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    Dec 24, 2019

    Where Highest Meets Lowest

    Passage: Luke 1:26-2:21

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: Advent 2019

    Keywords: god, man, poverty, riches, high, low, extremes

    Summary:

    Christmas is a powerful reminder that God, the highest, loves to meet with people, often at their lowest. Angels met with shepherds, God met with a humble virgin and her young husband, a manger met with God incarnate, poverty met with the riches of God in Christ. If you're feeling poor or low in any way, make sure to meet the God of the Nativity.

    Detail:

    Where Highest Meets Lowest

    Christmas Eve

    December 24, 2019

    Prelude:  Cello & Piano—O Come, O Come Emmanuel

    Congregational singing—O Come, O Come Emmanuel

    READING #1:  Luke 1:26-56

    SONG:  What Child Is This

    PART 1:

          Life is full of extremes, isn’t it?  Just take elevation.

    What’s the highest you’ve ever been in your life?  For most of us, it’s probably been in some commercial airliner flying at 30-40,000 feet above the ground, some 5-7 miles up in the atmosphere.

          What’s the lowest you’ve ever been on earth?  If you’ve been to Death Valley in California, you managed to get 282 ft. below sea level. 

          If you spent any time on a Navy submarine, you might have traveled some 2,000 feet below sea level.  But if you are miner living in Idaho’s Silver Valley not far from us here, you could be going nearly 2 miles (9,587 ft.) deep to work every day. 

          The rock temperature reaches about 150 degrees at that depth while the air temperature at 40,000 ft outside an airliner could be -70F.  That’s a difference of over 200 degrees of temperature where thousands of people are working every day. 

          We live in a world where highs meet lows every day physically.  The same may be true emotionally.  Every day, but in perhaps close proximity, people are experiencing the highest and lowest of emotions.  Some people are grieving the death of loved ones while others are welcoming the new life of a baby.  Some are marrying the love of their life while others are burying someone they’ve loved for a lifetime.

          Christmas is a time of highs and lows too.  I’m not talking about the high of a house full of children waiting for the excitement of Christmas morning or the disappointment of those same children at not getting something they had hoped for. 

          I’m talking about the “highs” and “lows” of that first Christmas where heaven’s “highest” met earth’s “lowest.” 

          It started with two very lowly young teenagers encountering one very highly exalted angel, Gabriel.  Low met high there in Nazareth when Gabriel came to what was probably a 12-14 year old young virgin.  Her name was Mary.  We can be sure we would never have known her name if highly exalted had not met lowly born.  But it did that day when Mary was met by angel Gabriel.  And the result is that 20 centuries later, that unknown young woman from an unknown little town is the most famous, respected and revered woman in human history.  When high meets low, everything changes.

                Mary was living in a little non-descript village, a mere dot on the map, a place with only about 400 residents—a town about the size of our Sprague or Rockford, WA.  If angels had not bent low to touch the earth in nondescript Nazareth, chances are, we would never have even known the name Nazareth.  Yet today it, too, is one of the best known small towns in the world. 

                That’s what happens when heaven meets earth, when God goes to humans, when angels interact with humble peasants.  Everything changes. 

                If we look closely at Mary’s own words, what we now call Mary’s Magnificat, what ___________ read just moments ago, what strikes you are the extremes. 

    Mary knew all too well the lows of grinding poverty.  She was well acquainted with living in obscurity, not having all the food you wanted or even needed.  She was used to being told what to do.  After all, she was still likely a child of 12 or 13 when she was betrothed by her father to Joseph.  And she would have remained powerless, unknown and anonymous where it not for the fact that God, the Most High, loves to reach down to the lowliest of people. 

    Nine months before that first night we celebrate here tonight, God reached out to a very humble, very poor, very obscure young Mary. He “overshadowed” her with His power.  And he blessed her with THE most amazing promise, THE most amazing conception, THE most amazing pregnancy, and THE most amazing birth the world has ever known.  This low-born teenager gave birth to the Most High God incarnated in human flesh and blood.

    God, the Most High, loves to come to people who are lowly, humble and seemingly insignificant.  He loves to invite them into His divine plans.  He delights to surprise them with promises beyond their wildest dreams.  He loves to turn tarnished souls into treasures of heaven.  He loves to make each of us great by the giving of Himself to us. 

    So tonight, a night in which we remember that heaven’s Highest met earth’s lowliest, let’s invite our Lord Most High to meet us where we are.  Let’s make room in our souls for the Savior of mankind.  Let’s ask God to look with mercy on our lowly lives, our oft-conflicted hearts, our too-often sin-marred souls. Let’s ask Him to fill the poverty of our lives with the riches of His Son.  Like young Mary of old, may God’s word to us in Christ be fulfilled.  May we who are empty and barren without Jesus be filled to overflowing with the very presence of God tonight.

    PRAYER of humble submission.

    Song:  Away in a Manger

    Song:  The First Noel

    READING #2—Luke 2:1-20

    Song:  Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

    PART 2:

    Born for us so many nights ago!  High met low again, but this time in the town of Bethlehem.  Though better known in its day because it was the birthplace of King David, Bethlehem was still a little town, probably between 400-600 regular residents. 

                Bethlehem means literally “House of Bread.” And on this night so long ago, the Bread of Life himself, Jesus, came to satisfy the longings of every soul God ever made.  He who is Maker of all gave Himself to His creation.  The One who inhabits and even exceeds the vast expanse of our universe confined himself to the body of a baby.  He who lacks nothing willingly became a helpless human so the He might save hungry hearts.  The city that had no room for the Holy Family was made a birthing room for God-in-human-flesh.  The highest of heaven kissed the lowest of earthly cities that night with the birth of Christ.

                But that night, God chose the lowest of the lowly outside of Bethlehem to experience the highest of the heavenly hosts inside God’s plan.  He chose shepherds “keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

                About the only people lower than shepherds at that particular time in Jewish history were lepers.  These poor, lowly, unkempt shepherds, the last people on earth you would ever suspect, get to see what no other humans on earth were privileged to see.  To these lowly men, an angel gives them the highest theology!  These despised shepherds are the first to receive the birth announcement of the divine Gospel.  They are the first to learn that this little baby is for everyone—“great joy for all the people.” 

    They are the first to be told that this Messiah is everyone’s messiah.  And they are the first to hear heaven use his three-fold title of “Savior,” “Messiah” and “Lord” (Luke 2:11) in one announcement.  It’s not just a “gender-reveal”; it’s a God-revelation. 

    Lowly shepherds meet high theology. 

    And this tiny band of shepherd also meet heaven’s massive host.  It starts with just one angel.  Any more that dark night might have given them all heart attacks.  So God cracked the door to their darkness with just one angel at first. That was still enough to leave these ancient tough-guys in the field terrified in their hearts. 

    After all, what shepherd ever imagined that they had a place in the presence of God?  How could rough and soiled social undesirables become the objects of the Most High God’s salvation plan?  How could the lowliest of laborers figure into the highest of divine stories? 

    So God’s angelic messenger gave them “a sign.”  “This will be a sign to you,” the angel said.  “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

    These shepherds knew what mangers were used for—feeding troughs that were found in shepherd’s caves, the place where baby lambs that time of year were born and wrapped in strips of cloths to keep them warm on chilly birth-nights. They would not find this child where anyone would have expected—in the finest home in town or the best bassinet in the village.  No, the highest born child in human history would be found in the lowest hovel in that humble town—a stable that smelled strangely like shepherds themselves. God came near to the lowliest of people in a place where they would be welcome and He would be adored.

    I wonder if the presence of God in helpless human flesh pierced the hearts of those rough and ruddy shepherds as they found Him in their manger?  Did those simple shepherds who wrapped little lambs in strips of cloth and carried them close to their hearts understand the heart of God as they gazed upon the Christ child lying in that manger?  They who were used to watching over lambs of Bethlehem were now watching the lamb of God.

    Lambs of Bethlehem—they were a special bunch.  Born and bred near the Temple in Jerusalem, Bethlehem lambs were given life precisely so that their lives could be taken… as a sacrifice for sin.  They were born so that they could be taken to the temple in Jerusalem and slain as a blood sacrifice for sin-soaked people.  And the manger—this humblest of cribs for a king—was the perfect place for the Lamb of God who would one day, on a cross far rougher than the scratchy straw He lay in, take away the sin of the world.

    This was the miracle the angels spoke about that night on the hillsides of Bethlehem.  What started as an announcement by one ended as a choir of thousands.  Luke tells us that “suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel….” A “great company” is literally a multitude—not 50 or 100 or even 1,000.  If, at the creation of the world and by the command of God the Son, “all the angels shouted for joy” (according to Job 38:7), how could the consummation of God the Father’s salvation plan for sinners such as us not bring out the chorus of heaven yet again?  Angels beyond measure together shouted,

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth

    peace to those

    on whom his favor rests.” 

    Simple earthly shepherds hearing the voices of astounding celestial choirs.  God showed His highest to the lowest. And He did so in such a way as to turn solitary, introverted and country-loving shepherds into His evangelists and newscasters of this astonishing night when High met low. 

                Which presents us all with a question:  Have we, in our lowly, frail, often isolated human condition truly met the Lamb of God who takes away our sin?  Have we come to the manger tonight to simply wonder and be warmed by God-in-human-flesh…or have we come to bow at the cross of the only Lamb of God so that He might take away our sin and fit us for a truly amazing terrestrial and celestial future?   

                As the Scripture (Heb. 3:7 & 14) says, “Today…[tonight] …if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.”  Open it rather to the Creator of your body and soul, the One who gave His life so that you might have life.  Perhaps tonight is the night you need to pray a simple prayer like this that embraces Jesus Christ as the eternal Lamb of God who died for you.

    PRAYERLord Jesus, living Christ, Lamb of God who takes away my sin, have mercy on me.  I am the soiled sinner who needs your sacrifice.  I am the soul that longs to be filled by You—Maker of my soul and all that I will ever know.  Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.  Reign in me as you reign in heaven. Please make me your child.  I put my faith, my trust and my eternal hope in You.  Amen.

    Song:  He Shall Reign

    Song:  O Holy Night

    READING #3

    Part 3:  [Some of the following is taken from Rekindling the Glory of Christmas by Dr. Jason Hubbard.]

    When High meets low, sparks can fly.  Worlds can change.  Darkness can fight… and resist… and rail.  . 

                When high met low in Bethlehem, the lowest of darkness did everything it could to destroy the highest of light.  An unspeakable evil was forced upon an unsuspecting village.  Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” would become a village of blood.  Diabolical King Herod, knowing from the Magi that this new King was still living in Bethlehem, would send his soldiers with swords to slaughter all the baby and toddler boys of that quiet village. A darkness known by very few in this world would envelop the birthplace of the Light of the World. 

                It was not that God was unwilling to die for this world.  That decision had already been made in heaven before the earth was spoken into existence. Our world needed to see more of the light before God would allow our darkness to crucify the Christ.  God in His grace wanted to give to all of us in our darkness enough light to believe. 

    So He waited for 33 years to let the lowest of earth and hell tear and rip and torture the highest of heaven.  And just when that darkness thought it had triumphed over light, the Light of the World burst free from the chains of death and rose triumphant to go and prepare a place for all who simply embrace His forgiveness.  God over all continues to reach down to the lowly on earth regardless of who we are or what we’ve done.  The highest of heaven continues to reach out to the lowest on earth that we might be forever reconciled to Him through the gift of His Son, Jesus. 

    But this is not the end of the story.  Much is still hidden in mystery…but much has also been revealed by the light.  Take, for instance, the story of Joseph and Mary’s betrothal set in the bigger story of God’s salvation life offered to us. 

    Jewish marriages were typically arranged.  The Father would choose a bride for his Son (Eph. 1:4).  The Father and Son would leave their home and travel to the girl’s home for the purpose of obtaining a wife through a marriage covenant (Gen. 2:24).  They would meet with the father of the chosen bride and negotiate the bridal price (1 Peter 1:18-29).  The price was always a reflection of the value that the man had placed on his soon to be bride.  Next the betrothal date would be set.  The father and son would return home to sell goods and gather whatever was needed for the bride’s price in order to “purchase” the bride (Mt. 13:44-46; 2 Cor. 8:9).

    The Betrothal date would arrive.  The young man and his parents would go to the girl’s house for the marriage dinner.  The marriage covenant would be presented and offered.  It stated the bridal price, the promise to support and care for her, and thee terms of the marriage, should she accept (Mt. 26:26-28; Eph. 5:28-32; Romans 8:32; Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6:33; Luke 9:32). 

    The Groom’s Father would then ask the bride if she would accept.  When she agreed, the Father would offer a cup to his Son, the Groom.  The young man would drink, signifying his willingness to sacrifice in order to make her his wife (Mt. 26:39).  The Groom then offered the cup to his bride.  She would accept the cup, signifying her willingness to enter into the marriage by saying, “I accept your gift and your life and I offer you my life in return” (Mt. 26:27-28).  Once they drank, the young man would hand over the bride price to her Father (Luke 23:46).

    The young man then presented gifts to his bride.  They were called Matan, which means gift or pledge.  It was a pledge of his love and a promise of his return (Eph. 1:13-14).  As she accepted these gifts of value, the betrothal was now complete. 

    She was now not only set apart (betrothed), but she also entered into a time of ‘sanctification,’ being made ready for the return of her bridegroom (1 Cor. 1:2, 6:11; Heb. 10:10).  At this point the bride promised to pay a dowry, which included a yielded life set apart, holy, pure and belonging to another (I Cor. 6:19-20; Romans 12:1; 6:12-13). 

    The groom then made a speech, saying something like, “I go to prepare a place for you.  I will come back when it is ready” (John 14:1-3).  Then the Groom returned to his Father’s house and began building a home for him and his beloved.  His Father had the responsibility of determining when the home was finished and his son could go and claim his bride (Mt. 24:36).

    As the bride waited for her groom, she was referred to as the one “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23).  She took on his name and was considered his wife with all the rights and privileges of a wife (Rm 8:17).  During this season, the bride prepared her wedding dress (garment) and consecrated herself.  This was a time of preparation for the return of her bridegroom (Rev. 19:8).  She told everyone she knew about her bridegroom (Mt. 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).  She was to have an oil lamp always lit and extra oil on hand for the unexpected day of her husband’s return.  As the time grew near for her final taking to the groom’s new home, she would gather her bridesmaids, and they would sleep with her in her house (Matt. 25:1-6). 

    When all was ready, the Father would give the command to go.  Jewish brides were often “stolen” at night by the groom.  The bride was to be always ‘watching and ready’ for his coming.  When the groom was close, a friend of the bridegroom would run ahead and stand under the window and say, “Behold, the Bridegroom!  The Bridegroom is coming!  Blessed is he who comes (John 3:29; 1 Thess. 5:2, Mt. 23:39).  The Trumpet was blown and the Bridegroom would charge in and take away his bride to his father’s house to celebrate the Marriage Feast (1 Cor. 15:52; Mt. 25:10; Rev. 19:6-9). 

    For those who have pledged their life to Christ, the eternal Bridegroom, this is our reality now and our future then.  All may not be well now, but it will be then.  Darkness may be pressing in now, but it will be vanquished by the Light of the world that is coming again. High is not finished meeting low.  The God of glory is not finished invading the human experience of darkness. 

    And in that sense, all is well because we have seen enough of the glory of God in the life of Jesus Christ to trust Him through times that are inglorious.  We’ve been shown enough of God’s great plan in our salvation to hold on by faith when we feel our lowest. 

    All is well…because God on high has meet with us on low.  The God of light has invade the darkness of humanity to forever bring us His Son, the Light of the world. 

    Candles:  You were given candles when you came in.  We’re going to dim the lights at this time.  I’ll light a few of your candles and you will need to pass that flame on to the people around you.  As you do, listen to this carol, All is Well, as Katie sings this.  And use this time to thank God that all is well between you and God because of Christ. 

                And if it is not well yet, why not use this moment to make it well?  Why not surrender your heart to the One who left heaven to come to you, who gives you his righteousness in exchange for your sin, who pledges Himself to you forever…IF you will simply say “Yes” to Him. 

    Song:  All Is Well   

    Song:  Silent Night

    Closing Prayer