A Sign of Things to Come

Wouldn't you really like to know? Isn't that why you're here tonight? I mean, don't you come with Christmas questions? Oh, I don't mean the easy ones, like, "Do reindeer really know how to fly?" Any fool knows they can, with the right driver and a good sleigh. (Ask any four tear old to explain it to you! For your computer questions though, try an eight year old.) Wouldn't you really like to know what's coming next? 'What God is up to? Wouldn't you really like to know if this very basic birth at Bethlehem is worth all the fuss? The angels on the air, the heavenly host. The shepherds schlepping to the stable after a sleepless night under the stars. And camel caravans of kings, come for a peek at a poor-boy, promised to be royal in a heavenly kind of way. Considering the world won't look much different day-after-tomorrow than it did this morning, don't you want to know what God has in mind with this, this Christmas?

It turns out, Christmas is a sign of things to come. God is coming to the side of those who need a hand. Maybe it's a hand out. Maybe it's a hand up. Maybe it's a little applause, a little affirmation when everything and everybody else seems so determined to put us down. Maybe it's a hand-over or a hand-off, that extra something that gets us through. But God will not stand afar off any longer (if ever he did). God in Christ is coming with determination. He insists that from now on things will never be the same. 'That the believers will be those who can see that it is so. And this little child of Bethlehem will be the sign!

For weeks we've been hearing how God's coming to the side of those who need a sign. Mary will hear Jesus is on the way and declare, "He has regarded the low estate of his handmaid." A poor girl gets to be the mother of the holy child. Herod, "the Great", doesn't have a clue the King of Heaven's about to be born in his district. But the sheep herders on his hills get a chorus of angels to give them the word. ("He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, put down the mighty and exalted those of low degree." Lk. 1) The low-down get the lowdown! The Kings on those camels come proud of themselves. They leave protecting this baby and put in their places.
Don't you think this might be a sign to the rest of us that help is on the way? Things in our world, in your life and mine aren't gonna be like this forever. If life's putting you down, Christ comes as God-offering-you-a-hand-up. Just like Mary. If you've never been quite able to make it in your emotional life, if self-worth is your issue, you might wanna ponder this. Tonight, God's Christ has counted you worth leaving heaven for, and living on earth. Just to know you, help you, save you! (Now there's a Christmas present!) If you're sitting here tonight wondering how you're gonna pay for all you're going to give away tomorrow, take heart. This little baby's going to grow up, look on you, and say, you're so valued of God, "Don't be anxious about tomorrow." And, "Don't be afraid." And when you mess up, or something or someone messes you up, this little baby is going to speak for heaven and say, "I didn't come into this world to condemn it, but that you all might be saved by my coming." Friends, come Christmas, this is what God's up to.

This holy birth is a sign of things to come. Jesus is coming with a new light for our dark nights. For the shepherds it's a heavenly host. For the magi, it's a star in the sky. But one way or another, there's a new light coming into all our lives! Everybody's life comes complete with shadows. Yours? Yours? Yours? Nobody escapes dark places. Well, if you're in one now, or headed for one, tonight's your night. "The true Light that lightens every soul is coming into the world." (Jn.1) I remember with thanks, a place on the side of Savage Mountain where our family used to go to see the stars. Micah was a teen enthralled. Meghan, a child amazed. Bev and I, adoring parents looking on our own little stars as much as those in the sky. But now and again, when the going got tough in W. Md., pastoring in a place of crumbling economy then and growing displacement of the young, I'd drive up on the mountain by myself and spy the sky awhile. It always felt like Christmas then, whatever the season. It refreshed my soul. Later, we moved from there to Baltimore. City lights obscured the sky. Different burdens weighed on my soul. I tried a bunch of places, looking for a real look at the night sky. Too many closer-but-so-much-lesser lights crowded out the view. (Boy, isn't that true lots of the time for us all?) One night, standing in an open field, trying yet again, I actually began to cry, "They've taken my stars away," I wept out loud, "and there's no way to see the light." It was right then, I got a kindly-stern reminder, "Your light's not in the stars, it's behind them, and right in front of you. Your light's in the One the stars announce, but never equal. The light of your life is Jesus!" Wanna know what's coming next when you're standing in the dark? The Light. (Merry Christmas.) Wanna sign of what's to come? Look in the cradle at Bethlehem. "In him is light and no darkness at all." For all who believe, that's what God has in store. Hold onto that Light, way past tomorrow and deep in the winters of body and soul.

O, this Jesus, this Christ, is a sign of things to come. God's saving grace is nearer now than when we first believed! Christmas is the beginning of the salvation story. (Don't miss this part!) The SIGN of this night is that in the birth of Jesus, every child of every age, and every one of us, is holy in God's sight. And God would leave not one behind. There is a plan to bring us along home. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory. But God has emptied himself into this infant Jesus. And he will take the form of a servant. And he will embrace the world to himself with an unmistakable gesture. (Gesture X) And to all who believe and receive him, he will give power to become children of God. In this Jesus, God's Word becomes flesh this very night, and lives among us, full of grace and truth. You and I behold his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

With a sign like this, we can see what's coming next. Life with God, eternal life, beginning tonight, for those who believe, confess, and walk in faith. The world at peace, the values of heaven valued on earth. That would be, will be, something! A just wealth among the world's people, and a merciful justice. Mary's right, "He has shown strength with his arm," and might in the face of an infant child. No wonder we feel like joining with those who say, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us!" There, in the manger, in the face of a child, human and holy, there is the sign of things to come. A lift up. A light on. And life: forevermore. Amen.

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