Christmas Challenges for Followers of Jesus


A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on December 25, 2011.

Isaiah 52:7-10

7 How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
   who announces salvation,
   who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
   together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
   the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
   you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
   he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
   before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
   the salvation of our God.

John 1:1-14

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

December 25, 2011 is Christmas Day, when followers of Jesus observe his birth.  It is also the final Sunday in 2011. But even among followers of Jesus, this day is full of challenges.

The challenges practically leap from our scripture passages for worship today from Isaiah 52 and John 1.  We read about the beautiful feet of the messengers who bring "good news" about "peace."  But there are many people, including some present in every worship place today, who question our "good news" about "peace." Despite the carols, festivities, pageantry, lights, decorations, and other uplifting features of, many people find themselves living with ruins and overwhelmed by darkness.

  • They are people struggling with the gnawing pain of grief.
  • They are people haunted by depression, anger, and frustration.
  • They are people sick of wars that poison and maim the world. 
  • They are people tired of seeing politicians, profiteers, and others abuse those who are weak, vulnerable, and powerless.
  • They are people surrounded—even overwhelmed—by darkness.

These people wonder if our "good news" about "peace on earth" can be trusted anymore.  They wonder—sometimes even aloud—why they should believe followers of Jesus who declare that "God reigns." They are tired, wounded, and overwhelmed to the point that the very idea of "salvation" may seem too much to believe.

How are followers of Jesus to respond to these challenges?

For starters, we must tell the truth.  There is great pain in the world.  People are hurting.  Unjust people and oppressive situations seem to confront us at every turn.  Followers of Jesus must resist the temptation to sugarcoat things.  It's unfair to insist that people deny the painful realities of their lives on account of Christmas.  And it's intellectually and morally dishonest to ignore their very real pain and the darkness that they must confront.

At the same time, we really do have "good news."  Despite all that is wrong in the world, in us, and in others, the "good news" of Christmas is that God sent Jesus into our world. 

Yes, God sent Jesus into our world of pain, injustice, grief, and trouble.   Yes, God sent Jesus into our world where hustlers swindle and steal from trusting people.  Yes, God sent Jesus into our world where tragedy strikes when we least expect it.  Yes, God sent Jesus into our world where religion is often hijacked. 

The Christmas "good news" is that God sent Jesus into our reality.  Jesus was born into an unjust world.  Jesus was born into a war-weary world.  Jesus was born poor in a world of economic injustice.  Jesus was born into our reality. 

And in sending Jesus into our reality God declared that no hellish conditions, circumstances, and creatures can keep God from working to save us.  Christmas reminds us that God isn't afraid of our mess or messiness! 

This is the message Jesus represents.  It is the message he lived.  It's the message Jesus died proclaiming.  And this is the message followers of Jesus continue to represent, live, and proclaim.  God isn't afraid of the mess of our world, the messiness even in our own lives, and the darkness that threatens to snuff out our faith. 

The incarnation of Jesus Christ—his birth, life, death, and resurrection—is also the reason for Christian hope.  Our hope is based on what we've experienced about God through Jesus Christ despite the darkness of our situations.  Despite the darkness, we know that God is light.  Despite the darkness, we know God will not abandon us.  Despite the darkness, God still reigns.  God still works.  God still has people making a holy difference in the world and in our lives.  Because of Jesus, we who follow Jesus face darkness and proclaim that darkness cannot overcome God's light in our lives and in the world.

So despite the darkness, we sing "Joy to the World."

Despite the darkness, we sing—"We'll walk in the light, beautiful light.  Come where the dew-drops of mercy shine right.  Oh, shine all around us by day and by night."  Despite the darkness, we sing, "Jesus, the light of the world."[1] 

Because of God's light and love, Jesus came to our dark and hateful world.  Because of God's light and love, Jesus taught us to love our enemies, help one another, forgive ourselves and others, and stand against the forces of darkness.  Because of God's undying light and death-proof love that is represented in Jesus Christ, prophets and other messengers across the centuries in different places and situations have dared to proclaim "good news," "salvation," and "God reigns." 

  • We are followers of Jesus, God's messenger of light, love, and hope to a world of darkness, hate, and despair. 
  • We are followers of Jesus.  As God boldly sent Jesus into the world we also are sent into the world as agents of that light that shines in darkness. 
  • We are followers of Jesus. We are agents of the light that cannot and will not be overcome. 

As followers of Jesus, we declare this message to people struggling in the ruins of any darkness.   God reigns!  God delivers!  Look up!  Hold on!  Salvation is here!  Walk in the Light!

Amen.


[1] Jesus, the Light of the World hymn.  Words by George D. Elderkin.  Arranged by Evelyn Simpson-Curenton.

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Tags: Challenges, Christmas Day, Sermons, Wendell Griffen