Titus 3:4–7 (NIV)
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
For many in the world Christmas is a time for family. Individual family members, brothers, sisters, mums and dads, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunties often travel to gather together to catch up, to feast and some to worship together.
For some, Christmas is an excuse to over eat and drink, to lament a year which wasn’t so good and to hope for better things in the future. Sometimes things are said which are better left unsaid under the influence of alcohol, tiredness and or high emotions.
Christmas is a time to share gifts – willingly or unwillingly, with love or under obligation. Sometimes the gifts are given in thankfulness to another for their love and care throughout the year. Sometimes gifts are shared with complete strangers because the spirit of generosity and mercy is at work.
For some, Christmas is a time for families to celebrate new additions to the family as new babies, partners, boyfriends or girlfriends, husbands and wives are introduced to the extended family members for the first time.
It’s not uncommon at Christmas for the story of a new child’s birth to be recounted – the circumstances of the conception (perhaps where there were difficulties), planned or unplanned, the journey through pregnancy, the place of the birth, who was present, who visited, who phoned and who sent or delivered gifts.
Does this sound familiar? It’s a universal story in which the details may differ slightly but the essence of the story is universal. So universal in fact that God has a story to tell – it’s been told – we told it here last Sunday with “The ABCs of Christmas”.
It’s a story which has been told every year in December here at St Matthew and in many other homes and churches around the world for almost 2000 years. We heard part of the story read from Luke’s Gospel this morning again.
The story is told in the nativity diorama before us here. It’s a story told on radio, television, Youtube and cellphone. It’s a story read, re-enacted, painted, sung – it’s a story which has been censored, outlawed and distorted. Yet it’s a story which cannot and will not be hidden, suppressed or forgotten because it is God’s story and your story.
The central figures in the story are a family, a family with questionable ancestry (a prostitute and a murderer to name but two), questionable morality (pregnant and unmarried – the human father figure not the biological father), and strange circumstance (a census, a difficult journey on a donkey, a dirty cattle shed, heavenly hosts of angels).
It’s a story which includes Almighty God, a pregnant young virgin (Mary), an honourable man who wanted to do the right thing (Joseph) the mystical (angels), an enemy and oppressor (Herod), the outcasts (the shepherds), the busy and the tired (the inn keeper), the foreigners, wealthy, and intelligent (the magi), you and me.
We all have our own unique story of our birth and journey through life and this story from the first Christmas impacts us and the whole world.
It’s a family story told to and with families of all kinds. Traditional extended families, nuclear families, broken families, blended families, de facto families and potential families because it’s a story which has universal application and relevance. It’s the Christmas story, the story of our God, the story of our Saviour. It’s our story which gives meaning and purpose for life.
God gives us this story in the Bible for us to participate in. Out of His love and mercy, God, at the right time in human history breaks into the world to save the world – to save us from ourselves and to restore us to His family – we were separated through sin and death from God and from each other – but God, because of His love and kindness, wanted us back – God wants a united family.
In this Christmas story we see how God can bring what is broken and dis-functional together. As the prophet Isaiah 62:11–12 (NIV) said:
11 The Lord has made proclamation
to the ends of the earth:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your Saviour comes!
See, His reward is with Him,
and His recompense accompanies Him.’ ”
12 They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted.
As we gather and retell the story of Jesus birth we participate and receive from God His gift of new life, a new start. It comes with the birth of Jesus and is fulfilled in his death on the cross to pay for our sin. This new life is given to each of us personally when God baptised us, adopting us into His eternal family.
God has brought us out of sin and into new life in Christ into His family. “This is all accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not by anything we can do on our own.” As we read in Luther’s Small Catechism:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
God continues the story – Jesus and our story as we progress through each year together. There is much to be added to our story. So let’s keep telling the story – God wants His story to be told so that other outcasts and foreigners, family and friends can become part of the story too.