SCRIPTURES - Zephaniah 3:14-20; Phil. 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-28
Old Testament Zephaniah 3:14-20
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
“Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.
Epistle Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Luke 7:18-28
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
It’s always a joy to see our children proclaim the story of Jesus’ birth, especially when dressed as little sheep and Magi and angels! There is joy in seeing our beautiful children expressing their faith; expressing the faith in Christ, which we also embrace. There’s the joy of seeing in them great goodness, which we so often don’t see in our world and our lives. And then, there’s the joy of remembering when we ourselves were children and were taking part in the Children’s Christmas Pageant ourselves.
What’s the best role a child could have? Well, Mary gets top billing. What little girl doesn’t want to be the mother of the baby Jesus? Joseph is ok, but he doesn’t have much to do. Being an angel is exciting, as you get to wear a white robe and wings! Shepherds get to carry staffs, and that’s pretty neat. If you’re an animal you get to moo or baa, and that can be fun. What is the smallest role, the least of the parts in the story? Well… it’s the baby Jesus! After all, no one plays him. A doll is put in the manger!
Jesus has had the smallest role for a long time. You see, Christmas pageants go way back; all the way back to the first century, in fact. Did you know that when he was a child Jesus took part in a Christmas pageant? Well, of course he did! He played the part of himself in the original one! He who is greater than all took the least place, as he was born of Mary and was laid in a manger. Now, that was cute; but, he maintained that role. Jesus took the least place throughout his life, and later on it wasn’t so cute.
Admit it: don’t you want a God who is great, and not least, in your life? Don’t you want a Savior who is mightily working for you?
Keeping your problems small; Ø Healing your sicknesses;
Protecting you; Ø Comforting you with his presence.
We want this because, from early on in our lives, we want to be appreciated and acknowledged and blessed. We want a better role. And, when we don’t have it, when struggles and sufferings come, we grumble and complain.
Jesus did come to help you and serve you – but not as you want to be helped and served. He came to provide what you need: the forgiveness of your sins. How we need this! For, our sins blind us to God, to His presence and His love and His constant work for us. They make us discontent with Him and His care. In our sinfulness our focus is upon ourselves. We put ourselves above Him and His will for our lives. Even the greatest person among us, the greatest believer who ever lived – John the Baptist, according to Jesus, for He said of him, “Among those born of women none is greater than John” – struggled with believing that Jesus was really God’s Savior who cared for him and would help him. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” he sent his disciples to ask Jesus. How could he doubt Jesus? How can you and I do so? How we deserve to be judged and punished by God!
Thank God – yes, God! – that Jesus came, not to judge us for such sins, but to take the lowest place by taking our sins and their judgment on Himself. After He said, “Among those born of women none is greater than John,” He went on to say, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” He was referring to Himself. Beginning with His birth the Son of God took the lowest place that He might save us. This culminated with His taking our sins and their punishment upon Himself on the cross and thus becoming the least: the worst sinner who has ever lived or ever will live.
Why? Because God loves us. Thank Him for sending Jesus! Our heavenly Father did so because He rejoices to raise us from our lowliness as sinners and make us His own holy and eternal children. “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!” the prophet Zephaniah cries out. “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you.” He laid them on Jesus and punished Him for them. This is what His birth is all about.
Are you filled with joy when you see the children acting out the story of Jesus birth? This gives you a taste of your heavenly Father’s joy. How our Father is filled with joy over us! His joy for us and over us is what resulted in Jesus being born for us. The Lord tells us through His prophet Zephaniah:
“Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Our children have reenacted for us this morning God’s joy over us, and joy that changes our hearts, our lives, our present and our future.
This is what we celebrate every Christmas and every Sunday. Let us celebrate it every day of our lives! God rejoices over us in Jesus, far more than we rejoice over our children today. Rejoice in Him always, and His peace and joy will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus! Amen.