A sermon for December 24, 2010
Listen, I want to tell you a story.
I don’t think it is factual, but it might be true. It begins as all good stories do: “once upon a time…” Back in the olden days, good stories began with “it came to pass in those days…” That’s the old fashioned way of saying “once upon a time.” Anyway, I have a story to tell you, about angels and stars and a baby. It is the same story you hear every time this year, with all the same characters and the same plot. But first I want to tell it from a very different point of view, so come with me as we zoom out from the manger, out farther, and farther from the stable, over the city of Bethlehem, high into the dark night sky, and beyond, beyond time and space and geography into a dimension that we call heaven.
Now, listen. I want to tell you a story:
Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
"I want you to watch that one particularly," said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
"Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me," said the little angel. "What's special about that one?"
"That," replied his senior solemnly, "is the Visited Planet."
"Visited?" said the little one. "you don't mean visited by --------?
"Indeed I do.
That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory." And at these words he bowed his head reverently.
"But how?" queried the younger one. "Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His Creation, and millions more that I'm sure I haven't seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?"
"It isn't for us," said his senior a little stiffly, "to question His 'why's', except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them – how else do you suppose could He visit them?"
The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. "Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?"
"I do, and I don't think He would like you to call them 'creeping, crawling creatures' in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him."
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
"Close your eyes for a moment," said the senior angel, "and we will go back in what they call Time."
While the little angel’s eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.
And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.
"Well, what am I seeing now?" queried the little angel.
"You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago," returned his companion.
"Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father's knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time."
"Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?" asked the junior angel rather crossly.
"It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendour have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of our lives, but to them - well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful."
The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.
"I think I can guess," said the little angel in a low voice. "That was the Visit, wasn't it?"
"Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out."
"But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?"
"No, it wasn't that" returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. "They failed to recognise Him for Who He was - or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him."
"The fools, the crazy fools! They don't deserve ----"
"Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don't deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them."
"And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won't judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?"
"Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again."
In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.
"What now?" asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.
"They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves."
"Thank God for that," said the little angel.
"Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now."
As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.
"You see what is happening?" asked the senior angel.
"The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth."
"Yes, yes," said the little angel impatiently, "but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?"
His senior shook his head. "We simply do not know," he replied. "It is in the Father's hands.
Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable.
The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it."
"Yes, I see, though I don't understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet." (J. B. Phillips, The Visited Planet)
Tonight on this, the visited planet, we remember again the visit, the appearance of the light of the world, shining through the darkness of a lowly stable, the glory of the Lord shining out into the night into the sleepy eyes of stunned shepherds.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. The light brightened the lives of the last and the least and the lost, brightened their days with healing and hope, and spread into the hearts to shine forever. The light shone into the steely eyes of those blinded by pride and power, and they tried to snuff it out, to bury it, to hide it under a stone. And it smoldered and went out for three dark days and they thought they had won, and then it arose with the dawn bursting brilliantly across the Easter sky, and it spread across that place, and shines still, and continues to flicker and glow in radiant faces, in luminous song, in glimmering moments in tiny flickering candlelight reflected in the face of one small child.
The light shines still; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
Listen! I want to tell you a story… It came to pass…
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20)