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LUKE 2:14

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 25, 2011

The graphic up here is from Lucasfilms.  It was the Christmas card they sent to employees and a few lucky business contacts back in 1995.  Seemed appropriate to the title:  Christmas Wars.

Every year Lucasfilms sends out these cards.  There are others - Lucasfilm knock-offs. 
“Merry Christmas we wish you.  Merry Christmas we wish you.” - Nobody liked caroling with Yoda. “This isn’t the child you’re looking for.”  Kinda have to do the Jedi hand wave with that.

Christmas Wars.  “No God - No Problem:  Be good for goodness sake.” verses “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  

Every year it seems like we struggle more with where Christmas has gone. 

Some people complain about how early the shopping season starts.  It seems like every year it gets earlier that we notice Christmas music in the stores and Christmas decorations going up.  Doesn’t it?  It seems like the fall is melding into one long shopping season anticipating Christmas.  A few years from now maybe Memorial weekend will signal the beginning of summer and the start of the holiday shopping season.

There’s a struggle that we have that some place in all that the real meaning of Christmas is being muted by the forces of political correctness.  Cashiers that are instructed to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  The removal of religious songs - especially Christian songs - the removal of religious songs from holiday celebrations at public schools.

“This year’s multi-cultural generic ‘holiday’ play is ‘Mary and the Magic Baby.’” 

Even as Christians we have these traditions that are pure culture.  Wise men showing up at a manger in a stable on December 24th.  Read Scripture - the wise men showed up to worship a child - not a baby - in a home.  The manger probably wasn’t in a stable or a cave.  And December 24th - and for that matter - December 25th - have nothing to do with the season when shepherd’s would have been out in the field watching their sheep.  But good luck trying to get Christians to change tradition in favor of Scripture.

Its been suggested that if we’re fighting a war over Christmas - the true meaning of Christmas verses the Culture of Christmas - culture won out a long time ago.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire there were various peoples in Northern Europe that had celebrations in mid-December to celebrate the end of the harvest season.  They prepared special foods - decorated their homes with greenery - joined in singing and gift giving.

The Romans just absconded with all that.  The Romans held year end celebrations to honor Saturn their harvest god and Mithras the god of light.  Celebrations that included excesses in gift giving - gifts given to themselves and others.  In the 300’s AD - when Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire Christians just adopted the cultural celebrations - including the day for the celebration of Christmas.

It wasn’t until the Reformation that protestants started having problems with Christmas because of all the pagan customs.  In fact Christmas was outlawed - during the 1600’s - by Christians in America.  But people still sent gifts.  In the 1800’s people began decorating Christmas trees and sending Christmas cards.  Christmas carols like “Silent Night” and “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing” became popular.  Santa Claus became the symbol of gift giving.  In the 1900’s Christmas became an economic engine.

Where is Jesus in all that?  Maybe He’s never really been there.

Maybe the enemy isn’t Walmart.  Maybe we’re fighting the wrong battle.  Maybe our focus needs to be more on the core of what we really believe as Christians - as followers of Jesus.

In Luke chapter 2 - is the familiar account of Jesus’ birth.  The decree from Caesar Augustus - during the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  The decree that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for registration.

Then the account of the angels coming to the shepherds.  The message of the angel: 
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The timing and location of Jesus’ birth fulfilling prophecy - pointing to the child - conceived of the Holy Spirit - born of the virgin Mary - God with human skin on - incarnate deity.  Born - not into royalty or great wealth - but humility - born to die.

Then the multitude of the angelic armies of heaven praising God and saying - read it together with me -
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

The more I’ve been pondering Christmas - and probably like a lot of you - feeling the emotions of the season - maybe even some emptiness - maybe some frustration - maybe just trying to hang on to the finish line - as I’ve been watching what goes on at this time of the year - Luke 2:14 has really stuck in my mind.  There’s huge significance in the words of the angels.  Significance that is important for us to grab on to as we think about what’s really important for us as followers of Jesus.

On your Message Notes you’ll see verse 14 broken down in to 3 “P’s”  Those 3 “P’s” are not some great inspired alliteration.  They just seem to be a good way to grab on to verse 14.

The first P is for
Praise.  Let’s repeat that together:  “Praise.”  The angels praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest.”

Ever have your computer freeze-up because there was just too much for it to handle?  Sometimes that’s the only response we can have. 
The more we know about God and what He does and how He does it - what God can do in us and through us and what He allows us to be a part of - the more we’re amazed.  Speechless before the awesomeness of God.  The brain just freezes in wonder.

How is a baby born to a virgin?  How does God enter human flesh?  How is Jesus at one time both fully God and yet fully man?  Where is God going in all of this?  What does He have for me?  How are we suppose to process the mind and working of God?

The angel of the Lord suddenly is standing in front of the shepherds - standing with the glory of the Lord all around them - a trillion candles of pure heavenly light.  A terrifying experience - coming face to face with the glory of heaven.

The angel tells them,
“Don’t be afraid.”  Can’t imagine why they would be.

“Don’t be afraid.” 
The news is good!  Not something to fear. 

In Bethlehem - fulfilling the prophecy given to Micah (Micah 5:2ff) - is born the long awaited Savior - who is the Christ - the Messiah - the One anointed by God - to deliver His people.  He’s the Lord - the potentate of all creation - God Himself - born in the flesh - incarnate - so that each of us who is in bondage to Satan and the power of sin - with no hope of saving ourselves - God has come to set us free.  That’s good news.  Amen?!!?

The baby - the Savior - is wrapped in cloths - lying in a manger.  Have you ever thought about the importance of that description?

There may have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night.  The place was crowded.  Even if they found a baby how would they know it was the right one? 
“He’s wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.”  Pretty easy to find and identify.  Not just any baby.  The God in the flesh baby.

Suddenly t
he tapestry of the night sky is ripped apart - the glory of heaven bursts through into human life - an uncountable number of angels - the armies of heaven - are praising God - saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”   

It’s a statement of adoration - worship - praise.  God working His plan of redemption - of salvation - in human history.  God has become flesh.  God has come to save His people.  God has brought His peace to His people.  It is a singular God moment in time.

Only the God worthy of worship - the God of heaven on high - the God most High - only the God who is worthy of worship is able and would do such a thing.  Glory to God in the highest.

Can we say
“Praise God” together?

The second P stands for
Peace.  Let’s repeat that together, “Peace.”  “and on earth peace”

Peace is an interesting concept.  Isn’t it?

Remember Black Friday?  At the core of our celebration is the urgency of shopping with pepper-spray and taser guns - shoving matches and fist fights in parking lots - the stress of travel - the anxieties of family reunions.  Even people who have no clue about Jesus get the idea that something has gone seriously wrong.

The Crimean War began with an argumen
t between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Church over which church’s star would hang over Jesus’ birthplace.  Britain, France, Italy, and Turkey verses Russia and Latin France  Three long years of war - 1.5 billion dollars - 1,000,000 dead.  Over a star that was ultimately taken down.

Bethlehem - the birth place of Jesus - Bethlehem today is a focal point of conflict between Jews and Palestinians.  A flash point for world conflict. 

suppose to be joyful at Christmas.  We sing “Joy to the World” - and we’re not joyful.  We’re just trying to keep up.  We’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Christmas just puts our work load on overload.

At Christmas there are
empty chairs at the family table - loved ones who are missed.  Depression is easy.  At Christmas the suicide rate goes up.

he circumstances of our lives and families - the economy - the world we live in - is constantly working to rob us of peace.  We constantly struggle to feel safe, less anxious, more in control of our lives.

at word peace” is crucial for our lives.  Crucial because we long for peace.  Crucial because it is so hard for us to really know peace.  With all the efforts of all the philosophers - all the governments - working to solve the deeper issues that plaque mankind - are we any closer to peace than the night when Jesus was born?

A pastor decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon so he placed four worms into four separate cans.  The first worm was put into a container of alcohol.  The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke.  The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup.  The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.

At the end of the sermon, the pastor reported that the first worm - in alcohol - was dead.  The second worm - in the cigarette smoke - was dead.  The third worm - in the chocolate syrup - was dead.  The fourth worm - in the good clean soil - was alive.  So the pastor asked the congregation,
“What can you learn from this demonstration?” 

A little old woman in the back stood up and said,
“As long as you drink, smoke, and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms!”

Mankind looks at our situation and concludes that the answer is for us to work harder at trying to be good - more humane towards each other.  But the conclusion is wrong.  Isn’t it?  Thousands of years of human history and you’d think we’d have gotten somewhere.

Walmart isn’t the issue.  The bottom line is that the world is at war with God.  Sinners are at enmity with their maker and with each other.

The account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is familiar to us.  Man was created to enjoy an intimate relationship with God - an abundant  life of opportunity - a deep communion with others - and the freedom to glorify God with our lives.  Adam was placed in a beautiful garden that supplied all of his physical needs.

restriction.  We’ve memorized this.  “Adam, don’t eat the - what?  fruit.”  Stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But, Adam rebelled against God with his eyes wide open - knowing exactly what he was doing - a deliberate act of disobedience.  The result is that sin has entered humanity.

Anyone ever take a class called Beginning Sin 101?  Along the way there might have been experiences or people that have helped us develop and refine our ability to sin
- to get better at it.  But, if we’re honest no one teaches us how to sin.  We’re born with sin.  There’s a universality of sin. 

The account of Adam and Eve in Genesis holds our attention because every day we relive it in our lives - the failure - the casting out - the longing to return to paradise.  We despair because there’s nothing we can do to return.

Paul writes in Romans 5:1: 
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That’s God’s grace - the expression of His love.
  Good new of great joy.

We’re enemies of God. 
We deserve death.  But God gives to us what we do not deserve - what we could never earn - His love - His grace - His Son Jesus - born in Bethlehem - Who endures the ridicule of mankind and the hatred of Satan and his hoards - innocently enduring the worst of this world - the war against God - Who carried our sins on Himself - on the cross - is put to death in our place - paying our penalty for our sins - taking our death sentence upon Himself - to offer us forgiveness - a restored relationship with God - life - peace with God now and forever.

When we individually accept God’s gracious offer of salvation - by faith - turning from our sin and trusting God with our lives - God applies His salvation to us.  In the midst of this world at war against God and each other - we can know God’s peace - peace in our hearts - rest in our souls - an absence of inner struggle and turmoil.  Peace with God.

Third P stands for
Pleased.  Let’s repeat that together.  “Pleased.”  “among those with whom He is pleased.”

The setting is impressive.  How you have ever been in a place like that - at night in the fields?  The lights of Bethlehem are off a ways.  Jerusalem is five miles away.  It’s dark except for the brilliance of stars.  Maybe a cool breeze stirs the grass.

Shepherds out in the field - late at night - doing what they
d done the night before that and the night before that.  Doing what for generations was what their family did.  Doing what they’ll be doing tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  Shepherds - surrounded by the stench of sheep - sitting around a fire - telling sheep jokes. 

“What do you call a sheep with no legs?”  “A cloud.”

“How do you clean a sheep?”  “You give it a baaath.”

It’s hard to imagine anything more routine.  Maybe laundry.  While shepherds washed their socks by night.  Probably
the last thing on their minds - in the routine of the average lowly shepherd - probably the last thing they we’re thinking about was the coming of the Messiah.

Shepherds were on the low end of the social register of the day.  They were despised by the orthodox Jews - because they couldn’t keep the requirements of the ceremonial laws - the feasts - the washing of hands - and so on.  They couldn’t do both - shepherd and keep the ceremonial laws.  

Which is ironic.  Every morning and evening an unblemished lamb was sacrificed at the Temple as an offering to the Lord.  Some of the sheep in that very pasture were probably being raised for those sacrifices.  But these shepherds couldn’t be a part of all that.  They really were the lost sheep of Israel.

And yet, when God reaches into humanity - His announcement isn’t made in the courts of Caesar - at the heart of the Roman Empire.  God’s birth announcement comes in an obscure corner of the empire - out in a field - to shepherd’s - despised by their own people for their unrighteousness - their unworthiness before God.

Why should God be pleased with these Shepherds?  But that’s what it says in verse 14.  Doesn’t it? 
“Among those with whom He is pleased.”  Pleased - the Greek word - pleased means satisfied - delighted - pleasure.  Why should God be pleased with these ungodly Shepherds?

Why should God be pleased with us?  Us?  Common ordinary sinful people hanging out here in the greater Merced metroplex.

And yet He is.  Let that rattle around in your mind.  God is pleased with you.  Say that to yourself. 
“God is pleased with me.”  Share that with someone near you.  “God is pleased with you.”

That’s astounding.  Isn’t it?  That God - not because of any great spiritual achievement on our part - God chooses to be pleased with us - to bestow His satisfaction - His kind intent - on us.  God - by His grace - is born in the flesh - to die - for us that we might have peace with Him.

God is pleased with you.

The real Christmas War really has nothing to do with Walmart or Target or any other retailer.  The real war has to do with us - the struggle we have in our response - our living out what we really believe as Christians - as followers of Jesus Christ - God with us.

There is one more “P”.  That is the “P” of
Priority.  Let’s repeat that together.  “Priority.”

Friday, USA Today ran an article entitled:  “Should Churches Close On Sunday For Christmas.”  Since Christmas - December 25th - comes on Sunday - and people are so busy with family and gatherings and celebrations and opening presents and stuff - apparently there are a number of churches - some of them trend setting mega churches that have opted to not have services today.

Which seems a little backwards.  Doesn’t it?  God graciously comes to us and we’re so busy celebrating Jesus’ birth with all our culturally acceptable “christian” celebrations - with our families and friends - that we’re struggling to try and fit Him into all that.  And then we wonder why the world doesn’t get the true meaning of Christmas.

I realize that saying that is a little unfair.  After all, you all showed up this morning.  That’s huge.  I have to believe that you all didn’t just show up because you didn’t have any other place to go.  At the very least you could have stayed home and worshiped at the church of the inner spring.  They still put springs in mattresses?  Right?  You all made a choice to come this morning and give priority to worshiping God.

But weird isn’t it?  God comes to us and we find something else to do.  And not just on Christmas.  But we struggle with that priority every day of our lives - and every Sunday - at every opportunity to worship and serve and show up for God.

Read a great quote from Eric D. Barreto who is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul - Minnesota. 
“If we really followed Jesus as He walked on this earth, if we walked alongside the destitute and the homeless, if we were to see God in the broken and the lost, then all the tinsel, all the lights, all the wrapping paper, even the “war” on Christmas itself would suddenly lose their luster in comparison.” (1)

We lose our way around Christmas when we demand that our culture recognize Jesus as “the reason for the season” rather than as Christians if we would just seek to live as Jesus did.  We lose our way at Christmas we let go of the priority of what Christ’s coming means for each of us - individually - as those God is pleased with.

Priority number one?  We need to respond to God’s grace
.  God is pleased with us.  Not our sin.  But pleased to offer us His salvation.  We need to individually respond by accepting His offer of salvation - to turn from our sin - and to trust Him with out lives.

Priority number two is how we live
.  We need to give priority to worship - to praise - to glorifying God - to being followers of Jesus - sharers and livers of His gospel - of His peace - of what it means to be blessed so undeservedly by God.  What else is more important?  Nada.  Nothing.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

May we give the priority of our lives to living out His Good News of great joy - today - and for as long as God gives us here on earth.


1. Rev. Dr. Eric D. Barreto: 
Luke 2:1-20, The “Real” War on Christmas?  

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.