Summary: What is the reason for the season? Salvation!
Our advent series is entitled "Why Jesus? "Why Christmas?" and we have spent two weeks asking, and answering, the questions regarding Jesus. This morning, we look at the second question - "Why Christmas?"
Last week we asked the question, “Who Was Jesus?” and one of the answers to that question, besides the correct one that he is the Son of God, was that He was a poet. And in that thought I suggested that words are powerful things that can make or break us just like Christ’s words could forgive or condemn.
My favorite Christmas poem is by T.S. Eliot. It is called Journey Of The Magi. It is the remembrance of at least one of the wise men, many years since their journey to visit the Christ child and his personal reflection on what that trip did to him.
He recalls the tough journey in cold weather and inhospitable conditions. At one point he wished for "the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces/And the silken girls bringing sherbet."
Finally, and "not a moment too soon," they come to where the baby Jesus lay. But it is the final verse of that poem that makes it a part of this morning’s sermon.
In this final verse, he makes it clear that he would make the trip again if he had too. But, then the veil behind the long years since the journey is drawn back and he asks, "Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?"
"There was a birth, certainly,/We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen Birth and Death, But thought they were different; this Birth was/ Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death./We returned to our places, these kingdoms,/No longer at ease here, in the old dispensation."
What is he saying? "The birth of this child changed us. We went home and our old ways were no longer satisfying to us. It was different." Now who ever would think that Christmas could change any one like that? Does it seem to you these days that Christmas is just a brief interlude in the business of living? A chance to have a day off and to relax. A chance to give, and get, gifts. What is the reason for the season? Is Christmas supposed to change us?
Hollywood seems to think so! For example, this past weekend there was a Christmas movie on TV featuring Rob Lowe. I cannot remember the name of the movie, and quite frankly I did not see it, but from the commercials for it, I can almost guess with a high degree of accuracy what the plot line was something like this:
Successful person is pursuing success at the expense of family. Wife reminds him that his presence is important to the kids and her.
He goes on headlong in pursuit of whatever it is he is pursing until a child in a desperate and lonely situation catches his attention. The encounter forces the man to look at what is really important. Am I correct?
This is a common theme for movies and novels and stories this time of year. Why? Why do these themes constantly reappear this time of year?
What was is that made such a profound impact on a wise man, considered by some to be an astrologer, a fortuneteller? Why are stories like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol holiday favorites?
In our main text for this morning, another group of people who were impacted by Christmas were the shepherds. They were a group not highly regarded in their day. They raised sheep. And those sheep had a very important purpose regarding the faith practices of that time and place.
When God gave the Israelites what we call the Law as recorded in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, He laid down some rituals that were designed to help them maintain their relationship to God. And several of those rituals involved animal sacrifices. And of course the animal was what? A sheep or lamb.
There are two words used in the Bible for "lamb." One refers to a 1 to 3 year old male sheep and the second refers to a young lamb. The older lamb was used as a sacrifice twice daily, also on the Sabbath, and at certain major festivals throughout the year.
The biggest festival was the Passover festival that celebrated God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. So, there was a large market for sheep in Israel. So many, many lambs were sacrificed to God as part of the Israelite faith.
But, then one night, angelic beings arrive to tell these shepherds, that the Messiah had finally come! The Lamb of God had arrived! Their salvation, the deliverance, was at hand. God was returning to Israel just like the prophets has said. And the shepherds’ lives would never be the same again because there would be a new lamb that would be sacrificed.