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Worship Theme: Christ Came to Be Our Substitute in Life and Death

Sermon Theme: Christmas Is About Family

Well, has your Christmas bubble burst yet? We put in so much time and effort and money leading up to two special days—December 24th and 25th. Weeks of decorating, baking, shopping, planning, and preparing all for those magically merry moments of Christmas. The whole time we envision how it will go—the dimmed lights, the Christmas music playing quietly in the background, the smiles, the laughter, the memories. Ahh! Christmas is About Family.

But somehow every year it seems like the Christmas bubble bursts like bubble gum in a preschooler’s face. The littlest ones care more about the boxes than those cool new toys. Lots of laughter turns to tons of tears: “He’s touching me! She’s messing up my video games!” The perfect family moment is long gone as cascading piles of empty boxes and crumpled up wrapping paper litter the house. Long-missed family has now long-overstayed their welcome. Grandpa is still grumpy. Crazy uncle Charlie is still crazy. And Monica’s kids? Let’s just hope the house is still standing after the weekend with them.

Whatever your ideal Christmas family moment is—dozens of people in the house, just your little family of four or five, or just you and Mr. Sniffles your kitten—we all have this ideal Christmas family time in mind. I suppose it’s like the Christmas card syndrome. So many craft the perfect Christmas letter or creative poem—or the perfect picture with everyone happy and smiling and wearing matching flannel Christmas pajamas. But nice as they are, Christmas cards are rather fake, because they don’t tell the full story.

The posed smiles hide the hurt and pain from sickness, anxiety, and depression. The makeup and mascara mask puffy eyes that were crying because grandma is no longer in that picture. The matching jammies juxtapose a family that is anything but on the same page. Deep family strife. Hidden hurt feelings. Elephants in the room left unaddressed. Guilt secretly covered up.

This is such a wonderful time of the year. There can be so much to enjoy, so many blessings to be thankful for. But does it ever perhaps seem just a little fake? I personally had a wonderful last two days. But now I’m here on December 26th and not much has changed. It is still true that I’ve lost multiple friends and family members in the last 18 months. Santa didn’t take COVID back up the chimney and to the North Pole. I still have aches and pains. Life is still a knock-down, grind-it-out struggle. And I’m still pathetic sinner who wrestles with my sinful flesh every single day.

We sing about having a holly jolly Christmas. We wish for it to be merry and bright. We want nothing more than for Christmas to be about food and fun and family, like we’re living a Hallmark movie. But quickly the bubble bursts, reality sets in, and we are back to sickness, suffering, and sadness.

Friends, if you feel like your Christmas joy is already fading, like your bubble is about to burst, or if you’re worried it might happen soon in an overwhelming world, well then you’ve come to the right place. You’ve come to the feet of the newborn Savior to receive his good gifts of grace at Grace in worship. And right now, together we will walk through the profound words of Hebrews 2 as our joy is renewed and we are reminded that Christmas is About Family.

We don’t know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews. There are some good educated guesses out there that it could be Paul or a contemporary named Apollos or others, but we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that the letter is written to early Christians with a Jewish background to show them that Jesus is superior. Jesus is greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than all the Jewish priests and high priests. Today, we hear that Jesus is greater because he brings us out of the sadness of suffering and the doom of death to the joy and glory of a life with him. Look again at what the writer tells us: In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” Our God’s love is gracious and undeserved. He easily could have left rebellious sinners to rot in the consequences of what we have done. He easily could have wiped the slate clean and started over. But he didn’t. In grace and mercy, he wanted to fix it. He wanted to redeem us from death and restore us to glory. So, God so loved the world that he sent his Son, Jesus.

 This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Not a cute and cuddly baby. Not the quaintness of a stable with shepherds and oxen standing by Joseph, Mary, and the baby. No, at Christmas we are filled with joy and awe that the God for whom and through whom everything exists loved us enough to send his Son for us to be the pioneer—the author, the source—of our salvation. Not by being cute or quaint, but to suffer for us.

Now why would Jesus do this? Jump to verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

All those things I mentioned earlier that suck the joy out of Christmastime and every other day of life—all those things are just consequences of sin in this world. Sin ruined paradise and perfection because it disrupts our perfect relationship with God and with each other. So, the world has been in a tailspin of chaos and evil ever since the first sin in Eden. Most people in this world spend most of their time trying to figure out how to cope with that. “How do I find happiness? How do I find meaning? How do I find purpose?” We ask these kinds of questions because we know there is an end in sight. The ultimate consequence of sin called death is looming over our heads. That’s the “power of death” that holds us in fear and slavery.

But since we have flesh and blood, Jesus also took on flesh and blood so that he could break the power of death and the devil. Jesus came to free us from the slavery of our fear of death and doom. He did this by offering his life in our place and dying the eternal death we deserve. Listen as he goes on to explain: For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

The priests of the Old Testament offered hundreds of thousands of sacrifices to atone for sin and make peace for the people with God. But Jesus is superior as the greatest priest of all time because he offered the greatest sacrifice of all time—himself, for you.

This is the only way it could work. This is the only way that we could be forgiven our sin and bought back from death and hell. It had to be God himself here in human flesh to do it in our place. No other way, no other Savior would ever be good enough. If Jesus wasn’t human, he couldn’t be our substitute, and if Jesus wasn’t God, he wouldn’t be a good enough substitute.

Jesus had to be human here in the flesh so he could be one of us and be under God’s laws and properly be able to stand in the place of other humans. I couldn’t do that and you couldn’t do that because we’re not good enough. But Jesus could do it because he’s our perfect God. What a cool little snapshot of that we had today in the story of the boy Jesus in the temple. We see his zeal for his Father and his Father’s house, perfectly keeping the 1st and 3rd commandments. We see his respect for his parents, perfectly keeping the 4th commandment, even though they were totally baffled by the whole situation. That’s just a few commandments on one day. Jesus was perfect like that in every way on every day—for you. Only true God in true human flesh could do that.

Yet Jesus also had to be human so that he could offer that life up and die. That ultimately is what sins deserve. The wages of sin are death—physical death and eternal death. Again, this is something that I might offer or you might offer, but our death would be of no value to other people. But when God offers his life and dies—now there’s value. Only God can take the sins of the whole world onto himself. Only God can pay for it all with one death. Only true God in true human flesh could be perfect substitute and sacrifice for us all.

This is what brings us the most profound joy at Christmastime, no matter our life or world circumstances. As we peer into the manger with awe and wonder, we see the Word made flesh—God come here for us. When we see the wooden manger, we remember the wooden cross. When we see the birth and new life, we remember the coming death and resurrection to life. When we hear the angels announce glory to God and peace on earth, we join with them to sing because we know that peace is ours through Jesus Christ.

Don’t let Satan steal the joy and burst your Christmas bubble. It’s not a one time, one day a year celebration. What Jesus did gives us a completely new status—every day and always. Back to verse 14: “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Very often we have this nostalgic, magical ideation of Christmas as we envision our perfect Christmas moments and try to capture them with the perfect Christmas cards and pictures on social media. Christmas is About Family we may think. But what we don’t always realize is that this is absolutely true. Christmas is About Family. It’s about the family of God that we now belong to because of Jesus.

Because Jesus became God with us—one of us here in real human flesh—and because he has made us holy through his life and death and restored our relationship with God, we now are part of the same family. We have the privilege of saying that Jesus is not just our Lord and our Savior, but he is our brother. And because of our brother we have a new relationship with God as our heavenly Father who loves and cares for us.

So back to the disappointments that come with Christmas. Maybe you’re sad because a loved one is no longer with us. Yet there can be quiet joy because they’re dining this Christmas with our brother Jesus at the marriage feast of heaven. Maybe you’re sad because you’re lonely and you don’t have much family, or you have been (or will be) lonely in quarantine. Yet there is quiet joy because your brother Jesus has promised to be with you always to the very end of the age. Maybe you’re hurt because your earthly family is broken, mixed and messed up. Yet there is quiet joy because you’re also part of a greater family, a family of brothers and sisters here and elsewhere who love you so much—only to be outdone by the love of our heavenly Brother and Father. Maybe you’re frustrated and flustered with your daily battles against your sinful flesh, but the writer reminds us today, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” There’s quiet joy at Christmas because of our brother Jesus who overcame sin and gives us the strength to do the same.

There will always be hurt and pain in a sinful world, even during and after Christmas. But that doesn’t mean our joy has to go away. In just a few moments we have the ultimate reminder of that. Could you imagine with me a giant curtain hanging from ceiling to floor here at Grace? In just a few moments we will stand side by side as family, brothers and sisters, at a great Christmas dinner. Our brother, Jesus, is both the host and the meal. But Jesus spans all of time and all of heaven and earth. That means that at the very same time, on the other side of the curtain are our loved ones dining with Jesus at the marriage feast of heaven. Imagine that! All of God’s people past and present feasting together in forgiveness, in joy, in life, with the Spirit and our brother and our Father—one big happy, perfect family. Ah yes! In Jesus, Christmas is About Family. Amen.

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