Good News of Great Joy – A Christmas Talk

This is a rough transcript of a talk I gave last Sunday on Luke 2:10-11. I only work off of notes and not a full script but this is a rough approximation of what I said on the day. This was rushed off a bit so sorry for any mistakes. Merry Christmas!

In our passage the shepherds receive good news of great joy and so I wonder, what would bring you great joy? When I thought about this, the thing that came to my mind was the birth of my little girl Melody. It was just such an amazing thing that I wanted everyone to know, I wanted to share the news. “My little girl has arrived and she’s amazing!” Both Becca and I were completely full of joy at her birth.

And even today she is still one of the things that brings me the most joy in life. Everyday she seems to be learning new things and picking up words and phrases. Recently I’ve been trying to teach her quotes from Lord of the Rings as it just amuses me to see her running around quoting Gandalf! I love the way that she copies me too. In the summer I would go and sit on the step in the garden and put my drink down beside me and she would come up and plonk herself down on the step,put her drink next to mine and then look at me as if to say, “I’m doing what you’re doing.” And I love the way she runs up to me shouting “Daddy” when I get home and come through the doors. That’s what brings me great joy and I’m sure many of us here can identify with that feeling even if the circumstances are a bit different. 

So in our passage the shepherds are out in the field at night, watching their flock and quite possibly washing their socks too so I’m led to believe, and suddenly angel appears with a heavenly announcement:

‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’

So what is this good news of great joy?

‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’

This good news of great joy is the announcement of the birth of a child. But not just any child. Look at who the angel says he is. This baby is Saviour and Messiah! He’s their rescuer, the anointed one, God’s chosen King who will deliver his people and redeem them. Now it’s hard to say what the shepherds would have understood by this. Maybe they thought the Messiah would come and liberate them from Roman occupation and restore the nation of Israel. But whatever they thought, this was the person they’d been waiting for. God’s promises were being fulfilled right here, in their lifetime. Just imagine the joy they would have felt. It would have been completely overwhelming. And to think, here it is being announced to a bunch of stinky shepherds, the lowest of the low, right at the bottom of the social ladder. Imagine the great hope this would bring for them and indeed, the joy.

And it should be good news of great joy for us too? Why? Well because even with Melody and all the joy that she brings me, I know that something isn’t right, that there’s still something wrong. And so this is good news of great joy to me because I know that I need a saviour and I need a Messiah, someone to redeem me. Because I know the depths of my heart, the deep uncontrollable drives inside me, the corruption inside. That even when I’m being “good” there is something not right in me. I might be able to control my behaviour but there’s still something deep down in my being, a selfishness, even a darkness that I naturally gravitate too.

And I don’t just see this in me, it’s in the whole world as I look around me. Every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the news or click on the BBC website all I see is oppression, marginalisation, pain, suffering, mourning and loss. You know, in the UK this year, 500,000 families have lost someone, 250,000 elderly will be at Christmas time and 80,000 children will be homeless. And you know what? We could go and mourn with these families, spend the day with the elderly, find housing for all of those children but even then the darkness wouldn’t be gone, because there is something deeper in our very being. And we’ve all felt it, we’ve all felt the fall and we feel it every day. I need redeeming and so does the whole world, so how could this news, of a saviour and a Messiah, fail to bring us great joy?

But how can one person make a difference? Well there’s something else about this child’s identity in these verses. We’re told:

“to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The most amazing thing in this announcement is that the saving Messiah is God! The child lying in the manger is not just some man chosen for the task, he is the Lord of heaven, God in the flesh, God with us, the visible image of the invisible God. In him the fulness of God was pleased to dwell and he was in his very nature God. And here, God draws alongside us, he comes close to the broken, people like you and me, the sick, the black hearted and the corrupt. God comes as a man takes, our burden on himself and pays for it all on the  cross. How can this not bring us great joy?

So no matter what the darkness is for us this Christmas, whether it’s sick family, the death of a loved one, the family tensions of the Christmas period or even just that very darkness deep within us, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light, a light who has come to save and redeem us.

I’d like to finish with an extract from a poem which I think sums this up well.

Our summer’s gone, if you’ve been around,
you’ve felt the fall: life’s run aground.
We’ve gone up in the world, seen summer die.
So what’s our hope? The dark defy?
Stoke the hearth? Retreat indoors?
Rug up warm with you and yours?
The shadow reaches even here,
But THIS is the place for Christmas cheer.

It’s dark, in the bible, when Christmas is spoken.
Always a bolt from the blue for the broken.
It’s the valley of shadow, the land of the dead,
It’s, “No place in the inn,” so He stoops to the shed.
He’s born to the shameful, bends to the weak,
becomes the lowly: the God who can’t speak!
And yet, what a Word, this Saviour who comes,
Our dismal, abysmal depths He plumbs.
Through crib and then cross, to compass our life.
To carry and conquer. Our Brother in strife.
He became what we are: our failures He shouldered,
To bring us to His life: forever enfolded.
He took on our frailty, He took on all-comers,
To turn all our winters to glorious summers.

It’s Christmas now… whatever the weather,
Some soak in the sun, some huddle together. 
But fair days or foul, our plight He embraces.
Real Christmas can shine in the darkest of places.

Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Death To The Newborn King!

Last Sunday morning we were looking at some Christmas passages with our 11-14’s and I was struck by this short passage about Herod and the birth of Jesus.

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied… …Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-7

What struck me was verse 4. Herod clearly understands that the one to be born is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one, His ultimate chosen ruler and King who will save His people. So how does Herod react to this wonderful news! He’s disturbed. Clearly Herod isn’t too chuffed about another King arriving on the scene, chosen one or not. And we know from later in chapter 2 that his request that the Magi report the child’s whereabouts is really a front for his plan to do away with him.

This is mind boggling when you think about it. The Jews have been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds of year, a whole people waiting for this momentous occasion. Children would have been brought up with the expectation of the coming Messiah as a part of the very fabric of their lives, Herod included, and yet his very first thought on hearing of the Messiah’s birth, is how he can ensure that he stays on the throne. He even goes as far as murdering babies so as not to give up his power and submit to another.

It just struck me how incredible it was, that at the announcement of good news on a universal scale, Herod’s immediate thought was for his own self. But the more I’ve thought about it, it’s not that strange at all really is it? Aren’t you and I just the same? Aren’t we all like Herod, little kings who don’t really want the real King to be on the throne? Everyday millions of people “do a Herod” (yes, I’m coining that phrase) and do everything they can to remain king of their own lives whilst rejecting the true King. No-one wants to hand over the throne to someone else. We’d all rather be in charge of our own lives.

But that kind of attitude betrays a misunderstanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Of course we need to let Jesus be our Lord and take charge of our lives and that will be necessity mean submitting to him. But to quote Glen Scrivener:

“at the end of the bible, we’re not looking forward to man getting off the throne.  Precisely the opposite.  Salvation involves being invited onto the throne, to rule with Christ (Revelation 3:21).”

We do have to submit to Christ as our King, but in doing so we’re raised to share in a far greater rule, one that we share in now in part, but one day we’ll share in completely.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. – Revelation 3:21

If only Herod had known that.

The Curse of the Christmas Tree

This is a transcript of a talk I gave at our Scout Carol service 2012, which I  followed as a rough outline. To set the scene, I had kicked off with a bit of banter about who had had their tree up the longest and whose would be up the latest.

Each year many of us will buy a Christmas tree and then we’ll set about decorating it . For some of us it might even be quite an occasion, the sort of thing the whole family gets involved in. We’ll break out the baubles, maybe a star or an angel, a bit of tinsel, Dad’ll be getting more and more wound up as he tries to unravel the lights, and then you’ve got to make sure that all the decorations are spread out evenly so it looks just right.

And you’ve got to decorate it haven’t you, because if you didn’t do anything to it, it wouldn’t look very attractive at all would it? Because it’s a Christmas tree! A Christmas tree has been wrenched up and torn from it’s natural environment and so it’s not got any roots. It’s not going to be getting any nutrients and things like that, it’s probably not going to get much sunlight and so it’s never going to blossom or produce any fruit. How can it? There’s no real life in it. It’s as good as dead and it’s not got long before it’s going to start rotting away. My wife always says not to get a tree too early otherwise it might have dropped all it’s needles and gone brown by Christmas and then all the decorations in the world won’t be able to hide the fact that the tree is dead. And no-one wants a brown decaying tree littering up the living room, no matter how many lights, baubles or bits of tinsel it’s got on it. A Christmas tree is by it’s very nature heading for the rubbish dump, good for nothing more than wood for the fire. It’s not something that’s going to be worth keeping in the long run.

Incredibly, when you read how the Bible describes us, it says that we’re basically just like Christmas trees. The Bible makes the analogy between people and trees saying that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.(Luke 3:9)”. That shows us that what God wants from us is for us to produce good fruit, to live a life of obedience to him. But just like the Christmas tree we’ve been wrenched from our natural environment. Because of our sinfulness we’re all cut off from God, the source of real life. The Bible goes as far as describing us as spiritually dead. We might walk around and breathe the air but spiritually we’re dead, we’ve got no life in us. So if there’s no life in us, how can we produce the kind of fruit God wants? We’re like the Christmas tree, we just don’t have the means too.

Now sure we might try and be good, we might dress ourselves up in fancy decorations and good deeds and hope that God will think we’re good enough, but of course those things will never be good enough. Our incomplete, broken half attempts at obedience pale into insignificance next to the kind of obedience God really wants from us. They’re just like christmas decorations, they’re not real fruit.

And do we really think that that’ll be good enough? That’s like turning up in heaven and presenting God with bucket of baubles when he actually wanted real fruit. What an insult that’d be to God.You see, we can’t produce the fruit God requires from us, we can’t live the way God wants us to. We just don’t have the ability.

So like the christmas tree we’re heading for the rubbish dump, waiting to be thrown into the fire. All the half hearted obedience in the world can’t hide the fact that we’re spiritually dead and God doesn’t want to keep around a decaying corpse, no matter how many good deeds we might be clothed in. We’re not worth keeping, we’re worthless.

So this doesn’t sound like a very merry christmas does it? And if God had done nothing about it then we’d all be heading for the rubbish dump. But at Christmas time we remember how the God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, to earth as a baby. God became man and stepped down to live among us.

And Jesus produced real fruit. He always lived a in complete obedience to the Father. Never once did the way he lived fall short of the standard God required. Never once did he bring God any baubles. He was in perfect relationship with the Father, spiritually alive, which meant he was able to produce the good fruit that the Father desired, in the same way that a tree that is rooted and nourished will produce fruit of it’s own too. So Jesus wasn’t heading for the rubbish dump. He was a keeper in the Father’s eyes.

But how does this help us? So far it just looks like Jesus is in a very good position and we’re in a very bad one. But you see, Jesus didn’t become a man just for the sake of it, to see what it would be like, or to try a new experience. No; Jesus’ sole purpose in coming to earth was to save us, to save you and me, to save this bunch of decaying Christmas trees, to replant us so we could be fruitful again.

You see, when Jesus died on the cross he swapped places with you and me. He took our bucket of baubles and presented it to His Father as if they were his and he was deemed to not be good enough. And so rather than you or I being thrown on the rubbish dump with all our pathetic baubles, Jesus was thrown on the rubbish dump instead. He willingly faced the consequences of being spiritually dead and fruitless, he took the punishment for our insult to God, so that we didn’t have to.

But more than that, Jesus didn’t just take our pathetic bucket of baubles but he gave us his own bowl of fruit. He gave us the fruit of a life lived in perfect obedience to God so that rather than coming to God with only our half hearted attempts at being good to show for ourselves, we can come to God with exactly what is pleasing to him.

But we only get the benefits of what Jesus has done for us if we believe in what he did, if we put our trust in him. The bible says “ I am right with God, not because I followed the law (so not because I was able to be obedient enough), but because I believed in Christ. God uses my faith to make me right with him,“ (Philippians 3:9) and “you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not our own efforts. Our own efforts are rubbish. But when we put our faith in Jesus, he exchanges his fruit for our decorations so that when God looks at us, he sees the fruit of a life lived in obedience to him. And so God says “that person shouldn’t go to the rubbish dump, they’re a keeper.” We get brought into a relationship with God through Jesus and we get to enjoy the same relationship with the Father that Jesus enjoys, a relationship in which we can call God our Father and that will last through into eternity.

But following Jesus doesn’t just bring some future blessing because Jesus says “If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit.” (John 15:5). You see, when we trust Jesus we’re made spiritually alive, and the Holy Spirit can begin to be at work in us to make us produce fruit and begin to live in obedience to the Father. Our whole life will be changed.

And just think, this all started with a small child, a baby boy, Jesus Christ, born on that first Christmas morning over 2000 years ago. Maybe this Christmas, you’ll let Jesus bring you alive and make you fruitful.

Anti-Santy Ranty

I thought I would post this video from Glen Scrivener’s blog. It’s a great little poem. You can get the words and see the original post here. Enjoy! Then check out the rest of his blog as it’s far better than mine.

Terminator Salvation – What Would The Terminator Make Of Jesus?

Below is a rough script I used for a Christmas assembly at our local secondary school. I didn’t follow it exactly but used it as more of a springboard to jog my memory and keep track. Hope it entertains and enlightens.

“As Christmas approaches you’ve probably already heard or you will do soon, plenty of people saying something like “it’s important to remember the true meaning of Christmas.” People will say that “Christmas isn’t just about getting lots of presents and eating too much. It’s a time for family and friends, remembering all the great things we’ve got to be thankful for and things like that.”

Maybe some of you’ll go to a carol service at a church and someone will say something like “it’s important we remember the true meaning of Christmas. It isn’t just about getting lots of presents and eating too much or even just about family and friends and remembering all the great things we’ve got to be thankful for. No the real meaning of Christmas is to remember the birth of Jesus.” You’ve probably heard things like that plenty of times before.

But the problem with leaving it at that, is that it doesn’t really tell us why we should be bothered about that and so it’s easy for us to misunderstand why Jesus was born. I’m going to show you a video from the American series Mad TV, which is a parody of Terminator 2. And in the video, the Terminator has been sent back in time to the night of Jesus’ birth with orders to protect him.

In the video, the Terminator doesn’t understand why Jesus was born and so it does everything it can to protect Jesus from any harm, including shooting the Roman soldiers and killing Judas so that he won’t be able to  betray Jesus. And it doesn’t seem able to grasp the fact that Jesus is supposed to die to save his people from their sins, despite Jesus’ best efforts to try and make it understand.

And that kind of shows us why simply saying that Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus isn’t really enough. If we don’t understand that Jesus came to die to save others, then we miss the point and Christmas doesn’t really make any sense. But often we don’t really think of the baby Jesus as the same Jesus who died on the cross all those years later. But the Bible is very clear from the beginning that Jesus is on a rescue mission. When an angel appears to Joseph he says “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

So right from the start, even from before Jesus was born, it was clear that he had come to save people. Even the name Jesus means “The Lord Saves.” And that’s why Christmas is important, because it’s the time that we remember that God has sent a rescuer into the world to save us.

Imagine that you’re climbing a mountain, isolated from anywhere else and miles and miles from anyone else. You’ve been climbing for ages and ages and you’re exhausted from the struggle of the climb. And as you take another step up the icy mountain, you lose your footing and you slip and you fall down the mountain, landing heavily on your leg a little way further back down cliff. After being dazed for a few seconds you try and stand but  as you do, excruciating pain shoots through your leg and you collapse. As you look down at your leg, you realise that it’s broken. You know this isn’t good as there’s no way you can get  down off the mountain by yourself. You fumble in your backpack for your phone and locating equipment but as you pull it out of your bag you see that all of it has been broken in the fall. You’ve got a flare but you’re in the middle of nowhere, and the chances of anyone seeing it are miniscule. It begins to get dark and you do your best to create a little snow hole, but in your weakened condition, it’s not really the best shelter you could have made and as the darkness sets in the cold really begins to bite. You have a little bit of food and water which you decide to ration, just in case, but you know that it won’t last you long, another day at most. Feeling hopeless, you drift in and out of sleep.

Bu then in the morning you’re woken by the sound of someone calling your name, not far from where you are. You cry out and moments later a man appears at the entrance to your snow hole, wearing a search and rescue jacket. He says “I knew you were out here, so when you didn’t come back I came to find you. I’ve searched every inch of this mountain but now I’ve found you.” You can’t describe how happy you feel. You were sure that you were going to die but now you know you’re going to be OK. And you cheer and shake the man’s hand and hug him. And with that the man picks you up and carries you back down the mountain to safety.

And we’re told that that’s what Jesus came to do. He came to rescue us because we couldn’t help ourselves. And that’s why we remember the birth of Jesus at Christmas, because it’s like that man appearing in the entrance to your snow hole. It’s the arrival of a rescuer when all hope seemed lost. And because he came to rescue us we want to welcome him with joy and celebration, just like we would the man on the mountain.

If you want to know what Christmas is really all about, it’s the first step in a rescue mission for all mankind, which is completed by Jesus’ death on the cross.

So this Christmas, why not try and find some time to think about how you might welcome your rescuer.”

Have Yourself a Merry Little Winter Festival

Christmas is fast approaching and along with it, all the various carol services, nativities and assemblies that this season is chock -a-block with.  But trying to slip a Christian message into this  “Christ-time” is not quite as easy as it used to be.

I had a secondary assembly this morning. If I’m honest I’m not a massive fan of doing assemblies. They’re quite impersonal and sporadic so it’s hard to build any real relationships through them and it quite often feels like I’m going in cold. On top of that, the theme was Christmas, which you would think is a gift of a topic. And in many ways it is, but it’s hard not to just do the same thing you do every year and end up being unoriginal. Anyway I had a crack.  Ignitermedia have some really great videos and resources knocking about and so I decided to use their “Retooning the Nativity” video, the idea being that whilst we all might think we know the Christmas story, most of the stuff that we see in our standard nativity play isn’t biblical at all.

So anyway I tried to show how we don’t really know the Christmas story and then linked it back to Luke 2:11:

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord

and used that to show that Christmas is about the birth of our Saviour, Messiah and Lord.

What really topped off the assembly for me though was the very end.

Me: So when you think about Christmas, remember that it’s really about someone who came to save you and can still save you now.

Teacher: Brilliant, thanks for that. And let’s just remember that Christmas is a time for coming together and enjoying yourself.

DOH! I’m not sure the message quite went in there.

Anyway I decided to lick my wounds by grabbing my free coffee and watching the nursery schools nativity in the church. Seriously, it made my day! Having just done an assembly about how we don’t really know the nativity story, I was shocked to discover that my own knowledge of the event was hugely incomplete. I particularly enjoyed the part when Santa and his reindeers came to visit the baby, closely followed by some Christmas puddings and mince pies (all to the accompaniment of “The Wheels on the Bus”). Not that I know who they came to visit. The mentions of Jesus were conspicuous by their absence.

It seems Jesus isn’t welcome at Christmas anymore.

On a separate note, how would people go about giving feedback to someone when you’re not sure you can say much that is positive? I was always told to say something positive before you said something negative and on the whole I agree, even though it occasionally smacks of insincerity. But what do you do if you aren’t sure there was much that was positive? Any ideas?