title Peace

Jesus Christ is Born!

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
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Christmas Sunday
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 22, 1996



Isaiah 10:33, 34; 11:1-10 A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse
Luke 2:1-14 The birth of Jesus Christ
Arcana Coelestia #3900
The Lord's coming means his presence within us

To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Christmas day! What day held more excitement for us as we grew up? For most of us, it was the biggest day of the year. The day we counted down to for weeks, even months, in advance. A magical day, with lights on the trees and houses--and that special Christmas tree in our living room that carried so many memories with it. If there was snow for Christmas, it was even more magical, with a blanket of whiteness outside that provided a bright contrast to the long, dark nights of winter. At Christmas time, we sing beloved songs that we do not sing any other time of year. One of my warmest memories of Christmas is of going out walking through the snow, caroling at the houses around the neighborhood. Christmas is a season bigger than life.

Of course, if there are problems in the family, they become bigger than life at Christmas too. More than at other times, we notice when someone is missing from our household. If we are not getting along with each other, the friction is all the more painful at Christmas time because we feel that, especially at this time of year, we should be happy and joyful. Even if things are going well in the family, Christmas can be a frenetic time. There are presents to buy or make and to wrap; baking and decorating to do; family gatherings to arrange and attend. And when it is all over, we may have to worry about how to pay the bills we just racked up.

Yet at the center of all our Christmas joys and sorrows, beyond the hustle and bustle of our preparations and celebrations, lies the sacred event that gives life and meaning to it all. Jesus Christ is born! The Lord, the sovereign God of all the universe, has bent the heavens and come down to live among us, as human as we are. While we were busy with other things, Jesus Christ--the Lord--has been born into our world.

What does this mean? Jesus Christ is born? We all know the story of Jesus' birth. The words we read each year at Christmas are familiar. How the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child from the Holy Spirit who would be the Son of God--and that he would have a kingdom that would last forever. How the baby was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. How the angels announced the birth to the shepherds, and they went to see the baby who was born to be the Messiah. We recall the story of the wise men come from the east to bring presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant king--and how they foiled Herod's plan to kill the child. How Joseph was warned in a dream, and fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. And we know that the child grew and became strong in spirit.

But what does it all mean? What does it all mean to us?

In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah prophesied a time when the Lord of hosts would level the forest, cutting down the tallest trees with an ax--even the majestic cedars of Lebanon. "The lofty," he said, "will be brought low." Life does that to us sometimes. Just when we think everything is going fine, we are flattened by a great blow--like an ax leveling the tall trees in the thick forest of our lives. Since the blow seems to come out of the blue, we may feel that is God that has done this to us. Where else could such a thing have come from? Who else would have the power to tear down in one sudden blow what has taken so many years to grow and mature?

This is very hard to take. We all know that we are not perfect--that we have done things and continue to do things that we know we shouldn't. If we searched through our inner thoughts and feelings, hidden within most of us is a sense that some day, something may happen to us because of the mistakes and the wrong choices we have made. But most of us do not feel we deserve to have our lives flattened--and when it happens, we may feel angry at God for allowing it to happen. After the devastation, we see a clearcut forest, with stumps reaching on for miles. We see desolation where there used to be lush greenery and pleasant paths through the woods.

Yet in this devastation the Lord does not leave us without hope. "A shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse," Isaiah prophesies, "and a branch will grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him." That shoot--that branch--is the Lord Jesus Christ who was born among us nearly two thousand years ago. It is also the Lord Jesus Christ who can be born within each of us today--at this very moment. It is "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."

This is the new growth that can come from the desolation we often face in our lives. Our forest may be clearcut, but it is not dead. Our spiritual roots are still alive, reaching out for life-giving water and nourishment so that we can begin healing and growing again. A new spirit of wisdom and understanding grows in us--wisdom that we used to have no room for in the dense thickets of our busy lives. Through the experience of struggle and difficulty, our character deepens. We learn that to pull through our hardest experiences, we must turn to each other--and to the Lord--for comfort and strength.

When we do turn to the Lord in a new way from the pain of our struggles, we gain a new knowledge and appreciation of who the Lord is. We also get a new perspective on the experiences we have been facing. As Isaiah says, the Lord "will not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he will judge the poor." When we are depressed or in difficult circumstances, we feel very sharply that we are the poor of the earth. We feel that we have lost so much that we held dear--that little is left.

Yet the Lord does not look at our outward circumstances. The Lord does not judge by outward appearances. Yes, hardships and disasters in this world give us pain for a time. But the Lord looks at the heart and the spirit within us. The outward circumstances of our lives change and pass away. But the character we build in our souls lasts forever.

The Lord "will strike the earth"--the earth of our everyday experience--"with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked." Not wicked people--when we choose evil and damaging ways of life, we bring about our own destruction. No, the wicked thing that the Lord destroys is our own wrong and hurtful thoughts and feelings. When Jesus Christ is born in our lives, he kills the anger we feel when we do not get our own way. The Lord kills the jealousy we feel when we see someone who is richer or more beautiful or luckier than we are. The Lord kills our desire to get more for ourselves through dishonest practices; our unfriendliness toward people who do not think the way we do.

"Righteousness will be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins." As this new righteousness and faithfulness from the Lord grows stronger and stronger in our lives, it gradually clears away all the wickedness in us--all that is wrong and hurtful inside of us. We may still face the same pain and the same struggles, but we will face them with a new and stronger spirit.

"Then the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child will lead them." We will still have the frightful wolfs, leopards, and lions of harsh outward experiences and painful inner struggles to face. But when the Lord Jesus Christ is born and grows in our lives, we face our struggles with a new spirit of love and trust in the Lord. We know that however much life may rip at us with its claws and teeth, it can never touch the spirit within us, because our spirit is grounded in the Lord.

When the knowledge, the peace, the love of the Lord have been born in our hearts, our outward hardships become tame. They become the friend that challenges us to grow in spirit and in love for each other.

This is what Christmas means. This is the truly good news that we celebrate on Christmas day. The news that Jesus Christ is born, not just into our world, but into our own hearts and lives. The news that our tears of hardship and pain can be transformed through the Lord's presence into tears of joy. "The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.' " Amen.

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