by Dr. Joe McKeever
A pastor friend told us of the time he took his family to a neighboring church's Christmas Eve midnight service. He and his wife loved it -- they could enjoy the presentation without worrying about the details, a rarity for a minister -- but for his seven-year-old daughter, it was a different matter. She was eager to get home and into bed so Christmas could arrive on time. As the worship service dragged on, the child became impatient. When the minister began reading the second chapter of Luke -- "Now, it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus..." -- she said in a voice that carried into the next county, "I have HEARD this story!"
We have all heard it. But it bears repeating again and again.
My friend Doug Oldham loves to sing, "Tell me that name again. Tell me that name again. Tell me that name again---that name is Jesus." The old hymn goes, "Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious -- sweetest that ever was heard." When I was a child in that wonderful Methodist church in Affinity, West Virginia, number 100 in the hymnal was one I have loved ever since: "I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love....tis pleasant to repeat, what seems each time I tell it more wonderfully sweet." It goes on to say, "And when in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, 'twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long."
Granted, some stories do not bear repeating even once. And some that can stand a couple of repetitions get old quickly. My cousin Annette Spain interrupted the family reunion to take a call from her daughter Renee who had stayed home that weekend. "How was church this morning?" Annette asked, then broke into laughter. A couple of minutes later, she explained that the home church pastor had pulled out an old time-worn story and used it on the congregation for the umpteenth time. It involved a little girl who had strayed from home and fell into an abandoned well. The neighbors came together to search for her and eventually to rescue her. "I get so tired of that story," Annette said, "that sometimes I find myself rooting against them finding the kid just out of pure meanness!"
We all know the feeling.
One of the reasons the Luke 2 passage is so well-loved is that it nails down the time-frame when these things occurred. The birth of Jesus Christ is historical, it is factual, it is well-documented and reliable. It occurred at a real place in real time. As the Apostle Peter wrote in II Peter 1:16, "We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty."
Someone has written, "Poor Caesar Augustus! When he died in A.D. 14, they said he was a god and gods do not die. He would have been amazed to learn that his whole career would be dated by the life of a baby in a stable in Bethlehem. That his death would be forever recorded as "AD -- in the year of our Lord -- 14," instead of the Roman date: 767 A.U.C. (Latin for "from the founding of the city"). He would have been shocked to hear future generations wish one another "Merry Christmas" instead of "Lo Saturnalia," the great end-of-the-year festival in Rome, which was accompanied, incidentally, with pagan delights and some of the same trappings as our holiday celebrations including holly, mistletoe, evergreens, gifts, and of course, overeating and drinking."
One was a man who became a god. Jesus was God who became man. Augustus is only a footnote in history for most of us; Jesus is the living, reigning Lord of untold millions in every country of the world today.
Returning to Luke 2 now, another reason it is so well loved....
In these unsettled times, it helps to look at how others have drawn comfort and hope from these words. In 1944, German pastor Martin Niemoller brought a sermon to his suffering people in which he reminded them that only two small signs were given to the shepherds for finding Jesus: he would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He said, "The child that lies there wrapped in swaddling clothes is no less feeble and helpless than any other babe born into this world. The mother must care for him lest he perish, must wrap him in swaddling clothes lest he freeze to death, must nourish him lest he die of hunger. So the swaddling clothes are a characteristic sign and presage for the life of the man of whom it was said on a later day: 'He saved others; himself he cannot save' (Matthew 27:42)."
"In the second place," he continued, "the manger likewise is no mere pictorial feature for the enhancement of the poetry of Christmas; it is again a sign, a sign of the homelessness of this babe: 'there was no room for them in the inn.' The manger is also an omen, for the babe was to grow into the man who was forced to say of himself, 'The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head' (Matthew 8:20)."
Niemoller later points out, "It is to the shepherds that was given the first information about the Savior who lies as a babe in the manger. They are simple, plain, people: 'to the poor' is the gospel preached (Luke 4:18). They certainly did not have unlimited wishes and no grandiose hopes for their earthly existence; they assuredly did not dream of a Paradise on earth that was soon to come. And whoever does so will always disregard the Biblical tidings of Christ. But he who wishes to reach again an agreement with God and seeks peace of mind may and must be helped. The glad tidings of Christmas proclaim to him: 'God is near, to help you; Jesus Christ, your brother and your Savior, is here; fear not, only believe!'"
This morning, I found in some old papers a letter Billy Graham wrote to his ministry-supporters (I'm one!) back in 1995. He said something to the effect that "there are those who believe that our ministry will result in everyone in the world turning to Christ. But they will be disappointed. God has never promised such a thing. But in Christ, He has been calling out a people of His own."
The inimitable Joe Bayly said something that fits here and brings this all to a worthy conclusion:
"Praise God for Christmas.
Praise Him for the incarnation, for the Word made flesh.
I will not sing of shepherds watching flocks on frosty nights, or angel choristers.
I will not sing of a stable bare in Bethlehem, or lowing oxen, wise men trailing star with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Tonight I will sing praise to the Father who stood on heaven's threshold and said farewell to his Son as he stepped across the stars to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
And I will sing praise to the infinite, eternal Son who became most finite, a baby who would one day be executed for my crime.
Praise him in the heavens, praise him in the stable, praise him in my heart."
(Niemoller's sermon can be found in "Dachau Sermons" published in 1946. The Joe Bayly quote is from Bruce Larson's book on Luke in The Communicator's Commentary.)
[Editor's Note: Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/ ]
The Nativity of Christ - Christmas Day - What Can We Learn From the ICON?
This is not only the icon of the Birth of Christ, it is also the icon of the Burial and the Resurrection of Christ. The present and the future come together here. The swaddling clothes resemble the burial shroud, the cave resembles the tomb, from where Christ rose.
Wondering About Christmas by Dr. Joe McKeever
Have you ever wondered what those shepherds and their flocks were doing outside in the open in the dead of night? How many sermons have we heard over the years describing how shepherds put their sheep inside the shelter at night, and then lay down across the door opening, giving illustration to our Lord's teaching that "I am the door of the sheep."
Millions of people in this world do not know the reason, the reality, or the result of the First Christmas when God's Son, our Savior, arrived on this planet at a stable in Bethlehem. They do not know Jesus.
Malankara World Christmas Supplement
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