If you had to come up with a slogan to sum up the society we live what would it be? Perhaps L’Oreal have come closest with ‘Because you’re worthy it!’ That sentiment; you deserve it, you matter, is actually behind most advertising.
I was listening to the radio when someone said they loved Christmas because it was the one time of the year when we think about others. It made me think – is that true? Is L’Oreal’s slogan turned on its head for a couple of weeks at Christmas? I have to say I’m not convinced about that.
There is a danger that we can carry the ‘because I’m worth it’ idea over into our reading of the Christmas story. Why did Jesus come – because I’m worth it! Actually yes Jesus is important but actually it’s all about us. But did you notice that in the readings we have had this morning humanity is almost missing. The real focus is on God.
We recently watched the Muppet Treasure Island and one of our boys groaned and said ‘Oh! Dad why do they have to keep singing!’ You could say that about Luke’s Christmas story. Just look at ch1 Mary bursts into praise, that’s followed by Zechariah, then in our reading you get the ultimate choir – no, not the winners of Last Choir Standing - but the angels – not cute little blonde girls in white dresses and tinsel but the heavenly armies of warriors of light, and that’s followed by the shepherds who go back to their fields praising. Who do they all praise? It is God, for what God is doing. Because actually that is what Christmas is all about, God being worshipped.
1. Wrong Worship
What would you say you worship? We all worship – we all have something that gives us significance and that matters intensely to us.
Luke gives us a picture of just that in Augustus Caesar (1). What is Caesar doing? He is carrying out a census of his empire. Why? Because he wants to know how great he is, in fact my hunch is that he wanted it recorded so that he made his mark in history. Do you see what gave Caesar significance it was his empire, how many lands he had conquered, who he ruled over, the extent of his power.
You see it again in Matthew with Herod – why does he kill all the infant boys in Bethlehem because his rule his reign mattered more than anything else.
How about us, what gives us significance? Maybe it’s a relationship, or family, or career, or money, or things. We may think they give us significance but ultimately each of those things will leave us dissatisfied – if we centre our life on relationships we will be jealous, emotionally dependent and manipulative, unable to take even perceived criticism. If we centre our life on family we will try to live our life through theirs and what happens when they grow up and leave? If we centre our life and identity on work and career we will be workaholics and what happens to our sense of worth if we lose our job, if we centre our life on money and possessions we’ll never be content and end up envious of others and bitter because you can’t take it with you. If you centre your life on religion and doing good you will end up judgemental and proud.
I wonder what you think sin is. Most people think sin is breaking the Ten Commandments, or any other commandments, it is doing bad things. But actually sin is more than that it is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose and happiness than your relationship with God. In fact the 10 commandments start out with that very idea “You shall have no other gods before me’. Sin is failing to live rightly relating to God.
We all worship something – what do you worship?
2. Restored Worship
But the great news, the reason for all the singing in the nativity story is that God sends his son to call us back to restored worship and how he does so is amazing.
What do you think the cost of a state visit is? For George Bush’s 2003 state visit the policing bill alone was £4.1million. Then you have the cost of flights, his retinue and security service, the lavish banquets, clean up that goes on beforehand, the red carpet. I guess you wouldn’t get much, if any, change from £12mill.
But the astonishing thing here is the way God gets glory for himself. Besides the heavenly choir which appears on a hillside to shepherds, and a star which only travellers from the east saw it is very low key. The setting is a stable, there is no red carpet, and there isn’t even a cot. And yet what is happening is mind blowing. God becomes man, the one who created everything becomes part of his creation, and the one who has been worshipped for eternity by these warriors of light becomes a baby. He enters humanity as a single cell, he grows and develops in Mary’s womb, his heart starts beating, his legs and arms grow and finally he is born dependent. From all the splendour and glory of heaven to nursing at his teenage mother, from majesty to learning to crawl. It is absolutely astonishing.
And he comes to bring people back to worshipping God rightly. He comes to bring God glory by calling us to worship our creator as we were made to do.
Later in life Jesus told the Story of the Greedy Farmhands
"There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.”
**What does the wealthy farmer deserve? – he deserves his due, his share of the profits.
"The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. 'Surely,' he thought, 'they will respect my son.'
That is what Christmas is all about – God sends his son so that we will gives God his due. So that we will stop destructively centring our lives around the wrong thing and relate rightly to God.
"But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. 'This is the heir! Let's kill him and have it all for ourselves.' They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him.”
"Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?"
"He'll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance," they answered. "Then he'll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it's time."
Christmas is not about us it is all about God. It is about God sending his son to turn us from our sin – from seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to our significance, purpose and happiness than our relationship with God.
But it is about more than a warning. Jesus does it for us – that is God’s plan he stands in our place not just to show us what to do but to live that perfect life because we can’t do it. And as he dies he does so for our wrong worship, and by asking God for forgiveness for putting something else in his place and by trusting in what Jesus does for us we can have a relationship with God, we can like the shepherds learn to live echoing the angels praise.
Maybe you want to explore this a bit more why not pick up a book, a Bible or talk to a friend who invited you along this morning.
Maybe you have trusted in Jesus for a long time. It’s a great opportunity just to think about, to refresh, to ask God to help you by his Holy Spirit to live for his glory. To check nothing else has crept into the place of significance in your life that relationship with God should have.
God is great, that is what Christmas tells us and he wants us to know him and live our lives in relationship to him.