Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Scandal of Particularity

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2009
Luke 2:1-20

You’ve come here tonight because it makes you feel good. You want to hear the wonderful story of the birth of Jesus. You want to see the sights and hear the sounds of Christmas. Perhaps you’ve come with your family members during this special celebration. Perhaps in the midst of difficult times some are experiencing in our country and many around the world, you want to have a reprieve from that for a short time. Or it’s in your own personal life that you’re struggling during this time of year that’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. You’ve come because you want a break from those struggles.

You probably didn’t come here for more; to endure more struggles. Certainly not to be scandalized. Christmas is about love and peace and joy. It’s not about scandal, is it? The account of the birth of Christ from Luke is one of those well-known passages that even the nominal Christian is familiar with it. It is a beautiful, wonderful story and one that makes us feel good.

But Luke also wrote it to scandalize us. That’s what happens when you’re inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture. You don’t write things the way you would have done it but the way God wants it.

And what does God want to do through this Gospel account of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve? He wants to scandalize you.

Does it really bring a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that the birth of the Savior came about through a pagan and anti-Christian emperor calling on ordinary citizens to drop everything and make a difficult trip only to bring more power to himself? Does it really create a peaceful and joyful mood when Luke begins his story by telling about Caesar and a census and about this other guy who’s a governor? And what about the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy? We don’t think much about it because we know the reason why she was pregnant out of wedlock and how it was a godly thing, not against the sixth commandment at all. But it’s still a jarring thing to see Joseph and his pregnant fiancée.

And have you ever noticed that in all the twenty verses of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus that there’s only one that gives details of the actual birth itself? This is all we get: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Why is there so much attention given to everything else and only one sentence to the actual birth of Christ? And of the details given there, why are they so very unspectacular in comparison with the majesty of the emperor Caesar or the governor Quirinius? All we get are swaddling cloths and being placed in a feeding trough because there was no room for them in the inn.

And the people who come into the picture next aren’t as glamorous as an emperor. Shepherds were just ordinary men who did an ordinary job. The angels are spectacular enough. There we see glory and majesty as we would expect for the arrival of God to this earth. But why did they come to lowly shepherds? Why just to a few people? Why wasn’t there an effort to make this known to more people so that more people could witness this great event?

God is the Almighty Lord and Savior.. He is holy, He is powerful, He is almighty. These are the broad things about God that are true and wonderful but on their own do nothing for us and even are our undoing as we are not worthy to be in the presence of the holy eternal God.

Do we need to concern ourselves with these aspects of God as powerful and holy? Can’t we just go with the mood of society and let the thoughts of peace and joy and love dance around in our heads and with a smile wish everyone a Merry Christmas?

No, Luke won’t let us do that. Luke writing the Scriptures won’t let us go away with just feelings. He introduces scandal into the picture because it’s the only way we can be saved from our feeble attempts at reducing Christmas to simply a lovely season about decorations and goodwill toward men, and for that matter, Christianity, to be simply about loving others. Scripture’s telling of the Christmas story is the scandal of particularity.

God is using Luke here to craft a simple yet profound message. We’re not free to talk about the peace on earth of Christmas apart from the fact that there will never be peace among people because we are all infested with sin—in our thoughts, our words, and in our actions. We’re not free to rejoice in Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year apart from the fact that eternity apart from God is suffering beyond what we can imagine.

And that is why God is so very particular. The fact that He is is scandalous to us. But, His scandalizing us in this way is completely out of His eternal love for us. His eternal love for us brings us true peace; peace which reconciles Himself to us through the forgiveness of our sins.

If we think of the Christmas story as a lovely little story we miss what God is really doing here. Caesar is in there because he, like us, is part of this messed up fallen world made up of messed up fallen people like you and me. God uses even a man like Caesar to bring about His eternal plan of salvation. He gives us few and simple details of Jesus’ birth to show us that Jesus’ salvation for us is in a simple, but utterly particular way: the Person and work of Jesus. As His birth was humble, so was His suffering and death. His being born was for the purpose of suffering and dying on the cross.

You may have come here because it makes you feel good. God has invited you here to hear what He has done. In no one or nothing else but only through His Son He has brought you the gift of eternal life. It’s wrapped up in swaddling cloths. It’s found in the humble bed of a manger. It’s found scourged and bleeding on the cross.

It’s not really an ‘it’, at all. It’s Him. It’s your Salvation. It’s Jesus Christ, born to suffer for the sins of the world. To give to all true peace. Peace from the condemnation of sin and the Law and the devil. Joy that finds itself in God becoming a baby so that He could take your place in being stricken by the Holy God so that you may stand before Him without fear, your sins taken away, an eternal mansion prepared for you. Amen.


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