Summary: A Christmas sermon reminding us of how Jesus became poor that we might become rich.
AM Sermon preached at Syria Christian Church December 14, 2003
“Riches to Rags to Riches: the story of Christmas”
[SERMON TITLE SLIDE]
According to the Atlanta Journal "The Ten Commandments contain 297 words. The Bill of Rights is stated in 463 words. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address contains 266 words. A recent federal directive to regulate the price of cabbage contains 26,911 words." Just think how lengthy that directive would have been if the government had not passed “The Paperwork Reduction Act”!
John 1:1 and John 1:14 together contain only 49 words in the NIV translation. Yet what we find in them according to one commentary is the “most compact and pulsating theological statement in all of Scripture.” Another writer comments, “the force of what he says here is so staggering that the words almost seem to bend under the weight they are made to bear…” These two verses serve as the Springboard from which we’ll dive into this morning’s message “Riches to Rags to Riches: the story of Christmas.” We read them in the opening responsive reading. I‘d like to reread them now… [SCRIPTURE SLIDES FOR JOHN 1:1 & 1:14]
[SLIDE WITH 1ST SERMON POINT: the riches He gave up]
The Word was God. The Word became flesh. Christmas friends is about the Word God becoming one of us. So that when the shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem to see the baby what they saw was…The Creator in a cradle. Man’s Maker in a manger. God in a box. No matter how you say it…there’s an awe attached to it, isn’t there?
The Word was God. It had always been that way…even before time began…that’s the idea carried in that phrase “In the beginning.” Contrary to what some Jehovah Witnesses or Mormans might say about Jesus, this verse makes it clear that Jesus, the Word, had always been God. And this verse lets us in on the fact that the sacrifice of Jesus entailed much more than His death on the cross. The sacrifice of Jesus included every moment the Word dwelt among us in the trappings of humanity.
In an article titled “Gift Wrapping God” that appeared in Christianity Today (12-8-97, p. 32-33.), Mary Ellen Ashcroft wrote: “To get ready for Christmas, God undressed. God stripped off his finery and appeared – how embarrassing – naked on the day he was born ….What many don’t know about Christianity is that God has chosen to identify with their pain, their humanness, their flesh.”
Philippians 2 and Hebrews bear this out. [SCRIPTURE SLIDES] “Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” --Phil 2:5-7 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.” --Hebrews 4:15
Whenever we approach that ancient scene of Christ’s birth in our minds and hearts, we should do it with a sense of astonishment, wonder, love and joy as we recall not only the riches Jesus gave up to be able to live among us but also the life He chose to live in human form. [SLIDE WITH SECOND SERMON POINT: The rags He put on.]
[SCRIPTURE SLIDES --- THEN ON TO SECOND POINT SLIDE AGAIN]
Luke 2: 8-12 read: “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Through the years I’ve had to lay aside many of the ideas and notions I’ve had in my head about Christmas. Many of the things I’ve had to lay aside have been prompted by the traditions of men---some have been the creations of my own mind. For example---I’ve used to think Jesus was born in something that resembled a wooden barn and that when He was born he was laid in a wooden manger. Today I believe Jesus was probably born in something that looked more like a cave than a wood barn and He was probably placed in a feeding trough carved out of stone. I’ve learned we have no idea as to the number of wisemen---there could have been three…but then again their could have been two or four or eight…we don’t know---all we know is that there was more than one. And chances are the wisemen didn’t travel alone but they had a whole group of people make the journey with them. And most likely they arrived on the scene months and not moments after Jesus was born. On and on I could go. And truthfully I’d gotten to the point after nearly 2 decades of preaching and studying the Christmas story that I didn’t think there were many more details I could be surprised by. But then it happened again this week. I’ve had to change my mental image of the swaddling clothes. You see, I’ve always had this image in my mind that the reason Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth was because Mary and Joseph were so poor. I’d always imagined that at some point before Jesus was born Mary or Joseph had either collected scraps of cloth or they had torn into small strips some aged garment throwing away the most worn pieces and keeping the better ones to use on the baby. But now I believe that that mental image has been wrong.