Jesus is born!

Merry Christmas! Here are the messages given for the Christmas Eve services at Jacksonville First United Methodist Church.

The first message was given at our 5 p.m. service, aimed primary at children. The second was given at our 7 p.m. traditional service.

Advent 2020: The Lord Is With You
A Message on Luke 2:1-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
5 p.m. Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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I’m so excited for us to be together tonight, Christmas Eve! Santa Claus is coming tonight! Wooo hoooo! I know I’ll have trouble going to sleep because I will be so excited. I just hope I’ve been good this year! I think I have but Pam, my wife, told me she’s not so sure.

Christmas is a great time to gather together and share memories with family and friends. And even though “The ‘Rona” is preventing some of that from happening, we can still gather, even if it’s virtually, and share the stories that remind us who we are and whose we are.

There’s a guy named Andrew Peterson who wrote and recorded a whole album called, “Behold the Lamb of God.” The subtitle of the album is, “The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.”

And while this story sounds like a tall tale, one that is exaggerated and is a myth and not true, Andrew is correct in saying that it is the “TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.”

Do you like stories? I do! I love stories! And I really like the stories in the Bible! Because they are true!

And I really, REALLY like the story of Christmas, the celebration of baby Jesus coming to the earth.

In the scripture we read today, written by a guy named Luke, we hear about a man with the kinda strange name of Emperor Augustus. Now that first word, Emperor, isn’t really a name but it’s a title, a word that tells what someone does. And this guy named Augustus was the emperor, the leader of that part of the world. Kinda like our president, but different.

Anyway, because this guy named August was the leader he got to make the rules. One of the rules he made was that everybody had to go back to the town their family was from. Once that got there the rule was they had to write their name down and then give some money to the emperor’s people. (They didn’t like that part. It was yucky.)

So there was this guy named Joseph, and he lived in a town called Nazareth which was way up north in Galilee. But his family was from Bethlehem, which was a little bitty town (much smaller than Jacksonville) which was not quite 6 miles south of the big city of Jerusalem. So he had to go to Bethlehem because David was one of his relatives. (He was Joseph’s great x 23 grandfather.)

And they didn’t have cars back then, either! Nope! No airplanes, either. No buses, no computers, and not even telephones! Can you believe it!

And here’s the amazing thing: they walked everywhere they went! Yep! If they wanted to go somewhere, they walked. And it was a long way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A long, long way if you’re walking!

So Joseph had a girlfriend, and her name was Mary! Joseph really liked her and had asked her to marry him and be his wife, but they hadn’t had the wedding yet so they weren’t really married.

Well while they were still in Nazareth, an angel from God came down and talked to Mary. Angels can be kinda scary because they have this bright light all around them and they sorta fly, and Mary was kinda freaked out when this angel named Gabriel showed up to talk to her. But Mary was very brave and asked the angel, “What’s happening?”

Then the angel told Mary that she was going to have a baby! Oh wow! But the angel also said that the baby wasn’t going to be just an ordinary baby, but a special one. A real special one! This baby was going to be the son of God! Yes! God!

As you might imagine Mary was confused by all of this and asked, “What? How can this happen? I don’t understand?” And after the angel explained some more she said, “Okay, I still don’t understand it all, but I’m okay with it. I trust that God knows what he is doing and I’m willing to do whatever he needs me to do.” Isn’t that awesome!

So some time passes and sure enough, Mary has a baby in her tummy! And it grows a little bit each day until her tummy stuck out and she walked kinda funny.

It was getting kinda close to time for Mary to have her baby when BOOM, Joseph gets the word that he has to go to Bethlehem because the Emperor said so. He doesn’t want to, because he knew walking hurts Mary’s back, but they don’t have much of a choice so pack up some things and leave their home to go to Bethlehem.

Now we don’t know this for sure, but a lot of people think that because Mary had a baby in her tummy that Joseph found a donkey for her to ride on. He walked and led the donkey, and Mary rode the donkey and they started traveling. I sure hope that was the case!

We don’t know for sure, but we think it took Mary and Joseph somewhere between a whole week and 10 days of walking just to get to Bethlehem! That’s a long time! And a lot of walking! Each night they would either camp out or find somebody who would let them stay at their house, and they walked and walked and walked.

Finally, FINALLY, they got to Bethlehem. When they got there Joseph started looking for a hotel for them to stay in, but because lots of people were coming to Bethlehem all the rooms were full. They couldn’t find a place to stay at all! Then, when they couldn’t figure out what to do, someone told them about a kind of a barn, called a stable. It’s where animals like sheep, goats, cows, and probably some chickens stayed. Mary and Joseph were disappointed that they couldn’t find a room, but they figured a barn was better than nothing, so they settled down to stay in the stable with the animals.

But did things settle down for them, then! No way! Mary started having her baby! They didn’t even have hospitals back then, so when she started having her baby there was no place to take her. So guess what? She had her baby right there in the stable. Yep. That’s where she had it.

After he was born Mary and Joseph took some pieces of cloth that they had and they wrapped up little baby Jesus to keep him warm.

So there they were in a barn, Joseph, Mary, and little baby Jesus.

Now the reason this is important, the reason we have Christmas, is because that baby would grow up, being 100 percent God and 100 percent human, and perform miracles, teach people how God wants them to live, and prove to us just how much God loves us.

Jesus, when he was about 33 years old (which is old, I know), he let some mean people beat him up without even fighting back. Not only did they beat him up, but they put him up on a cross and left him there until he was dead.

It sounds like a sad story, doesn’t it. But the story doesn’t end there! No, not at all! It has a happy ending! Because three days after he died he came back to life! Yes, he did! And Jesus did all that so that when we do something wrong, whether we do it on purpose or by accident, God doesn’t hold it against us. God still loves us. Not only that but because of Jesus, God also forgets the things we do wrong.

And, there’s more! God promises us that we will live forever with him in heaven! Which is really awesome!

That’s why we celebrate Christmas! Jesus comes to the world as a little baby born in a small town in a stable. Yes, we have Santa Claus, who is named after someone named Saint Nicholas who went around and gave people who were poor things for Christmas. And we have Christmas Trees and special songs that we sing and presents that we open, but ALL of those things we do as ways of celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

So happy birthday, Jesus! We love you and are so glad you were born. And that, folks, is the True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. Praise be to God!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen,

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Advent 2020: The Lord Is With You
A Message on Luke 2:1-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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In the winter of 1914 a war was raging. Known as “The War to End All Wars,” (which it didn’t, by the way), World War I began in July of that year. Along the “Western Front,” located in France and Belgium, war was being fought between the troops of Germany on one side and the French and British on the other. (The US would not fight in the war until April of 1917.)

These troops were serious about trying to kill each other. And they were doing a good job of it as the battles were brutal and the number of dead and injured was high.

But right before Christmas of 1914 something unusual happened. As Christmas day drew nearer the soldiers on both sides created and observed a truce, a period of time where they quit trying to kill one another.

Called “The Christmas Truce,” soldiers from both sides crawled out of their trenches and met and mingled with each other. In some places soldiers from both sides even met in the middle, in “no man’s land,” to exchange greetings and talk. Some even exchanged gifts, such as food, tobacco, and souvenirs such as buttons off their jackets.

There were candles, Christmas trees, and the sides joined together in Christmas Carols, both in German and English. There were even games of soccer between the two sides.

Unfortunately the truce didn’t last long, and in some places by the end of the day they again set about trying to kill each other.

The higher-ups in the military on both sides found out about it and issued orders to make sure it didn’t happen again. Why? Because it’s harder to kill the enemy if you see them as human beings rather than as the enemy.

In the First Century the Jewish people had a similar view of what the messiah would be like. They were waiting and wanting for the messiah to show up and have great military power, to be able to call on the angels of heaven to militarily defeat the occupying Roman forces, kicking them out of the holy land and restoring Jewish leaders to their rightful place.

But it didn’t happen that way. The messiah didn’t come on a large horse with a drawn sword, but as we read in the gospel of Luke Jesus comes to earth in a small livestock stable, in a small town, to a young couple, neither of which was very high up the social or political ladder, but who not only trusted God but were both willing to be obedient to God. Through this one event everything changes, because God comes to earth and dwells among us.

Instead of great military might, the messiah brought something to the world much more powerful: love.

As the hymn says, “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, Love divine.”

Christmas is about love. And to quote another song, this one from 1965, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”

It has been a difficult year on this planet, to understate the obvious. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected not only our country, but the entire world. It has had an impact financially, politically, medically, emotionally, and in many other ways. It has even had an impact on how we worship as Christians.

And yet, into this darkness and fear of the unknown comes the 25th of December, tomorrow. Christmas, the day our savior, Jesus Christ, was born. It is such an important day that we even tell time by it, using the abbreviation AD, from the Latin anno Domini, to mark the years since the birth of Jesus 2,020 years ago.

In the Northern Hemisphere the days of shortening daylight have turned around as the daylight hours get a little longer each day. This year we have even had a “conjunction” of the planets Saturn and Jupiter now as they appear to be so close to each other that they appear as a double star, and which, because of its timing, has been dubbed, “The Christmas Star.”

Light shines out in the darkness. And this year as we celebrate Christmas may our spiritual lights shine out in the darkness.

Here in just a few minutes we will observe a Christmas Eve tradition by lighting candles as we sing “Silent Night.” Our technical crew will dim the lights and this sanctuary will be filled with the light rays of hundreds of candles reflecting throughout the room. It’s one of my favorite experiences of being a pastor as I have the best seat in the house, being able to see your beautiful faces illuminated by the candlelight as we worship our Lord. Each year I want to take photos of it because it is so beautiful, but each year I don’t because it is a holy moment, one of those encounters with the almighty in which I just want to be present and experience with all my senses.

It is important for us to remember that as Christians we are called to be the light in our world. In the 5th chapter of Matthew Jesus himself tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

The baby that was born on the cold winter night 2,020 years ago grows up and tells us that we are to be the light of the world. And then he willingly goes to the cross to take our place and pay the price we can never pay ourselves. His death and resurrection give us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life, the best gifts ever. Bethlehem leads to Calvary.

So my challenge to you this year is to be the light of Christ in our world. Yes, our worlds may be turned upside down and uncertainty about the future may weigh heavy on our minds, but our faith in Christ can give us the boldness to face the future unafraid, knowing that whatever happens in this world we are not alone.

Jesus Christ is born. Emmanuel. God is with us! Praise be to God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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