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Summary: Christmas Service message/meditation.

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MRB Beth-El 2000-12-24

Burlap Christmas – Luke 2:1-20

I. God appearing in human form not unique to Christianity.

A. Whether eastern mystery religions, Greek mythologies, African nature religions, the “gods” often show up looking like humans.

1. Often as a trick rather than self-revelation.

2. Or a temporary divine presence in/with particular person, or mystical human form.

3. More often – human achieves some higher level of divinity, not the divine descending to the human.

B. So, while idea of gods in human form is not unique, _this_ story stands alone – with God, in time & space & history, actually _becoming_ a human being.

1. The timeless eternal one – enters time, on one particular night in the flow of centuries.

2. The immaterial spirit – takes on human flesh, with face and arms and toes.

3. The infinite, all-powerful, self-sufficient, unlimited one – become a helpless baby who must be nursed and changed, held and burped.

4. The holy Creator of the universe – enters a world where puppet kings attempt to kill him, and eventually succeed in driving nails thru his hands into the wooden beams of a tree.

--> That, indeed is unique among the religions of the world.

II. As such a unique, all significant event – surely there was enough time to do a better job of planning.

A. Ephesians 1:4 – “before the foundation of the world”.

1. Due date conflict with the census at Bethlehem, 75 miles away – on donkey trails?

2. No room at the inn?

3. Delivery in a barn?

4. Visitors are strangers from the sticks, with one of the dirtiest jobs around?

B. Ah, but that was precisely the plan!!

1. Not palaces & purity, silver & satin -- but crowded & cold, barn & burlap.

C. Yes, burlap.

1. Most pageants – angels with fine white cloth and golden head bands. They get clouds and sweet songs for props.

a) indeed there were angels that night – but to whom did they appear??

2. Shepherds – who wear burlap. Who get a stable with its smells and filth.

a) Shepherds – generally looked down upon.

(1) Worked with the sheep all day, sleep outside with the animals at night, then come into town in their rough-sewn garments -- dirty, sweaty and smelly.

b) The rough and not so attractive folk – the ones who wore burlap rather than satin.

D. And that’s precisely who most of us are in this pageant – Indeed who most of us are in life, spiritually speaking.

1. Although we want to look like we wear fine, smooth satin -- we know in our heart and soul that we are clothed in burlap.

a) Is 64:6 “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.”

b) We know it is true of us. Our lives can be dark, chaotic, not so tidy, and a bit smelly.

III. It is the nature of the incarnation that God came to those in burlap.

A. Not because we like being that way, or want to stay that way.

1. Because of our sin and brokenness.

B. God wanted to make clear that he comes to the smelly, dark corners of our existence, in our desperateness, our loneliness, our rejection, our pain, our unwhole-ness, our sinfulness.

1. He comes to our unswept barns, the cold nights of our despair.

2. He comes for the very purpose of delivering us from the raw stables of our souls, to life that is real and whole and genuinely good.

a) As Jesus told his disciples in John 10:10 – “I have come that you might have life, life that is abundant and full.”

3. God came in Christ to give us a makeover.

a) From spiritual burlap to “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Rev 21:2

C. Those dressed in finery, for the most part, missed Jesus. The priests & rulers, the powerful and self-sufficient. They didn’t see God.

1. He came to those in burlap. Declaring that God is with US. That he comes to us as we really are – as persons wearing spiritual burlap, but with the longing for the wholeness of spiritual satin.

a) He comes to us in the burlap of our souls, and brings to us the joy of salvation, & the finery of being clothed with his righteousness.

IV. After the pageant my sixth grade year, the crowd applauded and we young actors went back stage.

A. Sally carefully removed her satin angel costume, while Rodney and I yanked off our shepherd’s burlap as fast as we could.

1. “Don’t tear it,” the director, Ruth, said. “We’ll need it for next year.”

B. Yes indeed. For without it, those who watch the pageants of this, the most significant event in history, may just miss the true lesson of Christmas. God has come to us in our burlap, & we hear the angel’s song of God with us, and peace on earth to all.

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