Got a Christmas sermon to deliver?
Let me guess. Have you tried some of these?
Manger birth – lessons in humility.
Which king do you serve? Contrasting Herod and Christ.
Shepherds – more humility, perhaps marginalisation.
Mary – faithful servant.
Joseph – walking by faith.
The Magi – a gospel for the whole world.
Immanuel – God with us.
This year, what about this verse?
Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
It’s as familiar as an old slipper, isn’t it? Allow me to zero in.
Christmas as a rescue operation.
If you google The Rescue, you’ll find an award-winning National Geographic documentary. The Rescue tells the story of the 2018 rescue of a boys’ football team and their coach from the flooded Tham Luong cave system in Northern Thailand. It’s a tale of desperation, despair, hope and unbounded joy. It’s also a story about the triumph of the human spirit. The sheer dogged determination of those who risk their lives for the sake of boys they have never met, well, it’s awe-inspiring.
And then there’s the story of a band of Chilean miners trapped underground in 2010 for 69 days. You may remember the Christian element to this story. Many were believers, led in their prayers by one of the miners, Mario Gomez. It’s worth checking out the movie, The 33.
Nevertheless, there is a slight problem with the rescue theme.
It smacks more of Easter than Christmas, and that’s understandable. But that’s not the main issue. It’s that we so often jump straight from the babe in the manger to a Roman crucifixion, completely omitting the importance of Christ’s earthly life. As wonderful as the atonement may be, it is drained of its power if Christ is just a body on a cross. He must be a Saviour, and to be a Saviour, he absolutely has to live a human life. And that brings us to Christmas, to the last theme above.
Immanuel. God with us.
The Lord Jesus lived with us. Among us. I read an article recently in which the word “tekton” – normally translated “carpenter” – was being re-examined. It’s actually a word with a much broader meaning – handy-man, contractor, or even engineer. Some have argued that due to the number of references to stone in Jesus’ teaching – and almost no references to wood – he was most likely a stone-mason. I do not know – and I don’t claim to know the truth – but it’s essential that Jesus lived among his people. He ate and drank and possibly worked with a whole crew down at the local quarry, perhaps surrounded by the fruity language of the local labourers!
Does it matter that he spent years growing up and living among us? Yes, it does. Because to rescue us, he must bridge the gap between heaven and earth. The early church spent centuries arguing over Christ’s human and divine nature. The tightrope the early church fathers walked was only possible because the Lord Jesus displayed his humanity in life, and was (and is) a Saviour found worthy through tests and trials. His extraordinary life is why we know he’s both human and divine. His dual nature enables him to save us – to be the sinless saviour – and his life validates the Messianic prophecies.
He was (and is) God with us. So, what of the rescue theme?
In the Thai cave rescue, two characters stand out: Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. Though the operation was multi-national, these awkward British middle-aged experts in an obscure sport most people had never heard of, these were the heroes. They made many dives, risking their lives many times over, to reach a group of boys facing death. Because to save the boys, they needed to reach them. Physically. With their bodies. They needed to swim through dangerous tunnels to finally come face to face with the ones who, without their aid, would die.
The biblical themes in both of these stories shine with such intensity, they are rich sources for any sermon, whether at Easter or Christmas.
The cave divers swim through baptismal waters to reach the lost. They anaesthetize them, so that the boys are dragged, as though dead, through the waters to the other side, where they awake to new life. The Chilean miners are entombed. Without rescue, they are dead. Yet, into this tomb is sent a rescuer, who climbs from a shaft, and invites the miners to journey up to the surface where there is light and life.
If that doesn’t send chills down your spine, then nothing will.
The power of these stories is such that I can only end with some words of encouragement:
Go preach the gospel!
Tell them about our God who is with us, and who came to save us!