Happy Boxing Day. Yesterday was the day. Here’s the message of joy and hope I shared with my congregation yesterday morning. May you delight and rejoice in the truth of our Savior. P.S. This will be the only post this week. Enjoy your week, and we’ll be together again like this in the new year.
Christmas Morning Message 2022
Christmas is a good time for telling stories. I’d like to tell you one this morning.
There was once a child. This child was loved by his parents. As far as they were concerned, he was at the center of their world. And this child had potential. So. Much. Potential. But he couldn’t see it. He didn’t understand the incredible things that lay ahead of him if only he stayed on the right path. But his parents did. And they knew their love was the key to his getting there. So they pursued him with their love.
Because this child couldn’t understand all of this, though, he started to make some tough choices. They resulted in brokenness in him that became pretty profound. He was wounded by all of this. Some of these wounds were deep and wouldn’t heal easily. Because of all of this, he didn’t always respond to his parents’ overtures of love very well.
Still, they pursued him with their love.
The young man was facing some pretty big debts because of some tough choices he had made and the circumstances those put him in. His parents paid those off for him. All of them. In full. He was completely free from them. They brought him out of that season of debt and offered him a path back to wholeness. He was so taken by their love that he said yes. They were reunited in a truly wonderful moment. Everything looked like they were heading for a wonderful happily ever after.
His parents bought some land where they hoped to one day create a beautiful home for their family to live and love and grow together. They took him to the land and showed it to him, but his fears and insecurities got the better of him and he refused to go with them into it. He thought perhaps that his old life really would be better than what they were offering. He couldn’t find his way back to it, and it wouldn’t have been better anyway. But either way, he left them again.
Still, they pursued him with their love.
In his shame and a profound misunderstanding of just how much they loved him, the young man wouldn’t see them any longer. They had to resort to sending messengers. Some of them simply reminded him of their love with gifts. Others offered gentle—and sometimes sterner—warnings that he was making the kind of choices that would hurt him in the end. Sometimes he listened, but not usually for very long. Often he refused to hear a single word the messengers had to say. He kept making choices that were hurting him, but was stuck in a spiral that wasn’t going anywhere good. Yet his parents loved him too much to see him suffer for long. They kept rescuing him from the worst of his trouble. Sometimes he received their efforts gladly, other times not so much.
Still they pursued him with their love.
Eventually it became clear that something was going to have to go profoundly differently than it had before if they were ever going to be able to call him their own again. So they pulled back a bit to put the finishing touches on a plan they had been working on for a very long time. The young man stopped hearing from them, and after a while it started to make him nervous. Then he was anxious. Eventually he was looking for any sign of them he could see; rushing headlong in whatever direction he thought he heard their voice. All the while his situation was worsening all the time. He was deeper and deeper in debt and there didn’t appear to be any way he was going to get out of it.
He was looking for the pursuit of their love.
The parents, though, understood something important. When it comes to matters of the heart, you cannot send another. You have to go yourself. If they were ever going to have him back for good, they were going to have to eventually go themselves. Nothing else was going to work. In order to continue pursuing him with their love, they were going to have to be with him.
And so, when the time was just right, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
You see, the parents we’ve been talking about are God. And the young man isn’t a young man at all. It is us. All of us. God made us from the overflow of His love and was instantly head-over-heels in love with us. We reflected His image perfectly in the beginning and everything about us made Him smile. He delighted in walking with us in the cool of the day beneath the shade of the beautiful trees in the Garden He made for us to live in.
But then we left Him. We were deluded into thinking we would be better off on our own. He was angry and heartbroken, but His love hadn’t changed.
So He pursued us with His love.
This pursuit played out across numberless generations, but eventually took form through the life of a man named Abram and the family he would eventually give rise to by God’s promise and blessing. This blessing, unlike the blessings from the various gods of this world, was not ultimately about Abram, but about his family and the blessing they would be to the world. “All the world will be blessed through you,” God told him. He was about to pour out His love in a particularly powerful way on Abram and his family over the next several hundreds of years, but the goal was always for them to be conduits of that blessing and not merely capacitors of it.
The journey of His pursuing us with His love from there was long and winding. It was often rough and steep. We rejected His love more times than we dared to count, and yet He kept right on pursuing us because His love for us was just that great. All the while, though, He knew that the pursuit through messengers He was using because of the nature of the distance between us and Him wasn’t going to work. He began dropping clues that He was building toward something different. We didn’t really understand these very well, but He kept dropping them all the same.
Finally, when the time was right He came to be with us. He came to be with us to save us. He came to save us from our sins because He loved us so much. The apostle Paul would later describe this whole thing in a letter to a young pastor named Titus like this: “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared [that is, Jesus was born; He entered the world as a baby], he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.”
This is truly the greatest story ever told: God came to be with us in Jesus because of His great love for us.
Yet, don’t miss the details in what Paul says there. You may not check off every box on Paul’s list of sins there, but if you have ever checked even one of them, you are a sinner. Which box you check at that point is immaterial. You and I were living in open rebellion to God’s rightful sovereignty over our lives and over His creation. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
Oh the power of those three little letters! Don’t miss how Paul describes Jesus. Jesus is the embodied kindness of God and His love for people. And when that kindness and love appeared, He saved us. How did He save us? Not by anything we had done. That was never an option. We couldn’t do enough good things to meet with His standards. He saved us by His mercy. In His mercy, He transferred our debt to Jesus and transferred Jesus’ reward to us. And this happens by way of the Holy Spirit. All of God to save all of us. But the bottom line is still the most important part: God came to be with us in Jesus because of His great love for us. That’s what this day is all about remembering and celebrating.
So today, we gather and celebrate this love and gift of grace. It was first revealed in a little baby; a little baby in whom the full presence and power of God dwelt. Imagine that: the Creator of the Universe swaddled in strips of cloth and lying in an animal feed trough in a smelly stable in the middle of the night waiting to be attended by shepherds.
Who could have ever even imagined such a thing. What kind of a God would reduce Himself to such a “mean estate” as the old carol puts it? One who was driven by love; who was committed to pursuing us with His love no matter what seemed to stand in His way. One who was committed to being with us so that He could save us because of His love for and kindness toward us. This God longs for nothing more than to be with you. God came to be with us in Jesus because of His great love for us.
All that remains is for you to receive Him. Receive Him into your life—perhaps for the very first time. Receive His command to love one another and make following it your constant and abiding aim. Receive the gift of His Spirit so that you might be an heir with the hope of eternal life. Receive Him so that He can be with you which is all He came for in the first place—to be with you forever and ever without end. God came to be with us in Jesus because of His great love for us.
Merry Christmas to you, and may you live in Him happily ever after.