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Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men

How many of you have ever heard Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”? I asked Greg – and he had no idea what I was talking about – so I started feeling a little bit old – but I’m glad that some of you know what I’m talking about. But for those of you who don’t know Paul Harvey – when I was a kid, every Friday at noon, Paul Harvey would come on the radio and do a 3 minute spiel on the rest of the story. He would take a real life famous story – a person or event that everyone would know about, but then he would tell you the story behind that famous person or event.

On Thursday I listened to one of his clips – a story about a struggling poet and author in New York named Ted who’s book had been just been rejected for the 27th time from different publishers. So finally in frustration, Ted decided to go home and burn his manuscript. But just as he considered this, he happened to run across an old school buddy. Well, as they talked, it came out that this old school buddy was starting up his own publishing company – and believe it or not, he wanted to specialize in publishing works that had been rejected by other publishers. Well, you can guess what happened. Ted’s book was published. And it was only the first of many. He went on to write and publish many books – you might even recognize some of the titles like – Horton hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, or How the Grinch stole Christmas.

Yes, that struggling author that was about to set fire his first manuscript was Theodore Geisel or as you probably know him – Dr. Suess. And as Paul Harvey says, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

And I always enjoyed those “the rest of the story” stories. And this morning, I want to share one of those with you. Not about Dr. Suess – but about a famous Christmas carol.

The story begins with a man name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a fairly famous American poet who lived in the mid-1800s and he wrote a poem that formed the basis for the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. You might be familiar with that one – I’m sure you’ll hear it at least sometime this Christmas season.

The poem that it was based on was written on Christmas Day of 1863. The American Civil war had been raging for over 2 and a half years by this point. Over a million fathers, sons, and brothers would not be home for that Christmas – and many of those would never return.

But on that Christmas day in 1863, Henry Longfellow pondered the dismal state of the world in which he lived. He was no stranger to tragedy. His first wife, Mary, had died six months into her first pregnancy at the age of 22. His second wife, Frances, had died from severe burns after her dress caught fire. And now, as the Civil War raged around him, Henry would spend this Christmas nursing his oldest son, Charles, back to health after a confederate bullet nearly paralyzed him.

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A Reminder of Hope

Now some of you will already know this about me – but for some of you, today I want to share with you a little bit about my life that you may not have known before.

You wouldn’t guess it by the state of my backyard right now – but I’m actually a bit of a gardener. When Heather & I were first married – I actually spent a few months working at the Meadowbrook Greenhouses just west of town and it was somewhere around that time that I took an online landscape design course. I learned how to survey a yard and then how to plan and design a beautiful garden space. I put that to use at our home in Mirror.

This was the plan that Heather & I came up with for our yard. It’s kinda hard to make out everything from this map – but for those who have know us for a while and have been to our house in Mirror before, you might be able to recognize some of the elements.

I’ve actually got a couple before and after pictures to give you an idea of how it all came together.

When we started working on the sidewalk, people thought it was pretty strange to put a fire pit in the middle of the sidewalk…. But no, it wasn’t a firepit. It was for a tree.

I’ll tell you, it was a lot of work, but it’s pretty cool to see the transformation from a barren wasteland to a beautiful, productive garden. I think that’s probably why I love gardening and landscaping. I love to see that transformation. I love to see things grow and flourish and be beautiful and productive.

And that’s probably why I love pastoring too. It’s the same idea, just in a different realm. I love to see God transform people’s lives – helping them to grow and to flourish and be productive!

And I bring all this up today because earlier this week, I received in the mail my annual catalogue for T & T Seeds. This is probably my favourite thing to get in the mail – especially in the dead of winter. When everything is cold and frozen – there is nothing green anywhere – it’s all brown or covered in snow and ice. Summer has been long forgotten and there seems to be no sign of life anywhere. You start wondering if winter will ever end.

And then, in the mail, comes this beacon of hope! The seed catalogue! It brings us the promise that winter will not last forever – spring is coming. Soon the ice and snow will melt – new leaves will sprout on the trees, the little seeds that we buy and bury in the ground will soon push through the dirt and grow into flowers and vegetables. New life is just around the corner. There is hope.

And in a lot of ways, Christmas is a lot like that seed catalogue. Christmas is a reminder of hope.

Sometimes I wrestle with how much emphasis we put on Christmas. You know, the Bible never actually tells us to celebrate Christmas – there’s no mention in the Bible of the early church celebrating Jesus’ birth. In fact, in my Bible there is only about 4 pages out of about 1200 pages of Scripture that talk about the birth of Jesus. That’s only 0.3 percent of the Bible that talks about Christmas. And yet, we often take the entire month of December (1/12th of the year) to talk about it. Why is that? Well, I think it’s because Christmas is like that seed catalogue – it offers us a beacon of hope. It reminds us that God always keeps His promises. God is in the midst – even right now – of redeeming and restoring his Creation back to the way He intended it. 

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Go Tell It

Listen to this Sermon!

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
Luke 2:1-7

Now I’m sure you know the next part of the story – the part about the “shepherds watching over their flocks by night” – But before we continue with the rest of the passage – I want you to try to put yourself in the shepherds place as we read this. Imagine that you are with them that night – out on one of the grassy hills that surround Bethlehem.  You’re just up there on that big hill with your flocks of sheep and a few other shepherds. The sheep are in their pen for the night already. You can hear their “baaas” in the background. It’s a cool, clear night so you’re probably sitting around a fire to keep warm – just relaxing and chatting with the other shepherds. Its a beautiful night. You can see a million stars and the lights of the village of Bethlehem maybe down there in the valley. It’s just beautiful. Kinda makes you wanna quit your job and go be shepherd, doesn’t it? Well, keep that picture in mind as we continue reading at verse 8.

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God Is With Us (or What’s the Big Deal About Christmas?)

How many of you have heard at least 10 Christmas sermons during your lifetime?

I’m 33 years old – I grew up in the church – and I’m sure that I have averaged at least 3 Christmas related sermons every year. In fact, growing up we had the five advent Sundays so I’m sure I heard at least 5 Christmas sermons every year. But even at just three sermons per year – in my 33 years of life, I have heard just under 100 Christmas related sermons.

That seems a lot to me. Does the Christmas story really warrant that much sermon time? Do you ever get the feeling that Christmas is ‘over-celebrated’? What’s the big deal about Christmas anyway?

I’m not anti-Christmas, but why do we focus so much on Jesus birth? That’s just one aspect of his life. Why not his baptism? That was significant. Or the 40 days he spent fasting in the wilderness? There are no special days on the calendar that we celebrate that! The only thing that even comes close to Christmas is Easter – when we celebrate Jesus’ death & resurrection – and even that is celebrated way less than his birth.

Think about it. Even outside the church culture – think of retails stores. They spend 2 months selling Christmas – as soon as halloween is over, they start selling Christmas stuff. From November 1st through the bulk of December, the focus is Christmas. That’s 1/6 of the year. That’s a lot of Christmas!

Christmas music in another example. We have a whole genre of music dedicated to Jesus birth. We don’t have passover music – we don’t have Jesus’ baptism music, we don’t have Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness music – but we have album after album after album of music celebrating Jesus birth.

I look in my Bible and there are maybe 10 pages in my Bible about the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark & and the Gospel of John don’t even include Jesus’ birth in their Gospels. There are two chapters in Matthew and two chapters in Luke – in my Bible about 10 pages of Christmas out of the 2300 pages of Scripture.

Yet at the same time, there are 65 pages of Job and his friends arguing about why God allowed all that bad stuff to happen to Job. If the Bible talks about Job about six time as much as it talks about Jesus birth, why do we take a whole month every year to preach about Jesus birth – and not job? We preach on Christmas (those ten pages) 2,3,4,5 times every December, but you’ll be lucky in five years just to get one sermon on Job.

So what makes Christmas such a big deal? What is so significant about the birth of Jesus Christ? What, in those ten pages, has had so much impact on life as we know it?

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A Future of Hope

Over the last three weeks we’ve been looking at background of the Christmas story. And we’ve discovered that this history of hope goes all the way back to the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth.

You see, God had set up the perfect system for the perfect life – He would be the source of everything mankind would ever need. He would give them life, food, meaningful relationships, purpose in their work – everything they needed, He would provide. But He would also be their authority. Of course, He certainly gave them responsibilities and authority as well, but He was to be the ultimate authority. That was God’s setup for the perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as their source and as their authority, life would be amazing.

And it worked great! With this setup, Adam & Eve enjoyed life to the fullest as God intended it – and it was sweet. They had everything they wanted. Their relationship with God and with each was perfect and beautiful – Never any conflict or never any strife – it was what you might describe as heaven.

But something happened. Sin happened. Adam & Eve rejected God as their source and as their authority and they took that role for themselves and as a result – everything fell apart. Their relationships with God and with each other was broken. The sweetness of life became bitterness and life on earth has been a struggle ever since.

But God had a plan. God knew this would happen even before He created the world, so all along, He had a plan. And this is what we’ve been looking at for the past three weeks – God’s plan to put things back to the way they were when He first created them.

And in case you missed those first three Sundays, let me give you just a quick summary.

On week one, we learned how God promised Adam & Eve that one day, one of Eve’s descendants would crush Satan’s head and defeat sin for all time.

On week two, we learned how God promised Abraham that one day, one of his descendants would be a blessing to every family on earth.

On week three, we learned that God promised King David that one day, one of his descendants would be King for all time.

And as we looked at some of the old testament prophecies and as we looked at the Christmas story as recorded in Luke, we came to realize that all these promises were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. He was the one that God had been promising for some 4000 years.

And that’s what makes Christmas such a big deal – its because finally, after years of hoping and waiting for God to fulfill his promises, finally, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ was born as a man and He would make things right again.

But here’s the problem. If you look around at the world today – it doesn’t really seem like everything right again – does it? There’s still pain. There’s still suffering. Satan seems as active as ever. Sin is still around in bountiful supply. Our relationships with God and with each are far from perfect. So… what happened? Was it all a joke? Did God’s plan fail? Or is it just that the story isn’t over yet? Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today.  

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