The following was Mike's Christmas Eve Sermon this year but it is an important year round. I think as you read, especially the last part of the sermon, you'll see that this is a great sermon for a New Year as well.
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." Luke 2:1
This is the beginning of the Christmas Story. It is one of the world's great stories, Luke 2:1-20. It's a great piece of writing. It's got a little bit of everything:
a) Historical Figures - Augustus, Quirinius
b) Travel - Nazareth to Bethlehem, small town to small town
c) Humble Couple - Mary and Joseph - teenagers?
d) A Birth in Trying Circumstances - birth in a cow barn
e) The Natural and the Supernatural - shephers/sheep, angels
f) Announcement/A Sign - good news
g) Music - Glory to God in the Highest
h) Going in Haste - running shepherds (funny?)
i) Mary Pondering - Why am I a part of this great thing God is doing?
j) Shepherds Praising God!
The Christmas story is short and compact. It gets a lot of information out in just a few sentences. This is the beginning of the Jesus story, of the Christian Faith. "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered."
Author Stephen King wrost, "A first line of a story should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this." God works through stories to call us to faith. God wants to draw us in with the first line. Listen. You'll want to know more about this.
Consider how the Bible starts, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Wow! You talk about jumping in with both feet! Does that get your attention?
Here is some more of the world's great writing, Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." This is telling us that God is guiding our lives, providing our needs. God is closely involved in your existence, like a shepherd with his sheep. Does that get your attention?
1 Corinthians 13 is an ode to love. It begins, "If I speak in the tongues of mean and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol." Every beginning needs a good ending. This is how 1 Corinthians ends, "So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Does that get your attention?
The gospel, the good news about Jesus, has a surprising beginning, a humble couple, travel, birth, angels, shepherds. What is not said here is said in John's gospel, "The Word (Jesus/God) became flesh and dwelt among us" or the paraphrase, "God took on human flesh and pitched his tent with us."
God is one of us. In the life of Jesus, God experienced life as we know it, life with its joys and disappointments, with friends and enemies, eating, sleeping, working, birth and death. God as one of us, that's a strange beginning. It gets your attention.
The Christmas Story is a beginning. It's a start. There is something special about a new beginning, a new year, a new job, a new opportunity, a new season. All these things give a sense of excitement.
Here is a story of new beginnings...
In 1973 Ed Ryder was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn't commit. (Does that first sentence get your attention?) Ed Ryder was a 22 year old petty thief and sometimes heroin user. He was in jail, in a holding cell, when three other men in the cell decided to get revenge on another man who had insulted them. Ed Ryder was lumped in with the other men who had committed the murder. Two of the other men later admitted that Ed Ryder had nothing to do with it. How long did it take then for Ed Ryder to be set free? 5 years? 10 years? Try 20 years!
When Ed was in prison he dreamed of playing trumpet in his own jazz band. He never let go of hope. He always believed he would get a new beginning. In September of 1993 Ed Ryder was set free from his prison. He started his own jazz band! He was able to begin again.
The Jesus story has a beginning but it is also about beginnings for others. When Jesus grew up, he started his ministry by reading from the book of Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me... to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
The good news of the gospel is that you and I get a new beginning with God. Jesus lets people start over.
Jesus didn't give up on people. He said to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more in this way." You get a new beginning.
He said to the leper kicked out of society, "Be made clean." You have a new beginning.
There was a paralyzed man let down through a roof. Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven. Take up your mat and walk." You have a new beginning.
Jesus didn't give up on Peter, poor impetuous Peter. Peter wanted to straighten Jesus out of his ministry. He wanted to walk on water. He wanted to take on the Romans. He denied Jesus. After the resurrection Jesus came to Peter and told him he could start again. He gave him a new beginning.
The Christian faith is all about new beginnings. We are sinful. We fall short of God's glory. We miss the mark. We make bad choices. We need new beginnings. We need to know that God doesn't give up on us. He doesn't!
Every day is a new day. It's a chance to begin again with God. No one is too far away from God. He gets our attention with a story, a story about a beginning.
Every beginning needs an ending. Here's the end of the Christmas Story... "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen as it had been told them."
What is this story about for us?
There was a beginning to the life of Jesus on earth.
A savior and Lord was born for us. That means Jesus saves us from our sins and teaches us through his Spirit and Word how to live a life that pleases God.
Jesus had a beginning. He is the King of New Beginnings. God has not given up on you. You are not too far away from God. God knows all about your life. He loves you and he wants you to begin again with him.
This story, this day, this faith is God's gift to you. Be a shepherd. Glorify and praise God. Let that be the beginning and the end of your faith story with God.