One of the greatest theologians that ever lived, Karl Barth, was asked to be a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago Divinity School. At the end of a captivating closing lecture, the president of the seminary announced that Dr. Barth was not well and was quite tired, and though he thought that Dr. Barth would like to be open for questions, he shouldn't be expected to handle the strain. Then he said, "Therefore, I will ask just one question on behalf of all of us."
He turned to the renowned theologian and asked, "Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which you consider to be the greatest of them all?
It was the perfect question for a man who had written literally tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated theology ever put into print. The students held pencils right up against their writing pads, ready to take down verbatim the premier insight of the greatest theologian of their time.
Karl Barth closed his tired eyes, and he thought for a minute, and then he half smiled, opened his eyes, and said to those young seminarians, "The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
I wish that everybody could read it that way, but I'm afraid to say that I meet people every day for whom it reads more like a Fred Ricart “We’re Dealing” Car contract. Somehow in the midst of all those beautiful love verses, they hear only clauses and conditions and the spelling out of all the consequences should any or those clauses and conditions be broken.
I am thankful that Christmas comes around once a year to remind us that God isn't in the business of just keeping books and tallying ledgers, nor is God concerned about our status or position in life. If God were concerned about any of those things, then I submit to you that Jesus Christ would never have been born into such disagreeable circumstances as we find in the second chapter of Luke this morning.
No. Christmas is the beginning of a classic love story with all the right ingredients: infatuation, pursuit, risk and relationship...
But in all relationships of love, there does have to be that first meeting doesn't there?
When I was a child, I remember asking "what if I had been born to another set of parents?” ( If fact at times I wondered if I was adopted.) I would never have known the parents I grew up with"
What if I had gone to another college in another part of the country instead of going to school in Cincinnati?
What if I had taken a job instead of going back to school after taking a break between my sophomore and Junior year of college? Our lives might have never crossed paths.
I am suggesting that Christmas is a crossing of paths. Christmas is where we find the Christ of God intersecting with humanity! Christmas is our first best meeting with the God who has desired us from the very beginning.
I submit to you that if it weren't for Christmas we might never have known the intensity of the love that God has for us.
Mary and Joseph, far from home because of imperial Roman rule, a peasant mother giving birth in an unsanitary cattle stall. There was no fanfare, no royal delegation. . . They just laid him in that manger and they watched his little face, and they listened for his breathing, just like every new parent does.
This couldn't be anything but true love!
True love accepts the beloved for who they really are; God chooses to love us precisely because we are subjects of the human condition. . .not because of a favorable bottom line on a social and moral profit and loss statement. Mary and Joseph had nothing to commend them to be Christ’s parents except their humanity.
God had waited ever so patiently for One to be born into our world who was willing to embody this love that God has for us... not some of the time, not when it was convenient, but in every waking, breathing minute of every single day. It is the birth of that love into our world that we celebrate at Christmas!
Who would have ever guessed that this crossing of paths, this intersection of the divine and the human, would take place so long ago in a remote, speck of dust village called Bethlehem of Judea?
Who would have guessed that in that time and place One would be born into our world who would one day fill his life so much with the experience of God, so much with the love of God, that in Him thousands upon thousands would be moved to make the incredible claim that they had actually met their God in person.
Christmas is the night when God sent out a love letter of cosmic proportions.
Christmas is the night in the little town of Bethlehem when God and humanity were joined as a bride and groom on their wedding day.
And as Jesus grew and went out into the world, so our understanding of just how much God loves us also grew.
We find that even the likes of us gathered here today fall within the embrace of that love, and . . . . . .that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this world of wars and evil people we often long for peace. But I submit to you, that peace does not begin on the battlefield, peace begins in our individual hearts.
Peace begins with the knowledge that God loves and accepts us just that much. It begins with Christmas!
Now having said all this, I know that Christmas is a time of sentiment that, as such, can cause a measure of sorrow to come into focus.
The Christmas season can give rise to some painful memories for a good number of people. People often think about the failures they have suffered and about loved ones they have lost.
But I also know this...without Christmas my life would be positively unbearable!
I would like close by telling you a story about a nativity pageant that like life itself, didn't go quite as planned...
The youth group at a certain church was performing a manger scene. Joseph and Mary and all the other characters were in place and ready. They did their parts with seriousness and commitment, looking as pious as they possibly could.
And then it came time for the shepherds to enter.
Dressed in flannel bathrobes and toweled head gear, the shepherds proceeded to the altar steps where Mary and Joseph looked earnestly at the straw which contained a single naked light bulb that was playing the part of the glowing newborn Jesus.
With his back to the congregation, one of the shepherds said to the person playing Joseph, in a very loud whisper for all the cast to hear, "Well, Joe, when you gonna pass out cigars?"
The solemn spell of that occasion was not simply broken by his remark, it was exploded. Mary and Joseph's cover was completely destroyed as it became impossible to hold back the bursts of laughter.
The chief angel, standing on a chair behind them was the worst of all.
She shook so hard in laughter that she fell off her chair and took the curtained back drop and all the rest of the props down with her. She just kept rolling around on the floor holding her stomach because she was laughing so hard. The whole set was in shambles.
But do you know what? The only thing that didn't go to pieces was that light bulb in the manger, it never stopped shining.
I have a message for all of us, that baby in the manger is the light of my world, even when my world is in shambles. For in that baby the Divine and the human cross paths.
The infant Jesus is our living, breathing sign of the immeasurable love that God has had for all of us from the very beginning.
Christmas is the living promise that we are never ever alone. No matter where we are in life, no matter in what condition we find ourselves, no matter how far we might stray away, or how unfaithful we are, God, the supreme lover, will pursue us in love for eternity!
It's a love that never stops shining.
What is He worth to you? What is it worth to you to have the love of the Son of God? D. Hallenbeck remarked to me recently that a couple of years ago He and Virginia were trying to purchase a nativity set. When the bill rang up it was $180,000. The clerk was somewhat indifferent and obviously not paying attention and couldn’t figure out why David wasn’t handing over his credit card. He then posed a question that all of us eventually have to answer in this lifetime. He said, “Well how much is the baby Jesus worth?”
God loves you. He has a plan for your life. And you can have the Son by inviting him into your life. It means that you willfully turn from your sin. That means repentance. And you receive the Son. And if that’s where you're at, and that’s what you want to do, I’m going to pray a prayer. And if you say, “Boy, if that’s how you do, that’s what I want, God.” Then in your mind and your heart, you can pray along with me, okay?
Dear God, I come today in need of you. I admit that I have sinned, and I ask you to forgive me of all my sin. I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for my sin. I trust that He rose from the dead to prove that all He said was true. Right now, come into my life, Lord Jesus. And make me the person you want me to be
Do you know why we worship Him with our lives?
Do you know why we order our lives around the principles He taught us to embrace.
Do you know why we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ?
It’s because He loves us. It’s because He couldn’t wait to get here and live among us. He did it once and we call it Christmas. He will come again and this time it is for eternity.
Parts of this message were borrowed from the writings of Rev. Bill Adams