2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’ve been a collector of Christmas stories ever since we began a tradition around our household when our kids were younger that after we finished decorating our tree, we would turn out all the lights except for the Christmas lights, spread a blanket on the living room floor, and enjoy a snack of nachos and cheese with sparkling grape juice, during which time I would read a special story to our children that would drive home the real meaning of Christmas. So if you can just envision that type of a homey setting for a few moments, I’d like to share one of those stories with you right now.
It was a cold December afternoon. Rain mixed with snow splashed against the windshield as heavy dark clouds hovered overhead. All day long two men, a pastor named Jerry and a layman named Jim, had been delivering Christmas boxes. Many of the families who would receive these boxes would get nothing else for Christmas that year. The pickup truck had been loaded when the two men started out on their journey but now, only one box remained. It was covered with an old piece of tarp to protect it from the rain.
The address on the card meant a drive of several miles beyond the city limits. “What do you think?” Jim asked. He was the driver and it was his truck. Pastor Jerry knew what Jim was thinking. Why drive way out in the country when we could easily give this last box to someone close by and be home in thirty minutes? It was a tempting thought. After all, Pastor Jerry had a Christmas Eve Communion Service scheduled for 8 p.m. and he could use the time to prepare. Jim, however, answered his own question, “Well, let’s give it a try. If we can’t find the place, we can always come back and give the box to someone else.”
The rain was pouring down by the time they reached the address on the card. The old white framed house stood on a hillside overlooking the valley. It had once been an elegant place, the centerpiece of a large farm. But now, the farm was gone and the house had deteriorated over the years. The two men slipped and slid, huffed and puffed as they carried the box up the hill. The red clay offered no foothold and the box, wet from the rain, was beginning to come apart. They climbed the high steps to the porch, set the box down and slid it across the floor. They straightened up just in time to glimpse the face of a small boy at the window. He had been watching them coming up the hill. Now, he announced their arrival with shouts of excitement, “They’re here, Grandma, they’re here!”
The door opened and an older woman greeted them. Her gray hair was pulled back in a bun at the back of her neck. She had on a dark, plain dress with a white apron. She was drying her hands with a dishtowel and explained to them that she had been doing the supper dishes. “I told you they would come,” the little boy said from behind her. He had black hair and dark eyes and rushed to the box and began pulling out the goodies inside. The woman told them that she and her grandson were all that was left of her family. The father and mother had divorced and gone their separate ways. The little boy had been left behind for Grandma to raise. Then she said something that made the 2 men realize their out-of-the-way trip was worth it. She said, “I am so glad you came. He was up early this morning looking for you. He sat by that window all day. I wasn’t sure you would come and I tried to prepare him in case of a disappointment. But he just said, ‘Don’t worry, Grandma, I know they will come.’”
That little boy didn’t know it, but, in a sense, he was speaking for all of Christianity. For on that night of nights that we will observe tomorrow night on Christmas Eve we will join millions of Christians around the world and with thankful hearts we will in essence say, “We knew he would come.”
The prophet Isaiah said basically the same thing some 7 centuries before the birth of Christ when he wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I love how Isaiah writes those words. He does it as if it’s already happened, as though it’s a done deal. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” I think that’s Isaiah’s way of saying that when God makes a promise, you can count on it, you can take it to the bank. You can be sure that it’s going to come to pass sooner or later. And sure enough, that’s what happened with this promise and that’s what we’ve come to celebrate this morning.
We’ve come here first of all to celebrate the fact that God entered our world as a tiny babe. Now for just a few moments I want you to ponder that statement because it’s pretty tough if not impossible for us to wrap our minds around, isn’t it? To think that the Creator and Ruler of the universe could somehow, in some way that we can’t even begin to fathom squeeze his infinite, limitless being into the finite, limited form of a tiny human embryo is just way beyond our ability to comprehend.
And perhaps nobody does a better job of putting this all into perspective for us than Max Lucado in one of his earliest books God Came Near. I know some of you have heard me read this before, but I never tire of hearing it. Listen to how he describes what theologians call the incarnation of Christ…
So this week we celebrate the fact that God became a baby. But there’s more. We also celebrate the fact that that baby became our Savior. In other words, he didn’t stay a baby, did he? How does Isaiah describe him in our text? “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I kind of get the impression here that Isaiah is at a loss for words, that he’s just grasping for the grandest and most superlative adjectives and nouns he can think of to describe this child who would be born under the lowliest of circumstances and yet attain the loftiest heights of greatness. And Isaiah wasn’t the only one to speak so highly of Jesus. I like how one author by the name of Dan Owens puts it. He says:
Just ask the angels what they think of Jesus and they’ll tell you, “A Savior has been born to you, He is Christ the Lord.”
Ask John the Baptist and he’ll tell you, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Ask the demons what they think of Jesus and they will tell you. “What do you want with us, Son of the most high God?”
Ask Judas what he thinks about Jesus and he will tell you, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”
Ask the apostle Paul, what do you think about Jesus? He will tell you, “that nothing compares to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Ask Pilate what he thinks, he will tell you, “I find no fault in this just man.”
Ask the Roman centurion what he thinks of Jesus and he will tell you. “Surely this is the Son of God.”
Ask Thomas what he thinks about Jesus and he’ll fall down prostrate before him and cry out, “My Lord and my God.”
Ask Peter, what do you think about Jesus and he will tell you. “God has made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
I think most of us would agree that we in the 21st century have really messed up our celebration of Christmas, especially with our over-commercialization of this event. But one thing that I do love about our modern day observance of Christmas is that we have transformed it into the season where misfits find a place in the grand scheme of life and they finally feel as though they’re worth something. I think of Charlie Brown in the Christmas special that bears his name or what about good old Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer? The jeers of his fellow reindeer were turned into cheers when he used his shiny nose to light the way for Santa on a foggy Christmas Eve.
Indeed, Christmas is a time for celebrating misfits. And one reason for that is because Jesus became a misfit for us. He who lived in glory gave it all up to become a tiny helpless babe born under the lowliest of circumstances in Bethlehem. Then he became a grown man whom some viewed as the ultimate misfit. So they killed him on a cross, not realizing that God would use that horrible death as the means of salvation for a lost world full of spiritual misfits like you and me.
So this week we celebrate the fact that God became a baby and that baby became our Savior. And then lastly, we celebrate the fact that that Savior became the one who showed us just how much God loves us. Sometime ago I was visiting in the home of one of our couples and the husband said that he had been reading in the Bible about Christ’s crucifixion and he just couldn’t understand how or why God would allow his own Son to go through all of that – the beatings, the mocking, the scourging, the spit in the face, the crown of thorns, the nails, the spear, the suffocating and agonizing death. And the only answer I could come up with was that 4-letter word love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” And it is that love that we especially celebrate this week.
I mentioned Charlie Brown before. Well, in an old Peanuts comic strip, the popular misfit is ready to do some Christmas shopping. So he cracks open his piggy bank and says to Lucy, “Look, I’ve got $9.11 to spend on Christmas.” Lucy is not impressed. “You can’t buy something for everyone with $9.11, Charlie Brown.” To which Charlie Brown retorts, “Oh yeah? You just watch me because I’m gonna try!” “Then they’re sure gonna be cheap presents,” says Lucy in her typical sarcastic manner. And I love what Charlie Brown says in response. He says: “But nothing is cheap if it costs all that you have.”
I think Jesus would have liked that statement because it describes so well what he did for us. He gave his all when he became one of us. It cost him his throne in heaven; it cost him the worship and adoration of countless throngs of angels; and ultimately it cost him his life. But it’s a price he was willing to pay because that’s how much he loved us. I beg of you then, please don’t ever cheapen that price or take it for granted by refusing it, ignoring it, or rejecting it. Instead, receive it as the precious and priceless gift God intended it to be. Receive it by loving him, trusting him, serving him, and worshiping him, not just during this holy season of the year but throughout the year, for he alone is worthy of all that, and much, much more. Amen.