Christmas Eve

Father, please teach us more about why Jesus came that first Christmas. In Jesus' name, Amen.

I recently overheard a group of people debating about what a 'Christmas film' is! One person in the group said: 'Christmas films are films that put you in the mood for Christmas! Films like the Wizard of Oz!' The others in the group weren't so sure and said: 'No! No! No! Christmas films are just the kind of films you watch around Christmas time – they don't have to be Christmas themed!' Which side of the debate would you come down on?! I'll put my cards on the table – I don't really watch 'Christmassy' films, so 'Christmas films' for me are just classics that I have enjoyed watching over Christmas time in past years:

  • Harry Potter
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • James Bond films
  • And yes, maybe this year, Star-wars – the Last Jedi too!

Why do I like these films? There could be lots of reasons, but one is that I like the underlying narrative. In each set of films, with lots of twists and turns, you have: a hopeless situation and a Saviour! The promised Harry Potter saves Hogwarts! The promised Aragorn saves Middle Earth! The promised James Bond saves the world! The promised Jedis save the universe! And this is the pattern of the one big narrative which we celebrate at Christmas! The promised Jesus comes to earth, born as a baby, to save us from our sins.

But doesn't that message about Jesus coming to earth at Christmas sound just like a fairy tale? Or a Christmas film?! A bit too removed from the hard reality of life? Well, rewind with me to ancient Israel around 700 years before that first Christmas! We're going to look at a few sentences from a spokesperson called Micah. Turn with me to Micah 5.1-5. My first point is this:

1. A Hopeless Situation

Look at verse 1. Micah is talking to Israel, God's people back then. They are being invaded by a military power. And their defences are failing:

"Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
on the cheek."

The leader of Israel is taken out. It's complete military humiliation for Israel. Disaster. A hopeless situation. That friends, is the context for God's Christmas promise which follows. Micah has set before our eyes the dark background upon which the sparkling jewel of God's promise which follows is to be placed. A scene of hopeless humiliation is the one God chooses to step into and speak his Christmas promises into. That's very significant. Beneath all the Christmas cheer which is around at the moment (which is good), I think our culture is marked by a deep despair. Because our world is such a mess!

  • Why would someone set a house on fire and kill four children? (as we saw recently in Salford)
  • Why are so many people in our prosperous country paralysed by uncontrollable debt?
  • Why are so many parts of our world perpetual war zones?
  • Why are family relationships so painful?

In my favourite film, 'Blood Diamond', the Zimbabwean Danny Archer, says this:

"Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we've done to each other? Then I look around and realise… God left this place long ago."

Feel the despair! So much evil in the world! An absent God who has left us in our mess. No hope! Micah 5 reminds us God's Christmas promises were not originally spoken into a nice happy 'holiday postcard' situation, but into a very dark situation... So when I start speaking about God's Christmas promises to us about Jesus this evening, don't think: 'God's promises are just platitudes. Fine for when life is going well, but no place in the mess of real life!' No, my friends! The dark backdrop of a hopeless situation is the context for God's Christmas promises. There's no situation that's too bad for God's promises to be spoken into – not even 21st century Britain. My second point is:

2. A Game-Changing Promise

In the backdrop of a hopeless situation for God's people in Micah's day, God makes promises about a game-changing individual. Verses 2-3:

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labour has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel."

So who is this promised one everyone is waiting for from 700BC onwards? Who is this ruler of Israel? Let's read Matthew 2.1-6:

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

"And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.""

Micah 5 says that the Christ, the game-changer, the great leader, will be born in Bethlehem. Matthew 2 shows us that this person is Jesus Christ. My third point:

3. A Great Leader

In English we can use the word 'great' in two ways! We might say: 'He's a footballing/ rugby great' – by that we mean he is a mighty sports player – an awesome player, a force to be reckoned with. Or we might say: 'She's a great lass' – by that we mean that she is a lovely friend – caring, kind, always there for us, great to be with. Micah 5 is saying that Jesus is great in both ways! Mighty and lovely! Firstly, mighty. Micah 5.4-5:

"And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace."

Jesus is great! He's a mighty ruler! He really is the King of the Universe! To which you might say: 'If he's a despotic ruler like many world leaders today, that's not good news. We don't want another!' If Jesus was a despot, I couldn't agree more, but he's not – Jesus is also lovely! Verses 4 and 5 again:

"And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace."

Jesus is great! He's a lovely leader! He wants to bring each one of us lasting peace and security. 'Nice words, but where's the proof of that?' The proof is Easter! Look back to the first Easter! Jesus says in John 10.14-16:

"I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

Jesus laid down his life on the Cross that first Easter. And he did it to offer us peace with God forever, to make God's enemies into God's children. That's the proof that he loves us. That's why he's lovely. But Jesus didn't stay dead. He rose from the dead. He went back up to heaven. And the mighty Jesus will return as our King to rid the world of pain, injustice, evil, sin – and Satan himself – forever. Jesus is a great leader – one who loves us enough to die for us – and one who is powerful enough to sort out all the problems in our world when he comes back.

Conclusion

I talked earlier about Christmas films… Isn't the reason that we like Christmas films so much because we see that real life is not like that, but we wish it were, and we want to escape for a few hours? That's the problem with our Christmas films – we wish the underlying narrative were true – deep down, we don't believe it is – but really wish it were… The question is this: Can there really be a true tale/film about a person who can bring us real lasting hope in the pain and evil of the world we live in? The Blood Diamond character Danny Archer says:

"Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we've done to each other? Then I look around and realise… God left this place long ago."

Micah 5 is saying this: 'Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we've done to each other – and against him? Then I look at Jesus Christ that first Christmas and I realise… God has not left this place. God came to this place of evil and pain that first Christmas in the person of Jesus. And he came to bring us back into relationship with him. And he will come again to sort this world out for good.'

That's a real Christmas film of hope. Will you believe it? Let's pray.

Father, thank you for fulfilling your Christmas promises. Thank you that you have given us hope through Jesus in dark times. Guard us from false hopes. Help us to look to Jesus alone for hope. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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