Luke 2: Christmas is Too Much
Luke 2:8-20: Christmas is Too Much
Was it this Christmas that you decided that Christmas is too much? I know that the young folks here don’t say, “There are too many presents under this Christmas tree, Christmas is just too much!” With older folks it may be different. I remember being in a great crush at the Bond Street stop of the London underground at Christmas time. Four more passengers had forced themselves into an impossibly crowded train, pulling their shopping bags with them. All but one shopping bag — the doors clamped shut, and the train rattled off with a big bag banging outside.
Christmas lights in Houston neighborhoods draw slow traffic admiring the shining tree trunks and light-carpeted lawns. But then, too, some yards are just too much. Where we once lived there was a fellow who kept adding lights until the neighborhood was ablaze. Then he populated his garden with illumined figures. A crèche, yes. Then Walt Disney figures with the Madonna, followed by Snow White and the seven dwarfs, Bugs Bunny, and a luminescent Santa Claus in a sleigh with reindeer led by Rudolf with a light-bulb nose. The bay window held an automated Santa whose “Ho, ho, ho!” echoed on the outdoor speakers. There was standing room only for the plastic figures, and standing room only in the street outside where traffic was snarled.
If the crowds have pressed out a little of the joy of Christmas for you just consider. Christmas is too much in another sense. Christmas is too much for many people to believe. Christmas has become a myth. Reindeer and angels, Baby Jesus and Santa Claus are interchangeable. Christmas is the time of make-believe. It can be accepted, but as a fantasy for children.
Luke’s Gospel, however, takes the myth out of Christmas. He begins his Gospel by describing the pains he took to check out the facts, to interview witnesses, to record accurately the events. Christmas is too much because the living God is too much. God promises too much, and keeps his promise. In the Christmas story, the glory is too much, the scandal is too much, and the joy is too much.
I. The Glory is too much
A. Heaven’s glory on earth
1. Fearful threat
Heavens glory was too much for the shepherds. Chilling darkness in the open fields that night, then lightning, blazing lightning that did not strike in one flash, but engulfed them in blinding glory. Exposed against the stones of the hillside, they were confronted by extra-terrestrials, beings from another world – mighty messengers from the armies of the Lord of heaven.
Centuries before, one such heavenly warrior had routed an Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem. But now all the hosts of heaven in their ordered legions surrounded the terrified shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem. Yet they did not turn to sweep out to north, south, east and west to bring the fire of judgment on our rebellious planet. Warriors they are, but they came as a heavenly choir. They turned their faces as a lodestone to the throne of God above. They cry, “Glory to God in the highest!”
2. Awe-filled praise
From the dark and silent planet bursts heaven’s hymn of praise. Last Sunday afternoon we heard the Houston Symphony Chorus sing Handel’s Messiah to the accompaniment of the orchestra. The crowd in the hall stood for the singing of the Hallelujah chorus. We were overwhelmed to hear again those “Hallelujahs.” Yet the greatest chorus ever sung on earth was sung by angels to a handful of shepherds. Angels, spirits in light, have longed through the ages to lift the curtain on the unthinkable purpose of his love. They come, because he has come. For all of their glory, they are only heralds
B. Heaven’s Lord on earth.
Why do they sing the chorus of heaven on earth? Because the Lord of heaven has come to earth. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” He is the one whom the Father has anointed, the long-promised Messiah, God’s Savior King. So Simeon in the temple would hail the infant Lord. He is more than the Lord’s Christ: he is Christ the Lord, Lord of creation, Lord of the angels (Lk.2:26).
1. God must come
Through long ages, prophets and seers repeated the promises of God. They summoned God’s people to hear his call and heed his words. Often they paid the price of their witness with their blood. God was not mocked. His judgments came. Ezekiel saw the exiles of Israel in the valley – not gathered before the Lord but scattered in the valley, scattered not even as corpses, but as dry bones. “Son of man, can these bones live?” the Lord asked Ezekiel. “Lord, you know,” replied the prophet. Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones. They rattled together, skeletons first, then sinews and flesh. He prophesied again. The Spirit of the Lord came upon them and they rose as one great host.
So it was. Doomed in their sin and rebellion, they could never enter the peace of the Lord, never know the joy of those who were near and dear to him. Their situation was so hopeless, that only God could save them. He must come himself to be their Savior. He must buckle on the breastplate of righteousness, put the helmet of salvation on his head, and accomplish the salvation that his exodus deliverance from Egypt only foreshadowed.
Only by his own coming could God’s final peace, joy and victory come. “A virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and will call his name, Immanuel,” God with us! (Isa. 7:14). “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
2. He comes to his own
The Lord comes to his own. The angel proclaims peace to the people of God’s good pleasure, his chosen, on whom his favor rests.
II. The SCANDAL is too much! (The sign of the manger)
A. Born under Caesar’s rule: the King of Glory!
1. Caesar enrolls the line of David
King David, in whose line the Messiah came, was once judged because in pride he had ordered a census of his kingdom. Now it is because of Caesar’s decree for a census that Mary and Joseph must go to Bethlehem, the town of David, to be put on the tax roles under Roman rule. The angel gives the sign when he says that Christ the Lord is born in the city of David (Lk. 2:11). Caesar enrolls the line of David. There the infant’s name goes down in the registry, Yeshua ben-David.
Isaiah had prophesied,
“Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it …forever.” (Isa. 9:7)
Where, then was the zeal of the Lord that the prophet said would fulfil the promise?
2. Caesar decrees God’s appointment
God’s plans are not ours. In his sovereignty, God used the orders of Caesar to accomplish his purpose:
But you, Bethlehem Ephratha, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from days of eternity. Micah 5:2
B. Born under Israel’s hardness
1. No room in the city of David! – the manger
Jesus is born in the city of David, but not in the largest house, where other descendants of David gathered to mark his heritage. There is no festival to celebrate the birth, no midwives, no physicians to attend a royal birth in the royal town.
The ox knows his owner and the ass his lord’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people does not consider (Isa.1:3)
2. But hailed by the lowly
a. The sign of the angel: wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feed bin!
…As a root out of a dry ground (Isa. 53:2)
b. The worship of the shepherds (field hands!)
Society would never link shepherds with angels. Nor would we. Only this passage brought us the close relation of angels and shepherds on Christmas cards.
III. The JOY is too much!
A. Joy in the GLORY
1. Of his presence: the Lord is come!
Job, in his sufferings, yearned to see God. Moses prayed to see his glory.
The prophets searched diligently who prophesied of the grace that should come to you, searching who or when the time would come. (1 Pet. 1:10f)
2. Of his work
The Spirit of Christ in the prophets testified of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (1 Pet. 1:11).
B. Joy in the SCANDAL
1. Of his presence in weakness – no light in the manger!
The foolishness of God that is wiser than men;
The weakness of God that is stronger than men.
The love of God…for Yeshua in the feed-bin (Jn. 3:16)
2. Of his work: saving death on the cross
Sword piercing Mary’s soul 2:35
Suffering & glory Lk. 24:26; To seek and to save 19:10
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven & glory in the highest!”
3. By his people: the poor & lowly
a. Shepherds, Mary, “little flock” 12:32 on whom his favor rests
b. Rejoicing in God’s grace: TOO MUCH!
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin & forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You will tread our sins underfoot & hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged to our fathers in days long ago.
His presence in your suffering; your presence in his glory!
Conclusion: Too much! Does God ask too much?
Prefer to give him a token? Squeeze a creche in somewhere in the crowded lawn of your life’s idolatries? Negotiate to allow him a contribution to family values, neighborliness, good will?
Provided he doesn’t call for repentance, conversion, surrender.
Prodigal “send money” vs. “Father, I have sinned.”
Too much? No. Nothing less could redeem us from our sin & the power of Satan.
Hatred in the world of the 21st century → in our hearts.
Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin
The Son paid the price in the garden, on the cross
The Father paid the price in the darkness
Too much love? Enough to bring us from death to life, from the dark doom of our rebellion to the sunlight of his love.
He loved us too much…yes. Can you love him too much?
Only everything means anything.
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- ~ William Edgar Remembers Dr. Clowney
"Ed’s teaching was mind-boggling. No one had ever explained so many issues using what I now know to be biblical theology, the progressive unfolding of redemptive history, culminating is Jesus Christ, the “yea and amen of the promises of God.” A whole group of us from Harvard did come to Westminster, and we never regretted it for a minute. There we discovered that exegesis was controlled by biblical theology, which in turn yielded the good fruits of systematics. We sat under the likes of Paul Woolley, John Murray, E. J. Young. But Edmund Clowney remained a central inspiration. It was he, more than any of the others, who opened the Bible to us. Ironically, in those days, many of the courses on the Pentateuch or the Psalms or Galatians were little more than painstaking refutations of the German critics. We were no doubt still in the era of Westminster’s origins in controversy, called to “demolish strongholds.” But many of us came from outside the Christian faith and did not worry particularly about these guys with funny names like Gunkel or Mowinckle. We needed basic Bible knowledge, and we got it from Ed Clowney’s courses in, of all things, Practical Theology. Whether homiletics, worship, missions, or the church, his sermon-like lectures took us through one era after another, climaxing in Jesus Christ. As he got more and more excited about the structure of revelation, Ed spoke contagiously about the impossibility of God’s extravagant promises. How would he do it? What about Abraham rising up in the morning to sacrifice the only son of the pledge? For a people in exile, how will the very bells on the horses have the Lord’s name inscribed on them, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house be like the sacred bowls before the altar? The answer: “Remnant and renewal! Remnant and"
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