“A CHILD WILL BE BORN”

ISAIAH 9:2-7

 

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             It was a cold December afternoon.  Rain mixed with snow splashed against the windshield.  Overhead clouds hovered seemingly just above the treetops.  All day long two men, a pastor named Jerry and an elder named Jim, had been delivering Christmas boxes.  Many of the families who would receive these boxes would get nothing else for Christmas that year.  The pickup truck had been loaded when the two men started out on their journey but now, only one box remained.  It was covered with an old piece of tarp to protect it against the rain.

            The address on the card meant a drive of several miles beyond the city limit. “What do you think?” Jim asked.  He was the driver and it was his truck.  Pastor Jerry knew what Jim was thinking.  Why drive way out in the country when we could give this last box to someone close by and be home in thirty minutes?  It was a tempting thought.

            Jim, however, answered his own question, “Well, let’s give it a try.  If we can’t find the place, we can always come back and give the box to someone else.”

            The old white framed house stood on a hillside overlooking the valley.  It had once been an elegant place, the centerpiece of a large farm.  Now, the farm was gone and the house had deteriorated over the years.

            The two men slipped and slid, huffed and puffed as they carried the box up the hill.  The red clay offered no foothold and the box, wet from the rain, was beginning to come apart.  They climbed the high steps to the porch, set the box down and slid it across the floor.  They straightened up just in time to glimpse the face of a small boy at the window.  He had been watching them coming up the hill.  Now, he announced their arrival with shouts of excitement, “They’re here, Grandma, they’re here!”

            The door opened and an older woman greeted them.   She had on a dark, plain dress with a white apron.  She was drying her hands with a dishtowel and explained to them that she had been doing the dinner dishes.  “I told you, they would come,” a child’s voice said from behind her.

            The woman told them that she and her grandson were all that was left of her family.  The father and mother had divorced and gone their separate ways.  The little boy had been left behind for Grandma to raise.  She said, “Oh, I am so glad you are here.  He was up early this morning looking for you.  He sat by that window all day.  I wasn’t sure you would come and I tried to prepare him in case of a disappointment.  But he just said, ‘Don’t worry, Grandma, I know they will come.’”

            That young boy didn’t know it, but, in a sense, he was speaking for all Christianity.  More than one billion of us around the world, are pausing for a few moments this night to say, “We knew he would come.”

            The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, had promised it hundreds of years before, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

            Those are magnificent descriptions of the long-awaited Messiah.  “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  My favorite phrase of Isaiah’s, however, is “For a child has been born for us ...”

            Can there be a more perfect story than the story of the first Christmas?  You see, there’s something about a child.

            During the first year and a half of World War II, London was under heavy bombing from German airplanes.  Churchill knew that Hitler would win, and England would be destroyed, if he could not unite America as an ally with Britain in the war. Then, on December 7, 1941, Hitler’s ally Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.  Churchill left London and rushed to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt and speak to Congress, to try to get America to help England fight the war.

On Christmas Eve, 1941.  Churchill was a guest of President Roosevelt at the White House.

            It had been a very busy day for Churchill. That morning he had given an important speech, broadcast live on radio, before a combined meeting of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.  He had spent the rest of that busy day in private interviews and meetings.  That evening he had given another speech when he helped the President light the National Christmas Tree.  Afterwards Churchill went to his room in the White House to prepare for a much needed night of rest.

            Also staying in the White House that Christmas Eve was the President’s special assistant, Harry Hopkins, and his nine-year-old daughter Diana.  Late in the evening there was a knock on the child’s door.  She rose from her bed and opened it.  There was the White House butler, standing stiffly in his formal dress.  He looked down at the little girl and said in a very serious voice, “Miss Hopkins, the Prime Minister wants to see you.”  The little girl pulled on her robe and followed the stately butler down a long corridor to the Monroe Bedroom.  The butler knocked on the door, and the girl heard a gruff indistinguishable response from inside.  When the door opened the child saw the penetrating eyes of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, staring down at her.  She was shocked when Churchill reached out his arms and embraced her.  He paused, and then said, “I’m a lonely old father and grandfather on Christmas Eve who wanted a little girl to hug.”  Then he glanced bashfully at the butler and sent her back to bed.

            I guess all of us need a hug on Christmas Eve, particularly from a child.  There’s something about a child.  That’s one reason Christmas Eve is so wonderful, the joy of anticipation that we see in our children’s eyes, and God entered the world as a babe in a manger.

            Here’s the second thing we need to see: That babe became our Savior.

Just ask the angels what they think of Jesus, they’ll tell you, “To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah.”

            Ask John the Baptist and he’ll tell you, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

            Ask the Roman centurion what he thinks of Jesus, he will tell you. “Surely, this is the Son of God.”

            We celebrate the fact that God became a tiny babe, but we also celebrate that this tiny babe became our Savior.

            To me, one of the charms of Christmas is that it is the season of misfits, misfits like “The Littlest Angel” who couldn’t get his halo on properly or “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special” about that lovable loser, Charlie Brown.   And, of course, Rudolph, the reindeer with the bright shiny nose?

            Seventy-one years ago the retailer Montgomery Ward gave copies of a poem, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” to customers for their children.  It was an enormous success.  In 1946 Montgomery Ward transferred the copyright of the poem back to Robert May, who worked for the department store when he wrote it in 1939.  May, who had a sick wife and six children to put through school, sold the rights to a children’s book publisher.  The book sold more than 100,000 copies.

            Then, in 1949, a New York songwriter, Johnny Marks, a friend of May’s wrote a 113 word song based on the poem.  It took months to convince anyone to record the song, and when he pitched it to cowboy actor Gene Autry, he was turned down, politely but firmly.  Autry’s wife, however, talked him into recording the song.

            Autry said he would record Rudolph only as the B-side on what he thought would be a hit Christmas tune titled “If It Doesn’t Snow on Christmas.”  That song has long been forgotten.

            “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was introduced by Autry at a Madison Square Garden concert in September 1949.  By Christmas, record sales were near 2 million. It has now sold more than 100 million copies, making it second only to “White Christmas” on the all-time seasonal hit parade.

            Now, why would I spend so much time on the misfit Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer?  I mention it because at Christmas Christ became a misfit on our behalf.  He who lived in glory gave it all up to become a tiny babe and then he became a grown man who suffered and died and took away the sins of the world.

            And there was only one reason Christ came.  He came because he loved us so much.  “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son … ”

            In an old Peanuts comic strip, another popular misfit Charlie Brown cracks open his piggy bank. He says, “Look, I’ve got $9.11 to spend on Christmas.”

            Lucy is not impressed. “You can’t buy something for everyone with $9.11, Charlie Brown.”

            Charlie Brown retorts, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m gonna try!”

            “Then,” Lucy continues, “they’re sure gonna be cheap presents.”

            “But,” Charlie Brown says with absolute conviction, “nothing is cheap if it costs all that you have.”

            Have a grand Christmas Eve and a wonderful Christmas Day, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given . . .”  He came.  He loved us so much, he came.  We knew he would.