The following is from a sermon I gave, which I subsequently blogged, in December 2011. I recently updated it in December 2013.
Have you ever had an ache in your heart? You know…an ache that just weighs you down and hurts so badly that you can’t do anything but wish it would go away? Maybe it was a close friend talking behind your back and it just killed you on the inside. Maybe it was watching a loved one battle an agonizing fight with cancer or another disease until it took his or her life. Maybe it was a friend or family member who misread something you said or did and have held a grunge against you ever since. It could even be watching your child suffer from a disability, or getting made fun, or struggling through school. Or maybe it is the ache of being addicted, strung out, losing all control of your life… and feeling like there is no way out. Maybe you are under the crushing weight of debt or unemployment. You don’t know how you are going to pay your bills or make ends meet. Maybe on the other side you are a person who has a job but the stress of the job is taking its toll on you and you are suffering from anxiety and physical problems. Maybe you feel trapped in life- like you exist each day to satisfy the expectations of other people or you exist with no purpose at all.
Is this the best life has to offer? Will things ever change? Is there any reason to have hope?
Do you read the paper or watch the news? Kids killing their parents. Parents killing their kids. Kids killing other kids. Adults killing adults. Innocent people becoming the targets in a sad and tragic game called Knock Out. Shoppers killing each other on Black Friday for the newest gadget. People breaking into homes and businesses to steal Christmas presents. Cities offering the homeless one-way tickets to get out of town. A mayor bashing the possessions of a homeless man with a baseball bat.
And that is just in one week…in one country…at one time in history. The things we do to each other are so tragic and sad. The love of many continues to grow colder and colder.
And around the world we continue to war. Nation threatens nation and kingdom threatens kingdom. People protest around the globe because the system is messed up- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many hard-working men and women work endlessly to have the money taken out of their pockets by politicians, bankers, and corporations who, many times, operate by power and greed. People rise up and the establishment fights back…it’s an endless, endless cycle that isn’t unique to our day and age. Money makes the world go round. And it limits and categorizes and oppresses and weighs down on people.
And don’t you just get tired of it?
Is life only about accumulation and dividends and profits and commercialism?
And we treat people like objects. Around the world people are still enslaved- working at 10 years of age, working 16-hour days, working harder labor than we will ever know or understand. Right now another young girl is being exploited by a pimp who only cares about making another buck while she is emotionally, physically, and spiritually devastated. My God, help us.
Does your heart ache? Do you long for things to be better? Do you hope for a day when all will be set right?
Yes…in this world there is immeasurable glory…and yet there is immeasurable pain and suffering.
We long for something else…for a better world. We long for peace…but we never can seem to attain it. We long for justice…but the system seems wildly out of control and completely unjust. We have hope. But hope in what exactly?
Is this the way life will always be? Will things ever be set right? Will there ever be peace? Will there ever be justice?
Will the aching ever go away? Will the oppressed ever be set free? Will we ever quit hoarding and finally share?
Will we ever find joy in this life? Will love ever prevail instead of hate and violence and pain? Will the longings of hope that we have deep in our souls ever be realized into something?
Will the tears ever be wiped away?
Is there anyone who can help us?
Is there anyone who can save us from ourselves?
Every person we look to fails us and hurts us and manipulates us and leaves us in an even worse situation.
Is God just out there and distant and removed from our pain? Does God even know what this life is like and how hard it is? Does God know how unjust this world can be toward people? Does God know how people close their doors in your face when you are in desperate need? Does God know what it is like to be pushed to the edges of society without a place to lay your head? Does God know what it is like to ache and be in so much pain?
The surprising answer is yes, because that same God came down and lived a life in full flesh as a human being and understands our pain, our emotions, and our longings for all things to be made right.
Christmas…the Incarnation (God becoming Man)…the Word becoming Flesh…the Christ-child being born is the focal point of history. It is the moment in which God lowered himself and came to us…to love, to serve, to demonstrate life. He did not come down to force, coerce, or lord over people from the top like an oppressive King. He did not say, “You guys have really screwed this up so now you are going to do it my way.” He came down born in a simple, humble birth in a lowly manger on the edges of society. And it was in this unexpected that God demonstrated his character to each one of us who have fallen short of the way he created us to be. He came down to teach us the highest and most honorable way to live.
As we have gone our own way, worked for our own purposes and our own desires, and rebelled against God in every way imaginable…it was God through Jesus who came down in humility, in grace, in all his gentleness and subverted all of our hatred by his love.
In Jesus, God’s Kingdom, God’s Reign broke into this world…and initiated a completely new way of doing life that looks nothing like anything this world has ever seen (or ever will see). It was in Jesus that Heaven and Earth came together as one. And it was in Jesus that Heaven and Earth are continuing to come together…until all things are brought together in their full measure at the renewal of all things.
The Scriptures say:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God’s plan of redemption and restoration started on Christmas Day through the birth of his son. But we only celebrate his birth for the victory over death through resurrection. For without rising from the dead, his birth is utterly meaningless. That is why we celebrate this light coming into the darkness. That is why we live by faith and have hope that the forces of evil are being extinguished, exhausted, and taking their very last breath. That is why we live and celebrate victoriously on Christmas Day, because we have hope that our sufferings are only temporary. It is on this day, in light of his resurrection, that we celebrate his birth in one accord and look forward to a day when:
Pain will be no more.
Hatred will finally and completely be defeated by love.
Heartache will give way to complete healing.
Killing will cease and life will abound forever.
Peace will reign throughout the cosmos.
The scars and wounds that we wear will be healed by his hands.
The hungry will be fed.
The lame will walk.
The blind will see.
And all things will be set right: heaven and earth will finally be one.
It is in Jesus that we know that God acted decisively in history by coming down to a people desperately needing life, hope, and rescue. The meager, tiny baby in the manger that drew the attention of all creation: the angels, the wise men, the shepherds in the field, the kings of the land, people all throughout the world, and every man, woman, and child throughout history…is celebrated, praised, and lifted high…because he won the greatest victory in history.
For once we were separated from God and without hope… but now we have the honor of participating presently in all God is making new through Christ.
We celebrate Christmas only because Christ is Christmas.