Sermon: "Something to Celebrate"

5th in the "Something to Celebrate" series.
Delivered December 24, 2006 (4pm service) by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Luke 2:8-20

I want to read to you a very familiar passage of scripture. It comes from Luke, the gospel of Luke in the New Testament. A gospel is an account of the life of Jesus, and so this account of the life of Jesus written by Luke, in the second chapter I want to read some verses that begin at Verse 8.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

Well, I want to get out something here; a little reminder of home for a moment, ah there we go. Now, this isn't actually the real thing, you can tell that, it's a fiber optic tree. But it's to help us to remember for a moment that right now at most of our homes we've got a tree. It's a big part of decorating for Christmas, getting a tree; maybe it's a seven-foot spruce or fir or something like that and we get it and decorate it and put garlands on it. We put lights on it and then we also put all the ornaments and everything and get it just right and put the presents underneath and it's a big part of what makes Christmas beautiful in our homes. A tree is a big deal. Now even if we don't have a tree it is usually because we are going to someone else's house for Christmas and they are the ones that are going to have a tree, but it's a big part of what we do to decorate.

I think it is beautiful, but the problem you know if you get a little bit closer to the tree you will notice that some of the leaves have fallen off, particularly if it was gotten quite a bit of time before Christmas. You will also notice that it is starting to dry out a little bit. It's drying out and the leaves are falling out and we all know that if we keep it too long the tree is going to become a fire hazard. Now why is that? It's because even though the tree is beautifully decorated and has lights all over it, it's dead. It's been cut off from the roots. It's all dressed up but it's dying inside.

Our lives are a little bit like that. We come here on Christmas Eve. We come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some of us come to this church every week and other people go to other churches and you just happen to be going this week. For some of you this might be one of the rare times you are here at church, but it doesn't matter where we come from. The reality is the normal human condition is that we can look like everything is fine on the outside, things look like they are going great, it looks like we have a great job and things are going nice. You have a nice house, family and all that stuff, but if we look a little closer you will find out that even though we are all dressed up on outside, that we are drying out and dying inside.

All kinds of things can be there. It might be anger. There might be conflict that we are dealing with. There might be grief. It might be guilt that we are struggling with. Maybe it's lack of forgiveness, maybe it's lack of purpose, maybe it's a feeling deep inside that we are still unfulfilled, but whatever it is, no matter how much we dress up on the outside, no matter how much we try to make it look good by shaping everything around us, on the inside there is a reality that in our normal condition we are dying inside. Things inside are not the way they are supposed to be.

And so in tonight's passage there are words of encouragement, words of hope for people who are like that. There are some incredible words that the angel shares. It says, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." Glory to God in the highest. We are to glorify God because what he has done to deal with our situation. That is why we are gathered for worship on a Christmas Eve, is because we are giving glory and praise and thanksgiving to God for something that God has done and what it says in this passage is that God has brought peace to human beings. Peace to people.

Now when we think about peace normally we think about the absence of conflict and so when we look at the world the way it is right now you are wondering what in the world are they talking about because we are living in anything but a world full of peace. See, our idea is that peace begins with an absence of conflict, so you eliminate war, you eliminate conflicts with people and then you can develop some material prosperity because you have safety and then if you develop material prosperity, then you work inside of us and so then inside we start to feel fulfilled and happy. You get everything right, keep everything safe, surround yourself with the right kind of things and then inside you will come around and you will be healthy and happy.

But that is not the picture of peace that is presented in the Bible. The word behind this word peace in English is a Hebrew word called "Shalom" and that idea of peace is very different because that idea of peace begins with the idea that human well-being, this idea of shalom has to do with well-being and fulfillment, contentment, soundness, spirituality and materially and in relationship, on all levels of life that there is a soundness and this begins with being at peace with God, that there is a problem in our relationship with God that has to be dealt with before anything else.

If we think about peace as being the absence of conflict and absence of conflict leads to material prosperity and material prosperity leads to inner well-being and fulfillment, the problem with that model is first of all it's never applying to most of the people in the world, because we don't have that level of peace, that level of absence of conflict. Also, even when we do it doesn't mean that it really works. Even when we have that level of prosperity, it doesn't bring the fulfillment that we would expect.

And so even though we get all dressed up on the outside, the fact is that on the inside we are dead, it doesn't work, something more fundamental has to happen. And that's why this other direction of it beginning with peace with God and then out of a peace with God we get an inner sense of well-being and wholeness and fulfillment and out of that inner sense of knowing who we are and where we fit, we come to better relationships with people and then out of those just and better relationships comes prosperity and absence of conflict. It's an entirely different direction and it begins with being a peace with God.

It's like a tree. Wholeness and health means being connected to the roots. We can't be cut off and still be whole, because that level of health, that peace comes from being alive on the inside, by being connected to the source of life. So on earth, peace to men upon whom God's favor rests, to those upon whom God's favor rests. Now when we hear those words we wonder who does that apply to? Well just a few verses later it says, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people." This good news of the peace that God can bring, this dealing with the realities of our relationship with him is something that is available to anyone who is willing to take the step to respond to this gift that God has given. God has given this gift of peace and we can receive it or we can turn it aside.

It says in the very next verse, "Today in the City of David a savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord." We need peace with God and the way we get that peace is that God has provided a Savior, someone to rescue us and that's why the real symbol of Christmas is not the Christmas tree, even though it's beautiful, the real symbol of Christmas is the manger, because God has given a Savior. We need someone to rescue us because the reality is we can't do what needs to be done to correct our relationship with God. That is what the message of Christmas is all about, is that we are helpless and God has provided a way to be at peace with him because Jesus has come to take our place, to pay the penalty for our sins, all the things that stand in our way of a relationship with God, Jesus has come to deal with that. And so it says here, that he is sending a savior, "Christ the Lord and this is the sign to you, you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

So is this true about you? All dressed up, looking great on the outside, but dried out on the inside, because we are not in touch with the root, we are not in touch with God; we are not a peace with God? If so, then it's a very easy thing to deal with, as we celebrate something like Christmas. It's an easy thing, because all it means is that we begin by admitting on the inside in a conversation with God, in our hearts, admitting that we can't deal with it in our own, that we need this Savior that God has sent. It means turning from doing things our own way, turning from being our own God, turning from making our own rules and letting God be God. That's how it all begins. It's a journey, but it all begins with a decision like that.

And so, I just want to ask you, are you dry inside? If you are dry inside don't blame it on all of the things happening around you. Don't blame it on the externals. Don't blame it on your situation; believing if only my material situation was somehow better, if somehow my relationships were a little bit better, everything would be fine. No. The problem is inside, because we are all dressed up and we are dying inside. And so the offer goes out, not just on Christmas Eve, but all the time to let God be God of your life, to stop dying every day a little bit inside. God gives you the invitation in Jesus Christ to experience life.

Let's pray, just for a moment. Gracious God, as we consider Jesus Christ sent as a human being, sent to represent us, to make peace between us and you, so that out of that peace it might grow a wholeness of life that might ultimately effect all that we do and say, as we experience that and think about that, we pray now in our own hearts, Lord we recognize that we are part of the problem, that we are not at peace with you because there is a problem inside of us, a God complex that wants to keep you distant and we turn from that for the first time or for the 500th time, we turn from that and invite you to be our God, to be our deliverer, to take the broken pieces of us, the dried out dying parts of us and to bring new life as we submit in relationship with you. So open us up to a new life that we can live through your Holy Spirit, living inside of us, we invite you in, for we ask all of these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

© 2006, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145