"The Birth of Redemption"Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker Luke 1:68-71; Philippians 1: 9-11 Year C: Second Sunday of Advent
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. – Luke 1:68-71
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1: 9-11
Text in bold italic is to be sung. It may be sung a cappella by the preacher or a soloist, or it may be sung by the choir or the choir and congregation. If it is accompanied, please limit the introduction to a single chord or note to give the performers the starting pitch.
The Birth of Redemption
Last Sunday we discussed making room for Jesus in our hearts, entering a time of wonder and anxiety, a time of hope and joy.
Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing!
Such joy and wonder had never entered the earthly realm before. The birth of Christ marked a direct intervention, a moment of cataclysmic, miraculous splendor.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as if the moment of birth saw creative joy and wonder explode forth from a tiny manger into every corner of the world. I believe that people thousands of miles away smiled. Children had delightful dreams that night. Portents were seen throughout the world.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come, Let earth receive her king!
The birth of a child is a moment fraught with magic and power. When you first see your child, when you first hold her, when you hear the first sounds that issue from her mouth, these are moments so powerful you never forget them. For many souls, it is finding their bliss, finding their transformative power: “I have created flesh from my flesh and hope from my hope.” Or, “We have created something of great value, something loved by God.” It’s hard not to sing
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.
Always remember that the Gospel is Good News and that this birth of the mightiest human who ever lived, a birth in poverty and the squalor of a stable, the birth of a powerless babe in the midst of military occupation, remains, at the same time, a birth without sin, a birth foretelling the greatest savior who ever walked on earth, the birth of redemption, for God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be reconciled to Him (John 3: 17). But the birth was a surprise, unexpected, unforeseen, with no regard for human comfort and custom.
Imagine you are a movie director who never heard the Christmas story. A screen writer comes to you to pitch a story, the story of the birth into human form of the son of the one God, the Creator of the Universe. The screenwriter tells you this son of God will be born in a backwater town during a time when crowds have filled all the inns, so this child first enters the world in a stable, lying in a manger. You’d tell the screenwriter that she is crazy! You would insist that the child be born in the cleanest room of a mighty palace!
Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
You might further tell the screenwriter that you would be embarrassed to represent the birth of God’s son in such an impoverished venue.
But ask yourselves: Do you think that God was embarrassed by having Jesus born in the lowliest location within an insignificant town? Do you think God regretted Jesus’ birth there? No. No, God created the perfect birth for our Savior. He celebrated the birth with those most important, the lonely shepherds, the innocent animals, a poor village. God turned expectations upside down in the same way that Jesus, during his ministry, turned much of the worldview of that time upside down. He turned our worldview upside down, uplifting the poor, the hungry, the needy, the unsightly and exalting the low. This was and remains his life’s message and ministry.
No, God took a family weary of traveling, a family not wealthy by any measure, a mother close to the time of her delivery, and created the greatest miracle of birth. He brought the most powerful human being in the history of the world into life in an unimportant, unknown town, with no political power, no expensive social celebration, with only animals and shepherds attending.
Although there was no worldly wealth on display, the supernatural celebration was of the highest order: One of God’s mightiest angels announced the birth to the mother-to-be. A choir of angels sang in the heavens. A new star shone in the east. Magi compelled to travel far distances searched for and found this child.
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heav’n’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
It was perfect.
We live in a broken world but brokenness does not live within us. We hear the words of false prophets encouraging our fears, making us focus on what keeps humans small and controlled. On one hand we are abject sinners, unworthy of God’s love. On the other, we are made in God’s image, capable of great deeds to lift sinners, feed the hungry, and comfort the afflicted.
Our lesser angels would have us listen to Ebenezer Scrooge when he confronted those who raised money for the poor at Christmastide:
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?
First Collector: There are. I wish I could say they were not.
Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.
First Collector: I don’t think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
First Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?
Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!
Second Collector: You wish to be anonymous?
Ebenezer: [firmly, but calmly] I wish to be left alone.
(https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044008/quotes, first three lines edited for brevity)
God does not leave us alone. As Christians, we look to the One who fed the hungry, cured the sick, and uplifted the downtrodden. We look to the One who broke the barriers of sin and torment, who brought a mighty hope to the forlorn. We look to One who raised the dead to life, who gave us eternal life. We look to the One who inspired a lowly, poor maiden to sing
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
This birth of a child, this historical act of a mighty God, bringing God among us, filling our lives with direct counsel by Jesus, the son of God, changed everything. Even unbelievers divide historic time into: before the birth of Jesus and after the birth of Jesus. Even unbelievers enjoy the secular music of Christmas holidays. Even unbelievers give gifts that recall the greatest gift ever given.
Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians (1: 9-11):
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
God loved us, then He sent his only child among us, then he taught us that redemption includes more than reconciliation; it includes eternal life! The miracle included not only the birth of the son of God, but of Redemption as well. From an innocent babe grew a mighty Savior who gave His life for us that we may have eternal life. Indeed, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord Amen
About the writer:
Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker retired at the end of July 2018 from Furman University after forty-one years on the music faculty. He continues to sing, to teach voice, to write poetry and fiction, to act, and to share time with his precious wife, Gail, and their friends. Currently he aspires to write the great American novel, an epic poem, and a choral-orchestral piece appropriate for performance on July 4 concluding with full musical forces in addition to cannons and church carillons. Nothing brings him and Gail greater joy than visiting with their sons and their families.
Scripture and Music:
Hope of the World
Canticle of Hope
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Hymn of Promise
I Was Glad (Hubert Parry)
They Shall Know Him When He Comes (Hal Hopson)
Let Our Gladness Know No End (Herman Schroeder)
There s A Song in the Air (Lloyd Larson)
Noel Nouvelet (arr. Richard Zgodava)
O Holy Night
Mary, Did You Know
Then Shall the Righteous Shine Forth (Mendelssohn)