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12.23.12 Have a Holy Christmas Luke 1:39-55 Sermon Summary

by on December 23, 2012

One of the most important but overlooked messages of Christmas is that things are not always what they seem.

Summary Points

  • Appearances at Christmas today
  • Three things that appeared differently the first Christmas
  • What makes things holy
  • What we expect to be holy, isn’t
  • How we can have a holy Christmas, and a holy life

There are so many “appearances” at Christmas. Bright and colorful lights that adorn houses, even houses where things are anything but bright and colorful. Christmas cards and letters that portray a much different reality than the families actually experience. Even manger scenes that are idyllic and sanitized.

You wouldn’t guess by looking at Bethlehem that the Messiah would be born there. It’s 6 miles from Jerusalem, the small town on the outskirts of town. The Magi expected the king to be born in Jerusalem. They had to research to find out about Bethlehem. This whas where Ruth, Naomi, and most importantly, David were born. David, you will remember, was the youngest of eight brothers. So when Micah the 8th century prophet says that a leader will come from Bethlehem, the least of the tribes of Judah, it is a poetic reference to a leader like David, the least of the brothers of Jesse.

You wouldn’t guess, by looking at Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah. She was about as average a Jewish girl you can get. There were lots of girls named Mary. What is more, she was unmarried, and worst of all, she was from Nazareth. When Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

You wouldn’t guess, by looking at Jesus that he would be the Messiah. He was born to a common laborer, under suspicious circumstances, and again, thanks to Mary, he was from Nazareth. Jesus was unlearned, homeless, and was accused by the authorities of being seditious.

No at Christmas time, things are not what they appear. You wouldn’t guess by looking at Bethlehem, Mary, and Jesus, the roles they would play in God’s saving of the world except this: God tends to do thing this way.

God chose Abraham and Sarah, not out of some goodness or potential they possessed, but out of grace. God chose the younger brother Jacob to be more prominent over Esau. God chose David over his seven older brothers. God chose the aged, barren Elizabeth to bear John the Baptist. And God chose Mary to bear Christ. God chose Bethlehem over Jerusalem for the location of that birth. And God chose Jesus over Herod and over the religious elite to be the Savior of the world.

And this is what it means to be “holy.” Mary said, “The Mighty One has done great things for me—Holy is his name.” To be holy means to be chosen by God. It means to be chosen by God and set apart for a sacred purpose.

We set things apart. The nice bottle of wine I received for Christmas I set apart for a special dinner. That China that only comes out of the cupboard for special guests. We even set apart whole areas as National Parks, they are so special. When we set something apart, it is usually the best and finest.

Not God. God sets apart the small, ordinary. God set apart Bethlehem, Mary, and Jesus.

When to set apart something, God sets aside other things—the very things we would expect to be set apart, God sets aside. Mary lists three: the Proud, the Powerful, and those with great Possessions. God sets aside these three because God knows that the higher we exalt ourselves, the more painful and humiliating it is to face reality. God knows that the more we try to control things in our own power, the more powerless and anxious we feel. God knows that the more we possess, the more we are possessed by our possessions.

God even sets religiosity aside, because being religious doesn’t make you holy. Speaking to the most religious of his day, Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23).

This is why Hebrews argues on Christ’s example that doing God’s will is what makes us holy. It’s not the proud, not the powerful, not the possessive, but the faithful who are holy. These are the ones set apart. These are the chosen ones.

It’s getting harder and harder to have a holy Christmas. Part of the reason is because we are continually told to have a “merry” Christmas. Maybe the greeting that causes such an outcry among some Christians, “happy holidays,” is actually better, for at its root is the blessing to have a “holy day.”

To have a holy Christmas means to recognize that to be holy is to be chosen. At Christmas, God chose Bethlehem, and Mary, and Jesus. God chooses the simple, the ordinary, and the insignificant.

Remember that as you think about this: God has also chosen you. Just as David came from Bethlehem. Just as Mary came from Nazareth. Just as Jesus came from Mary. Just as salvation comes through Jesus. So great things can come from you.

This Christmas, let Jesus be born again in your life. Let go of pride, of power, and of possessions. Instead, live faithfully according to God’s will. Behave as the chosen child of God that you are. And have a holy Christmas! Amen.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Looking back on your life, identify some of the surprise choices God has made for your life, things you didn’t choose for yourself, but were chosen for you. Share how your life is different as a result of these divine choices.
  • Assess your relationship to pride, power, and possessions. Are you malleable in God’s presence, or stiff-necked (proud)? Do you trust God to work things out or are you manipulating circumstances (power)? Are you so preoccupied with your “things,” present or future, that you can no longer belong to God (possessions)? What do you need to do to be ready to receive Christ again this Christmas?
  • How does being chosen, that is, made holy, change your perspective of yourself and your life? Do you believe God desires to do great things through you, as he did through Bethlehem, Mary, and Jesus? What might those great things be?
  • How has striving to have a “merry Christmas” prevented you from having a “happy holy day?”
  • What are some of the Christmas appearances you are trying to keep up? Are there any you can give up for the sake of being authentic?
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