************ Sermon on Luke 2:14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2002
"Portraits of Christmas"
I A Material Portrait of Christmas
A Have you ever participated in a Polaroid Party? Today, I suppose, we would have to say a "Digital Party." A youth society or a couples club are divided into groups. Armed with a Polaroid Camera or a digital camera a picture has to be taken of the group doing crazy things like: 7 in a stranger's bathtub, 7 in a friend's shower, 7 feet in a grocery cart, 7 milking a cow, 7 folding someone else's laundry, 7 doing a Chinese fire drill on Main St., 7 drinking out of the same cup, 7 having a picture with the mayor, 7 in a tractor cab. These crazy moments get captured forever by a Polaroid or by a digital camera.
B Suppose, just suppose, that the first Christmas was captured by Polaroid or a digital camera. What would we see in the photo album? We would see Joseph, a derelict husband – for who but a drunkard or lazy bum would sleep in a barn. We would see Mary, an immodest mother – she must be immodest because she got pregnant before marriage and bore her child in a public place. We would see the poor baby Jesus – how else do you describe a baby lying in a feed-trough surrounded by the flies and dirt and smells of the barn. We would see the animals of the barnyard – an ox, a donkey, a sheep or two.
There are many who gaze at Christmas this way. They look at a Polaroid/digital snapshot of the Bethlehem stable and see nothing spiritual, nothing divine; they feel no awe, no gasp of adoration; there is no understanding of Christ's humiliation for the sake of sin. What an empty, shallow, hollow Christmas.
C During the past week I decided to take digital pictures of Christmas today. Armed with my camera I went to the mall and into various homes and businesses and captured for all time what was happening.
Here is a picture from the mall. I see someone from the Salvation Army ringing a bell. By his feet is a kettle. Propped against the kettle is a sign with the words, "The true meaning of Christmas." A woman is dropping a dollar bill into the pot. This photo tells me Christmas is a season of goodwill, charity, and fellowship. Again, nothing spiritual, no sense of awe, no understanding of why God took on flesh. This kind of Christmas celebrates human goodness. And, to celebrate human goodness is to celebrate ourselves. What has happened to Immanuel, to God with us? Human goodness is so unstable. God is not.
D Here is a group of four pictures. In the first picture I see a mother, shopping list in hand, shopping cart full. Neatly crossed off is: cordless screw driver - dad; mixer - mom; Game Boy - Mark; McDonald's coupons - paper boy; ham - pastor (I had to slip that one in). Still waiting to be crossed off is: hair dryer - Nicole; racing car set - David; flowers - grandma ... The second picture was taken in November, the day after Thanksgiving. It shows crowds of people flocking to the mall. Everyone thought this year had a good start to the Christmas season with better-than-expected sales during the Thanksgiving weekend. The third picture was taken this past weekend at Gottschalks. All of the shelves are still full and though there are shoppers in the store, there aren't near as many shoppers as hoped for. Like the Visalia Times-Delta put it: "it's crunchtime for uncertain retailers." Everyone hopes that last-minute shoppers and post-Christmas bargain hunters will provide relief. The fourth picture was taken this morning. I see a family – children, teenagers, parents, grandparents. Paper, ribbons, and packaging are everywhere. Everyone is holding up a present or two. This group of four photos sees shopping, spending, giving gifts, and getting gifts as the spirit of the season. Again, nothing spiritual, no sense of awe, no understanding of why God took on flesh. The focus is not the love of God that redeems us; rather, it is the love of the dollar that enslaves us.
E Here is another picture. Actually, it is a Christmas card we got in the mail. "Season's Greetings" reads the front of the card. Inside I can read about "joy" and "peace." But the joy is not real and the peace is empty because there is no mention of Christ. The card creates an illusion, a bubble, that eventually bursts and leaves people worse off than before. Again, nothing spiritual, no sense of awe, no understanding of why God took on flesh.
II A Spiritual Portrait of Christmas
To get an accurate photo album of Christmas we need something other than Polaroid and Kodak and digital. We need a camera that can capture more than the physical or material realm; we need a camera than can also capture the spiritual realm. Let's pretend we have such a camera. Let's pretend we used it to take pictures of the first Christmas.
The first picture shows a dove, the symbol for the Holy Spirit, superimposed upon the picture of a young women. The second shows an angel talking to a serious looking young man distraught about a pregnant girl-friend. The caption reads, "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary."
The third picture of our Christmas photo album shows a barn. Through the open door we see a man, a woman, an ox, a donkey, and a sheep or two. There is no denying the flies and dirt and smells of the barn. One notices all of this but none of it is important. For captured in the middle of the photo is a child in a manger. The caption reads, "Immanuel – God with us!"
The fourth picture of our Christmas photo album shows an angel, in the heavens, reading an announcement from a scroll. The caption says, "good news of great joy ... for all the people."
The fifth picture shows a cross and a grave. The cross is surrounded by darkness and stained with blood. The grave is surrounded by light and filled with glory. The caption says, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you."
The sixth picture shows Christ surrounded by a bright light, the blaze of a thousands suns. The caption says, "sun of righteousness." And, it says, "The light of the world!"
The seventh picture shows a throne, a crown, and a purple robe superimposed upon a picture of the baby in a manger. The caption reads, "Christ the Lord."
The eighth, ninth, and tenth pictures show some shepherds. In the eighth picture their fearful faces peek heavenward from behind rocks and trees in the fields of Bethlehem. "Fear not!", says the caption. In the ninth picture we see the shepherds running. Behind them lay the sheep. In front of them are the lights of a village. On their faces we see the anticipation and excitement of children. The caption reads, "Let's go to Bethlehem." In the tenth picture we see the shepherds around the baby in the manger – looks of reverence and awe on their faces. Mary and Joseph can be seen in the background. The caption reads, "Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn king!"
The eleventh picture shows a star, some camels, some men in robes and turbans, a treasure chest filled with precious gifts. The caption reads, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?"
The twelfth picture shows a wild looking man with long hair in the desert of Judea. He is wearing a cloak made of camel's hair. He has a leather belt around his waist. The caption reads, "Prepare the way for the Lord."
The thirteenth picture shows a man, gaunt with hunger, shaking his head an at evil looking creature pointing at stones. The caption reads, "The temptation of Jesus."
The fourteenth and last picture shows a choir – a magnificent, numberless choir of angels. Rank upon rank. Wings and robes and light. Every hand and every voice is lifted up to a throne. But wait, what do I see in the bottom corner? I see some more singers – the returning shepherds. Their hands and voices too are lifted up to the throne. Maybe it is a two part choir – angels above, shepherds below? Maybe they are singing antiphonally? Maybe all their voices blend together in one thunderous song? The caption reads, "Glory to God in the highest."
Two photo albums of Christmas. Two photo albums so different from each other.
Topic: ChristmasSOME? MIGHT? Isn't this amazing? Isn't this sad? How can this be? How is this possible?
I'm reminded of the time a man walked into a shopping center music store. He had been asked to pick up the sheet music for "How Great Thou Art." He asked the clerk, "Do you carry any religious sheet music?" The clerk thought a moment and then said: "Some of the Christmas music might be religious."
Topic: ChristmasAgain, isn't this amazing? Isn't this sad? How can this be? How is this possible?
I'm also reminded of the time two ladies looked into a department store window. It was a few days before Christmas. In front of them was a display of the manger scene with clay figures of the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and the animals. With disgust the one lady said, "Look at that, the church is trying to horn in on Christmas!"
Two photo albums of Christmas: one presenting a purely physical, material portrait of Christmas; and the other presenting a spiritual portrait. Two photo albums of Christmas: one ending with "Glory to man in the highest!"; the other ending with "Glory to God in the highest!"
Two photo albums of Christmas. Let me ask you, which album is to be found in your home?
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