I don’t know how you’ve found it, but I’ve found this year a tough year. There have been so many events that have caused us to grieve. Of course in the last few weeks, there has been the horrific deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson in the Lindt café. And we’ve seen immense public mourning for them around the city.
But in recent times we’ve also seen the slaughter of many children in Pakistan. We’ve mourned the death of Phil Hughes. And we’ve seen a family horribly killed in Cairns. There has been so much death, and it breaks our hearts.
And it is not just the last month that has been characterized in this way. Earlier in the year, we witnessed the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. And how can we forget MH17, where many people were killed above the Ukraine.
It really has been a terrible year for our nation. And being reminded of it all, it is enough to bring us to tears. And you may well wonder why am I even mentioning this in a Christmas sermon.
But these events raise a question. A very important question. A question I believe our nation has been asking more than ever before. And the question is: where is hope? When we so clearly live in the shadow of death, where can hope be found? Is there anything we can hope for that is permanent and secure?
These are questions our nation does not often ask because life here is so good! But at the moment the question of hope is an important one. And in many ways, it brings us back to the story of Israel 2000 years ago. And this is because Israel too longed for hope in the midst of their oppression.
Back in 5 BC, life in Israel was hard. And this was because they were acutely aware that they lived under the shadow of death. Israel back then was not a free country. They were occupied; and they had been occupied for a very long time. The most recent oppressors were the Romans, but before that it was the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks.
Under Rome there was much oppression and fear. Life was cheap and death was common. And so many Israelites looked for hope. They longed for light in the midst of great darkness. And it is in this context that we find our story for today. Please take a look with me at Luke 2:1-7.
1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1–7 ESV)
In a small way you can see the difficulties of living in an occupied land. Caesar makes a decree to all the world and everyone is expected to obey. And I’m sure Mary was terrified about the effects of such a long journey on her pregnancy, let alone how uncomfortable she was. But what could she do. This was the will of Caesar!
And of course, things didn’t get any easier when they reached Bethlehem. They had to stay in a manger because the guest room was full.
And yet, it is in the midst of this very ordinary human struggle that something truly life-changing happens. Mary gives birth to a son, her firstborn. And so even as her hardship continues, great joy is born.
And the birth of a child is amazing, isn’t it? I have only one child, a son called Matthew. And his birth was one of the most precious moments of my life. I was surprised just how much I loved him from the moment I met him. And I’m still surprised how much more I love him now. Children are such a blessing; they bring joy and hope into difficult situations.
But it is a very different kind of hope to what the nation of Israel was longing for. Such an event is precious to the family. But surely the birth of a child in Bethlehem is meaningless to a nation oppressed by Rome. Surely to think otherwise can only ever be mere sentimentality.
Except … Mary’s child is no ordinary child. Her son Jesus is different. And we see this in what happens next in the story.
8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8–14 ESV)
Friends, the birth of Jesus is good news of great joy for all people. This is not mere sentimentality. This is not some unfounded desire that will never eventuate. This is true hope for all people. And there are three reasons why the birth of this fragile baby boy is true hope for all the nations.
And the first reason in verse 11 is that Jesus will be their Saviour. But what do we mean by saviour? What kind of saviour will he be?
Israel thought that what they needed saving from was Rome. But the problem with such thinking is that there is always another oppressor around the corner. There is always another nation or another Al Qaeda or ISIS who will seek to afflict the world.
And so Jesus was not born to merely throw off the Romans. He came to deal with what truly terrorizes and creates fear. He came to abolish the shadow of death; the shadow that hangs over all our heads and creates grief and suffering and fear.
In Luke chapter 1:79 it was promised that Jesus would “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Jesus was to be our Saviour because he would deliver us from our true enemy: from death itself.
And this is exactly what Jesus did by conquering death through his own death and resurrection. By passing through death and overcoming it, Jesus made the way for his people to follow him; to do the same.
Jesus is true hope because those who trust him need no longer fear sickness, pain, or death. And this is because Jesus is our Saviour who has paved the way to bring us through all these trials and into eternal life.
Well the second reason in verse 11 for why Jesus is true hope is that Jesus is the Christ. Now what exactly does ‘Christ’ mean?
The word ‘Christ’ or in Hebrew ‘Messiah’ refers to God’s anointed king. In the Old Testament, God promised that a king from the family of David would arise. This king would be especially chosen by God and he would bring to fulfillment all of God’s promises concerning his people.
And Jesus certainly fits the bill. In verse 4 we are told that Jesus is a descendant of King David. And in verses 4 and 11, we are told that Jesus’ hometown is the birthplace of David. This fulfills Micah 5:2 which says that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
Jesus certainly is a contender. But does he bring to fulfillment all of God’s promises? Does he really introduce a perfect new world where love and justice reign?
To look at the world or even the church, we might be tempted to say ‘no’. But the answer is ‘yes’. And it is ‘yes’ in a way far more glorious and perfect than we could ever imagine.
But for this new world to begin, sin must first be dealt with. Those who rebel against God must be punished. Death itself must be abolished. And so the perfect has not arrived yet. We await for Jesus’ return. We wait for Judgment Day to begin. We wait for Jesus to appear and restore all things to himself. Only then will all God’s promises be fulfilled.
Jesus is the Christ, and what this means is that all God’s promises will be fulfilled through him.
Well this brings us to the third reason in verse 11 for why Jesus is true hope. And this reason is that Jesus is the Lord. And we must not miss the political overtones of this title. What is being said is that Jesus is the true Lord and therefore Caesar is not.
Now this is a remarkable claim to make. Caesar lives in palaces and enjoys servants and wealth and power. And meanwhile, Jesus is a lowly peasant boy born in a manger.
And yet, Caesar is a puppet in Jesus’ hands. In this story we see Caesar making decrees and the world obeying. But in reality, Caesar’s decrees simply serve to fulfill what was promised about Jesus. The writer Luke really wants us to see this: Jesus is Lord, and therefore Caesar is not.
And what is particularly telling, I think, is to compare the peace that both Caesar and Jesus offer. It was said all around the Roman Empire that Caesar Augustus brought peace to the world. And yet this peace, this pax Romana, meant oppression for the lowly. It meant subjugation of all the nations. It meant peace as long as Rome’s tyranny was observed.
But Jesus offers true peace, as we learn in verse 14. He offers God’s peace. This is a peace that does not oppress or subjugate or tyrannize. A peace that cannot be undone, even by death. It is the peace of being forgiven by God and becoming right in his eyes. It is the peace of being united to his people as one new family. It is the peace of knowing that Jesus is in control, and that one day he will restore the world in justice and love. This is true peace; a peace that Caesar could never hope to provide.
Australia is a great country. I love living here and am grateful for all the blessings we enjoy. But the reality is that sometimes we witness evil in our country. Often our government tries to protect us from it, but this is not always possible. And sometimes, they are the ones who cause it. This is true today and it was true for Rome as well.
But Jesus is a very different kind of Lord, King and Saviour. He not only offers true peace now. He also promises to bring in a new kingdom in the future where death will be no more. Where we will never again shed a tear, because sadness, grief and pain will have gone away.
Well what does this mean for our lives now? What should we do in response to this?
It may be helpful to consider what the shepherds did. Please take a look at verses 15 to 20.
15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15–20 ESV)
What did the shepherds do? They went to find out if all these things were true.
I am new to this area and so there are not many people here that I know well. And so the chances are I don’t know why you came. Perhaps you came because you love Jesus. But perhaps you came for a different reason. Maybe a friend invited you. Maybe your family has always gone to church at Christmas. Maybe you just love the carols.
I don’t know. But if this is you, can I encourage you to find out the truth of what I’ve been saying. Please look into it and decide if Jesus really is who he claimed to be. Jesus offers hope that is profoundly different from anything man can invent. This is important news. And so it is critical that we all discover whether it is true or not. And the best way, I think, to do this is to come along to church next year.
At St Anne’s Hammondville and St Thomas’ Moorebank, we will be looking in detail at the life of Jesus. We will be investigating what really happened and what it means for our lives. And so if you are not a regular churchgoer, please consider coming along to discover the truth. Please consider coming along to find out if Jesus is whom he claimed to be. It could prove to be the most important decision you ever make.
However, I’m sure some of us here today have already done this. I’m sure some of us have already decided that Jesus is who he claimed to be: he is your Saviour and Christ and Lord. And so if this is you, can I encourage you to do two things.
The first is to imitate Mary in verse 19 and ponder these things in your heart. I don’t know about you but I find it very hard to escape the materialistic culture of Christmas. We are constantly surrounded by it and so easily get caught up in thinking about presents and holidays and food.
And so, it is because of this that we should make time to ponder the truth of the Gospel. It is precisely because Christmas is such a busy time that we should make time to read through a gospel and think about the things that Jesus did and taught. There is simply nothing more important we could do than to spend time considering God’s grace in sending his Son to save us.
And so this is the first encouragement I’d like to give. The second thing I’d like those who love Jesus to do is to glorify and praise him in all that you do. In verse 20 we read: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen … they glorified and praised God because of all they had heard and seen.
I began this morning by detailing all the tragedy we have seen this year. It has been horrific, and it’s hard to forget, even at Christmas time. And friends, such tragedies are going to continue in the future. Our PM has suggested it and the Bible teaches this. Whether we like it or not, we will continue to be confronted with more grief and loss.
And of course, it would be perverse to praise God when evil occurs. That’s not what I am saying. But what I am saying is that in the midst of such tragedy, we should praise God because of what he has done in Jesus.
When we see suffering in this world. When we are reminded that all is not right. We should remember our hope. We should remember that God sent Jesus to be our Saviour and Lord, and to fulfill all the good that God has promised.
We have a firm and perfect hope for the future: a glorious new world where love and justice reign. And so we can praise God, even whilst we grieve, because we know that there is more to come.