Can Christmas Change the World? — Love All
by Pastor Mike Fortune
December 19, 2009
Christmas can change the world if we...
- Spend less [Luke 2:1-7; Philippians 2:6; Luke 9:58]
- Give more [Luke 2:8-12; Luke 4:18; Isaiah 58:6, 61:1]
- Love all [Luke 2:13-20; James 2:5; 2 Corinthians 8:9]
In 1987, Sudan’s government pronounced death to all males in the south so 27k orphaned “Lost Boys” ages 3 to 13 who saw their villages bombed and burned and their families murdered before their eyes fled from their villages, formed surrogate families, and sought refuge from famine, disease, wild animals and attacks from rebel soldiers. Named by a journalist after Peter Pan’s posse of orphans who protected and provided for each other, the “Lost Boys” traveled together for five years and against all odds 11k of them actually survived and crossed into the UN’s refugee camp in Kenya where for the next 14 years of their young lives they survived on one cup of corn meal every 15 days. In the weeks before September 11, 2001 almost 4,000 were brought to asylum in the US.
God Grew Tired of Us is an award winning documentary that tells the story of three of the Lost Boys of Sudan who successfully reached the UN camp and were subsequently selected to re-settle in the United States. Here, they built active and fulfilling new lives but remain deeply committed to helping friends and family they have left behind. Though they have less to begin with, even though each one works several jobs, they routinely send money back to the camp, search for relatives lost in the civil war, seek an education, and miss their homeland.
Their story is a real world reminder that we too can, even if its difficult, choose to spend less, give more, and love all. And that’s what I want to talk about one more time today. Christmas changed the world once when Jesus was born. And it can change it again. If we remember its about celebrating Christ’s birthday not yours. One way we can do that is by reading the Christmas story to our children and grandchildren pointing out the obvious clues that Jesus chose to spend less by being born and spending his life as a human. That’s what we’re going to do now so please turn in your Bibles and read Luke 2:1-7 with me which says, “1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
The birth story is packed with visual clues about Jesus’ choice to spend his life with less. Notice please that when Jesus was born, He did have a semi-private room, probably underneath a home packed with Joseph’s relatives above, that he shared with the barn animals that were sheltered from the elements underneath. But when he was born, he wasn’t placed in the thing that looks like a fry warmer after he emerged from Mary’s womb like my children were in the hospital. Instead, he was placed in a stone feeding trough similar to the ones archaeologists have dug up.
After his parents counted all his fingers and toes, He wasn’t wrapped in royal garments. Nobody brought him baby Ugg boots. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Which sounds much more romantic that they really were. Swaddling clothes were rags. Basically, Jesus was born homeless and after his ministry began, he stayed that way. Luke 9:58 says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Which forces us to concede this inevitable conclusion: Jesus, though He was God according to Philippians 2:6, chose to spend his life with less. That’s how he came into this world and that’s how he stayed. How have we missed this?
Neville Figgis reminds us that “The cry of the Moslems—God is great—is a truth which needed no supernatural being to teach men. That God is little, that is the truth which Jesus taught man” [The Jesus I Never Knew, p.36]. Philip Yancy adds, “The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind nor in a devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become an ovum, a single fertilized egg barely visible to the naked eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a fetus too shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager” [The Jesus I Never Knew, p.36].
Jackie has a hard time leaving our children for a few hours with a baby sitter. When grandma comes to watch the kids for a week while we’re in Israel next month, Jackie’s already got a babysitting Bible full of instructions and recipes and warnings. She even went to the doctor to get some medicine in case she starts freaking out on the plane being gone for so long. So Philip Yancey isn’t the only one wondering how God the Father felt that night Jesus was born, helpless as any human father, watching his Son emerge smeared with blood to face a harsh, cold world” [Ibid., 42]. Yes, God is great. But He is also little. He voluntarily chose to spend his life with less. This is point number one.
Moving on, Luke 2:8-12 adds, “8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”
What did the angels bring the shepherds? Good news of great joy that will be for all people. Including the poorest of the poor. We know this is true because God arranged the circumstances in which His son would be born on earth and when he was, he was born without power or wealth, without rights, without justice. His preferences in being born this way speaks volumes about his love and care and identity with the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed don’t you think?
Though the word incarn is now used infrequently, it was once used medically, describing the flesh that grows over a wound. Applied to healing, the word refers to the recovery of wounded flesh due to the presence of new flesh [According to Jill Carattini, managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia in an article entitled “Foolish Beauty” from December 9, 2009]. When the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us [John 1], Jesus was born or incarnated, and the new flesh that God wanted to mend was that of the poor.
Proof of this can be found at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus returned to Nazareth, his platform that day in Luke 4:16 was a combination of quotes from the prophet Isaiah who wrote in 58:6, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” In chapter 61:1 he added, “ 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
And though years later, John the Baptist himself a prisoner at the time, wondered out loud about the effectiveness of such a platform, Jesus stuck with it. In response to John’s skepticism, he replied in Matthew 11:5 to tell John, “5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
The Christmas story teaches us to spend less, even if we have less, so we can give more. Especially to the poor. The powerless. And oppressed. If you want your kids or grandkids to better understand point number two, bring them to Film Fest tonite when we watch the film God Bless the Child. I posted a review about it on my blog so go read that if you want more info ahead of time. But trust me, it’s a film I want my kids to see. Because it too teaches us to spend less, even if we have less, so we can give more. Especially to the poor.
And our kids can learn this. If we teach them. I know this is true because when people started asking my kids when they were even younger what their daddy does for a job, they said “He talks about Jesus on stage and shows people that God loves them like crazy!” I liked that description so much I tell people all the time that’s what I do. And I often ask myself at the end of the week, how much of those things did I do? And I think maybe you should ask yourself the same thing. Because if you’re a follower of Jesus, if Jesus is in your heart and not just hanging from some ornament on a tree, this is your job too! Your job is to talk about Jesus and show people that God loves them like crazy! Your job is to bring good news of great joy that will be for all people. Especially those less fortunate. So choose to live with less. So you can give more. That’s what Jesus told John’s friends to tell John he was doing.
Luke 2:13-20 concludes, “13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
Christmas changed the world once. And it can change it again. If we remember to love all and this is point number three. Even though Matthew 2:4 says the chief priests and rabbis in Jerusalem knew where Jesus would be born, have you noticed they didn’t go looking for him? Herod finally did two years later. But that was to kill Jesus not worship him. So the leaders of Israel were passed over in favor of lowly shepherds. And whether these shepherds were especially devout in charge of guarding the flocks of sheep destined for sacrifice as our Adventist Bible Commentary suggests or not, any special “rehabilitation” of shepherds is hardly necessary as the historian Paul Maier points out in his book In the Fullness of Time. Because the Bible is full of references to sheep and shepherds. Such Old Testament heros as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds at some time in their lives [p.44]. Just because some folks think shepherds were lowly illiterate stinky poor people doesn’t mean all of them were. And even if they were, do you think that really matters to God?
The Christmas story reminds us that it doesn’t! Because God loves shieks and shepherds like crazy! And we’re supposed to love all the same way. George Frideric Handel became willing to do this. Everybody knows he was a musical prodigy. At twenty-one he was a keyboard virtuoso and appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover [later known as King George I of England] so that by the time he was forty he was world famous. But what they don’t know is despite his talent and fame he faced considerable adversity. Rivalry with English composers was fierce. Audiences were fickle; sometimes they didn't turn out for his performances. He was the victim of the changing political winds. Several times he found himself on the verge of bankruptcy. His problems were compounded by failing health. He suffered a stroke which left his right arm limp and damaged the use of four fingers in his right hand. Although he recovered, it left him battling depression. Finally, at fifty-six, Handel decided it was time to retire. Discouraged, miserable and consumed with debt, he felt certain he'd land in a debtor's prison.
So on April 8, 1741, he gave what he considered his farewell concert. Disappointed and filled with self-pity, he gave up. But that year something incredible happened. A wealthy friend named Charles Jennings encouraged Handel by visiting him and giving him a libretto [or manuscript] based on the life of Christ. The work intrigued Handel, so he began composing. Immediately the floodgates of inspiration opened. For three weeks he wrote almost nonstop. Then he spent another two days creating the orchestrations. In twenty-four days he had completed the 260-page manuscript now sung around the world known as Messiah.
Would we have the wonderful “Hallelujah Chorus” today if Charles Jennings hadn’t reached out to Handel and loved all including a grumpy broken washed up composer? Maybe not. And if he hadn’t, we certainly wouldn’t have the “love all” component benefit concerts of Messiah often include to this day. Which leads us to the other thing most people don’t know about Handel. This first performance that took place in Dublin, Ireland on Tuesday, April 13, 1742. was a benefit concert for several charities and quite a considerable sum was collected. In the April 17 edition of the Dublin journal, this was written about the performance and the collection:
“On Tuesday last Mr. Handel's Sacred Grand Oratorio, Messiah, was performed at the New Musick-Hall in Fishamble-street; the best Judges allowed it to be the most finished piece of Musick. Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words composed to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear. It is but justice to Mr. Handel that the World should know, he generously gave the Money arising from this Grand Performance to be shared by the Society for relieving Prisoners, the Charitable Infirmary, and Mercer's Hospital, for which they will ever gratefully remember his Name...There were about 700 people in the Room [built for 600] and the sum collected for that Noble and Pious Charity amounted to about 400 pounds out of which 127 pounds goes to each of the three great and pious Chairities.”
Following this performance, it became a tradition to perform Handel’s Messiah as a benefit for local charities proving point number three: Christmas can change the world if like Handel, we choose to love all. Because Charles Jennings reached out, Handel composed a piece of music that has been helping others reach out and love all ever since. Aren’t you glad God loves shieks and shepherds? Do we? We should. Because James 2:5 says, “ 5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” And 2 Corinthians 8:9 adds, “9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Over two-thousand years ago John the Baptist agonized over the needs of the poor and flatly stated that poverty existed partly because people neglected the practice of generosity. “What should we do then?” the crowd asked John the Baptist in Luke 3:10-11. As we read a couple weeks ago, John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” This is one way to love all. But how do we "love all" today?
Twoshirts.org is showing us how to "love all" today. It's not just a website. It’s a community of gift-giving where people freely give and receive all kinds of different things from appliances, to clothing, to help and services. Two shirts is like eBay minus the shipping. It’s like Craig’s List minus the money. It’s a regional way of simply giving things away that enables caring communities to help each other love all and overcome the inequalities of life. It is the opposite of greed, which magnifies the inequalities of life. Go to Twoshirts.org and type in your zip code and see what you can do to love all and share with those in your sphere of influence. They’ve only been doing this since January 2008, but they’re growing by leaps and bounds. And you can help them grow. But that’s not the only way you can love all.
As we’ve been doing each week in this series, similar to what Handel did with Messiah, we’re going to be collecting another offering in just a minute on your way out of church today. That money will be combined with the other two offerings we’ve collected at the conclusion of our previous worship services in this sermon series and given to one of three non-profit organizations doing fantastic work right here in northwest Ohio. The first one I introduced you was Serenity Farm from my friend Debra. Then, Ellen came up here and told us all about Hospice of Northwest Ohio last time. And this week, I’m simply going to play a 4 minute DVD about Hannah’s Socks. I told Vic to stay home since his family is sick and needs him more than we do. Many of you already know his daughter’s story. Some of you don’t. Take a look.
Hannah’s Socks has been featured on the news and on Oprah and now my pastor friend’s church in Cleveland has become one of the latest collection points for Vic and Doris, Hannah’s parents, as they expand their generosity and loving reach. So pay attention and keep bringing those packs of socks to place in our bin in the foyer and next week deacons will pass out scraps of paper for you to cast your vote for which organization you want us to send the collections toward. May God bless you for spending less, giving more, and loving all.