Sunday, January 2, 2011

God's Answer to the Blue Christmas

Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Luke 2:21-40
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A BLUE Christmas? I'm not sure why this year in particular, maybe it's the economy, but in the weeks leading up to this Christmastide I seemed to hear even more talk than usual about how stressful, depressing, and sad Christmas can be. You probably heard talk like that, too. It reflects a real problem. For many people, Christmas hurts. Maybe somebody you love admitted that their Christmas wasn't feeling merry. Or maybe the person having a blue Christmas was you.

Going by our passage in Luke 2, a blue Christmas isn't anything new. I wonder if that's what Mary, Jesus' mother, started to have when she heard all the words of Simeon in the Temple. There she was with her husband Joseph, bringing her infant firstborn Son Jesus to be dedicated forty days after his birth, according to the dictates of the Law. This venerable old man hobbles up to her, takes her Baby in his arms, and begins to prophesy. At first his words are full of comfort and hope. Simeon says:

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

What an act of God this was! A total stranger, seeing the salvation of God in this six week old infant! Mary's Child, bringing light and knowledge of the Lord to the Gentiles! This tiny Baby, recognized as the glory of Israel! How amazing! How marvellous!

But Simeon wasn't finished. He fixes his gaze on the young mother and prophesies:

"This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Wow. And a merry celebration of the Messiah's birth to you, too, sir.

But Simeon spoke truly. Yes, the birth of Christ our Lord was and is an occasion for celebration and joy. Just ask the shepherds and the Wise Men. But there is a sad side of the birth of our Lord Jesus as well.

Let me say right now it's not the sadness we experience when we say we're having a blue Christmas. If we sat down and examined our feelings, we'd probably see we were depressed because we didn't have the time, money, or strength to make this Christmas all we wanted it to be. Or we were feeling upset because people around us expected us to make their Christmas the way they wanted it to be. Sadness might've gripped us because certain loved ones couldn't be with us on Christmas, maybe never again-- or because we were having to spend Christmas Day with people whose presence-- and presents-- we could do without. A blue Christmas can come because we're in a depressed state anyway and all the general cheer clashes rudely with the way we're feeling.

I'm not here to judge those wishes and moods. But know this: the tragedy and sorrow that God our heavenly Father mixes in with the happiness of His Son's birth is both deeper and darker than the blues we might feel at Christmas time. And God has determined that both His Son and we must go through that deeper darkness and woe if we are to emerge into the light and exaltation of Resurrection joy.

For why did the eternal Son of God choose to take on flesh and be born as a baby in this world? Is the nativity of our Lord merely about an adorable child in a manger, and we can forget about Him now that the new year has arrived? No, Jesus Christ came to this earth with a mission and a purpose. He came to bring God's judgment upon sin and Satan. He came to redeem His people from slavery to death and raise them up to live with Him forever. And He did all these things through the suffering of His cross.

Christian friends, without the Cross there is no point to the manger! Without the suffering of Calvary there is no joy in Bethlehem. Without the tearing of His flesh for the sins of the world, the Word made flesh brings no joy for us. Jesus was born to die, for without His death, there could be no payment for sins, no Resurrection, no life. But Jesus Christ the Son of Mary did die and rise again, that we His people might live and dance and sing for joy forever in His heavenly kingdom.

But before that would happen, our Lord walked the road of human suffering with us. And again, as Simeon said:

"This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

For others, too, from His infancy the coming of the Messiah Jesus meant trouble as well as peace, condemnation as well as rejoicing, and a sword in the soul as well as comfort and joy.

What? The Messiah's advent didn't bring universal cheer? We know that wasn't true by the reaction of King Herod. But even today, we don't have to be a paranoid ruler to have a hard time accepting the newborn King for who He is. Each of us is born bound up in our human sin nature. And unless and until God reaches out His hand in mercy to us, we think that's all right and normal. We think we're good enough the way we are, and God will let us and all our friends into heaven because we're nice people. But from the very beginning of His life Christ our Lord disturbs our peace and tells us we're living a lie.

Take His name. In Luke 2:21, we're told that "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was given the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived." Jesus means "Jehovah saves." It's the same as the name "Joshua," but our Lord wasn't called that name because Mary and Joseph liked the sound of it. No, Jesus was given that name because He was to be the Savior of the world.

But that's uncomfortable, isn't it? To say Jesus has come as our Savior says that we need to be saved. His very presence on this earth condemns us for our sins. They aren't simply mistakes, or missteps, or inappropriate actions, or any of the other words we use to cover up what we do, they are sins, deepest offenses against our holy and righteous God. To say Jesus as a Good Example, most people are fine with that. But to proclaim Him as the Savior, Jehovah God come in human flesh to do for us with we could never do for ourselves, we sinful humans don't like that idea, do we? Not really.

But when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins, the news of the coming of Jesus who is Jehovah our Savior is the best news of all. When we accept that no amount of trying hard will make our Christmasses or our lives the way we-- or God-- want them to be, our eyes see Jesus as the glorious salvation that allows us to lay down our burdens in peace. Where stubborn sinners fall, repentant sinners rise on the grace of our Lord.

And then, there is offense in this world in the fact that Jesus was circumcised at all. As a Jewish boy, of course He would be. But nothing that is recorded of our Lord in the Gospels is done by accident. Circumcision was the sign of God's gracious covenant with Abraham. It was the outward, visible sign of God's one-way agreement with Abraham, where God promised to do great things for Abraham and his seed, including the blessing of all nations through him. All Abraham had to do-- if you call it "doing something"-- was receive the promise of God by faith. Ever since that time maybe 2,000 years before Christ, the sons of Abraham regularly received circumcision as the sign of God's covenant with them. And just as regularly, they broke God's covenant by failing to walk before the Lord in faith.

Jesus was born to be that ultimate Seed of Abraham who would walk before God the Father in perfect trust and righteousness. His faithfulness condemned Israel's violation of the covenant with Abraham. His inheritance of the promises of God shows up the failure of the false sons of Abraham who forfeited their inheritance by their faithlessness.

But for us who are the spiritual seed of Abraham through faith in Christ, all the promises of God belong to us through Him. Doesn't matter if we're born Jews or Gentiles, through trust in Jesus we become children of Abraham, too, and we inherit the perfect righteousness that Jesus showed on earth, especially in His death and resurrection. Through Him we rise, while unbelievers fall.

And then, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated to God, as it is written in the Law of the Lord at Exodus 13, verses 2 & 12. The Law said that every firstborn male offspring belonged to the Lord. If it were a clean animal, it was to be sacrificed. If it were a human boy child, he was to be redeemed-- a price had to be paid to God to buy back His life. This is what Jesus' parents are doing for Him in the Temple. Through them by this action God identifies His Son with us.

What I mean is this: Because of creation, all our lives belong to God. He has the right to give us life or to take it away, simply because we are His. But because of Adam's fall, all our lives are forfeit to God because of sin. The wages of sin is death, and that's what we deserve. The traditional redemption of the firstborn symbolized this double debt to God. But when Jesus was redeemed by His parents, He became identified with all of us enslaved sinners who owed a debt to God we could never pay. He perfectly obeyed the Law of Moses that condemned us every time we broke one of its statutes. And so by His sinless life and sacrificial death Jesus became our Redeemer. He has paid the price we owed. And now because of Jesus' righteousness our Father God regards us as His own obedient children, made Christ's own brothers and sisters by His blood..

This is a cause for rejoicing, is it not? This hope is why we are filled with gladness at Christmastide, and all through the year! But there are those who reject the idea that they need a Redeemer. We rejected that idea until the Holy Spirit came upon our lives and showed us the depth of our sin. Jesus indeed grew up to be a sign that was spoken against, as the scribes and the Pharisees, the very religious people who should have recognized Him as Messiah and rejoiced in His coming-- those scribes and Pharisees rejected Him and spoke insultingly against Him. And why? Because they felt they did not need a Redeemer. Or if they did, they wanted to be redeemed from the power of Rome, not from the power of sin, death, and the devil in their own lives.

And so our Lord Jesus was arrested, condemned, and crucified as a blasphemer and liar, and thus the final part of Simeon's prophecy came true-- a sword pierced the soul of Mary, Jesus' mother.

But that wasn't the end of the story, was it? Oh, no. For the torn flesh and shed blood of Christ purchased the redemption of Jerusalem, as the prophetess Anna looked forward to, and not just of Jerusalem, but of all the world. The Resurrection of our Lord on the third day proved that He was, indeed, the Son of God, the Redeemer of Mankind, the faithful Seed of Abraham, the Savior of the world. The tragedy and woe that Jesus went through for our sake bought for us eternal gladness and peace that passes all human understanding, no matter what our circumstances might be at this Christmas or any other. Through Him the word of the prophet Jeremiah has come true, that the Lord will turn our mourning into gladness; that instead of sorrow He will give us comfort and joy.

The birth of our Lord did involve sorrow and woe, and that trouble was deeper than what we experience when we are having a blue Christmas. But it doesn't exclude that trouble. For when we bring to light the thoughts of our own hearts, we see that much if not most of our earthly Christmas sadness has to do with what we cannot do and what this world cannot provide. But rejoice, child of God! The birth of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, is all about what we cannot do and what this fallen world cannot provide! Offer up your inadequacy, your anger, your sorrow, and your need to Him, and accept Him in simple faith. In Christ, God has done for us all we could not do for ourselves; He has provided us with everything we need to be joyful and comforted in Him.

So let us dance and be glad; let us shout for joy on the heights of Zion! For the Lord has redeemed His people and will shepherd us forever. Christ, the Light to the Gentiles is with us; Jesus, the Glory of Israel has come!

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