I thank the Trinity Baptist Church, all of the churches of the Pamunkey Baptist Association, the Baptist General Convention of Virginia for giving me the chance to serve as a pastor for over 16 years and for introducing me to Jesus Christ and nurturing me in the faith for all of my life. Thanks to all who have taken the time to read my (frequently grammatically incorrect) sermons by following e-mail and Facebook alerts. Your acts of kindness, thoughts, and prayers have been a blessing to my wife and I. God has brought me to a new chapter in my life. But, I must acknowledge and pray that I will not disdain nor forget the friendships that I have forged over the years. May God bless us all this Christmas, in 2014, and unto the ages of ages.
Salvation Born In Humility Luke 2:4-7
Have you ever wondered what sorts of decorations were used on that first Christmas Day? Chances are that Douglass Fir trees weren’t growing in ancient Judea. So, what did they do for the center of the decorations, the Christmas Tree? More than likely, there was no snow. So, I guess, Frosty the Snowman and Sleigh Ride were not on the Holiday top 10 list. Nicholas of Myra wasn’t born until three centuries later. Santa Claus couldn’t come to town. Since Dominion VA Power and REC weren’t even imagined at that time, nobody had a tacky light display that used more electricity than a third world country. No, the first Christmas Day could not have looked anywhere near our day after Thanksgiving. Chances are, Joseph and Mary weren’t thinking about special sales, baking fruit cake, nor even picking up that last tube of wrapping paper. In fact, the first Christmas day was very humbling. Joseph had to leave the comfort of his home in Nazareth because a Roman emperor wanted a census taken and the Syrian governor thought it best to send everyone back to their ancestral homes to be counted. It was belittling enough that a foreign occupying government made this decree on a Jewish carpenter. But, to make him leave the comfort of his own dwelling was even more of a burden.
To add insult to injury, Joseph had to take his pregnant, betrothed Mary with him. Two things are troubling here. First of all, that she isn’t going to move very quickly. If she rode on the back of a donkey or horse, it would be rather uncomfortable for her. No consideration is given to Mary to allow them, or at least her, to stay home for the sake of her condition. Also, that in this betrothal relationship (or in our modern view engagement) questions would be asked by the census takers and the home folk about her being pregnant in the first place. Was Joseph the baby daddy? Did some Roman soldier get her? How was she supposed to be related to the Priest Zachariah and Elizabeth and here she is pregnant? They are on the road to do business and have to deal with folk all up in their business. But, at least when they get to Bethlehem, Joseph can splurge a little on a very comfortable room for Mary to give birth. Maybe he can get a nice crib for the baby with a soft, little blanket, right? Nope, there was no room in the inn. The baby was born in an animal stable of some sort and placed in a feed trough after being wrapped in the kind of cloth used for burying people. So here it is, their child is born outside of the comfort of home, outside the comfort of a decent room, wrapped up as if He is being prepared for His burial (a foretaste of the future) and lays down where donkeys and oxen eat their meals. Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Rose of Sharon, the Lilly of the Valley, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace had a first birthday that was more fitting for a servant boy than a descendant of King David; much less, the Only Begotten Son of the Heavenly Father.
But, what a powerful testimony that is for us! Salvation is born not in comfort or luxury. Salvation is born in humility and simplicity. This point is often ignored and overlooked in our modern celebrations. How often do we splurge on gifts for the people we love? Our credit card bills know! Look at our town and city parades and light displays? Even summertime amusement parks generate money from displaying “Christmas Town” and “Santa Land.” And let’s not even mention all of the rich and sweet foods we will gorge ourselves on, watch our blood glucose levels, pressures, and body weight shoot up like a rocket and the first Monday in January, we can’t even get in the door at the YMCA as we all make that resolution to be healthy and in shape. We are not thinking about humility and simplicity during Christmas. In fact, even when we donate to something like Angel Tree or the Christmas Mother, it is often done so that we can tell people about how such giving makes us feel good inside (and it is a quick tax write off). A good friend on Facebook, Dr. Chris Wycoff, shared a sermon written almost 2,000 years ago from St. Gregory the Theologian. This priest and bishop made the Grinch seem like Santa Claus as he preached that Christians are not to observe Christmas like pagans. That we are to shun gold and glitter decorations, expensive gift giving, fancy foods, dancing and music. Today, Gregory’s words would not be welcome in many of our homes and churches of any (including Orthodox) denomination. But here is the wisdom of his words: “Revere the enrolment on account of which you were written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which you were loosed from the chains of thy birth (Luke 2:1-5), and honor little Bethlehem, which hath led you back to Paradise; and venerate the manger through which you,
being without sense, were fed by the Word. Know as Isaiah bids you, your Owner, like the ox, and like the colt your Master’s crib.” The tacky and tastefully decorated homes, the well appointed trees, hottest gifts, and most delicious table spreads cannot be compared to the humble and simple birth of the source of our salvation. Our calling for Christmas Day and everyday is to follow the example of our Lord and Savior who came to us in humble simplicity. And for those who wish that everyday could be like Christmas, perhaps this is the way to do it. Like Joseph having to go to Bethlehem, difficulties and inconveniences come up in all of our lives. Joseph does not complain nor does he broadcast the pious role he has in being the surrogate father of the Son that existed before he did. Joseph just goes forward. Too often we tend to grumble and complain about the challenges that come up in all of our lives. But, no one gains anything by complaining because everyone is going through something. Clergy and laity alike like to tell people to shout and praise during bad and good times. Although this is good advice when done in sincerity, there are a whole lot of folk who are fronting holiness and living like heathens behind closed doors. Let’s just go through whatever difficulties and inconveniences life throws our way with a sense of purpose and see what the end will be. Like Joseph to Mary, let us show companionship and loyalty to one another even and especially in difficult circumstances. It is very easy and good to donate clothes, food items, and money during the holidays. But, there are addictions, broken relationships, illnesses, job losses, teen pregnancies, and other hardships that people close to us are going through all year
round. No one person can do everything for everybody. But, everybody can be there for somebody. We all will have a Mary or a few Marys in our lives that need more than a quick act of kindness. Our Marys need someone that will be there in times of inconvenience, discomfort, scandal, and rejection. Share the burden with someone who struggles. Who knows what divine gifts our Marys may bear? Like the donkey and ox referred to in Isaiah 1:3, the animals that may have eaten out of that same feed trough that Our Lord was placed in, Let us know our master and his presence. Let us know Jesus and the significance of His presence. He didn’t come into the world with a grand illumination and great fanfare. Salvation came into the world as an infant. He didn’t come into the world among those who enjoyed luxury, prestige, and wealth. Salvation came into the world through a couple in hardship and inconvenience. He wasn’t clothed in the best of garments fit for a festival. Salvation came into the world already being prepared for His death. And by His death, death and the grave were conquered. He didn’t come into this world demanding gifts from anyone. Salvation came into this world and was and is and will always be the greatest gift the world has ever known! Our choirs will sing Christmas carols at the nursing home and for the King William Emergency Ministries. Wednesday morning after church, we will un-wrap our gifts that have been sitting under the tree we put up and decorated, some as early as the day after Thanksgiving. We are going to dine and dine well and take some pleasure in that we gave a little something to someone less fortunate. But, let us always reflect on and revere the salvation of humanity that was born in humble simplicity