THOSEWHO MAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS MERRY
Dear Friends in Christ,
Christmas has been celebrated since the 4th century. The first known usage of any Christmas greeting, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" was in an informal letter written by an English admiral in 1699. The same phrase appeared in the first Christmas card, produced in England in 1843. It seems to me when I was growing up “Merry Christmas” was kind of frowned upon by the religious community. The word ‘merry’ brought out thoughts that Christmas was a time of partying. It was better to say, “Have a Blessed Christmas.”
Times have changed. Some stores and businesses forbid their employees from saying “Merry Christmas.” They don’t want to offend the atheist, or Hindu, or Muslim or Jewish person who might want their services. Students no longer have “Christmas vacation” but “Winter Recess.” Displaying a nativity scene on public land is now forbidden in many places. Yet I read that 72% of people have no problem with using the word Christmas or having a nativity scene on public property. The remaining 28% must be a loud minority. Or the people making such a decision must be part of the 28%.
Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the Sunday before Christmas. Our sermon is based on the annunciation to Mary that she was the most blessed mother of all time. What was told her makes for a merry Christmas for us. But let’s look more closely at these words and look at “Those Who Make Our Christmas Merry.” There’s 1) Gabriel; 2) Mary and Joseph; 3) Our God.
We start with God’s angel, Gabriel. He is mentioned in the Bible four times - two with the birth of Jesus. He appeared to Mary and later to Joseph. He is also mentioned five hundred years earlier when he explained to Daniel two dreams Daniel had. Gabriel filled in the blanks.
Apocryphal literature says that he is one of the four arch-angels along with Uriel, Rafael, and Michael. The Bible only mentions Michael as an archangel. The Muslim Koran mentions Gabriel as one who deeply defends the Koran.
Unlike the Jewish Sadducees who didn’t believe in the existence of angels, every Bible believing Christian does. Angels are mentioned many times in the Bible. They are here to help us. The letter to the Hebrews says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” The psalm says. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
The word angel means messenger. Gabriel lived up to that job description; he delivered a very important message. This was the zero point of history. All time, as we know it, centers on the birth of Jesus Christ. Gabriel was to announce the birth of Christ to Mary.
Angels were often commissioned to deliver important messages. The archangel will sound the Day of Judgment. Angels were at the open grave to show and tell that Jesus was no longer there. He had risen. The angel of the LORD appeared in the skies over Bethlehem and announced to the shepherds “Today a Savior is born, he is Christ the Lord.” A chorus of angels followed. Here the angel Gabriel was sent by the Lord himself to give an announcement that was more accurate and reliable than any pregnancy test testify to or any doctor could predict, “Hey, Mary, you’re going to have a life-changing, history-changing, world-changing, eternity-changing baby. “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” He delivers the good news. In fact, when angels speak in the Bible, it is good to listen. The angel Gabriel was God’s messenger who made Mary and Joseph’s Christmas merry. The angel Gabriel makes our Christmas merry.
Let’s also include Mary and Joseph. While this appearance is only to you can’t forget Joseph. Both would parent the Savior God. While there are a number of times the Bible speaks about angels, when they appeared to people is relatively rare. The angel Gabriel did appear and speak to Mary. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Literally the angel said that Mary was shown grace, the undeserved love of God.
We treasure that word ‘grace.’ The Bible says “we are saved by grace.” We are sinners and don’t deserve it but God is a God of grace. He loves to grace people with his grace. We need it. Grace is literally the difference between heaven and hell. Everyone needs grace. So did Mary
There is a lot that is taught about Mary, no fault of her own, that just isn’t true. Don’t get me wrong Mary was certainly honored by the Lord and we ought to honor her too, but the Roman church has carried it way too far. For instance the Roman church taught and still officially teaches that she was the product of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is official teaching of the Roman Church. Pope Pius IX made it official teaching. “The Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all the stain of original sin.” An official catechism further says, “This teaching climaxes a long tradition about her perfect sinlessness.” Those are their words, not mine. None of that is true. She said that her Son was also her Savior.
Yet remember how honored she was to be the woman who would win the great and grand lotto. She was the Mother of the Savior of the world. She was the virgin who would conceive a son whose name would be Immanuel – God with us. .
There are other things to learn from Mary, but her being sinless is not one. I want to focus on one. C.S Lewis, famous theologian and writer used a phrase that I always thought was profound. The phrase is that God gives us “the dignity of causality.” God uses us to change things for the better.
I finally found the article where he said it. I found out that it wasn’t original with him. He wrote an article in which he said one day he wanted to get a hair cut because he was making a trip to London. His trip was cancelled, so he decided that he wouldn’t get the haircut. But he said there was this nagging thought that went on in his mind that he couldn’t get rid of – “almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut! Get it cut! Go and get it cut.” In the end he couldn’t stand it; he went to get his hair cut.
His barber was a man who had his share of troubles and Lewis had counseled him from time to time. Lewis said that when he stepped into the barbershop the man told him, “Oh, I was praying you might come in today.” In fact if Lewis had come a day or two earlier or later he would have been useless to the barber. Lewis went on to say, “It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident …” But then he thought of the phrase that Blaise Pascal, a mathematician and theologian once said, “God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” God allows our prayers to affect the course of events. That’s the dignity of causality.
But that is not only true of prayer but of all we are and do. It was true of Mary. Mary’s womb was the container to protect the Savior of the world for nine months. Mary and Joseph were to protect, clothe and feed God who became flesh. Mary had no way of knowing that in the morning of Gabriel’s visit that God had so many things planned for her. He put her in a position to affect the world by being the Mother of the Savior. What she was and did as Jesus’ mother affects us. But that’s true of any of God’s family.
Paul once said about himself that the preaching of forgiveness of sins through Christ is a treasure that God gives to do. He wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We are fragile like clay jars but God uses us to share it.
Last week many of us stood outside smiling and being kind and hospitable. Clay pots we were; we were freezing. Some gave up a little dignity and warmth by wearing Roman soldier costumes. Some of you bolted down and then took apart our little town of Bethlehem. Some of you made a whole lot of cookies to give refreshments to 550 guests. How God has used that and will use that is known only to him. We don’t change hearts. That’s the work of God, but he uses us as his vessels by which he does the changing. The word we proclaim; the actions that meet those words are used just like God used Mary and Joseph to make Christmas merry for others.
We are saving the best and most obvious to last. God makes our Christmas merry. Miracles done only by him were popping like popcorn. God sent Gabriel. God sent the angel to Mary and later to Joseph to tell them about the baby Jesus.
Anytime someone has a baby is a miracle, but this baby was way beyond. In this case all the biology books were cast out. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” I am not going to stand up here and try to explain how that birth happened, I can only explain why it happened. It happened because God loves you.
Someone said to explain that the conception of God in the womb of woman is like trying to light a candle to see the sun better. It just doesn’t work. There are things we just take at face value because that what we call the Christian faith. We simply start with the premise that God is bigger than we are and can do things we can’t imagine.
Who is that baby? “So the holy one to be born will be called The Son of God.” I have wondered what Mary thought when she was told that the baby she would bear would be holy. That means without sin. She was going to mother the perfect child. Parenting would be easy. No time outs. No standing in the corner. But as a parent that must have been intimidating. Perfect child with imperfect parents. The holy one, the Son of God in her belly, was her Savior too.
In the Nicene Creed we confess about him- He is the only begotten of the Father from eternity; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.” It is all true; hard to wrap our minds around, in fact, I dare say impossible. That’s why the Lord gives us faith. God gave the big world a huge blessing in a small package in a manger in Bethlehem. Thank God that his plans, whether great or small, don’t depend on our understanding.
“And he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Jacob’s descendants are all who are sitting in pews in Christian churches all around the world. Those descendants of Jacob are sitting here because, by the Spirit’s grace and power, you love Jesus too.
Jacob’s descendants are all who know that Jesus came to bring peace and end hostility with God and man. That was the baby’s mission. Mission accomplished. That’s why Christmas is merry.