December 24, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
We had the Christmas Program for our Preschool this past Friday. After the program a reception for the kids and their parents and grandparents was held in the Fellowship Hall. I’m standing behind the serving table and witnessed what I had to guess was more common than I would hope. One kid, just about two feet tall, reached in and got a cookie, took one bite, gave the clear facial expression that it wasn’t to her liking, put that one back, and tried another. Isn’t it amazing that we all don’t die from germs that one person passes to another!! I bet that action of that one kid were multiplied many times in that reception. It is probably pretty common.
I want you to see Christmas as amazingly common…and not. The Christmas account when you begin to take it apart is just common. Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth – an unimportant little town. They head to Bethlehem and find no good place to have their baby. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
That wasn’t just common – it was lowly. Unsanitary. A mom having a baby out in a barn? The first place you lay him is in a feeding trough where the cows and the horses had just eaten? In the song, “Mary, Did You Know?”, the questions put to Mary were, “Mary, did you know your son would one day walk on water?…Did you know He is the great I Am?”
Not a chance. This was as common as you get. Jesus, ever God, the one with no beginning, had one. He needed to be fed and changed and He cried (Sorry – I don’t think the words in Away in the Manger – “But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes” can be sustained by Scripture). A guy called The Venerable Bede (died May 26, 735) said of this common beginning, “The sign given of the saviour’s birth is not a child enfolded in Tyrian purple, but one wrapped with rough pieces of cloth; he is not to be found in an ornate golden bed, but in a manger. The meaning of this is that he did not merely take upon himself our lowly mortality, but for our sakes took upon himself the clothing of the poor.”
The One who is absolutely true God, is absolutely true man. He is common, but not. “There were shepherds living out in their fields by night…” – by the way, the shepherds were pretty common too. They weren’t people of great position or power. They weren’t the 1%-ers. But this was the part that set this baby apart from everyone who has every come, “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.” (Luke 2:10-11)
He isn’t common. You can’t talk about someone with words like: Savior; Christ; Lord and say that that person is just like us. Savior – a rescuer. Do you remember the name that Joseph was told to call this little child? “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
He is called the Christ which is the same as the Messiah, or the Anointed One. God had promised throughout the Old Testament that He would send a deliverer, one who would come to rescue people from sin and death, He would come to bring a true and lasting peace in soul and even forever. This then was the moment!! But get this – The Savior, the Messiah is also the Lord – Adonai, the name of God used in the Old Testament. I know that when the Shepherds saw the angel they were terrified. I wonder if they were even more terrified when they were told who He was and what He would do. They would go to see God’s answer for the world. Common…and not.
We have something in common with the Christmas account. We are common…and not. First, how common we are. We struggle with faith. Sometimes we wonder about God and His reality. Sometimes we struggle with living a life that is a good life. We can speak harshly or with vengeance and anger. We can hurt others and not encourage them and sap them of joy. We can have morals that are substandard and dirty and we can put a false face on, so no one knows the truth. Common, ordinary, no different than those who know nothing about God. We don’t want to turn everything over to God. We like to be in control. We want life to be run our way. When I use common to define us I’m not just talking about ordinary. The Proverbs say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
Common…and not. That is what the Christmas story tells us. It changes us. We are no longer common. We don’t end our confession with only the words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner”… We confess that the words spoken to the shepherds are the very words spoken to us in our messed up life, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Unto you!! A few years ago on Christmas Day I preached a sermon with this title, “Come to Bethlehem, Go Home a Different Way.” That is what the shepherds did and that is what, we, in faith for what God can do in us, do.
Because Jesus came to this earth and died a sacrificial death for all of our sin and rose again in great triumph we are not common anymore. Here is your identity:
- How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!! (I John 3:1)
- Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and he who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26)
- Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (I Thessalonians 4:13-14)
Common? No, in Jesus, by His coming in the flesh, and being Savior to us, and becoming Lord over the certainty of death, those who trust in Jesus are not common. We now are God’s own dearly beloved children. Now we are immortal – death has no say over a believer in Christ. When the last breath is taken here, the first breath is taken there.
Common, Yes, we struggle with our flesh, with our life, with faith, with God’s place in life. But then when Jesus is all that He has come to be in our life we are no longer just common. Only through Jesus these cold hearts can be made alive, filled with joy and peace and God’s abiding Spirit.
Common…and not, is how the Christmas account ends for the shepherds. These guys, just doing their job, had their lives transformed. The final word of this section from Luke 2, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which was just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:20)
I find it comforting that in our everyday life of worship, the most common things, words, water, bread, wine – just ordinary things, by God’s power because more than common – they are extraordinary. They do miracles in us by the powerful word of God, cleansing in Baptism and food from God’s own table in Communion. Common…and not!!
The birth of Jesus was as common as it could be, even though this was the eternal God. And yet we see that it wasn’t so common. This was Jesus. This was Immanuel – God with us. This was Christ, Messiah, Lord, Prince of Peace. Common? NO!!! That is what takes our breath away and gives us wonder and astonishment.
We are just as common as can be. Into our struggles comes One who changes who we are and how we live and what we hope. You, and I, through Jesus, as common as can be, find ourselves common…and not.
A most blessed Christmas to you in the name of the One who is common…and not. Amen!!