A NEW SONG
A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on December 24, 2014 (Christmas Eve)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
– Luke 2:1-20
- During Advent we have been hearing some of the great old songs – songs found in the biblical book of Psalms. We have hears songs that correspond to the Advent candles we light: hope, peace, love, and joy.
Tonight we hear a new song. Christmas is a new song that God and the angels sing to all creation. Countless new songs have been written by grateful people in response.
I have always found it fascinating that, with all the songs that have been written during the course of human history, people still have a desire to write and sing new songs. New songs express new experiences, and new circumstances.
Not everyone likes new songs! Not everyone liked what God was doing in the birth of Jesus (story of Herod). But it is important to remember that every “old” song that we have come to love (like Christmas carols) was once a new song – which not everyone liked.
- This evening I would like to make a few comments about the story of Jesus’ birth – especially as it is recorded in the gospel of Luke. Some of you may be hearing this story for the first time. For others it may be familiar, but we may not appreciate the powerful significance of this story on folks who first heard it many centuries ago.
All births are miraculous – and memorable. I’m sure any of you who are parents can remember important moments during the birth of your children. We may not remember all the events of those days, but each one had significant events and moments. So it is with the birth story in Luke. The events that were remembered and recorded had great meaning and significance.
Important features of the story of Jesus’ birth:
- The place. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. His parents lived in Nazareth. Jesus grew up in Nazareth – a very unremarkable town. But Jews had come to believe that when the Messiah – the Savior – came, he would be from Bethlehem, where the great King David had come from. And so Luke records how this family – subject to the bureaucratic whims of the Empire – had to make a very inconvenient journey to Joseph’s ancestral town of Bethlehem. Even the powerful Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirnius – who thought they were in charge – were being used by God to fulfill God’s plans. Jesus – the kid from Nazareth – was born in Bethlehem.
But in a manger? A feeding trough for cattle? Sometimes, when you are poor, you have to make do with what is available. The Savior of the world came from very poor and humble origins.
- News came to shepherds…
Connection to David – who had been a shepherd of his family’s sheep, and of God’s people as king.
These were poor nobodies – doing important work, but hard and dangerous work that few people were willing to do. But God cared about them, and gave them a part to play in this great story.
- The angels sing glory to God. Not the emperor.
We love to give glory to Royals, film and TV and Reality TV stars (?), sports superstars, political stars. But the angels sing glory to God, made known in Jesus. This is One who is truly worthy of our worship and praise.
- God entered into our world – breaking down the wall between heaven & earth.
God is no longer safely confined to heaven, at our beck and call. Instead, God has entered into our world of home and family and relationships, business, law, politics – even our national defense. That is either very comforting, or very scary – depending on your perspective.
As one of those old, new songs puts it:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate(“in the flesh”) Deity,
Pleased in flesh with us to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel (which means “God with us).
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
(words by Charles Wesley, 1739)
Robert J. von Trebra