us to be.
We need Jesus’ compassion because we hurt and can be wounded.
We need Jesus because we need to hear the truth about ourselves.
We need Jesus because we need to know who God is and what he is about. Is he good? Does he care about me? And Jesus shows us the face of God.
We need Jesus because we need grace and truth.
We need Jesus’ death, because it is the only way to have reconciliation with God.
We need Jesus because on the cross this Savior dies. And as he does he takes all the filth of humanity upon himself. What you and I deserve he gets. He takes the blame. Jesus allows the darkness to swallow him whole.
We need Jesus’ life because death comes to us all, and he promised to give life beyond this life.
We need someone who knows our experience. Jesus was human.
We needs someone who is greater than our experience and can save us from it. Jesus is God.
We need someone who is present. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
We need someone who we can understand. God didn’t send a formula or complicated system to relate to him. Jesus walked and talked and lived on this earth.
We need him because he is the Savior. And as Peter preached in Acts 4, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
✠ On a hot August day in 1944 in the small village of Plelo, located in France and occupied by the Germans, the citizens had been brought out of their houses by German soldies and were all lined up in the town square. One of those was a 15-year old boy who had no idea why they were being lined up before German soldiers with guns. Maybe it was because the town had hid a unit of French underground freedom fighters. Maybe it was just because the Germans were angry and just bloodthirsty.
The boy thought about his growing up, and how scared he now was of dying. He hoped no one could hear the whimperings coming deep from his throat every time he exhaled.
Suddenly, the boy heard the sound of exploding mortar shells in the nearby distance. He heard rolling tanks, and the German firing squad scattered only to face a small unit of U.S. tanks and twenty American soldiers led by Bob Hamsley. Hamsley was a corporal in General Patton’s Third Army. A French freedom fighter had found Hamsley and desperately asked him for help.
After three hours the Nazis were defeated. Some dead. Some taken prisoner.
In 1990, the town of Plelo honored Bob Hamsley on that very spot where the villagers would have died if not for him. The man who initiated the search for that corporeal who had led the American forces back in 1944 was the former mayor of Plelo, that same 15-year-old boy. He made it his life quest to find the man who saved his life in order that he might honor him.
It’s hard to forget your savior. What is your life quest, and who do you want your life to honor?
The good news is that we don’t have to search very far to find the one who has saved us. He is just a prayer away. He is with us tonight. He has been with us through this year of pandemic and upheaval. He promises to come and make his home in our lives if we welcome him.
And there is no life that smells so bad, that the child – the Lord Jesus Christ - who laid in that manger, an animal trough, won’t come to.
You need him, and I need him.
Prayer: O Lord, our God, even though you are great and exalted above all people, you don’t forget us, you don’t abandon us, nor reject us despite the messes we make and the messes we can be. In Jesus Christ, your Son, you have given us all that is yours. We praise you for being our Savior.
We spread before you all that troubles us, our mistakes, our errors, our sins, our sorrows and cares, also our rebellion and our bitterness – our whole heart, our whole life which you know better than we know ourselves. Thank you for taking us as we are and strengthening us where we are weak. Forgive us where we fail. Restore us where we have been much less than you desire. For you are good and loving and welcome us home to you.
Let your love and goodness shine upon our loved ones tonight,
…upon all who are sick,
…upon those who are in hospitals,
…upon all who are facing death or grieving recent losses,
…upon those who are alone.
Let your kindness shine upon all those in our military who are overseas tonight and apart from their families,
…upon all prisoners,
…upon those in rehabilitation centers,
…upon those who are homeless.
We also pray for the lonely…the depressed…and those hurting in mind and spirit.
To all these we ask you to come, Lord Jesus. Come with your upholding grace.
Protect our elderly. Bless our children. Have mercy upon our families.
And may your church throughout the world, breakthrough the glitter of the holiday and truly celebrate Christmas – which is the coming of God in Jesus, our Savior, Christ the Lord.
In his name we pray. Amen.