5pm - The Endless Echo of Joy (Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2018 Pastor: Series: Christmas Eve Sermons 2018

Topic: Christ is the Holiday Scripture: Luke 2:6–2:20

Merry Christmas, everyone. I want to start off by encouraging you. We’re almost there. I know the holiday season can be a bit of a whirlwind. It can be tough trying to do everything that comes along with the celebration of Christmas. There’s a lot of buildup to Christmas and, at least for me, it feels like there can be a lot you need to fit in. Some of those things are the prep work, right? The gifts, the treats, the travel arrangements. But some of the things we make time to fit into our holiday are the traditions we have created. It could be going to a certain place to get the tree or maybe the annual trip to see Santa or even just squeezing in our favorite holiday movie. And we all have a favorite holiday movie. Me? Mine is The Muppets Christmas Carol. A classic in its own right. For my wife, Caitlin, there’s only one. The Jim Carrey version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

I love that movie too and there’s one scene I was thinking about. It’s the scene with the echo. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. But it’s Christmas Eve and so I thought I’d just show it to you instead of trying to explain it.

Now I know some of you might already be planning on pulling me aside after the service for showing that clip. You’re ready to tell me why the original animated Grinch is better than that version. I get it. But come on, it’s Christmas. If Snoopy and the Red Baron can get along for one night, so can we. But the concept of an echo is what I want to come back to. We can be honest here. This is a church and a safe space so we can be open about this. There is not a person in the world who, when they discover they are in a place that makes an echo for the first time, that they don’t intentionally yell something to make an echo. We can’t help it. This summer I was taking my boys on a wagon ride and as we passed by the house next to ours, I said something to Isaac and I heard the echo. So what did I do? I made a louder noise! The science of an echo is compelling to me as well. At a source, a sound is generated. Those sound waves then go off in various directions before coming in contact with something that then sends those sound waves back to the source.

Tonight is Christmas Eve, and I want us to explore what is the most significant meaningful echo of human existence. It is an Endless Echo of Joy. It is a sound that is on the ears of all humanity. And the source, the place where this echo begins, a manger.

Tonight we are in Luke 2:6-20. It’s a familiar story but I hope you’ll take this opportunity to hear it in a new way.

Our text starts off with the familiar scene we know and love. That scene that we hold in our hearts every Christmas. The scene of a baby being born and wrapped in swaddling cloth and then placed in a manger. This is the story of Christ’s birth. But if we stop and consider how the beginning of this story plays out, we might recognize something. The nativity seems to be missing some pieces at first.

When we think of the nativity, we probably think of decorations like that one or one we might have in our home. And it has the manger and Mary and Joseph, but it also has animals, shepherds, angels, and wisemen. Well, we’ll actually talk about the wisemen next week. But when we take a closer look at the account in Luke - we see it’s actually only the shepherds who were there with the family. No mention of cattle lo’ing nearby. No magi to speak of. And the angels went back to heaven after addressing the shepherds. It is only the shepherds by the manger. And, friends, that is some of the best news we could hear.

Do you know what is remarkable about shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth? What it is that makes them stand out as prominent figures in society and within this story? The answer…nothing. Not a single thing. Shepherds were among the most forgettable, ignored, undervalued individuals in all of the ancient world. We don’t even have an equivalent for understanding this sort of scenario in today’s terms. Some folks might try to peg certain professions as the “shepherd” job of our time but it’s really like trying to fit a square block through a round hole. In the New Testament time, your placement or status in society was marked by two things: birth and wealth. If you were born into an influential or affluent family, you had it made. If you somehow apprenticed under and eventually became one of the more lofty professions, such as importer or banker, you were good. But shepherds…well, they were on the short end of both those metrics. No one wanted to be a shepherd. We take kids to petting zoos to pet sheep today. In the ancient world, sheep were a necessary and frustrating hassle. And a person became a shepherd virtually only two ways. The first is that you were born into it and couldn’t climb to a higher role in the community. The second is you were unwanted in every other facet of the community and could only find work as a shepherd.

So, knowing what we know, why would I say that having shepherds at the manger is the best news we can hear? It’s for this reason, my friends: at the origin point, at the beginning of the Endless Echo of Joy that was the birth of our Savior, at the turning point of time and humanity…it was shepherds who were brought to witness. Not kings, not politicians, not religious leaders, not the popular or the wealthy, not the impressive or the respected…it was shepherds. And now, centuries later, we gather in this place to bear witness to the birth of Christ. It might not have been the voice of an angel that brought you here tonight. Maybe it was the voice of a loved one or the voice of tradition or even the voice of obligation. You didn’t follow a star to get here. If you didn’t know the way, you probably followed the directions on your phone. But you were brought here tonight and the same truth about the shepherds is applied to each of us.

It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from to reach this night. It doesn’t matter what people have said about you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished or not accomplished. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve made mistakes or fallen short or managed to merely struggle through. It doesn’t matter how people see you or even how you see yourself. You have been called by the Maker of all things to be here in this place tonight and to hear the news that began the story of our salvation, those words that changed everything: A Child is Born.

Generations ago, the definitive sound of hope began at a lowly manger filled with simple shepherds and nervous first-time parents. Today, that sound has continued as an Endless Echo of Joy and it has reached us. And it has the power to change us. It can be the truth that sets us free and the grace that saves us. It can be the declarative proclamation that we are loved and that we have value. And it can be the force that moves us to change this world for the better. Because just as a sound echoes off the walls of a cavern, so too does the presence of Christ touch each of our lives, and then we can become the way in which that truth is echoed out into all the world. We can contribute to and continue the Endless Echo of Joy.

This Christmas, it is my hope that you would be moved by the truth that you have been called to bear witness to the birth of Christ. That you would be given peace knowing that you have a place beside the Savior of the World - not because of anything you have done or accomplished but simply because you are loved by Him. It is my prayer that you would look at the nativity scene and see not a depiction of a story or a simple decoration but instead, see the invitation of our God. Centuries ago, the world was changed by the birth of a child. A child that possessed all the fullness of God wrapped within our fragile form. The cries of that child, lying in the manger, produced the sound of our salvation, and ever since, it has continued as The Endless Echo of Joy.

Let’s pray.

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December 24, 2018

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