Sermons- December 22 Fourth Sunday of Advent

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

December 22, 2013
Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Welcoming Christmas”

Luke 2:1-7

The Gospel of Luke is where we find the traditional Christmas story. Almost every year, on the Sunday before Christmas, I use Luke chapter 2 as my sermon text. It’s a familiar story for us as we welcome Christmas each year. However, it may be that its very familiarity can be a hindrance to our truly understanding it. Christmas may often be more of a spectacle to us. It’s usually accompanied by lights and parades and music. There are crowded stores and bumper-to-bumper traffic, family dinners and TV specials. The season comes accompanied by lots of Christmas cards. However, if we seek the meaning of Christmas where the lights are the brightest and the music the loudest, then we will miss it entirely.

There’s a painting that I like very much entitled “The Census in Bethlehem”, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a 16th century Flemish artist. Bruegel paints Bethlehem as if it were a Flemish town in 1566. The Caesar Augustus of Bruegel’s day was King Philip II of Spain who also ordered people to register for a census and pay their taxes. The painting is an elaborate scene filled with scores of people heading toward a village inn where the taxes were being collected and it depicts the harsh reality of an enforced census. The people are trudging through the cold and snow, and some are crossing a frozen river. There is so much detail to see in the painting. But right in the center of the picture near the bottom, almost anonymous in this vast movement of people, is a man carrying a saw over his shoulder and pulling a donkey on which rides a young woman all bundled up. And so Bruegel envisions Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, almost lost in the mass of people.

There’s something about that painting that resonates with me. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus have the most prominent place in our Christmas displays, our Christmas cards and nativity scenes. But on that cold night in Bethlehem they were far from being VIPs. Just like in the painting, they were obscure and hard to notice. It is the most profound irony that the advent of the Son of God was such an inauspicious occasion.

Luke sets a great contrast for us as he opens the nativity story with the historical context. He begins the story in chapter one by saying: “In the days of King Herod of Judea …” Now in chapter 2, he writes: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
King Herod was called – Herod the Great. Though referred to as a king, he was no more than a puppet ruler for Rome. But the power he commanded, he wielded ruthlessly. He murdered anyone who stood in his way and that included one of his wives and two of his sons.

Caesar Augustus was worshiped as a god. He had a great altar built for himself in Rome and had himself declared the savior of the world. Augustus was the absolute ruler of the far-reaching Roman empire for 44 years and he was the one who decreed that all the world should be counted. Of course this was for the purpose of taxation. Everyone’s name, occupation, property and family had to be entered into public registers. Not too much is known about Quirinius. He was a regional ruler set by the Roman hierarchy.

And so we have this vast humanity on the move. All those who were living away from their hometown, their birthplace, their ancestral homeland – these people were on the road. Large groups of people walked the dusty roads, the fortunate few riding a donkey or sitting on a cart. The reason for this huge migration is that the great and powerful had decreed it to be so. But behind and above these earthly rulers is a divine purpose that brings Mary and Joseph to the little village of Bethlehem.

We might well ask why any reference is made to these historical figures – Herod, Augustus, Quirinius. Is this simply an attempt to give historical accuracy to the birth narrative of Jesus? It does bring a level of authenticity to the account, but I believe there is something more here. There is an intentional contrast presented between the kings on their thrones and the King in the manger, between the powers of darkness which ruled the age and the power of light which has come in Jesus Christ. It’s like the way Charles Dickens begins his classic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.” He wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Christmas is all about God’s timing. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, there are two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is where we get the word chronology. When you look at your watch or the calendar, that’s chronos time. It is time measured in years and days and hours. This is where we live most of our lives. We have a schedule to keep. We have to be at work or at school by a certain time. We celebrate anniversary dates and birthdays.

But there’s another kind of time – kairos. Kairos is real time. This is God’s time. It has nothing to do with chronological time. All of the most important things in our lives happen in kairos time. In other words they are not determined by the clock; they can’t be measured that way. For instance, how long is a good time, or to have the time of our lives? To see and understand the meaning of life is to live in kairos time.

Christmas is all about God’s timing – God’s timing in the birth of Jesus Christ and God’s timing in our lives. When we think of Christmas we realize that we are looking at something which has a meaning infinitely deeper than the birth of a baby. Luke said: “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” Paul adds in his letter to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his own Son.”

From the standpoint of chronos time, the birth of Jesus was not unusual. Birth is a fairly predictable event. For humans it takes about nine 9 months to accomplish. Every set of expectant parents has a due date when their baby is expected to be born, although some babies have a timetable of their own. But it’s all scientific and measurable and predictable.

But when we speak of kairos time, we can say that Jesus was born at the right time. The Son of God came at the fullness of time. In a time of darkness, the light came to shine brightly. In the face of a ruthless tyrant like Herod and a would-be god like Caesar and a symbol of Roman oppression like Quirinius, the Son of God was born in Bethlehem.

The birth of Jesus Christ was the unprecedented appearance of God among us. He is the Emmanuel – God with us. In Jesus, God takes on the full burden of our humanity in order to reconcile all of humanity with God. This is the watershed event in human history. Although it remains a mystery to us, this was the right time for the coming of God to save the world. We might wonder why it did not happen sooner, when the prophets had spoken of it, or why it did not happen in our modern age with all of our modern communications. But in the wisdom of God this was the right time, the fullness of time.

However Christmas is not just about what happened then, it’s about what is happening now. Christmas has to do with God’s timing in our lives now. Our chronos time is filled with activity. We hurry to work and we hurry to play. The pace of our lives is tremendous. Some of the things we buy at Christmastime are appliances or gadgets to do things faster, to work more efficiently. And we hate to waste time. Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Richard II – “I have wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”

Children grow up before we know it; we get older before we expect it. We struggle to make sense out of life while we struggle to keep up with life. Where do we find God in the darkness of pain and unhappiness? How do we recognize God’s timing in our lives?

After the death of her husband from cancer, Madeleine L’Engle wrote these words: “It is when things go wrong, when the good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”

Today only a few crumbling statues and broken columns of temples remain as evidence of Augustus’ empire. However the birth of Jesus Christ has changed the world forever. God came into the world centuries ago to ordinary parents in simple surroundings, and we still experience God’s presence in ordinary, everyday ways. In his divine timing, God goes to any lengths to meet us in the common patterns of life.

Do you want to look for the Christ-Child this Christmas? Then pay special attention to those times when your heart skips, when a knot lumps up in your throat, when your pulse is racing, when your eyes moisten. It could be by candlelight at a Christmas Eve service, or just observing a child playing on the floor. A holy time is when we sense life’s deeper dimensions, when God gives fresh meaning to the actions and relationships of our lives.

God’s time is here, now. And it has a seize-the-moment kind of quality to it. Jesus Christ has come that you and I might be saved from sin and darkness, that we might experience the depth of God’s love for us, and that we might live forever in God’s time. We keep time with God in our hearts and not with a clock. And if you don’t have Christmas in your heart you’ll never find it under a tree.

What time is it for you? Is it time to reorder your priorities? Is it time to clarify the values for which you intend to live? Is it time to surrender your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ? Christmas is all about God’s timing. Listen again to the Word of God – “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his own Son.” “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Praise God; it’s Christmastime.

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin

hosted by