What a fantastic story. On Christmas Eve we celebrate that God came to this world to be with us. He came down to us, in order to lift us up to him.
Usually when a boy was born into a Jewish family in those days, the local musicians of the village would come together outside the house where the boy was born, to play music to celebrate the birth.
But Joseph and Mary were far away from their own home, and there were no local musicians to welcome the boy into the world. The world did not receive him with joy.
Is that why God himself organized the best praise and worship band imaginable? If people do not welcome his Son into this world, He himself takes care of it. Angels from heaven welcomed Jesus into the world.
They sang a song of praise to God: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to man on whom his favor rests.
The birth of Jesus was part of God’s mission to bring peace to our world. Goodness, do we need that peace! Look around at the mess we are in, and we all say to God: give us peace on earth! Please!
The peace the Bible speaks of, the peace that Jesus came to bring, is real peace, complete peace. It is the situation where life has become heaven on earth.
The heart of this peace is the reconciliation between God and man. Jesus came to reconcile man with God, and God with man. Certainly a good reason to celebrate! Now when God comes to the world, you would think that the theologians and the spiritual leaders stand there to welcome him. No music, no religious leaders.
Who were the first to hear the great news and to see Jesus? Not the spiritual leaders of Israel; not the priests; not the theologians; no. The Gospel-writer Matthew mentions foreigners from the East. Unclean foreigeners, in the viewpoint of the religious Jews.
St Luke mentions the dirty shepherds as the first to welcome Jesus. Shepherds were really looked down upon in Israel. The pious people of that land, the best people, had lots of rules and regulations, they had an amazing sharia, to keep themselves pure for God. These shepherds could not keep themselves pure. They had to spend time with the sheep, night and day; they touched the filth of those sheep; they could not do the ritual washings that religion prescribed.
So, society avoided these men. These shepherds were not even allowed into the temple or into the synagogues. There was no chance for them to meet with God. They could not have peace with God.
Just like many of us, if we look into our hearts, have to admit: if it would be up to us, we could never meet with God. Compared to all his rules and regulations, we do not qualify. We are not good enough.
Why would the angel of God actually go to these shepherds first? There were so many better people to reveal the good news to. Why not to leadership in Jerusalem or to the nice people in Bethlehem? The angel tells them to not be afraid.
That is something we need to hear a lot. The shepherds were afraid of the appearance of the angel; maybe they were afraid that the angels came to punish them, imperfect people.
We have many fears because of the time in which we live and the place where we live. We are also not perfect for God. Life is not peaceful, and our relationship with God is not prefect. There are so many good reasons to be afraid. But the angel said: fear not. Why not? Because there is good news for all people. For pious priest, for shepherd, for Jews, for Egyptians, Sudanese, Americans, good people, bad people. Religious people, and not-so religious people. Good news for all people: that includes you and I.
Good news – because the saviour is born. The one who will bring peace to our land, to our world, who brngs peace to our messed-up relationships, peace between all people, eventually, and who already today offers us peace with God.
This is good news of great joy. That is why in the midst of our misery, and poverty, dangers, political upheavals, we celebrate the coming of Jesus with joy. That joy is available to all people. Maybe the angels told the shepherds, those outcasts, first, so that you and I can never think that this message is not for us. It is for all people. We do not need to be particularly nice, sweet, wealthy, religious, good. God extends his peace to you as well. However deep we have sunk.
Even if the majority of the best people looks down on us – God is with us. His message on Christmas night is: I have come to you, to renew you life. To save you now, and eternally.
Now such a redeemer – you would think that he would come to the temple, or that he would be born in an ornate villa. Not so - He was born in a manger. Between the dung of animals. Between dirt and filth. The fact that there was no room for Jesus to be born in a normal house was an early indicator that for Him the world had no place. That was eventually most visible when He did on the cross; he died for us and thus He reconciled us to God. He is therefore called the Lamb of God. The lamb that was sacrificed for the forgiveness of our sins.
In the temple in Jerusalem, each morning and evening a lamb was slaughtered and sacrificed. A perfect lamb. And in order to enjoy the peace of God, those who sacrified the lamb had had to eat it as well. This was done in accordance with the Jewish Holy Scriptures; this is how God wanted it – to prepare the nation for the coming of the true Lamb of God. For the perfect saviour.
In order to sacrifice sheep after sheep after sheep, the temple kept its own private flocks, with shepherds that worked for the temple. Guess where these flocks were kept… According to the Jewish the traditions, it was the flocks that were pastured around Bethlehem that were destined for the temple sacrifices.
It is possible that the shepherds, who heard the angels sing in the first Christmas night, were keeping the flocks… for the temple. They cared for the sheep that were kept to be sacrificed in Jerusalem.
The shepherds who kept the flocks for the temple offerings were the first to see the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Who would bring peace to mankind. And this Lamb of God – this little baby Jesus – would eventually make these shepherds around Bethlehem unemployed, because after the coming of the true Lamb of God, no more sacrifices were needed.
He has come to make perfect peace, once and for all, between God and us. Praise Him! Therefore whatever your circumstances… fear not. God is with us… God is with you.
One reminder – he is with people who trust in him and obey him – as the shepherds did who listened to the message of God, and they then also did what God told them to do. They went to the manger and knelt down before Jesus Christ to worship.
Just as we kneel at holy communion: Good people, bad people, very religious, or not so religious, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, young and old, men and women, let us use that moment when we kneel tonight to envision our Lord – the perfect child of Bethlehem – the Lamb of God. If we eat the bread and drink the wine, we enjoy the perfect peace that God offers you.
He comes to you, to be with you, and fill your life with the peace, the love, the joy of God.
zaterdag 24 december 2011
Mijn kerstpreek voor vanavond
Vanavond om 9 uur Caireense tijd begint onze kerstdienst - heel ingewikkeld, met Egyptische, Sudanese en 'Engelse' inbreng. Mijn preek zal kort zijn - tot wonderlijk genoegen van de aanwezigen. Hier de tekst: