Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Transformation of the Human Soul

Christmas   + C + 2015                                        The Reverend Robert RM Bagwell

Isaiah 9:2-7                                                                                                                      Psalm 96

Titus 2:11-14                                                                                                      Luke 2:1-14(15-20)


When I was a boy, in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the city's highlights for Christmas was the singing Christmas tree.  Their signature tune, on every TV commercial was: Christmass was meant for Children'  The Lyrics go as follows:

Christmas was meant for children, children like you and me
With mistletoe and holly, And toys upon the tree
The stockings by the chimney, And hearts so full of joy
Old Santa's riding through the snow, For every girl and boy

So ring out the bells from the steeple, For the world in its mantle of white
Let the star in the East that lead us,, Shine on your tree tonight
Always remember the infant, Away in a manger to see
For Christmas was made in heaven, For children like you and me

Tonight we come to the feast of feasts! It is so far removed from tinsel and lights and trees as to be contrasting one realm of existence to another, that the two cannot be compared, yet every year, the popular culture attempts to equate the two.  All that comes after: miracles, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension could not be if this feast were not first to occur. Tonight we celebrate, the '"Incarnation" of Jesus the Messiah.  As it literally means: "the enfleshing of God." Although the remaking of humanity began to occur in the Resurrection, this remaking of human-kind began in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. Some modern theologian has termed it "Christo-genesis" humanity began to be reborn in that manger when God became  both man and God in the body of a newborn child. Christmas was meant for Children.  Remember the words of Jesus: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:13)

Although God gave Adam a microcosm of what was to come in Genesis when God said to the serpent: " And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."  God had from the first moment, devised a plan to save humanity.

While other faiths sport founders with less exuberant circumstances, the Christian faith is born as is said the "whole world being at peace" to the lowest cast of society n their day, shepherds, in the most humble of circumstances, in a stable or barn to a family left helpless to the elements because of a taxation of the known world in its day. and no vacancy at the local motel.

Real people, real circumstances, a real baby born in a couldn't  be more real manger!   And the scandal of it all!  God clearly needed a new stage manager!  But what to our wondering eyes should appear? but a  legion of angels announcing "He's here"!"  Cecil B DeMills has nothing on God in announcing the birth of his son!  Yet there is every year an appropriation of this Holy Night for commercial purposes.  Somehow the kindly Bishop from Myra in Turkey has become bigger than the Christ he preached!  Commercialism does not move the heart in sacrificial circumstances. Love does!  Love came down at Christmas and "God so loved the world love," keeps it message alive and forever TRUE.

Some of these small things  and larger profound things, caused the Church Ad Project to come out with a Christmas card with Santa on one half of the front and Jesus on the other with the caption,AWho=s birthday is it anyway?@ While the story of the birth of Jesus may be a familiar one, those tidings of comfort and joy are not necessarily at the heart of what the majority of people who call themselves Christians celebrate as Christmas.   The birthday bash has become so big, we've largely forgotten whose birth it is that we are celebrating. According to a recent survey, fewer that half of Americans who identify themselves as Christians say the most important part of Charismas is the birth of Jesus. While 88 percent of the 1,006 people surveyed identified themselves as Christians, only 37 percent of them said Jesus= birthday is the most important aspect of Christmas. AFamily time@ was the most popular answer, with 44 percent of responses saying  it is what makes Christmas important to them. 

No doubt that family time is what Christmass is.  The profound reality is that Christmass was the first step in God=s plan to make human beings become a part of the Family of God, the Trinity.  The story is a familiar one and certainly nothing is ordinary about it, yet the words of the angels, Agood tidings of great joy I bring to you and to all the people@ don=t quite get across to us, especially after we've been fighting for that last gift at the mall, battling our ways in and out of parking and seen anything but good will leveled at us all for a Aholy-day@ beginning with the name of Christ and bearing little semblance to its namesake which Satan is fighting with ferocity to stamp out. .They think happy holidays is an avoidance except:  holiday is from "Holy Day"…oops! 

Here, lying in the manger, is God's unconditional love for you, His will to save, His desire for you to be His own. Before you knew to ask for a Savior, God sent One. Before you knew to ask for a Christ, He gave you One. Before you knew to ask for a Lord, He came and made Himself your Lord, a Child conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.

Here, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is God's gift to you. It is a gift that will outlast all the others. This little Child in the manger will give to you when you need most to be given to: when you are oppressed with guilt, when you are pressed down by your past, when you are at a loss for who you are and why you exist, when you fear for your life, in the hour of your death. Imagine a gift, lying under the tree, with a tag that reads simply, "To you." No name on it, just "to you."

Anyone who saw it, and bent down, and picked it up could say, "This one's for me." Anyone could unwrap the gift and claim it as his own. That's what the tag on this bundle wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in Bethlehem's manger reads. It says, "To you, from God." "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Is it  difficult for you to be given to. We are so proud, so afraid of being humbled, so resistant to receiving as "self-make" Americans. When we get that unexpected gift from someone, our joy is mixed with other feelings. "Oh, you shouldn't have," we say and we mean it! Now I have to go out and get you something (we may think). 

We do the same with God. We don't want to be given to, we want to get for ourselves.  Grace is so...humiliating! But God came when no one asked for Him. He was born where there was no room for Him. Before He was invited, He came in the most humble of ways. Before we called on Him, He called on us. Before we let Him into our hearts, God took us into His own heart, and gave us His Child.

How can you fight this infant Son of God  Look on this child's face, and see the face of God come down to save you. This Child would grow up. He would open the eyes of the blind man, open the ears of the deaf;  still the storm and raise the dead;  preach the kingdom of God having come in Him. He would hang on a cross and die. See the lengths to which God will go to rescue us! He removes His royal robes, and exchanges them for diapers. He hides His majesty under the weakness of the infant in the manger AND the man on the cross.  Christmas and  Easter are one! 

We can't come to Bethlehem, and even if we could, we wouldn't find Christ there. But Bethlehem can, and does, come to us in the Church the place where He makes His dwelling in a world that has no place for Him. The Word is His manger. He wants to make your heart his . Tonight Jesus comes again, not as Lord and King but as a little baby reaching out to you to give his love and receive you.  Will you let him in.  This helpless appearing child holds heaven and earth in his hands, he reaches out in love to give and receive love. He says again, I ill love you to the end of time.  Receive him today.  He says but one thing come. Receive him into your heart as Lord, Savior, Brother and Friend.

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