Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Tragedy

The Nativity of Our Lord

Christmas Eve

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Luke 2:1-20

I imagine you didn’t come here this evening to hear about a tragedy. But I can’t get it out of my mind, so that’s what you’re going to hear about. The other day I was listening to a Christian radio show and a story was being told about a man who had reached the height of success. Power. Wealth. Popularity. Wonderful family. The only problem was that he was a Christian Scientist and therefore his belief was that there is no such thing as sin. So when he was caught up in criminal activity and was found guilty, this didn’t register with him.

His life was in shambles. He lost his position, his wealth, his power, and even his family. He got divorced. He became bitter and disillusioned. He ended up getting married again and his children finally gave up on him. The person on the radio show kept saying what a tragedy it was that he had no concept of sin and that we must acknowledge our sinfulness.

He tried reaching out to this man on several occasions. One particular time he gave the man a book he wrote called “Loving God”. The man responded, “Loving God… I need a God who will love me.” But the man who was offering the book corrected him: “You need to first acknowledge that we need to love God.”

Now it’s a heart-wrenching story of what happened to that man. It is tragic. But as I listened to the story being told and the offer of the book and the response that “I need a God who loves me”, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to share with a man who is beaten down the amazing love of the God of the universe who loves each one of us so much that He became a man. That He suffered and died in our place. That there is a God who loves you more than you could ever imagine. That if you think your life is a tragedy and all you see is hopelessness, then let me tell you about the God who loves you so much that He has undergone the kind of turmoil you have experienced.

The tragedy is that the man who was telling the story didn’t seize the opportunity! He said the exact opposite of what the hurting man needed to hear. If all he needed to hear was that he needs to love God more then where would that leave him? How could he really love God? After all he did. After not believing in Him his entire life. After denying that his actions in his life were in fact sins against the Holy God. Even if he could love God, could he love Him enough? And how could he make amends for all the things he did wrong and the people he hurt?

That unbeliever got it more right than the person telling the story: we need a God who loves us. The tragedy is that he may never have heard the best of all news, that God loves him. But how do we know? How do we know we have a God who loves us more than we could imagine? We look to Bethlehem. We look to the often lonely life Jesus lived. We look to the cross upon which He died.

You know what the tragedy is? The Savior of the world, the Lord Himself, being subjected to traveling away from home and being born in a stable because the Roman emperor declared it to be a good time to hold a census. The tragedy is that while He gained quite a following in His three-year ministry, every single follower of His deserted Him in His hour of need, when He was betrayed and handed over to the authorities to be arrested. What was tragic was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who slaughtered the boys two and under in the hopes of murdering the baby Jesus, seeking from Jesus to put on a show. It was tragic that as Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate he had the power to free Jesus or execute Him.

The tragedy is that the miraculous and joyful birth at Bethlehem ended in humiliation and crucifixion thirty years later. Why would God Almighty go through such pains to send His Son into the world?

Dear friends, it can only be one thing: there is a God who loves us. Do we need to love God? Of course we do. That goes without saying. And yes, we do need to exhort one another to love God more than we do. But the true tragedy of Christmas, of life itself, would be to reduce Christmas and what the Savior did to the need for loving God more than we do. There would be nothing more tragic than dying without knowing that God loves you and has sent His Son to die for you.

The true triumph of Christmas is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The joy of Christmas is in the salvation He came to bring. But it came through the tough times of His parents’ hard travel to Bethlehem, Mary giving birth among animals, His ministry that was often despised, and deep pain, torture, and humiliation in being led to Calvary where He would be crucified.

God has brought triumph through tragedy. No matter where you’ve been, what you’ve gone through, who you are, there is a God who loves you. And His name is Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem so He could die for your sins. Rejoice that even in the tragedies of life, He has broken through them to bring you out of them and into heaven. Amen.

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