A Christmas Day sermon by Rod Benson
When my three boys were very young, I used to read to them in the evening, and one of my favourites was a 1994 British children’s book, Guess How Much I Love You, masterfully written by Sam MaBratney and beautifully illustrated by Anita Jeran.
It tells the story of two Nutbrown Hares, Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare. Little Nutbrown Hare asks Big Nutbrown Hare the titular question, “Guess how much I love you?” and the book continues as the two use larger and larger measures to quantify how much they love each other in answer to the question. The story is simple, but effectively shows the love the two share for each other.
My Christmas sermon this morning is titled, “Guess how much God loves you?”
Each Christmas, as the old year winds down and we prepare for the birth of a new year with all its promised hopes and dreams, we look back 2000 years to the remarkable events that took place on the hills outside Bethlehem, and in the town, on the night of our Saviour’s birth.
To call those events “remarkable” is something of an understatement. Paul captures the full significance and eternal impact of the events well in Galatians 4:4-5.
In the previous chapter, Paul looks back over 2000 years of Israel’s history, reminding his readers of God’s unexpected and amazing promise to Abraham to bless all the peoples of the earth through him.
He looks back to Sinai, and God’s gift of the Law to Moses, which made the divine promise all the more necessary and pointed the way to Abraham’s greatest descendant.
And he looks back to Bethlehem, recalling how God’s promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and is made real in the experience of those who trust and follow Jesus.
In chapter 4:4-5, Paul reiterates this salvation history, spelling out its universal purpose and providing us with a beautiful summary of the significance of the Christmas story for us all:
When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
It’s all of God, and it’s all for you. No one but God could have conceived such an audacious and astonishing plan, and no one but God would have wanted to throw the gates of heaven wide open to receive anyone who hears the offer and follows through.
There were 1300 long dark years from Sinai to Bethlehem, and then one day the moment arrived. As the Apostle John put it, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
The events of Bethlehem occurred at precisely the right time and place in world history. Jesus was born at God’s set time in accordance with biblical prophecy. Culture and politics bent their will to God’s will, and conspired to deliver what we have come to know as the Christmas story.
As an adult, in his first recorded public statement, Jesus himself testified to the arrival, with his own arrival, of this grace and truth, and its implications for everyone:
“The time has come! The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
Christmas is all about good news. We are so blessed to be living on the victory side of Bethlehem, in the full light of God’s mercy and grace, in the full knowledge of what God has done for us through Jesus.
So what has God done? Two things: he has sent his Son into our world (v. 4), and he has subsequently sent his Spirit into our hearts (v. 6).
God sent his Son Jesus on a mission from heaven to earth, from glory to ignominy – the greatest mission ever conceived: to save the world’s people from sin and death, and grant them life that never ends.
It’s all God’s initiative, and God’s action. All we need to do is hear the story and respond with a simple, grateful “yes!”
But don’t make the fatal error of keeping Jesus in the manger, or ignoring the rest of the great story. Christianity does not begin and end with Christmas.
The good news of Jesus Christ includes his radical teaching, his death and resurrection, and the meaning of his death. The baby of Bethlehem is alive and enthroned in heaven today.
Paul goes on to say that Jesus was “born under [conditions of] law” – he was born to a Jewish mother, into a Jewish nation, subject to Jewish laws. As he grew to adulthood, and became a responsible member of his community, he fulfilled all that the law required.
Paul says that Jesus was “born of a woman” – he was fully God, but also perfectly human. He was God’s only Son, but also one of us.
Jesus was a living, breathing descendant of David, and Moses, and Abraham par excellence.
In fact, he embodied all the good that was inherent in our first parent Adam, and none of the natural weaknesses and moral deficiencies that ultimately undid Adam and drew him away from bringing glory and pleasure to God.
It was necessary for that baby to be born to Mary, and wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in the manger, so that the kingdom of God could be inaugurated, and the salvation of God announced, and the mission of God fulfilled.
But for what purpose? Paul tells us in verse 5 that the central feature of the mission of God in sending Jesus was “to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
Using analogies drawn from business and biology, Paul tells us that Jesus came to buy out those imprisoned by slavery to sin, and fate, and fear, and foolishness; to get us back to the Garden, and on to Paradise; to grant us a place, and a status, and a nature that we could never earn by ourselves.
Some of us are tempted to try to create our own truth and light, our own salvation, our own cosy, edited twenty-first century version of the Christmas story, in contrast to all its humility and mundanity and simplicity and profundity.
But only God’s Son, and God’s way, has the power to rescue us from ourselves, and transcend our self-justifications, and give us a new start.
Sanitise the sacred story of Bethlehem, and the dawn of redeeming grace will never arrive.
Thanks be to God that, when the set time had fully come, he sent his Son into our world.
And thanks be to God that, through Jesus, we may come to know true love, and redeeming grace, and eternal life.
And thanks be to God that, because of the miracle of Bethlehem, and all that followed in the wake of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we know definitively how much God loves us – uniquely, personally, overwhelmingly, absolutely, and eternally.
Merry Christmas to you all! Amen.
Sermon 650 copyright © 2015 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Friday 25 December 2015. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).