Here’s a copy of the talk I did yesterday at our Children’s Christmas Praise:
There are two types of people – those who love Christmas and those who struggle with Christmas. This year we’re in a credit crunch Christmas. Someone recently said that we have no wise men left: 10 years ago Steve Jobs was alive, Johnny Cash was still alive, and Bob Hope was still alive, now we have no jobs, no cash and no hope!
The word I think that sums up Christmas is “Favour”.
Sometimes when Christmas comes we don’t feel favoured at all. We see how everyone else is doing and they have their perfect family, but our family needs a UN resolution to get everyone in the same room, we don’t feel favoured. In some families they use a dainty silver bell to bring everyone to the dining table, but your family uses the usual method of the smoke alarm, you don’t feel favoured.
Some people in order to have a quiet and peaceful experience put the kids on a different table. You would have to put them on a different table, in a different room, in a different house, ideally in a different town! People buy their turkeys from a Bernard Matthews farm, you buy yours from some discount warehouse, it looks like a dinosaur, takes 6 weeks to defrost, and you end up putting it in the tumble dryer as a last ditch attempt to defrost it – you don’t feel favoured. You left it too late to get the tree and you end up with the one that is two foot high and about forty feet wide. Or even worse it is a very, very small and says the words “air freshener” on it! You don’t feel favoured.
The Bible says wherever you are at, however you feel about it, the truth of Christmas is that we are favoured.
In Luke 1 the word favour means “God’s grace”, grace literally means a free gift you didn’t deserve. The angel says to Mary “you are highly favoured”. As a youngster I was a choir boy and we used to sing the song Gloria, and the refrain is “Most highly favoured lady” but we would always sing “Most highly flavoured gravy”. But the angel says Mary you are highly favoured.
Think of a 14 year old, illiterate peasant girl, scrambling around in the dirt in a small insignificant village in the Roman Empire. Mary was someone who was at the bottom of the social ladder, someone who hadn’t done anything special with their life. But the whole point of grace is that it is not deserved. Grace is what God gives you just because! The angel says to Mary she is highly favoured, highly covered in God’s grace.
The Bible says you are favoured, which means his grace is looking for you, searching you out. Mary simply responded to it.
But Luke 2 brings us a second type of favour, not simply God’s grace but God’s delight. When the angel speaks to the shepherds he says ““Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” There is a universal message. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” No one is excluded from this, you don’t have to earn it, to achieve it, but instead you just get it. The word favour literally means the pleasure and delight of God. It can also be used to say God’s longing, God’s satisfaction.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel if I could meet God that he wouldn’t be very happy with us, he’d be disapproving of us. If you give your life to God it can feel like you are limited, you have to be smart and serious, carry a big bible, drink milk from a Christian cow, your life becomes difficult and hard. But the Bible says that isn’t the case at all, the Bible says God is pleased with you. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done anything, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t given him a second thought, he is absolutely delighted with you.
He chooses to send the message to shepherds. We might have quite a cute image of shepherds, but the reality at that time was that they were the underclass of Jewish society, they were considered unclean, they were regarded with cynicism, scepticism and distrust. Shepherds roamed around, they had no respect for other peoples land, they would just bring their sheep anywhere they fancied, they were a law unto themselves.
The angel says, shepherds listen you are favoured. The shepherds were confused because they were the punch bag of society. Some of us are trying so hard to push ourselves, to validate our identity, we are trying to find it in the toys, the money, school, work – but listen you don’t need to and can’t do anything to make God pleased with you – it is not possible. God is absolutely taken with you, he adores you.
At Christmas time heaven and earth are fused together, that God himself comes down from heaven to our earth. That is what is so wonderful. That God’s opinion of you is so great, so passionate, that he wants to be with you, he don’t just want to be like the old uncle in heaven who visits once a year and embarrasses people, but he wants to be right there with you, God there with us, Emmanuel, living in flesh, as we’re favoured.
God knows that we mess up, that we make mistakes, that we live regrets, but he says if I could tell you one thing, if I could shout it from the heavens with a whole host of angels it would be this: “I am well pleased with you, I am delighted with you, I am captivated by you and I have come all this way because I want to know you, I want you to be brought into relationship with me – I was meant for you and you were meant for me.”