Christmas Eve December 24, 2023
“Christmas Changes People” Luke 2:8-15
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Sometimes people critique the sermon the pastor preaches. Thumbs up? Thumps down? And sometimes a quiz is held. WHAT did he say? “I don’t know.” “No idea.” “He was all over the board.” Broncos. Rockies. Complaining about his hair.
So I’m going to tell you what I’m going to be saying for the next 13 minutes. This is it. Ready? One. Two. Three. Christmas Changes People. That’s it. Go back to sleep.
I’m going to prove this big assertion. Have you seen Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”? The main character is Ebenezer Scrooge. He is known for another memorable line. You know it? “Bah humbug.” He was crotchety, impatient, negative, always complaining. He is the one who said, “Christmas is a poor excuse every 25th of December to pick a man’s pocket.” He never even heard of the word generosity or compassion.
The life of Ebenezer Scrooge seemed pretty dark and hopeless for a long time. But it didn’t stay that way. By the end of the story he is smiling. He is laughing. He has this burning desire to help others. He left the “Bah humbug” in the snow. He is a changed man. What changed him? Christmas changed Ebenezer Scrooge.
As I look out this evening I don’t know all of you. And some of you don’t know me. I don’t know your joys or your interests or what makes you unique in this world. Even if I do know you, I might not really know you. What are your challenges or your failures? What do you face that seems so daunting? But I do know what everyone of us has in common. We need a change. Something in us or about us needs a change. But that is what Christmas is about – I believe that Christmas changes people. Maybe you believe that as well.
But the change that Christmas brings didn’t start with people. It started with God. God changed at Christmas. Now I know that verse, and you may know it as well, that says, “I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) But at Christmas God changed. The eternal God who has no form, no body, took on a body. It was the form of a baby, in a manger, in Bethlehem. Like John says, “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) His character didn’t change but His substance changed. Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil.” In another picture Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9) He shares in our humanity. He becomes poor. He became flesh. Christmas changed God. Never take that humbling truth for granted. This is what your God would do for you. This is how low He would stoop to fight our battles and allow us to be victorious with Him.
Christmas changes people, as well. But it just can’t be for a few days every December that we shape up and get a little better. Christmas changes people for good, permanently, forever. Christmas changes people because Christ changes people.
You know some of the main characters in the Christmas account. Joseph, Mary and the shepherds. Christ changed everyone of them.
Look at Joseph. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. But she was pregnant and he knew he had not fathered that child. We read of his consternation and what action he was going to take, “Because Joseph, her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19) It sounds like he would begin his life without her and she without him. No public trial. No punitive action. Just a quiet exit. His whole life was changed as he entertained his solution to the problem. But God had a different solution. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:20, 24) Christmas changed Joseph and the days that were before him.
Christmas changed Mary. Boy, did it change her. Mary was in a pinch. She lived in a small town where people knew each other’s business. Secrets didn’t stay secret. So when an angel named Gabriel spoke the news that he brought, his words were troubling. He said, “Mary, you will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus.” “How will this be, Mary said, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:31, 34)
But her fear was changed by God’s plan through this Savior, Jesus. She could respond with faith, trusting in God’s miracle and His plan. “Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38) Changed by Christ.
As you read the shepherd’s story you may find it quite comical. “The shepherd’s were keeping watch over their flocks by night”, right? And the first word from the angel who just appeared out of nowhere? “Fear Not!!” If I was a shepherd I would have said, “Why not?” “You just scared the crap out of me.” And then the whole sky had angels. The heart rate would go up. You perspire a little more. But after going to Bethlehem and seeing Jesus, we read of the change, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:20) Christmas changes people. Christ changes people.
But how do you make this change yours? Christmas can’t just be that God changed Mary and Joseph and some shepherds and stop at that. It is good to know that He would do such a good thing for them – but what would that mean for us?
The change of Christmas and the change from Christ is universal and it is personal. When the angel appeared he spoke and said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) Sometimes, in life, only a few select get in on some of the best stuff. People get left out of some things that they really want.
But this is different. All people are included in the Christmas Christ. He came for all. He died for all. He loves the entire world. He came for you and He came for me.
How do you make this yours? We call it faith. You believe in Him. You trust in Jesus. You rest in His coming and dying for your sins, and His rising again, so that you would enjoy Him forever. Christmas gives people hope that we are beloved by God.
And then this change is personal. On that Christmas night it says, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) For you!! Tonight or tomorrow you may have that tradition of one person going from package to package under the tree and reading the recipient’s name, “This is for Maria.” “This is for Clara”. “This is for Tobin”. And when your name is read a smile comes to your face. You can’t wait to open it up. If your name isn’t read at that moment, you hope that the next name spoken is yours. “For you” takes on anticipation and joy.
Christmas doesn’t just change people. Christ doesn’t just change people. This change becomes more personal. Christmas changes you. Christ changes you. The Savior was born. Your Savior. Your Lord. Your Joy.
If you’ve become a Scrooge, enough of it!! If you have lived without God for too many years, enough of it!! This is a good night for change. God’s change. God’s gifts. God’s love. Christmas does change people. Christmas changes us. Amen!!