7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I think that all of us here today who are parents would have no problem agreeing on one thing, and that is that nothing changes your life more than the birth of a child. I mean just think back to what life was like BK (Before Kids). You could come and go as you pleased at a moment’s notice. You could spend nice quiet, relaxing evenings at home with your spouse. You didn’t have to lock the bathroom door. You didn’t have to lock your bedroom door. And your money was pretty well yours to do with as you pleased.
But then came that first child and boy, oh boy, did things ever change! All of a sudden, going anywhere became a major ordeal as you had to bundle your little one up and pack a diaper bag and wrestle them into a car seat. Once that tiny infant showed up in your home there were no guarantees that when you closed your eyes at night to sleep you wouldn’t open them again until the alarm went off. In fact, if your kids were anything like ours, you may have very well not gotten a full night of sleep for the next 2 years or so. Then there were the messes that had to be cleaned up on a daily basis – spilled formula, sticky floors, toys, toys, and more toys everywhere. And your money, what happened to all that money you used to have? All of a sudden it was being consumed by baby clothes, Pampers, formula, doctor’s appointments. Yes, there’s no getting around the fact that the birth of a child changes everything.
Well, today we celebrate the birth of one very special Child who didn’t just change the lives of his parents, but who literally changed the world. And this morning we’re going to examine 4 major changes that he brought to peoples’ lives as we consider the theme “The Birth That Changed Everything.”
To begin with, this holy Child changed how we look at God. For many people God is a distant Being. They believe he exists, but they don’t believe that he exists for them. After all, he’s got a world to run and a universe with billions of galaxies to look after. He’s got wars to monitor and earthquakes, floods, forest fires, and hurricanes to oversee. In other words, he’s a busy God, but he’s not a personal God.
And then there are those who see God as a stern, mean judge who sits up there in the heavens just waiting for us to make one false move down here on earth so that he can stomp on us and squash us like a tiny bug. During his early years, Martin Luther was especially notorious for having this view of God. And it terrified him. But not only that, it instilled in him a veritable hatred for this God whom he viewed as kind of like a cosmic bully.
The birth of Jesus, however, gives us a much different perspective of God, doesn’t it? For you see, that’s God lying in that manger on a bed of straw. That’s God having his diaper changed and being nursed by a Jewish teenage peasant girl. That’s God feeling everything you and I have ever felt and exposing himself to the absolute worst that this world could inflict upon him.
And why would God do that? I think the writer to the Hebrews gives us the answer to that question when he says that in Jesus we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted (tested) in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. Isn’t that nice to know that no matter what trials or temptations or troubles you face, Jesus has already been there? He knows what it feels like and he cares more deeply and passionately about you than you could ever imagine.
So the birth of Jesus changed how we look at God. Then secondly, it also changed how we look at sin, or maybe I should say how we should look at sin. The reason I put it that way is because we’re living in a time when many people take sin lightly. In the August issue of the Lutheran Witness there was an interesting article that addresses this issue. That article stated that according to Gallup’s annual Values and Belief Survey, 43% of Americans believe pornography is “morally acceptable.” That’s up 7% from just a year ago. Those for whom religion “is very important” have the lowest rates of pornography acceptance, but the numbers are still surprisingly high at 22%. Let me repeat that for you. 22% of these “very religious people” say they find porn to be morally acceptable.
As a result of this flimsy view of sin, the Barna Research Group also discovered that while 72% of Americans believe that there is a heaven and 58% believe that there is a hell, only one-half of 1% believe that they’re going to hell. That kind of flies in the face of what Jesus said in Matt. 7:13-14. For there he says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Folks, it’s time we start taking sin seriously if for no other reason that God takes sin seriously. In fact, he took it so seriously that when the One whose birth we celebrate today reached the age of 33, he was nailed to a cross and offered up by his own Heavenly Father as the supreme sacrifice for sin. Isaiah 53:5-6 puts it this way: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I know that sin is not a pleasant subject to talk about or think about, especially on such a festive day as this, but if we fail to see the cross in the manger, if we fail to see the tremendous price that Jesus was willing to pay for our sins, then we’ve missed the point and meaning of what this day is really all about.
Then a 3rd thing that the birth of Jesus changed is how we look at death. From man’s perspective death is the ultimate loss, the final defeat, the end of all life and hope. It is something to be feared, something to be dreaded, something to be avoided at all cost. Now I’m certainly not advocating that you and I should go courting death, but I am saying that because of the birth of Jesus and his eventual crucifixion and resurrection death is not the big bully that the rest of the world makes it out to be. In fact, when you’re reading the Gospels, just pay attention to how Jesus spoke of death. When he entered the home of Jairus whose daughter had just died, Jesus told the weeping and wailing multitudes, “The girl is not dead; she is only sleeping.” When he and his disciples received the message from the 2 sisters Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was gravely ill, Jesus didn’t go immediately to help his friend. But two days later he told his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” The disciples weren’t quite on the same wavelength as Jesus, so they said: “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” To which Jesus replied: “Lazarus is dead.”
So Jesus saw death as being no more harmless than lying down and taking a nap. Now let me ask you something, are you afraid to do that? I’m sure not! Just ask my wife. I’ll grab a nap anytime I can get one. Well, if you’re not afraid to go to sleep, then the message Jesus is trying to communicate to us is that you don’t need to be afraid to die. For what is death for the believing child of God but a graduation of sorts, a promotion, a steppingstone into a life far grander, far greater, and far more glorious than we could ever imagine. Like the Apostle Paul says in I Cor. 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
So the birth of Jesus changed how we look at God, how we look at sin, and how we look at death. Then one more thing, it also changed how we look at others. Jesus devoted his entire life to loving other people, serving them, letting them know how precious and valuable they are to God. Look what he did for the woman caught in the act of adultery. While a self-appointed lynch mob was more than eager and ready to stone her to death, Jesus saw repentance in her heart and potential for her life and sent her on her way with the instructions to leave her life of sin. And look what he did for that pitiful excuse of a human being named Zaccheus the tax collector. Nobody liked Zaccheus because he worked for the enemy. He worked for the Romans. And if that wasn’t bad enough he also cheated his fellow Jews out of their hard-earned money and pocketed the excess cash for himself. Yet Jesus invited himself into Zaccheus’ home one day and changed that man’s life forever. He did the same for the sick and dying, for the penitent thief on the cross, for the chicken-hearted Peter. Why, he even prayed God’s forgiveness upon the very men who nailed him to the cross.
And guess what, my friends? He has called us to do the same, to not just love those who are easy to love, but to also love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, to be kind and tenderhearted to those who have wronged us, forgiving them as God in Christ has forgiven us. In fact, there’s the key to that kind of love and forgiveness. If we try to conjure it up on our own, we’re going to fall short every time. But if we do it in the power of his love, if we receive and allow ourselves to bask in the glorious light of the grace and forgiveness that God offers us in Jesus, then how can we not help but see others as he sees them and love them as he loves them and forgive them as he forgives them?
So is it any wonder why we celebrate the birth of Jesus with such fervor and festivity? While the birth of your first child may have changed your life significantly, the birth of God’s child changed everything. Indeed, it changed the world forever. And my prayer this Christmas morning is that it has changed you forever as well: how you look at God, how you look at sin, how you look at death, and how you look at others. For if that is so, then this special Child will have fulfilled the purpose for which he came. Amen.