Summary: What did the birth of Jesus bring to the world that offered Hope?
OPEN: I love singing Christmas carols… so I’d like you to join me in singing this one. It’s called “O Holy Night” and it goes like this:
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new glorious morn. Fall on your knees - O hear the angel voices! O night divine. O night when Christ was born. O night divine – O night, O night divine.”
I love that song. It’s been performed by such singers as Nat King Cole, Mahalia Jackson, Mariah Carey, Bing Crosby, Martina McBride, Mercy Me, Carrie Underwood and Josh Groban.
I love singing that song, but its not an easy one to sing. If you don’t start out low enough, it can get hard to hit that high note sometimes. But when you get all the notes just right…it can send chills up and down your back.
Now, there were 2 things that caught my attention about this song and the 1st is this: This carol was inspired by the story of the shepherds out in the field. For example, the carol declares “O holy night the stars are brightly shining, it is the NIGHT of our dear Savior’s birth.” And Luke says “… there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by NIGHT.” Luke 2:8
And then the song declares “O hear the ANGEL VOICES”, and Luke tells us “suddenly there was with the angel A MULTITUDE OF THE HEAVENLY HOST praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" Luke 2:13-14
So that’s the first thing that caught my attention the song was inspired shepherds and the angels in the field. But then there was this phrase in the song that stood out to me: “A Thrill of HOPE” (it’s where I got the idea for the sermon title). And the more I thought about it, the more I realized… they got that dead-on! HOPE is the message of the Christmas story. And if you take Christ out of Christmas, you’ve pretty much take the HOPE out of the season.
ILLUS: About 15 years ago, one of the Elementary Schools in Dodgeville, WI, decided to change their Christmas program to a "winter program." In other words, this wasn’t going to be about Christmas, and Jesus wasn’t going to be invited to the party. The put on a play called “Cold in the Night” and changed the words of the song “Silent Night” to “Cold In The Night.” Part of the lyrics went like this: “How I WISH I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm." (AFA 12/09/05)
Now, does that sound like a cheerful song to you? Me neither. But that’s what happens when you take Jesus away. The world often becomes harsher… darker… lonelier. And that’s what the song “O Holy Night” was trying to describe: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”
So that sets the plate for us. The world – without Jesus – is a world filled with sin and error. A world that can often be harsh and lonely. A world without HOPE! But the question is: What did the baby Jesus bring that the world hadn’t had before? What is it about this birth of Jesus that brought hope into our lives.
Well, the first thing I saw here was this: this baby was a gift FROM God. Jesus wasn’t some mere mortal born by chance in an obscure town called Bethlehem. God had planned this whole thing out to smallest detail, and this child was a declaration that God cared for you and me. This was God’s gift to us.
ILLUS: Years ago, a teacher in England helped her students build manger scene in a corner of her classroom. There was a model barn with the floor covered with real straw and the clay figures of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the animals and so on -- all facing a little crib with a tiny doll representing the baby Jesus. One boy absolutely enthralled with the scene. He kept returning to it, and each time he wore puzzled expression on his face. The teacher finally asked him, "Is something bothering you Johnny? Is there something I can explain to you?" With his eyes still glued to the manger scene, the boy said slowly, "What I'd like to know is, where does God fit in?"
Now why was that boy so confused? He was confused because all he saw was a BARN, filled with a bunch of working-class shepherds, a humble man and woman… and they’re all looking down on a baby in a feeding trough. And he’s asking himself: Where is God in all that? He’s just NOT Seeing It.