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The Great Exchange

I want to begin this morning simply by reading through the account of Jesus’ birth as recorded in Luke 2. This really is the centrepiece of Christmas and this will set the stage for what we want to talk about today.

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, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

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

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Luke 1:1-21

We’ve probably heard that passage at Christmas so many times that we’ve started to forget how amazing this story is. The very idea of Christmas is pretty incredible. It’s amazing enough to think that God Himself would come and live on the earth with us – that’s amazing! – but when you think that the Almighty, Everlasting, Infinite Creator of the Universe would confine Himself to the tiny helpless body of a fragile, human baby and actually become like one of us?! THAT is pretty mind-blowing!

We probably can’t ever grasp just how incredible it was for God to become human and to be born as a baby.

Think about it. The omnipotent, all powerful God who set the boundaries for the oceans and created billions of stars and galaxies – that God, as a baby needed someone to feed and cloth him and carry him and change his diapers. The omniscient all-knowing God – who calculated the earth’s perfect size and rotation and tilt and distance from the sun so that life could flourish, that God had to learn to walk and say his first words.The omni-sufficient God – the God who has never needed anything from anyone, now had to depend on his very own creations to care for him and to provide for his basic needs. He would experience hunger and thirst and pain and tiredness for the first time ever.

Imagine all that Jesus gave up and all the limitations and restrictions that Jesus had to take on to born as a human baby.

I know it’s not even close, but here’s the best way I can imagine it: We are extremely privileged to live in Canada (we have health and wealth and comfort beyond what most people dream of)- but imagine giving all that up to be born in some of the poorest places in the world.

  • Imagine choosing to give up your family to be born as an orphan on the streets in India.
  • Imagine choosing to give up your nice house to live in a cardboard box in some rat-infested, garbage filled back alley.
  • Imagine choosing to give up all the great food you eat every day (Tim Horton, Christmas dinner, roast beef & mashed potatoes) to instead live in the slums of the Philippines and eat rotting or moldy bits and pieces of stuff that you find in the garbage dumps.
  • Imagine choosing to give up your health in exchange for being born with aids or some other life-threatening disease – knowing that you’ll die a painful death long before you grow old.

That’s really what Jesus did. Jesus gave up all the amazingness of heaven (And I can’t even begin to imagine that) – and in it’s place, he came to live here. And he wasn’t born in a palace or among the wealthy or the affluent – but his first bed was a feed trough in barn. He took on the weakness of humanity. He came into this sin-filled world and lived in within the restrictions and limitations of a fragile human body.

Now why on earth would He do that? What could He accomplish as a tiny, helpless baby – that He couldn’t accomplish as an infinite, all-powerful God in the heavens?!

Well, the short answer to that is that he came here to die. He came to die so that we could live.

Jesus gave up the amazingness of heaven – so that we could experience that amazingness for ourselves. He did it because he loved us.

9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

1 John 4:9-10

You see, love isn’t best wishes or good intentions. It isn’t just a feeling of affection. Love is actual actions. You can’t passively love someone. Love requires action. It requires sacrifice. There is a cost to love.

For example, loving our kids costs us.  We have to pay for diapers, pay for food (and lots of it as they become teenagers). We pay for sports programs and school outings. We pay for clothes that they continually grow out of. We pay for gas and higher car insurance when they get their license. Our kids cost us a lot of money.

They also cost us time. With kids, our schedule is no longer our own. Our sleep gets interrupted. We spend a lot of time doing things we don’t really enjoying doing. Most of us don’t enjoy changing diapers, or cleaning up vomit, or making lunches for school, or doing laundry, or all those other things that come with having kids. So why do we do all that? Why do we make all those sacrifices?

Well, we do it because we love our kids. And loving someone requires sacrifice. When you love someone, you choose to put their well-being ahead of your own. You give up what you have for their gain.

And that’s what God did. He put our well-being ahead of his own. He gave up what He had for our gain.

Jesus sacrificed everything. For God to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ was an incredible expression of love.

Why else would an infinite God confine himself to the body of little human baby? Why else would the Creator of the universe put his very life into the hands of His own creation? The only reason is love. An incredible, self-sacrificing love.

Jesus said in John 15:13…

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Giving up your life for someone else is the greatest sacrifice – and is the greatest act of love – that anyone could ever do.

That’s what makes Christmas such a big deal. That is what is so significant about the birth of Jesus Christ.

God was setting in motion the greatest sacrifice, the greatest expression of love the world has ever seen. Not only did Jesus humble himself and become a man, but he also allowed himself to be put to death – like a criminal – on cross – taking the punishment for our sin.

God gave up everything to be with us – so that we could be with Him. Romans 5:8 tells us…

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV

That’s amazing! At the time when we were still enemies of God – doing all things that God hated – ignoring God, disobeying God – perhaps even denying His existence. At that time, while we were yet sinners, God demonstrated His amazing love for us, by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die in our place.

If Jesus hadn’t come to earth as that little baby, not one of us would have any hope at all of ever being with God. Our sin would keep us well separated from him – both in this life and throughout eternity.

But because of Christmas – because God came and was with us some 2000 years ago, today we have the hope of being with God forever.

So what does that mean for you and I today? How are we to respond to this yearly reminder that God gave up everything to be with us – so that we could be with Him?

First and foremost, I think our response needs to be that we accept His love. And maybe that seems obvious, but I think, for some of us, that’s a hard thing to do. It’s difficult to imagine that there is a God who created us, who knows everything about us (the good and the bad and the ugly), and who still loves us like crazy.

Maybe some of us have got a pretty ugly track record. Maybe we’ve got a mile-long list of things we’re ashamed of. Maybe we can come up with 1,000 reasons why God shouldn’t love us.

I think that’s probably true for most people. But the good news is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done – God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation is for everyone. You might be surprised to see how many of the ‘saints’ of the Bible were once liars and murderers. There’s some pretty terrible stuff in the Bible. But our past doesn’t discount us from God’s love. Jesus said…

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

The truth is none of us deserve forgiveness – that’s why it’s amazing grace! It’s undeserved. It’s unmerited. It unwarranted. But it’s freely available to you and I today because of Jesus. Don’t let your feelings of unworthiness stop you from accepting God’s love.

The other reason why it might be hard to accept God’s love is that maybe the idea of forgiveness and eternal life sounds great – but you’re afraid that following God may cost you more than what you’re willing to pay. And it is true, that following God does mean giving up some things.

For one, it means giving up sin and living for yourself – and I know that can be really hard to do. We are hard-wired to be selfish – that’s part of our sinful nature. And temptations are tempting for a reason. So to give those things up, we really have to believe that God has something better in mind for us.

Following God means surrendering your desires and your plans and goals for your own life and inviting God to take the lead. That can be hard too. It might even involve sacrifices of time and possessions – for some Christians, following Christ has cost them friendships, jobs, even their own lives.

But here’s the thing. What God asks us to give up is nothing compared to what he offers us in return. Remember how we tried to visualize what it was like for God to become human – we compared it to giving up health and wealth and comfort to in order to become homeless or hungry or sick?

Well, following Christ is like that, but in reverse.

  • It’s like being an orphan in the streets of India – and giving up those familiar streets to come and live with a wonderful, loving family.
  • It’s like the homeless person giving up that cardboard box in some back alley – in order to gain a brand new beautiful home.
  • It’s like those kids in the Philippines eating the rotting bits of garbage they find in the dump – giving all that up – to come and feast 3 times a day like we all do every day.
  • It’s like someone with aids or some other terminal disease, giving up their pain meds and the comforts of the hospital bed to be completely healthy and whole again.

So yes, there are things that we need to give up to follow Christ, but the exchange is completely in our favour! Exchanging our sin and selfishness for …. Forgiveness. Unconditional acceptance. Love. Peace. Joy. Hope – and all of that for eternity in the presence of God, our Creator who loves us more than we can imagine! We would be fools not to make that exchange.

And that’s why Christmas is such a big deal! When Jesus came to earth and was born as that little baby who was laid in a manger, God was demonstrating His love for me in the most amazing way. His incredible exchange made it possible for us to make an incredible exchange as well.

His birth, his life, His death and His resurrection made it possible for me to have life with Him forever. And that’s worth celebrating!

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