Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Magic of Christmas

This message was delivered at Ampang Gospel Centre's Youth Christmas Night on 18 December 2004


In the latest offering by Tom Hanks, The Polar Express, a young boy’s sense of the magic of Christmas fades as he confronts the myth of Santa Claus. But in a series of neck-breaking adventures on a magical train he learns that by believing hope is restored. In Hanks’ deep and lustrous voice, the ticket collector tells him, ‘The most real things in this world can’t be seen or touched.’ Though he finally gets to see AND touch Santa it was only when he believed that the tinkling of sleigh bells could be heard again. The magic was at last restored.

Rediscovering the real magic of Christmas buried under layers of commercialism on one hand and church activity on the other is a real challenge. Christmas is a good time indeded to find hope again. To experience a miracle.

If Christmas is about restoring hope, what we do we need to believe? What have we lost the ability to hear? What do need to see and touch this Christmas? What is the REAL THING?

Follow me on a journey, not to the North Pole, but East to Bethlehem, 30BC or so to meet some shepherds and their encounter with the real thing.

Read Luke 2:8-20

Ken Gire in Moments with the Saviour, sets the stage:

‘This knot of shepherds on the fringe of Jewish society spends the night atop a stone tower, a couple of them watching the flocks while the others huddle around a fire, catching what sleep they can. Eusebius writes that this watchtower stood about a thousand paces from Bethlehem. Jewish tradition adds that the tower overlooked a special flock of sheep. Sheep set aside for sacrifices.’

The Shepherds

These were the among the few people who first beheld the baby Jesus. Who saw him and touched him as a newborn. And through history we can reach back in time to ‘see and touch’ Jesus too. The baby, whom John tells us is God in the flesh. Coming into the world between the legs of teenage girl barely able to comprehend what was going on. Not an abstract philosophy or a set of beliefs. Not a feel-good story for the year-end. He is real as flesh and blood is real.

But what made it more amazing was that these shepherds were considered an unclean people by religious law (read Lev 11:44 onwards.) They were a shunned minority encamped outside of Bethlehem. Forbidden from temple worship, anyone who touches them also becomes unclean immediately. It was no fun being a shepherd, cast out into unmarked fields and walled off from society. So how could shepherds who are unclean and unfit to come into contact with the Holy – to see and touch God in the flesh?

The Lamb

Ken Gire describes what it would’ve been like for the shepherds to meet Jesus: ‘there amid the straw, with white cloths wound so tightly around him, he looks to them like a newborn lamb… He lies there so meekly. Cradled in the most unexpected of places. Coming.. in the weakest of ways.’

These shepherds who guarded sheep set apart for sacrifices would’ve understood. For centuries, hundreds of thousands of lambs have been slaughtered to make up for the sins of the people. Animal after animal, there was no end to it. They could never truly pay for their sins. Not until this one perfect lamb. The one spotless, blameless and without blemish sent to take away the sins of the world. A perfect sacrifice by one who is without sin. This was a baby born to die. Destined to shoulder our sins and die in our place.

The baby Jesus was both the Holy One and the Lamb who will make the way for God and man to be reconciled. Beyond seeing and touching, that is what we need to believe today. Jesus came to us in flesh and blood. And it is the same flesh that will be pierced years later, on a cross. The same blood that is poured out on Calvary. He came to reach us who are unclean and by His blood make us clean.

When we look at the baby Jesus, we are looking at one, as Gire says, who is ‘Waiting for us to come, yet willing for us not to. Waiting for us to see, yet willing for us to turn away. Waiting for us to worship him, yet willing for us to renounce him… He is Christ the Lord. Yet he has placed himself at the mercy of his creation. At the mercy of strangers to take him in. At the mercy of animals to warm him. At the mercy of mortals to feed him, to protect him, to raise him…’

He invites us to come as we are – though unclean, unwanted and without hope. Stoop low into the manger to see and touch. Believe again that He has been born into our lives to save us. And listen to his unconditional love to you.

‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.’

Like Mary, let us fully receive and deeply rejoice in the miracle of the Holy God born into our lives. Like the shepherds let us worship in humble awe, deeply grateful for our new lives – not as the unclean and unwanted but as the Beloved and the Chosen. For that is the ‘magic of Christmas’ that we need to believe and experience for ourselves.


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