There are four sermons on this page in chronological order covering some, or all, of the first twenty verses in Luke 2:

24th & 25th December 2012

Last Friday 78-year-old John McCarter from Coleraine, County Londonderry, who has spent 29 Christmases without electricity, had it installed into his bungalow. The home that he has lived in since 1983 has been heated by two open coal fires, with candles providing his only light.

The Old Testament reading for today says, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

The glory of God shone around the angles who appeared to the shepherds.
 
The light of the star led the Maji to the baby Jesus, who later described himself as the light of the world.

We live in a dark world.
The darkness of the lies of politicians about their expenses and other things.
The darkness of the lies of the police about a politician and their closeness to the media.
The darkness of powerful, famous people in broadcasting, exploiting children, and the failure of the BBC to manage this.
The darkness of people being killed in Syria, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan.
The darkness of people in poverty this Christmastime.

Where can we find light?

The five phrases given to the shepherds bring hope and light.
"Do not be afraid." First century Israel was not a safe place to be. King Herod was subject to fits of murderous rage. Travelling around could be dangerous with robbers and wild animals. The angels must have alarmed the shepherds, too! Their message, and angel means messenger, is "Do not be afraid". Why? Because God is in control. Amidst all the darkness, fear and chaos God has a plan. For ever person, you, me, and the whole human race.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." It is rare to find good news. It doesn't sell newspapers! The story of John McCarter was hidden away on breakfast news last Friday. Had he been murdered he could have been on the front pages! Christmas is about good news. The good news of Jesus has been transforming people's lives for the better for nearly two thousand years. In turn, some of these people have transformed society in helping to abolish slavery, child labour, and to provide health care and schooling. This good news is for all people, so it includes you and me!
"Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." A baby who will save people has been born. We know the place, Bethlehem, the town of David. He was born in time. Today, to the shepherds, was probably about 5 BC, because Jesus was born when Herod was King, and he died in 4BC. This child was born to die so he could give life to others. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus saves people who trust him from separation from God into God's eternal kingdom.

"This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Jesus is human. He was born into a poor and difficult environment. No plush cot but an animal's feeding trough. His first visitors were shepherds, who were considered unclean and untrustworthy at that time. He was wrapped in simple cloths, prefiguring the cloths he would be wrapped in after he died and was placed in the tomb.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." The angels worshipped God. The shepherds did later. "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
Today, and every day, God invites us to praise and worship Him for sending Jesus to earth and allowing us to realise what he has done for us in Jesus. God gives peace to people in an unsettling and hostile world.

God gives light to illuminate our lives through Jesus. The light of Jesus can transform your life, giving you security, warmth, the ability to truly see.

John McCarter said that he thought electricity would be a miracle to him, allowing him to read when it was dark. He was even considering having a television.
 

I pray that Jesus will transform your life this Christmas and into 2013.

24/12/96 10.30 p.m. Luke 2:1-20

How many people here really believe that, as I speak a portly, jolly old man with a white beard is currently distributing Christmas gifts around the world ? Yes, we think it is a lovely story, but we know it is not true.

Perhaps some people think that about the birth of Jesus. A lovely story, a lovely idea, yet one to be put to one side for the rest of the year.

Luke's gospel was written as an orderly account of Jesus life to someone called Theophilus, cf 1:3.

In the first 3 verses of our reading Luke specifies exactly why, when and where the birth of Jesus took place. This is important for two reasons. The first is that we can identify a time that God burst into human history as a man, or rather as a baby. Luke has carefully recorded that there was a census decreed by Caesar Augustus, and that Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Secondly it is important that Jesus, the Saviour v.11, was born in Bethlehem to fulfill what was foretold in the O.T. ( Micah 5:2 ).

The O.T also said that the Messiah, Christ, anointed one was to be a descendant of David. We know from verse 4 that Joseph was descended from David.

We can see from this that we have a God who is in control, who is sovereign over human history. Caesar Augustus wouldn't have seen himself as carrying out the will of God, but he was ! We may look around at the world today, at the wickedness and injustice of humankind and wonder what God is doing. If he really is in control. But he is. Perhaps not in a way that we would want or expect, but he is sovereign. That Jesus has not returned to judge everyone is due to God's compassion and mercy in giving people more time to turn to him, rather than face his wrath.

We don't know how far into her pregnancy Mary was when she travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She would have been at least three months pregnant because she had been told of her pregnancy by the angel Gabriel, then spent three months with Elizabeth and Zechariah ( Luke 1:56 ). But Mary may not have been much more to avoid gossip in Nazareth, and also so that she would not be heavily pregnant and have to travel.

A father took his young son for a walk by a golf course. The lad asked his dad to let him borrow his walking stick. The boy used the stick like a golf club, swinging it at stones and shrubs. In doing so he disturbed nest of ants which, hurt, disturbed and terrified began to scurry off in all directions.

The boy was upset and, looking up to his father said "Dad, I am sorry for upsetting those poor ants. Won't you tell them how sorry I am, please."

The father looked at his son with an amused smile and said : " I am glad that you care so much for these little creatures. But I cannot give your message to them. In order to do that I should have to be born an ant, and learn to speak their language, for they cannot understand ours."

Read verses 6f.

Jesus was born. 100% God and 100% man. Every baby is a gift from God and special, but this one was unique. Yes he was a helpless baby, needing to be fed, kept warm, cleansed, and comforted. He would have to grow up, be taught to read and write, to know human emotions. Joy, pain, rejection, hunger, fatigue, tears, laughter, and temptation. Yet he was able to resist the temptation to depart from God's way. In doing so he was able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for the times that we have given in to temptation. When we have failed to love God with our whole being, and failed to love our neighbour as ourselves. We celebrate and proclaim this as we share in the bread and wine tonight.

Like many modern parents we made many preparations before Joshua was born. We decorated his room, bought a cot, carry cot, buggy, car seat etc. Joshua wasn't immediately appreciative of these things. As we left the hospital, put a woolly hat on him and put him in the car seat he cried. Most of the way home as I recall.

The one who had been promised in the O.T., the Messiah was born. Or Christ as verse 11 says. Perhaps we might expect such an important person to be accorded a privledged location. A clean, royal palace. Attended by medics and nursemaids.

Jesus was born in an unhygienic, stable. Surrounded by animals. As a new born baby he was wrapped in cloths, for warmth, protection and security. But he was put in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals used as a makeshift cot.

The lowly place of his birth showed the type of ministry that Jesus was to have. One that did not reflect the grandeur of his heavenly origins, but that showed his humility, his desire to identify with people. To reveal God to man by getting alongside us. Not speaking from on high. That humility was to lead to the humiliation, the shame, the public spectacle of being killed on a cross.

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die. He calls us, his disciples to take up our cross and follow him. To reach out to those who do not know God with all the pain and rejection that will flow from this. As we think of our roast turkey and Christmas pud self-denial may be a bit difficult to swallow. But it is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus sacrifice on the cross was about self-denial. Our lives should be about self-denial because our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus.

The lowly ministry of Jesus was underlined by the fact that shepherds were invited to see this new born Saviour. Shepherds were lower class and considered to be untrustworthy, they were ceremonially unclean because of their job, so could not take part in the Jewish religious life. They were social and religious outcasts. Yet it was to them that God chose to reveal his plan to save everyone. Not the religious leaders of the day, not the rulers and governors of the Roman Empire, but outcasts. No-one is ever too far away from God. No-one is unimportant to God.

Jesus shows this to us. The Christ-mas story reveals this to us.

The angel said, verse 10 "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.."

We live in a world of bad news. We only have to read the newspapers, turn on the television or radio to know this. But, here is good news ! Not just for the religious, for people of a certain race, class, sex, colour, or culture, but for "all the people" verse 10. Everyone. You, me, our friends, colleagues, families, neighbours.

I don't know if you have seen the adverts for the new Hitachi surround sound stereo televisions. They boast that you don't need additional speakers to enjoy surround sound in the comfort of your living room. It would be good news if I were to tell you that on Friday Normid are selling them for 5 each. You might find such information exciting, it might encourage you to queue early at Normid on Friday morning. To tell your friends and neighbours... But of course, it isn't true. And anyway, before you know it such a television would be out of date replaced by another new, improved model. And in time it would break down.

The good news of Jesus is true. It is never out of date, will never break down and be useless. It has eternal significance. It is for everyone and, verse 11 this involves a Saviour. One who has saved us by living a perfect life, and dying in our place on the cross.

This Christmas Eve we remember Jesus' death for us on the cross and this is linked to his resurrection. It is also linked to his birth because without Easter there would be no Christmas. Our calender is measured Before Christ and A.D. the year of our Lord, after Christ's birth. Someone once said "The cross is the centre of the world's history. The incarnation of Christ and the crucifixion of our Lord are the pivot round which all the events of the ages revolve."

The shepherds responded to the message given to them by the angels. Even though it would have been difficult, even dangerous, they left their sheep and hurried to Bethlehem. Unable to see in the pitch dark. They arrived at the stable, saw the baby Jesus, told others of the good news and returned glorifying and praising God. It involved proclamation, telling others, and praising God.

That response of responding to Jesus, telling others, and praising God is one that we are called to make. Not just this Christmas, not just on Sundays, but every day.

May we all know the peace and the joy that Jesus brought the shepherds this Christmas and in 1997.

14/11/97 10.45 a.m. Luke 2:1-7.

PRAY He is little and weak that we may be great and strong.

He is bound in swaddling cloth, that we may be unbound from the fetters of death.

He is on earth, that we may be in heaven. Amen.

From our gospel reading today we will be looking at the three S's. So if you all go out of church going SSSSS I will not take that as you voicing your disapproval !

The Sovereignty of God.

The Surety of the Scriptures. That's actually two S's isn't it ... I'd better start again...

From our gospel reading today we will be looking at the four S's !

The Sovereignty of God.

The Surety of the Scriptures.

The Servanthood of Jesus.

The Sovereignty of God.

God, in Christ was born about 2,000 years ago. Caesar Augustus was Roman Emperor from 30 B.C. to 14 A.D. Caesar Augustus means increasing majesty. Under his reign the Roman Empire grew and became stable. It was vast and largely peaceful. Caesar Augustus promoted arts, education and trade. Roads were built that enabled safe and easy travel. The environment was ideal for an itinerant peacher to minister, and for his followers to spread his teachings quickly throughout the known world.

Quirinius became a consul in 12 B.C. and died in 21 A.D. We know from Matthew's gospel that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod, who tried to kill Jesus. Herod was King from 40 B.C. and died in 4 B.C.

Therefore, Jesus was probably born in 4 B.C. There was no year 0, so this year 1997 is probably the true millennium, the 2,000th year after the birth of Christ ! Excuse me while I just phone Peter Mendleson. He can save the money they were going to spend on that dome and build some homes. Homes not Domes !

Seriously, though, we can accurately date the time that Jesus was born, and where he was born. The time and place are crucial , and show the sovereignty of God. God who waited for the right time and place for His Son to be born a man.

The census was called to count people so that they could be taxed. The Roman Empire made a concession to the Jewish ways of people knowing their family trees, and having a 'home town'. Joseph's 'home town' was Bethlehem. So he had to travel there. He travelled there with Mary.

We don't know how far Mary was into her pregnancy when they travelled, other than she was at least three month's pregnant. Read Luke 1:56. Joseph was not married to Mary, and even if they had been married she would not have had to accompany him for the census. It could be that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem to escape the gossip that there would be when she was obviously pregnant. It could be that Joseph knew that the birth would happen whilst he was away and he wanted to be with her when Jesus was born. Also he may have wanted to protect her from the comments that would be made when she , a single mother, would be seen with her baby.

As good Jews Joseph and Mary may also have been aware of Micah 5:2. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, one whose origins are from old, from ancient times."

This leads us onto our second, and third S's !

The Surety of Scripture. We can be sure of the Scriptures, they are trustworthy.

Micah was written over 700 years before the birth of Jesus.

Last week we read Isaiah 7:10-16 to discover that our Saviour would be conceived by a virgin, and called Immanuel, God with us. Isaiah was written over 600 years before the birth of Jesus.

So we have two examples of the plan of salvation that God had devised before time began. Not only that but God had planned it down to the last detail, and also decided to reveal some of his plan through his prophets, or spokesperson.

It is as if God is like a person playing cards. He doesn't produce his winning hand out of nowhere, to the surprise of everyone. He lays his cards on the table slowly, for people to see, over hundreds of years. Only at the last and right moment does he produce his final card that makes sense of his whole hand. By the way, this is just an illustration. I don't want it getting round the parish that I think that God plays cards !

This links up with the Sovereignty of God. If there had been no census, if Mary had become pregnant at a different time, if she had not been engaged to someone who was a descendant of David with his roots in Jerusalem, then the Scriptures that point to Jesus would not have been fulfilled.

We have a God who is powerful and in control of history.

So we have the sovereignty of God, the surety, or the certainty of Scripture.

The Servanthood of Jesus.

When Gaius Octavius was born on 23rd September 63 B.C. he had a magnificent cot with purple blankets and silken sheets. His family had a large wonderful, with central heating and lots of servants. They had stables full of magnificent thorough-bred horses with golden chariots. Gaius' uncle was Julius Caesar who adopted him, to groom him to become Emperor. He became Caesar Augustus and was Emperor when Jesus was born.

Jesus was the Messiah, to be born in the Messiah's town of Bethlehem. He is God, by whom all things were made. He left the glory of heaven to come to earth. We see in the stable at Bethlehem the type of earthly life and ministry that he was starting. Not the luxury and glory due to a King, never mind God. But ordinary, humble, even squalid surroundings.

Many of us have an image of Mary and Joseph alone in a stable for the birth of Jesus. However, this may not be what happened. When they travelled to Bethlehem for the census Joseph and Mary were going there because it was his family home. Just as Norwich is still my family home. I have a number of relations who live there today.

From the gospels we know that there were some relatives living in the Bethlehem area. Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist lived nearby in Judea. Mary's visit to them is recorded in Luke 1:39-45.

There was almost certainly a family home in Bethlehem itself with married children living with, or very near to their father and mother. Such homes would have a number of floors. An upper floor would feature a guest room, the lower room or cellar would be used as a storeroom and stable. The heat from the animals would rise to help warm the upper floors. In some circumstances the stable would be a cave underneath the house. When I visited Israel we went into such a cave and held a communion service there.

So Jesus could well have been born in the stable of the family home in Bethlehem.

Ah, you are thinking, but Luke 2:7 says that Mary "wrapped him in cloths and placed him in the manger, because there was no room at the inn."

The Greek word 'katalyma', translated 'inn' is not the most common Greek word for inn.'Pandacheion' is. This is the word used to describe the inn that the good Samaritan went to with the Jew who had been robbed.

'Katalyma' can mean 'inn' sometimes, but more often means 'guest room'. It is used to describe the room that Jesus and his disciples were in when they had the Last Supper. So, it would make sense to understand that Mary and Joseph arrived at the family home, and there was no room in the guest room, so they went downstairs to the stable. There Mary would have been assisted with the birth by her female relatives. Upstairs the men probably encouraged a nervous Joseph with their own stories of children and child-birth !

That Jesus was born in the stable of a house, and not an inn, is supported by Matthew's gospel which ( 2:11 ) refers to the wise men coming to "the house". The Greek word for 'house' can only be translated that way.

There was no room. From the very start of his life Jesus was homeless, excluded, poor, and helpless. A new born baby fills us with wonder at the creative power and genius of God. Fills us with awe at this miniature human being. Shows us the helplessness of a baby. Who will rely on others to feed him, change him, move him, and put him in a place to sleep.

Jesus cot was not like that of Gaius Octavius. It was a rough wooden feeding trough. Babies were normally wrapped in long strips of cloths to provide warmth, protection, and a sense of security.

Jesus' central heating was the animals in the stable !

His mode of transport a donkey shared with his mother.

Already we have clues that this Messiah, Jesus, is not going to live the life that we might expect of someone who is God and man. Who deserves the best, and his people's praise, honour, and worship.

His birth shows us the humility of Jesus, the desire for God to come as a lowly person. Homeless, poor, excluded, ministering to the irreligious and despised. We will see this next week when we discover who his first visitors were. The Shepherds. Ceremonially unclean, and regarded as untrustworthy.

What should our reaction be to the three, or four S's ?

The Sovereignty of God.

This should bring us praise. That we have a God who is in control, who has his hand on human history.

It should bring us reassurance. However things may appear we can be confident that God is in control, and that he has our best interests at heart. I am sure that there are many people here who can look back at a time in their lives when things were difficult and God seemed to be far away. But as time has gone on they have seen that God was in control, and brought good out of their troubles.

The Surety of Scripture.

We can be thankful that God has revealed himself to us in the Bible.

We can be astounded that his salvation was planned before time began. The fulfilment of Scriptures over 700 years old about the place of Jesus' birth adds to our confidence in him and his word.

That God has already fulfilled some of what he promised gives us confidence that he will fulfill the promises that have not already taken place. The major unfulfilled promise that springs to mind at Advent is the second coming of Jesus.

God has already carried out the promises he made about Jesus first coming. He will not let us down when it comes to his return.

The Servanthood of Jesus.

Jesus came in humility, not relying on what was rightfully his , as we read in Philippians 2. He experienced what it means to be a person including suffering.

Isn't it wonderful that we have a great God who has done this for us ? This should lead us to marvel at His incarnation. To be grateful for the suffering that he endured for us. To approach him with awe, reverence and worship.

As his followers we should humble ourselves. Not think that our faith will necessarily bring us material prosperity or spare us suffering. We should be prepared to humble ourselves, and give to others, for he has given so much for us.

PRAY :

Lord God,

May your sovereignty give us confidence and joy.

Your Scriptures give us a certain hope.

Your Son help us to be your Servants,

this Christmas and into eternity. Amen.

24/12/98 10.30 p.m. Luke 2:1-14

PRAY

How many people here really believe that, as I speak a portly, jolly old man with a white beard is currently distributing Christmas gifts around the world ? Yes, we think it is a lovely story, but we know it is not true.

Perhaps some people think that about the birth of Jesus. A lovely story, a lovely idea, yet one to be put to one side for the rest of the year.

Luke's gospel was written as an orderly account of Jesus life to someone called Theophilus, cf 1:3.

In the first 3 verses of our reading Luke specifies exactly why, when and where the birth of Jesus took place. This is important for two reasons. The first is that we can identify a time that God burst into human history as a man, or rather as a baby. Luke has carefully recorded that there was a census decreed by Caesar Augustus, and that Quirinius was governor of Syria. So the birth of Jesus can be verified.

Secondly it is important that Jesus, the Saviour v.11, was born in Bethlehem to fulfill what was foretold in the O.T. ( Micah 5:2 ).

The O.T also said that the Messiah, Christ, anointed one was to be a descendant of David. We know from verse 4 that Joseph was descended from David.

We can see from this that we have a God who is in control, who is sovereign over human history. Caesar Augustus wouldn't have seen himself as carrying out the will of God, but he was ! We may look around at the world today, at the wickedness and injustice of humankind and wonder what God is doing. If he really is in control. But he is. Perhaps not in a way that we would want or expect, but he is sovereign. That Jesus has not returned to judge everyone is due to God's compassion and mercy in giving people more time to turn to him, rather than face his wrath.

Jesus was born. 100% God and 100% man. Every baby is a gift from God and special, but this one was unique. Yes he was a helpless baby, needing to be fed, kept warm, cleansed, and comforted. He would have to grow up, be taught to read and write, and would experience human emotions. Joy, pain, rejection, hunger,laughter, tiredness, tears, and temptation. Yet he was able to resist the temptation to depart from God's way. In doing so he was able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for the times that we have given in to temptation. When we have failed to love God with our whole being, and failed to love our neighbour as ourselves. We celebrate and proclaim this as we share in the bread and wine tonight.

The one who had been promised in the O.T., the Messiah was born. Or Christ as verse 11 says. Perhaps we might expect such an important person to be accorded a privledged location. A clean, royal palace. Attended by medics and nursemaids.

Jesus was born in an unhygienic, stable. Surrounded by animals. As a new born baby he was wrapped in cloths, for warmth, protection and security. But he was put in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals used as a makeshift cot.

Not only that but the people who were first told about the birth, and first visited the baby were shepherds. In Jesus' day shepherds were looked down upon. They had a reputation for being untrustworthy and, because of this, their evidence was not admitted in court. They were not allowed to worship in the Temple either because their job made them ceremonially unclean. Other than tax collectors and criminals you could not imagine anyone less likely to be invited to visit a new born King ! They were social and religious outcasts. Yet it was to them that God chose to reveal his plan to save everyone. Not the religious leaders of the day, not the rulers and governors of the Roman Empire, but outcasts. No-one is ever too far away from God. No-one is unimportant to God.

The lowly place of his birth and those who were first invited to visit him, showed the type of ministry that Jesus was to have. One that did not reflect the grandeur of his heavenly origins, but that showed his humility, his desire to identify with people. To reveal God to man by getting alongside us. Not by speaking from on high. That humility was to lead to the humiliation, the shame, the public spectacle of being killed on a cross.

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die. He calls us, his disciples to take up our cross and follow him. To reach out to those who do not know God with all the pain and rejection that will flow from this. As we think of our roast turkey and Christmas pud self-denial may be a bit difficult to swallow. But it is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus sacrifice on the cross was about self-denial. Our lives should be about self-denial because our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus.

Jesus shows this to us. The Christ-mas story reveals this to us.

The angel said, verse 10 "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.."

We live in a world of bad news. We only have to read the newspapers, turn on the television or radio to know this. The bombing of Iraq, the 10th anniversary of Lockerbie, the devastation of hurricane Mitch... But, here is good news ! Not just for the religious, for people of a certain race, class, sex, colour, or culture, but for "all the people" verse 10. Everyone. You, me, our friends, colleagues, families, neighbours. We do not need to be of a certain age, occupation, sex, nationality, colour, intelligence or whatever. God has come for anyone who will come to him in humility. As a child. Acknowledging our own weakness, and dependence upon God our Father.

The good news of Jesus is true. God was born a baby. At a certain time and place. This has eternal significance. It is for everyone and, verse 11 this involves a Saviour. One who has saved us by living a perfect life, and dying in our place on the cross.

We have a Christmas C.D. It contains 'Mary's Boy Child' by Boney M. One line of this goes, 'and man will live for ever more because of Christmas Day.' This is not right. Without Easter there would be no Christmas. This Christmas Eve we remember Jesus' death for us on the cross in this Holy Communion Service. Thinking of the birth and death of Jesus. Each a momentous event.

Our calender is measured Before Christ and A.D. the year of our Lord, after Christ's birth. Someone once said "The cross is the centre of the world's history. The incarnation of Christ and the crucifixion of our Lord are the pivot round which all the events of the ages revolve."

The shepherds responded to the message given to them by the angels. Even though it would have been difficult, even dangerous, they left their sheep and hurried to Bethlehem. Unable to see in the pitch dark. They arrived at the stable, saw the baby Jesus, told others of the good news and returned glorifying and praising God. It involved proclamation, telling others, and joy which involved praising God.

That response of responding to Jesus, telling others, and praising God is one that we are called to make. Not just this Christmas, not just on Sundays, but every day.

May we all know the peace and the joy that Jesus brought the shepherds this Christmas and in 1999.

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