Read the Scripture for this message: Luke 2:1-7
If you missed last week, you missed out on our giveaway and some great conversation about favorite traditions. There and in some other great times with friends this week, we started talking about the variety of traditions that are wide and varied around the US and the world.
Does Santa wrap the presents he brings to your house or not? He didn’t when I was growing up but when I got married, suddenly he started wrapping gifts. Today is Lessons & Carols in our traditional services. I never had been to this type of service until I moved to Cumming FUMC. It is a really beautiful service to be part of. Nativity scenes were not an immediate part of church tradition either. Nope, Francis of Assisi was credited with creating the first one, a living one, around 1223. In 1957, Frances Kipps Spencer at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia began thinking about a way to decorate the Christmas tree in her church that would be more suitable for a sanctuary and came up with the idea of the Chrismon tree with symbols of the Christian faith. Some of our traditions are easily taken for granted.
Since it appeared in 1887 in a book of songs no one would be caught reading today “Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses,” people believed that it was the church reformer, Martin Luther, who had written the song. It was described as a lullaby which he sang to his kids. But in 1945 a church historian named Richard Hill began to research the song’s origins. He went all the way back to Luther’s original writings and have you guessed? Yep, there is no trace of these words in Luther. In fact, the earliest Hill could find the words referenced was in 1885 and then it was only the first two verses. Somewhere between 1885 and 1887 the third verse was added.1.
We’ve come to imagine so many scenes of the night of Jesus’ birth from this carol among others. Did they have cribs like we have back then? How do we know there was a cow there? One of my favorites though is the line, “no crying he makes,” really? But there is one aspect of this simple little carol that is spot on important – the one whose head lay in that manger was the Lord of all creation.
Over the past few weeks we have traced the advent story through three carols now. It began with prophetic message of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” God had heard the cry of all creation longing for hope. And in “O Holy Night,” the truth of that name was given to simple shepherds and sinners, a word of hope to us all that God loves everyone. And it was the shepherds who brought word of another title for this little baby, a title we find in 2:11 – this is Christ, the Lord!
Jesus is referred to as Lord over 700 times in the New Testament. The idea of Lord combines two ideas 1) that this is The One who has the absolute power to create us (which God did) and 2) has the absolute authority to demand our worship (which God doesn’t). 2. To be Lord is to be The One who is ultimately in control. I’m sure some of ya’ll have done personality inventories. I am a Myers-Briggs “J,” I’m a DISC –“D,” I’m an Enneagram “1,” shall I go on? Clearly, control is not an issue for me – not! Those are images we know far better than the image of “Lord.” We don't use the word Lord much (though it is part of pop culture in one place: Darth Vader is also known as Lord Vader, but I digress).
Why is this important? What is the difference this ought to make in our live’s? I believe that Jesus is God after all. But that is just the point! It is easy to make declaration of belief but it is so much harder to release control of our life. Jesus is far less interested in just what we believe than He says he is concerned about how we’re living life! “After what they did, there is no way I’ll forgive!” “How can avoid going into debt if I give 10% to God especially during Christmas! Look, I’ll give God Sunday mornings unless the game on Saturday is a late game or if the Sunday game is a 1pm start time, or if I had a long week.”
I really don’t know if you are hearing what I hear, I hope so because what I have been hearing today or these past few weeks has been a vision for a new creation, a new world, a new life. As I have been leading a small group this year, I’ve been offered some new ideas and this week really struck home on one of them. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” was a verse we reflected on everyday. One day we were asked to write a list of all those we loved and consider them as we reflect on the verse and then, we were to list those we had difficulty loving and reflect and pray for them.
You know what I heard in this? I heard that believing offers a new life, an eternal life, a life like Jesus, Emmanuel: God is with us, the one who is Christ the Lord! Eternal life doesn't refer to living the same life. Eternal life refers to the new life - God with you! God isn’t going to force you to believe or change. In that manger, the Lord Jesus came to us, became like us. Later he died to save us. We sing it in Away In A Manger, a simple prayer, "Be near me Lord Jesus," and it echoes the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28; "I am with you always even to the end of the age!"
1. Morgan, Robert J. "Then Sings My Soul, Book 2." Nelson, 2004.
2. Bromiley, Geoffrey. "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged." Eerdmans. 1985.