This past Sunday night I was preaching on the humble birth of Jesus and the response of heaven and earth as found in Luke 2:1-21. After a thoroughly unimpressive and simple account of the birth we see angels bringing an important message to ordinary men (shepherds), a message that is good news and cause for great joy. The news was this: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). They respond by immediately going to see him and then proceed to tell all who will listen about this great news. The main point of my sermon? Christmas is good news worth sharing.
But I didn’t get to say all that I wanted. In light of the events that had taken place this past Friday, I had spent many hours trying to figure out how best to help my people to still see the hope of Christmas in the midst of our world’s darkness. But when it came down to preaching it, I just didn’t have time…. and I regretted it.
Thankfully, I write out everything I plan on saying, so I do have it here for you. However, it was not originally intended to be read by many, but rather spoken to a few, with tenderness and understanding that all of us were greatly affected simply by reading the news. So please read with pinch of salt. Do not think I have written this to say I know why this happened or that I even think I fully understand these people’s pain, but hear this, these words were written because I do believe that our world is broken and yearning for a savior and His name is Jesus.
(If you want to hear the sermon first, you can listen or download it here.) [audio http://archive.org/download/ASaviorIsBorn/Remix12-16-12.mp3]
The following is what I didn’t get to say, but wanted to:
I think everyone here is aware of the tragedy that occurred Friday morning in the small city of Newtown, Connecticut. A man killed his mother and then went to a public elementary school filled with kindergarten to fourth grade kids and went on a rampage… killing 20 children and 6 more adults, and then himself.
When I heard the news of this horrific event I was working on this very sermon; studying these very scriptures that we just looked at tonight. And the rest of that day, I tried to keep working on this sermon… but kept being drawn in to reading more and more news as the events unfolded.
And while there are many questions that arise out of a tragedy such as this one, there was one question I kept thinking as I was preparing. You see, the main point of my sermon was, and still is, that Christmas is good news worth sharing… but my question was this: is Christmas still good news for the people of Newtown? Is it still good news for the grieving parents? Is it still good news for the traumatized classmates? Is it still good news for the police officers and firefighters who witness the grizzly scene? Is Christmas still good news in a world that is clearly broken and overwhelmingly tragic?
To put it another way… does your pretty nativity manger scene have a place for the heartbroken, the distressed and the suffering? And does it have any answers?
And if we can’t say, “Yes” then we need to rethink our understanding of Christmas… if we can’t say yes… then we need to discover a different nativity…
But the answer is yes.
Because Jesus humbly entered into a broken world precisely because it needed a savior.
Think back to our nativity scene:
Jesus’ mother and father are the low-income working class who take on the shame of an unwedded pregnancy. They live in a time of Roman oppression and are forced into traveling so that taxes can be assessed. Middle eastern hospitality falls short as they face rejection again because of this unborn child; the king of kings sleeps his first night in a donkey’s food dish. His first guests are not educated, powerful, rich or political… but just normal, hard working, smelly shepherds.
Our Lord came in humbly and understands the humble.
But that is not all.
Because shepherds that first night, and wise men some time later were not the only visitors to Bethlehem town: death would strike just as well.
The rage of a king, at the coming of this vulnerable newborn who was also king of kings, would lead to the deaths of many infants in this same small village.
And while, we will get to that part of our story in a couple of weeks… it must be seen now, in light of this week, because Jesus entered a broken world, filled with death (and we still do).
In the big picture we see that Jesus didn’t enter into a quiet town, but into a war zone. Our nativity has a backdrop of bloodshed. And this week we saw clearly that this war still rages on.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
I have to wonder of the babies that died in Bethlehem, were any related to our shepherds? A son? A nephew? A cousin? A brother?
Did they still believe the angels had brought good news?
And again, I think yes. I think it would have been terrible and awful and filled with great mourning… even like our nation today, and yet it was exactly part of the broken world that made them yearn for deliverance… their need for Jesus.
And while the backdrop of bloodshed around our nativity speaks to the reality of the world, it is the shadow of a cross on our manger which remind us of the extent Jesus went through so we can say, “where o death is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?”
The Christmas story is not devoid of pain or suffering. It contains it; it understands it… and ultimately it happened because suffering, pain, and death needed to come to an end… Jesus put away its power through his victory over death… and so in Christmas we have a hope of something greater.
Jesus is still our hope for this broken world.
So Christmas is good news worth sharing, even to the broken hearted and the mourning. But it is complicated… and its personal. A bumper sticker just doesn’t capture the depth of Christmas nor the depth of the pain it seeks to heal… but if you care and you share your joy and the message of a necessary savior in the midst of a broken world… God will bring peace to those on whom his favor rests.
Here are some additional resources to help you come to grips with this tragedy in light of who God is and what He is doing in this world:
How Does Jesus Come to Newtown? – John Piper
School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare – Russell Moore
Where Shall We Put this Grief? – Kathleen Nelson
A Prayer in Response – Scotty Smith