12/24/2014 Vesper

Christmas Eve Vespers

Luke 2:11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.

This is Christmas!
1. Christ
2. Lord
3. Savior

A Roman decree sent families scurrying back to their ancestral homes to register. This registration is taxation without representation. It is oppressive. It is tyranny. The families who go to register are an oppressed people who live under bitter Roman rule. And God was silent. He didn’t seem to care.

Day by day, week after week, year after year, decade following decade, century fading into century – for 400 years there has been no voice of a prophet, no word of the Lord, no new revelation. Heaven was silent. There had been no deliverance.

But on this night a poor peasant couple returning to their ancestral home to register takes shelter among the livestock of the household. There the woman labors. She pants and groans. Sometimes sharp cries escape her lips with the intensity of her contractions. The man waits anxious and dutiful, watching, praying, doing all he can do to help the midwife and comfort his wife. A little, rough-hewn trough used to feed the donkey just a few hours ago now stands filled with hay, ready to receive a child. This is Christmas.

In the dark of night, a baby cries, out back in the manger. There’s a flutter of wings over the fields and shepherds, huddling in the dark cold, are terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, I bring you good news of . . . joy! This is Christmas.

Somewhere in a family gathering tomorrow there will be a moment when hearts are torn because
a loved one’s place at the table is empty. Cherished traditions will be robbed of their joy. How can we put the star on the tree without Uncle Bob? Where will we have Christmas dinner now that Grandma is no longer with us? How can we hang all the other stockings when little Billy won’t be here to enjoy his? “Joy to the Word” was father’s favorite carol. How can we sing it without him? How can we find joy?

Joy isn’t a goal or achievement. We don’t sit around and say, “Let’s all get together and do a little joy.” No, joy is a gift, a response to something that happens to you. You felt it when the doctor called to say the shadow on the X-ray was just that, a shadow and nothing more. Joy.

Today, the angel said. The silence has been broken. All the prophecies of hundreds of years have been fulfilled for you, today. This is Christmas, God’s answer to their waiting. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one. It is he in whom all the promises of God are “Yes!” Every promise for wholeness, every promise of taking up all our broken pieces and making something beautiful again are “yes” in this baby, the Christ child. And in this child we find joy. Why?

Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.

He is not only Messiah, Christ, the fulfillment of prophecies; He is the Lord. “Lord” is used seventeen times in the first chapter of Luke. Every single time it is beyond question a name for God. In the first eleven verses of chapter two, “Lord” is used three times. The first two times it is clearly a name for God. The third time it is used, it’s here in our text to speak of the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger.

Not only is he Savior and Christ; he is Lord. He is our God.
How does God come to the world? He was born. What a paradox! He who was and is eternal

God, was also born. He became flesh, fully human. Here is the foundation of our faith. God put himself in the balance. God himself did what we could not. God himself loved us and cared about us so much, he took on sin and death himself. God himself became our Savior.

Caesar August was the winner of the Roman civil war. He was Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Upon the assassination of Julius Caesar, Octavian formed an alliance with Mark Antony – no, not the singer – and they defeated the anti-Caesar faction headed by Brutus and Cassius. It wasn’t long before Octavian and Mark Antony had a falling out. Mark Antony began a campaign to have Julius Caesar’s son by Cleopatra named the rightful heir to Roman power. Octavian went to war against them and won at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, thus ending the Roman Civil War. Caesar Augustus was given credit for ending 13 years of chaos. Many called him the savior of the world.

Surprisingly, the title, “Savior”, was not used much by the gospel writers. Outside of the Christmas account in Luke 2, it’s used only one other time in the four gospels. It’s likely that there was confusion about this title among Greek speaking people because of Caesar Augustus. But here the angels clearly announced the birth of the Savior. He is not only Christ and Lord, he is the Savior, not a savior from chaos or civil war. Not a savior from oppression and hard times. But this is the Savior from hell, from sin, from death.

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a computer scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us a banker. But here we see what our greatest need is. We need forgiveness so God sent a Savior.

We were a hopeless cause and we couldn’t fix ourselves. We couldn’t make our day better by trying harder. We had no future. We had no promise. We had no hope. We couldn’t change if we wanted to. No matter how hard we tried, we were hopeless.

The good news sung out that night over Bethlehem’s fields is that a Savior has been born.
We needed delivering and God provided a deliverer. We needed redeeming and God provided a Redeemer. In Jesus is our whole hope. He is the only one who can rescue us from the brokenness of our world. He is the only one who can deliver us from the shackles of sin, death and hell that so dominate our day to day reality. In Jesus is our hope.

A Savior was born – for you! In the Greek that last word is emphasized. This child, Christ, the Lord, our Savior, was born for you. He didn’t just come into the world for the fun of it. He didn’t come to show off his power. He didn’t come because he had to. He is God, after all. He did it for you. He lived the law for you. He bled for you. He died for you. He rose again for you. This is Christmas.

Go, try to stand anywhere else and it’s sinking sand. Try to find a different foundation on which to build your life, and those foundations are going to shift and crumble, crack and break. But build your life on this Savior, build your life on this Christ, build your life on the One who is Lord, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, and your footing will be rock-solid.

It was a cry of a fragile little baby breaking upon history’s scene. Strips of cloth are wrapped around his tiny body. His mother nuzzles him close for warmth and nourishment. Does the wonder of the picture still amaze you or have you gone through so many Christmases that you have become deadened to the mystery? In the fragility of a tiny baby crying at his mother’s breast, where livestock nervously move about, and a weary peasant leans against the wall pondering how he will care for his family, the hope of the world comes. This is Christmas.