The Second Noel 12/19/99

Luke 2:9-14

JESUS CHRIST’s birth was attested to by citizens of Heaven and attended by citizens of earth. In it two worlds merged: the world of the spiritual and the world of the physical. For that reason His name was called Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

In that act God honored the role of mother and favored the process of birth. Neither should be taken lightly. The first should be avoided if there is any thought of the second having to be aborted. We, male and female, should respect what God has honored.

Christmas, the celebration of His birth, does many things for all of society. One thing it does is rekindle HOPE. In a culture where there appears to be so little hope, I rejoice over its being available to all.

The song writer Oscar Hammerstein in talking about his personal philosophy once said: “I cannot write anything without hope in it…when people point out that the world has evil and ugliness in it…I merely point out I know about all of those things, but I choose to align myself to the hope of side of life.”

My heart sings with Mary Martin those lines given her by Hammerstein: “I’m stuck like a dope in a thing called hope and I can’t get it out of my heart.”

I can’t! I just can’t, because Christ is my heart.

Hope is more than just a feeling—it is a vision, a way of looking at our world, a way of understanding the things that happen to us.

The Christmas story does not deny the presence of darkness, it just proclaims the presence of light.

It doesn’t ignore the reality of bitterness and hate, it just declares the dominance of love. It shouts of hope.

Christmas is a pencil sharpener for the emotions making them sharper and more sensitive.

Imagine the hope that must have sprung to life in the hearts of those astonished shepherds just outside Bethlehem on that eventful night when the angels came to them proclaiming Messiah’s birth. Consider —

A plethora of diversions tend to minimize the Christ whose birth we celebrate.

It was Christmas 1939 that the then department store giant Montgomery Ward came up with an advertising campaign featuring a character called “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” Today this reindeer with a “nose so bright” is better known by many American children than the One whose birth we celebrate.

In 1949, songwriter Johnny Marks put the ad-gimmick to music, and we have sung it “every foggy Christmas Eve” since.

Long before this guiding light Zacharias prophesied of another who would offer guidance:

“The rising sun (Jesus) will come to us from heaven… to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

We pragmatic people tend to think of there being no other state of being other than those we can see and prove. In doing so, we overlook the existence of the angelic band.

The Hebrew word for angel is the same as the name of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi. It literally means “my angel.” I have a Malachi and so do you. They are at work today as in the day of Christ’s birth. They are also called “ministering spirits.”

The text says there was a “heavenly host.” The word “host” actually means “army.” There was a large force of angels involved.

Daniel (7:10) said of angels “ten thousand times ten thousand attend unto God.”

The writer of the Revelation (5:11) spoke of “a world of angels.”

Hebrews 12:22 lost count and referred to an “innumerable company of angels.” They are without number.

There are 108 references to angels in the Old Testament and 165 in the New Testament. They are referenced in the Garden of Eden and depicted as active in the Book of the Revelation.

Together this army of angels spoke in praise to God.

The angels were the heralds of the one of which it was said, “His name shall be called Wonderful…”

Audrey Mieir was absorbed in what was happening in her little church. They were having a Christmas presentation of the birth of Jesus. Mary was a teenage girl. The angels were young boys. The baby was a doll. Bathrobes revealed rolled up jeans under them. This simple setting provided for an electrifying moment. Audrey looked at the little children in the audience sitting open mouthed and expectant. Elderly friends wiped away tears remembering Christmases long past.

The pastor stood, raised his hands and said, “His name is Wonderful.” The words gripped Audrey. Immediately she began to write in the back of her Bible. She remembered that as she wrote it seemed to her God had something He wanted said. That night she sang the simple chorus around the piano with a group of youth. The words were simple and they picked it up right away. She wrote:
“His name is Wonderful, His name is Wonderful…
Jesus my Lord.
He is the mighty king, Master of everything.
His name is Wonderful, Jesus my Lord.
He’s the great Shepherd,
The Rock of all ages. Almighty God is He;
Bow down before Him, Love and adore Him,
His name is Wonderful, Jesus my Lord.”

Though they said it, choirs and congregations have appropriately sung it through the years. There is victory in that pronouncement. In Latin it is “Gloria in Excelsus Deo!”

Under divine inspiration the Apostle Paul wrote: “All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.”

The angels said:
Jesus taught us to pray: “…Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory…” He already has the glory we are blessed to be vessels through which His glory is seen and by whom it is acknowledged.

Christ’s coming focuses on the glory of God because in Him the attributes and attitudes of God are pleasantly revealed.

In the act of Christ coming, God revealed a bit more of His glory which had been concealed.

The fundamental way we can accent the glory of God is by giving ourselves in trust to Him as our Savior and yielding to Him in service as our Lord.

Next we can so love and live as to try to bring others to a saving knowledge of Him. There are those around us we are responsible for influencing. There are those beyond our sphere of influence. Many are in foreign lands. To them we can and must send missionaries. Missionaries become our proxies when we give financially to help them minister. Some people flinch when giving is mentioned.

A verse, long-lurking in my memory, goes:
“Go break to the hungry sweet charities bread,
For giving is living the angel said.
But must I keep giving again and again,
The weary worn question came.
No said the angel, piercing me through.
Just stop giving when God stops giving to you.”

An old man on the city bus sat across from a little girl who was apparently from a poor family. As he sat holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers he noticed they had captured the attention of the little girl. Every time he looked at her she was looking admiringly at the flowers but quickly looked away.

When the bus stopped at his place of getting off he reached out and gave the flowers to her saying, “I bought these for my wife, but I know she would want you to have them.”

The bus stop was a bit longer than usual and the little girl watched as the old man got off the bus and entered through an old gate into a little cemetery.

Give your best to the Master before it is too late to give.

Peace is both an event and a process. On September 2, 1945, representatives of Japan and America, the two powers that had been locked in World War II, met on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and a peace treaty was signed. On that day peace was an event. Since that time it has been a process enjoyed by both parties to the treaty.

People want peace in their lives as a process. It is not possible without it first being an event. The event involves you signing a treaty with Christ. He has already signed it with His blood. Now by faith it is your turn to sign.
“Once on the eve of Christmas
when all strange things may hap,
I saw Mary the Mother
with her baby upon her lap.

I saw the Mother, Mary,
holding God’s little son.
She said to him, Small one, tell me
When shall man’s war be done?

Then the child spake and answered:
These wars shall end, said he,
when no man shall wound another
for fear of wounding me.”

Many persons misunderstand this angelic statement to refer to the absence of war and hostility, and feel that it is unfulfilled. Cynics scoff at the very idea of “Peace on earth…” They ask when and how. Longfellow wrote a poem that speaks to this.
“I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth good-will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor does He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The angelic statement was not a prophecy of peace but rather a prescription for peace.

In this supernatural act God was showing His strong desire for our “good will.” His will toward us is good. He designed, devised, and desires our good will. Only we can prevent it.

In announcing the birth of Christ the world’s first communication satellite was put in orbit above Bethlehem. All of nature was at the Father’s disposal and He used a star to mark the locale of Christ’s birth.


These were not “wise guys”, that is, smart alecks. These were sun-crowned intellects. Let’s give them the dignity of their Bible identity, “wise men.” They were wise men not “rich dudes.”

They were magi not magicians, astronomers not astrologists, scientists not wizards.

Their presence reveals that though Christianity is for the masses of poor it is also for the wealthy intellects. It is applicable for the “whosoever” of John 3: 16.

There is a bit of wit circulating that notes what a difference it would have made if these had been three wise women rather than wise men. They would have stopped and asked directions, and arrived on time. They would have helped deliver the baby, clean the stable, make a casserole, and brought disposable diapers as gifts.

Every December, as I take out the Christmas decorations, I also take out the memory of a Christmas 20 years ago in a small town in central Maine and the gift that one little girl gave to another. In a world where Christmas is ever more glittery and commercialized, it reminds me that the true spirit of the season lies in giving, and receiving, from the heart.

Winters seemed to be colder back then, and school days dragged slowly by. At my small school, we had two classes for each grade. My class was for the children who got good grades. Most of us wore nice clothes and our parents were in the PTA. Those in the “slower” class didn’t get good report cards. Most of the kids were poor. We attended the same school year after year, and by fourth grade we all knew who belonged in which class. The one exception was the girl I shall call Marlene Crocker.

I still remember the day when Marlene was transferred to the “smarter” class. She stood by the teacher’s desk that morning in a wool skirt that hung down below her knees. Her sweater was patched, but her face was wide and hopeful.

She was not at all pretty except for her intelligent-looking brown eyes. I had heard Marlene was a good student, though, and I wondered why she hadn’t been in the “smarter” class all along. As she stood waiting for the teacher to assign her a seat, for a moment I imagined that I might become her friend and we would talk together at recess. Then the whispers began. “She’s not sitting beside me!” someone sneered.

“That will be enough,” the teacher said firmly, and the class turned silent. No one would laugh at Marlene again—at least not when the teacher was in the room. Marlene and I never talked together at recess as I’d first imagined. The boundaries that separated us were too firmly drawn.

One late autumn day, Mom and I happened to be out driving along a wooded back road. It was one that we seldom took because Mom said it wasted gas. I was busy chattering away when suddenly, out the window, I saw a tar-paper shack so tiny that it would have fit inside our bathroom. The shack was set far back in a big field littered with rusted car parts. Across the yard stretched a long clothesline, beneath which stood a little girl who looked at us as we sped past. It was Marlene. I raised my hand to wave, but our car had already passed her. “That poor little girl,” my mother said, “hanging out clothes and it’s going to rain.”

Once the snow came that winter, it seemed as though it would never stop. As Christmas drew near, my spirits were as high as the snowdrifts as I watched the pile of presents grow beneath our Christmas tree. At school, a few days before our school Christmas party, we passed around a hat in class to pick the name of a classmate for whom we’d buy a gift. The hat went around, and the names were drawn. Finally, the hat came to Marlene. One boy leaned forward, closer than anyone had ever been to Marlene, and hooted as he read her slip of paper. “Marlene got Jenna’s name.”

I began to blush furiously as I heard my name. Marlene looked down at her desk, but the teasing went on until our teacher stopped it. “I don’t care,” I vowed haughtily, but I felt cheated.

The day of the party, I marched to the bus reluctantly, carrying a nice gift of Magic Markers for the person whose name I had drawn. At school, we ate the Christmas cookies our mothers had baked and drank our grape drink. Then the presents were handed out, and the wrapping paper went flying as everyone tore into them.

The moment I had been dreading had arrived. Suddenly it seemed as though everyone was crowding around. Sitting on my desk was a small package wrapped neatly in tissue paper. I looked over at Marlene. She was sitting alone. Suddenly overcome by the need to protect Marlene from the mocking of my classmates, I seized Marlene’s gift, unwrapped it and sat there, holding it hidden in my hand.

“What is it?” a boy hollered, when he could stand it no longer.

“It’s a wallet,” I finally answered.

The bell rang and the buses came and someone said to Marlene, “Did your old man make it from the deer he shot?”

Marlene nodded and said, “And my ma.”

“Thank you, Marlene,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” she said. We smiled at each other. Marlene was not my friend but I never teased her. Maybe when I got bigger, I would ride my bike over there and we could talk and play. I thought about that as I rode the bus home. I tried not to think of what Marlene’s Christmas would be like.

Years went by. I went to high school and college, and lost contact with most of my childhood schoolmates. Whenever I struggled with math problems, I recalled the rumors that Marlene had dropped out of school to help her mother with the younger children at home. Then I heard that she had married young and stated having babies of her own.

One day, I came across the white doeskin wallet I had received at that Christmas party long ago. Funny how, of all the gifts, I’d kept this one through the years. I took it out and studied its intricate craftsmanship. Beneath the top flap, I noticed a small slit holding a tiny piece of paper that I had never seen before. Sitting in my comfortable home, I read the words that Marlene had written to me years before. “To my best friend,” they said. Those words pierced by heart. I wished I could go back, to have the courage to be the kind of friend I’d wanted to be. Belatedly, I understood the love that had been wrapped inside that gift.

There are a few things I unpack every year at Christmastime – an old wooden creche, shiny balls for the tree and a Santa figurine. I take the wallet out, too. Last year, I told my small son the story of the girl who had given it to me. He thought about it and then he said, “Of all the gifts, that was the goodest gift, wasn’t it?”

And I smiled, grateful for the wisdom that let him see that it was.

They were wise not because of their learning but because of their seeking for wisdom and truth. In Christ they found both.

Even the dumb animals in the manger in Bethlehem knew more about the Christ child’s birth than the pious religious leaders in Jerusalem. We must be certain that we don’t simply know a lot about Him but fail to know Him personally.

They came seeking the One Who came to “seek and to save” them.

In contrast to the wise men, the shepherds represent one of the lowest classes of the society of the era. They were desert dwellers of low esteem. As Christianity is for the wealthy intellects so it is also for the poor and uneducated. It is for the “as many as will.”

When the angels spoke to the shepherds they responded: “Let us go…” (Vs. 15).

Now that you have heard what they heard will you not respond as they and say, “I am going…” “I am going to receive Christ.” “I am going to respond openly as did the shepherds.”