Christmas is for Everyone, Luke 2:28-32, Preached at Kendalia Community Church on December 18, 2008
Introduction to Sermon
Christmas is next Sunday! You get a variety of comments about Christmas this year. It’s on a Sunday (which happens every seven years), which is seemingly great for Christians, but it’s hard not to think that Christmas is a holiday and having it on the weekend – especially Sunday – gets in the way. It gets in the way of shopping – 1 less weekend before Christmas; and it gets in the way of our lives – our employers probably won’t give two days off when Christmas in on the weekend!
Isn’t it somewhat sad that we are thinking these things, if not believing them! I talked, last week, about the angel speaking to the shepherds announcing that it was joyous news for all the people in the beginning of 2nd Chapter of the Gospel of Luke (2:10). The title of this sermon expands on that theme, and is entitled “Christmas is For Everyone.” I hope that rings true in your life this season. We will explore the title more in this message, but let me tell you first about Lottie Moon, to get you in the Advent spirit and to think about what Christmas means...
Illustration – Lottie Moon
Charlotte Diggs Moon was a missionary’s missionary, but she didn’t start that way. She was born in a small town in Virginia on December 12, 1840, to a wealthy family. She had six brother and sisters, and stood 4’ 2”. She grew up in a Christian home, but didn’t have time for Christ as a youngster. Instead, she wanted to be a teacher, so she was educated at Virginia Female Seminary and at Albermarle Female Institute, both in Charlottesville. She did extremely well, and before she died, mastered French, Latin, Italian, Chinese, and Greek and Hebrew, the Biblical Languages! She was also one of the first Southern women to receive a Masters of Arts degree.
She was converted or saved at 18 years of age in 1859 at a meeting she went to because she was tagging along with her friends. The sermon was by Pastor John Albert Broadus, then pastor of Charlottesville Baptist Church, and he talked about serving Jesus and missions. Placing missionary work in the back of her minds, she taught in Virginia and Georgia for a number of years. Then, after listening to a sermon called "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest," she volunteered for missionary service.
Lottie – as people called her – Moon was appointed to the mission field in 1873 at age 32, and then six months later was sent to China (by the Foreign Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention). Interestingly, that was where her sister Edmonia was already a missionary!
She boarded a ship in September of 1873 headed for China, a place she had only heard stories about. Lottie spent the next 40 years there! For Ms. Moon, living every day in China was very strange at first. She had a hard time making friends, for the Chinese people seemed to be afraid of her – think of 1873 and a white woman in their midst with a strange accent and talking about Jesus! Interestingly, the Chinese did not trust a foreigner. Some called her the “foreign devil.” She had bouts of boredom, failures, loneliness, financial stress, and despondency. But she was determined and persistent and full of God’s love. And Chinese people accepted the Gospel.
They accepted it because of the Holy Spirit and Ms. Moon’s ingenuity, because she also didn’t know the Chinese customs. No matter! She had one thing that Baptists are good at (I know because I go to a Baptist Church) – cooking. So Ms. Moon had an idea. She would bake cookies for the children. So she did, and they smelled good – but at first the children wouldn’t eat them. But, being persistent, she kept on baking the cookies, and eventually they came to her house and ate them. And as they came to the “Cookie Ladies” house, she would tell them about Jesus! I’ve got the recipe if anyone wants it...
Ms. Moon began to tell more people about Jesus and God. The job was enormous, but she spread the Gospel in a place where they had never heard of Jesus or the kind of love God has for them. She even taught men there, where there was a hunger to know more about the God she knew and loved.
She wrote letters back to the states and asked people to pray for Ms. Moon and the Chinese people who were hearing about Jesus for the first time, and to send more money and missionaries. One letter was dated in 1888, and the proceeds from that letter went to provide three additional missionaries!
She started schools for Chinese girls, and many other things, but she knew that God wanted her in China, and she lived there, except for brief furloughs, until 1912. The popular story is there was a famine, and she gave what food she had to the Chinese she was ministering to, so much that she became frail and weak. She tried to come back to the United States to get better, but died on the trip in a ship harbored in Japan. It was Christmas Eve.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in the Baptist Church is named for her, and it gives proceeds to missionaries around the world.
Christmas is for Everyone
But is Christmas for the Chinese? For Africans? For non-believers? For criminals? For Muslims? For men and women like Lottie Moon? For that and more – Christmas is God’s gift to the world of salvation and relationship! I am going to focus on women here in this sermon, but know that Christmas is God’s embodied blessing to all humanity! Remember Matthew 2, where we get introduced to the Gentile wise men from the East, coming because of a Star, and worshiping Jesus! But Mary the mother was obviously a women, and carried Jesus for nine months in her womb, and was the mother of Jesus for 33 years. So she had a long road – both before Jesus was born (just the trip to Bethlehem at 9 months – it’s 98 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem) and after his birth, maybe she deserves to have a sermon to women at least!
So let’s look at the Holy Bible. The Bible was written in a patriarchal (meaning controlled by men) time in History, and is over 2,000 years old (some say the oldest books – the Torah – have been around – either orally or in writing more than 4,000 years). The point of view that it’s written from – from basically a man’s perspective - is mostly true for the Old and the New Testament. So you have to know the context from which it’s written to better understand it.
Now I’m not here to tell you something that you don’t already know – just “unpack” it a bit. And we will start from when Jesus was eight days old and had – under Jewish law – to be circumcised and consecrated in the Temple, and his mother was supposed to be purified.
We are in the Gospel of Luke, like we were last week, in Chapter 2. The Gospel of Luke, in particular, constantly calls us to believe and then to model Jesus’ concerns for the oppressed, the overlooked, and the outcast. We Christians are to welcome everyone in the Kingdom (both rich and poor) and let God’s grace pour into their lives. Luke was also a Gentile, and his Gospel unpacks that God’s kingdom is for everyone. Let’s look at how Luke does this...
The Second Half of Luke 2
After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary – being Jews - had to obey the Law of Moses (or Mosaic Law, and three of the requirements were shortly after the baby’s birth. Jesus had to be circumcised (covenant with Abraham) and consecrated to God (the first born was always consecrated since the time of Moses), and the woman had to be purified (she was deemed “unclean” because she had given birth). The family was also supposed to offer sacrifices. The Temple was in Jerusalem, and they had to travel the 7 miles or so from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, before going back to Nazareth, in Galilee. The trip to Nazareth was quite a ways longer, 90 or so miles.
As it happened (by the Spirit), Simeon and Anna were both at the Temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple. Simeon was a man righteous and devout, and he was looking for God’s salvation to the people of Israel. The Holy Spirit had come to him and revealed that Simeon would not taste death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. As it happened, the Holy Spirit guided him to the Temple to see Jesus.
We pick up the Scripture when the parents bring Jesus to Simeon for a blessing:
Luke 2:28-32 New International Version (NIV)
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Luke 2:29 Or promised, / now dismiss
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Then, after Simeon blesses Jesus and gave him back to Mary and Joseph. At that time, Anna – an elderly widow, who was at the Temple both day and night, and a prophet - she began to praise God for the baby and proclaimed Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:29 This is the fourth of the infancy songs or hymns in Luke (the three previous are (1) Mary’s Song – or “Magnificat”; (2) Zechariah’s song – or “Benedictus”; and (3) Angel’s song to the shepherds)) and is called “Nunc dimittus” which means “Now you dismiss” in Latin.
Simeon, long awaiting the sight of Israel’s Messiah, has seen it according to God’s word in Isaiah and the Holy Spirit. He – for all practical purposes – is done here on this earth, as his one main wish has come true! Simeon rests in “peace,” a term used 14 times in Luke, all pointing to the redemptive work through Jesus in and through our lives.
Luke 2:30-31 He is praising God for he has seen the Lord’s salvation for all the people. Note that this hymn is broader than simply the birth, or the law that made Joseph and Mary come to the Temple; it is the celebration of God’s faithfulness and God’s redemption of His people.
Luke 2:32 And the presence of all the people, which is brought back to Isaiah in the Old Testament: Isaiah 40:5 “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people [my italics] shall see it together.” Simeon knows – all the people who read God’s Word know, that Jesus will be a revelation to the Gentiles – in other words, God is bringing a relationship to all who believe in Jesus, not just the Jews – and therefor glory to Israel – God’s Word has come true in Jesus – who is the Word in John! The relationship that God longed for and the people of Israel sometimes wanted is complete. Praise the everlasting God!
Before we leave Luke 2, I want to focus – for a moment – on Anna, the widowed prophet. She is mentioned in Luke 2:36-38, and she blessed Jesus and praised Him to all who would listen to her. Writing in the time he did, why did Luke want to mention her here! Just like Luke mentions other women, it was to boldly say that women mattered, too. Not only that, but it was to say that they mattered to God, as she was a prophet and stayed in the Temple. An old, widowed, lady who – in the times – may have been worthless to Roman society; but she mattered as far as Luke was concerned! And then, the Divine Spirit that led Luke to write it and become canonized in the Bible; she mattered to God!
Luke, by showing how each gender – two elderly prophets Simeon and Anna - among the people of God could testify as to what God was doing through Jesus, is saying again that all should rejoice at Jesus’ coming!
Illustration – Deborah the Judge and Prophet
In the Old Testament, after the exodus from Egypt and into the Promised Land, God called “Judges” to lead the Israelite people before the Israelites asked for a king. “Judges” is the book that deals with most of who God called during that time. The Judges were ordinary people who were called specifically by God to lead the Israelites and deliver them during a specific period in history.
Did you know that God called a woman to be a Judge? Did you know that she was a prophet? Her name was Deborah, and she lived about 1200 B.C. She was one of six major judges (others included Gideon and Sampson), and unlike the other judges, who were not selected for their spirituality, Deborah was a prophetess. Not only that, she was a “Judge” that ruled her people, but she governed them as well, sitting under the Palm of Deborah (I wonder where they got that name) in the hill country of Ephraim judging the people who came up to her with problems.
There was even a military action during the time of Deborah’s judgeship. By knowing the intent of God, she told Barak – the commander of the Army of Israel – to go into battle and that the Lord would give his enemy to him. But Barak would not go into battle unless Deborah went with him. She had that kind of sway!
Why would the writer of Judges (most say Samuel, but it’s unknown who wrote it) want to include Deborah in a patriarchal time? Why would God make the writer governed by the Holy Spirit write about Deborah and give her such admiration from the men of her time, if God didn’t care about women? Why would God call Deborah, when He had men galore, to be a prophet and lead Israel back then? Because God loves and cares for everybody?
Women in the Bible Generally
There are women throughout the Bible. There is Ruth in the Old Testament, and Anna the Prophet, Phoebe (a Deaconess), Mary Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and others in the New Testament. Jesus had conversations with women, including: the woman at the well; the women who touched Him in the crowd; Martha; her sister Mary; and Mary Magdalene, who was with Him after that encounter and the first to discover that Jesus had risen! The fact is that God made the Holy Spirit (and men) write about women in a time where women were thought of as property (or worse) and generally not mentioned or heard from; I think the reason is God made it a point to include women in the Bible so He could be everything to everyone – including ½ of the human population! And the birth of Jesus and the ramifications of that birth – what we are focusing on during the Advent season – wouldn’t have happened at all without Mary giving birth to Jesus!
Bring it to the Congregation
So what does that have to do with us... In the 21st Century... Now... After all, it’s the week before Christmas. The week of Christmas, and yet, are you stressed? Do you have a lot to do? I sure do, and am thankful that my wife Amy carries about 75% or more of the load at Christmas time! But what do we do with the worldly things at this time of year?
Do we think only spiritual thoughts and dismiss the world we live in? Do we stand offended at the non-believers or believers in Christ that do things from a worldly standpoint? Do we forget that Jesus came into a world full of sinners to save us and make relationship with us? Do we forget that we are sinners, just like believers and non-believers alike? Do we forget that without Jesus, we are left alone spiritually in this sinful world?
Maybe we’d better go back to women in the Bible to get a perspective. Maybe Mary, who gave birth to Jesus...
Mary, after hearing from the angel that she was to be wooed by the Holy Spirit, went to Elizabeth – her cousin who was pregnant with John the Baptist – and upon Elizabeth exclaiming (after John leaped in her womb) - that Mary was blessed to be the mother of Elizabeth’s Lord, said in reply (what has been “Mary’s Song” or the Magnificat ever since Luke wrote it):
46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my savoir,
48for [H]e has looked with favor on the lowliness of [H]is servant.
Mary, who would give birth to the Savior of the World, taking about how lowly she was...Maybe that’s where we need to begin. Knowing the God, the Jesus whom we love, stooped so low to earth to come to us!
Illustration – Mother Teresa
In an age where we have the Equal Rights Amendment in our recent past and the Women’s Liberation Movement (and I think there are good things that come from that and unfortunate things), we also have a woman like Mother Teresa to look to for example.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojahiu in Scopje, Macedonia in 1910. Of Albanian descent, she felt the call of God strongly at 12, and knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At 18, she left her family and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns, and after a few months training in Dublin, Ireland, she went to India. In India, on May 24, 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun. She taught at the high school within the nunnery at Calcutta for years, India but seeing the poverty outside the convent walls – the deep sufferings and poverty – that made a lasting impression on her. So much so that she asked for and was granted permission to go outside the convent walls to do her ministry. She did, and what a ministry it was!
She devoted herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, and though she had no funds, she depended on the Holy Spirit, and started a school for slum children. She was joined by volunteer helpers and financial support appeared – funny how that works when the Holy Spirit is involved? That allowed her to broaden the scope of her work, so much so that she was granted permission to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity.” Their purpose: to love and care for those people who had no one looking out for them. Mother Teresa and her order was off and running!
Now the Order and its affiliations span the globe and provide help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees. The order also has houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they take care of the shut-ins, alcoholics, homeless, and AIDS sufferers. By the 1990’s there were over one million co-workers in more than 40 countries!
There are a number of awards that have been given to Mother Teresa, including the Nobel Peace Prize of 1979, and her work has throughout the world made her a saint. From reading about her, I think she would say the awards meant little, but giving God’s love to the poor and downtrodden meant a lot.
She died on September 5, 1997, at 87 years of age. There are a bunch of quotes of Mother Teresa. I thought I’d leave you with one. She said "Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house...let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."
Yes, Christmas is for Everyone! For God sent His son down to earth, to be born in lowly fashion, to walk the earth, tell of God’s love, and then to suffer and die for all people. We have the unbelievable gift of telling people – at this time of year – about a relationship that they can have if they will just see God as He wants to be seen. How can we do it? There are a multitude of ways, but let me leave you with four thoughts from the women I have shared with you in this sermon:
From Lottie Moon - Get to know the people whom you are witnessing to; you can’t witness to them unless you are walking with them;
From Deborah the Judge – You have to get to know God; if you – as much as you can – can see the people around you as God sees them, and do what God says, you will be a blessing;
From Mary the mother of Jesus - Be humble. Know that – wherever you are – you would be so much lower if you didn’t know God and remember; remember that the people you are walking with are children of God, too (even if they don’t know it); and
From Mother Teresa – Smile! You are loved by God and you have the awesome gift of showing God’s kindness to others. In doing so, you will spread God’s love – Jesus’ love- wherever you go
This advent season – this joyous season – get out and spread God’s love wherever you go! Men, women, boys, and girls – you are children of God. You are about to celebrate the birthday of the one who changed your life forever! This Jesus is for everyone; Christmas is for everyone – go show it with love!
Let us pray...