Christmas Eve; Isaiah 9.6
I love all of the readings from Christmas, but one of my favorites is one we didn’t read tonight – it comes from the ninth chapter of Isaiah:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Every time I hear this prophecy from Isaiah, I think back to 1971. My wife was with child that Christmas and right in the middle of Christmas dinner she stood up and proclaimed, “It is time to go to the hospital!” "For unto us a child is born . . ." That, in a word, is the Christmas story.
When Sean was born, fathers weren't allowed in the delivery room. But then, we were so young and naive, we didn't even think to ask. I remember the doctor coming out and saying, “It’s a boy!” Just being a part of the birth of a baby is about as close to a miracle as you can get. And I speak as a father. I can only imagine the experience from a mother's perspective.
Well, all this makes me wonder what Joseph and Mary must have experienced that night Jesus was born. The scriptures don't give us much to go on, but I can imagine they were just as proud and awestruck as any of us would've been.
Wrapped up in those swaddling cloths was more than a newborn infant, it was the embodiment of Mary and Joseph's hope and promise and the fulfillment of their lives. I can imagine Joseph thinking about how, one day, he'd get Jesus a set of tools and teach him to work with his hands and be a carpenter — and Mary, how she'd tell him stories and sing him songs, and how she'd teach him to be useful around the house and to listen to his heart, as well as to other people.
Babies symbolize our hopes and dreams for the future, and, thinking about the future, these are the types of things every parent longs for with their children.
But in the case of Jesus' birth, there's more, for wrapped up in the birth of Jesus are not only the hopes and dreams of Mary and Joseph, but the hopes and dreams of all creation. Phillips Brooks said it best in the carol we sang a few minutes ago:
"O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet, in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."
In Jesus lies not only the hope of a new life that has come into this world, but of a new creation that has dawned in the fullness of time.
The birth of Jesus signals the start of a new covenant and a new order of being in which God judges us not on the basis of our righteousness, but on the basis of God’s grace and love. And this is the Good News: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.”
Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birth, all right, but that's only the beginning. What we celebrate at Christmas is actually the beginning of a new way of life made possible by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
a new way of life when "nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more." (Micah 4:3)
a new way of life when "The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them." (Isaiah 11:6)
a new way of life when "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, black nor while, male nor female, gay or straight; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
a new way of life when ". . .God will be with us as our God. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
In the New Creation, we'll regard others not on the basis of wealth and power, but on how sensitive and caring and compassionate they are toward those in need. Love will be our greatest strength, and the willingness to forgive, our defining trait; and every time we see an act of kindness, especially toward one who can't begin to reciprocate or repay, we'll know that the New Creation of Jesus Christ is near.
It all began with the birth of Jesus, and this is what I hope you'll take home with you tonight: The birth of Jesus we celebrate on Christmas Day is the beginning of new life for everyone who's willing to follow in his footsteps and walk in the light of his forgiveness and love.
May the joy of Christmas and the reality of the New Creation be yours, now and always. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.