I wish you all a very merry Christmas. Below is one of my favorite Christmas carols, which dates from 12th century Ireland: The Wexford Carol. This version features Alison Krause on vocals and Yo-Yo Ma on Cello.
Here is my sermon from Christmas Eve 2008
It was time for the annual Christmas pageant at one church.
The manger was down in front of the sanctuary, where it always was.
Mary was there in a blue cloak and Joseph had on his beard made of cotton.
The wise men were also there, along with a handful of shepherds,
and, of course, in the midst of them all was the baby, lying in the straw.
The Christmas story was read by the pastor with carols sung at the appropriate places,
and everything went off without a hitch until it was time for heavenly host of angels to arrive.
The angels were the children of the congregation,
who were robed in white and sitting in the pews with their parents.
At the right moment they were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men,
and that is just what they did.
There was just one problem — there were so many of them that night that there was a quite a bit of crowding and jockeying for position.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men,” they all sang on cue, and then in the brief pause that followed,
one small girl on the edge of the heavenly host,
and who was frustrated because she couldn’t see a thing,
electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked,
"Let Jesus show!" she shouted.
There was a lot of the service still to go,
but the pastor of this church later said that one of the best things he ever did in his life was to end everything right there.
"Let Jesus show!” the child cried out,
and while the congregation was still sitting in stunned silence,
the pastor gave the benediction,
and everybody filed out of the church with those unforgettable words ringing in their ears.
Let Jesus show.
That’s why we are here tonight, isn’t it?
To let him show, to let him shine into the darkness of the world and our lives.
We want to see Jesus.
The question is, what Jesus do we really want to see?
Are we only here to see a little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes,
or are we here to see the King of Kings who brings with him the salvation we so desperately need?
Talledega Nights is a silly movie that stars the comedian Will Ferrell.
Ferrell plays a champion NASCAR driver, Ricky Bobby,
and the film follows his rise, fall, and return to NASCAR stardom.
One scene in the movie stood out for me as I was thinking about tonight’s message.
Ricky Bobby is sitting down to dinner with his family and best-friend and co-driver Cal.
And before they dig in, he leads the family in prayer,
which goes something like this….
Dear Baby Jesus, or as our brothers to the south call you, Jésus…
we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell.
I just want to take time to say thank you for my family,
I also want to thank you for my best friend and teammate, Cal Naughton Jr, Who’s got my back no matter what.
Dear Lord Baby Jesus . . .
And at about this point, Ricky Bobby’s wife interrupts to tell him,
“You know, Jesus did grow up.
You don’t always have to call him baby.
It’s a bit odd and off-putting to pray to a baby.”
To which Ricky replys, “Well look, I like the Christmas Jesus best,
and I’m saying grace.
When you say grace you can say it to grown-up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whatever you want.”
And then just to make his point abundantly clear, Ricky closes his prayer,
“Dear 8-pound, 6-ounce baby Jesus, newborn,
not even spoken a word yet…Amen.”
Perhaps the reason Ricky Bobby’s prayer to the eight pound six ounce baby Jesus is funny is that it reveals a truth about many of us.
We really do prefer the Christmas Jesus – gentle Jesus meek and mild –
to the adult Jesus who stormed into the world causing turmoil,
disrupting lives and the staid religion of the day.
Jesus did grow up and cause a stir.
And he still does today.
So which Jesus do you like best?
At Christmastime, we focus on the baby in the manger.
But I wonder how many of us keep him there?
It’s easy to do.
The Christmas Jesus, the baby Jesus makes us feel good.
He’s cute, comfortable, and completely non-threatening.
We can come back to the manger year after year and pay our respects to the baby therein, and walk away completely unchanged.
But what Ricky Bobby chose to ignore,
and what we sometimes fail to remember, is that THIS child,
currently resting in Mary’s lap, is no ordinary baby.
THIS child will grow up to become the man who will walk on water and feed 5,000 men from a couple loaves and fish.
He will heal people of their diseases and cast out demons.
He will even raise people from the dead.
He is the One who was in the beginning with God,
who Himself was God, the One through whom all things were made.
THIS child is Christ the King and he is Emmanuel- GOD with us.
And this Jesus means business.
This Jesus intends to change to world, as well as our hearts and minds,
and he’s not at all meek or mild when it comes to accomplishing these things.
He came to transform a sinful world,
and that kind of transformation does not come easily.
It makes you wonder some of the same things the writer of the Christmas carol wondered when he asked:
What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
The poem on which this old carol is based was written by William Chatterton Dix and is entitled “The Manger Throne”
One of it’s stanzas makes it clear that this baby is very different:
Now a new Power has come on the earth,
A match for the armies of Hell:
A Child is born who shall conquer the foe,
And all the spirits of wickedness quell:
For Mary’s Son is the Mighty One
Whom the prophets of God foretell.
Jesus, the baby in the manger, will not stay a baby.
He will grow up and he will tell the world that God’s kingdom is near,
and some of what he has to say is hard to swallow.
Ley me give you just two examples:
Mat 5:38-45 "You have heard that it was said,
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.
"You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.
Mat 16:24-27 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
And not only does this grown-up Jesus say things that offend our sensibilities,
he also acts in way that are contrary to the “me-first-and-the-one-with-the-most toys-at-the-end-wins” attitude prevalent in our world.
In other words, he takes his own words to heart,
and thus he lives his life is in direct contras
t to world’s definition of success.
This baby born in a manger is a baby who was born to die,
for us and so that we can have life, now and eternally.
In fact, he gives himself up completely for us and for our sake:
Mar 14:22-24 And as they were eating, he took bread,
and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said,
"Take; this is my body."
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
And he said to them,
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
And so, like the nativity scene here in our church chancel,
the cross of Christ stands over the stable and shapes this infant’s life.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
And so we are left with a choice to make.
We can worship and praise this baby Jesus,
we can celebrate his birth,
and we can leave here basically unchanged and do it all over again next year,
or we can let this “infant holy, infant lowly” into our souls,
we can take his teaching to heart,
and we can let his love mold and shape us,
recreating us into his own image.
Simply put, we can let Jesus show for just tonight,
or we can let him show every day in our lives.
Which will it be for you?