The Joy of a Savior

This sermon was preached by Christopher L. Webber at All Saints Church San Francisco, on December 27, 2015.

[I have almost never preached my own sermon on the Sunday after Christmas. My excuse was that there was seldom enough time – as this year, barely 48 hours – so I would take a sermon from one of the great preachers of the past – John Donne or Phillips Brooks, for example – and edit it down to a length that contemporary congregations might sit still for. So even though I didn’t preach this year on Christmas Day and have no excuse – and actually it often takes as much time to research and edit such a sermon as it would to write my own – this sermon is not mine but taken from a Christmas sermon of Lancelot Andrewes.  Lancelot Andrewes became a bishop in England in 1605 and died in 1626. He was Chair of the Committee that produced the King James Version of the Bible, so he knew something about 375px-Launcelot_Andrews_(1555-1626),_English_School_circa_1660eloquent English. Over the twenty years that Andrewes was a bishop he preached seventeen times on Christmas day for King James himself in the king’s chapel. These are wonderful, thoughtful, scholarly sermons, yet sometimes surprisingly personal. One of them inspired a poem by T S Eliot. These sermons average almost twenty pages each in the published version and they are some four times as long as some of my longer sermons.  So this is a much shortened version of the fifth of those sermons preached in the king’s chapel in 1615 on the text:
Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  That there is born unto you this day a Savior which is Christ the Lord.                      St. Luke 2:10-11]

This day Christ was born, never but today only can it be said, “This Day.” Let us then hear this day the first report, the very first news that came of what makes it so high a feast, the birth of Christ.

It came by an angel, no man was worthy to be the messenger of it, yet God allows sinful humans to be the reporters of it at the second hand, and the news none the worse for that; good news is good news and welcome by any though the person be a foul leper that brings it, yet we are always to remember this: whoever it is that brings it, the news of Christ’s birth is a message for an angel.

Angels are the messengers of heaven. Messengers come with tidings but angelswhether good or bad we cannot tell. Here comes an angel with news from heaven; what news he brings we know not and therefore we fear because we know not which shows all is not well between heaven and us that upon every coming of an angel we are afraid of the messengers and the message that comes from that place. That the message may then proceed, this fear must be removed. Such is our infirmity that he must begin with these two words: Fear not. And so he does seven times in this gospel.

But fear will not be cast out with a couple of words till they see some reason to quiet them. So here are more words: I bring you good news and good news of great joy. Even of joy there are many degrees All joys are not one size. Some are lesser and some greater as this is here. As is the fuel so is the fire and the greatness of the joy depends on the greatness of the matter. It is not the same joy for a shepherd when his ewe brings him a lamb as when his wife bears him a child yet the birth of a lamb is a joy such as it is. But then if that child should prove to be the chief shepherd in the land, somewhat more and then if he should prove to be a Cyrus or a David, then certainly that is a greater joy. As the matter is, so is the joy. If great the benefit, great the person, then great the joy, and here the benefit is great, none greater, as much as the saving of us all as much as all our lives and souls are worth. And the person great, none so great: it is the Lord himself. This surpasses them all, the joy of it puts them all down so that none of them shall be remembered with it. Therefore the angel said well, “Good tidings of great joy.”

And we must also notice: which shall be to all people: not only that is but that shall be. Not only to all that then were for that would leave us out but that were or ever shall be to the world’s end. “All people” is the latitude or extent; “that shall be” is the longitude or continuance of the joy that it should be a feast of joy as long as any people shall be able to hold a feast on the face of the earth. In other words, that same eternal gospel that St John saw in the angel’s hand we now hear from the angel’s mouth to be preached “to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” that be or that shall be while the world endures. So make a note of that: “That is and shall be” for commonly all our earthly joy is for the present, but continues not, is, but shall not be, like the blaze of a brush fire all a flame and out again suddenly in a moment. This joy is grounded upon Christ and his birth without which our joy is as the joy of men in prison, merry for a while, but within a while sentence of death to pass upon them, so that all our mirth shall be but mourning. All other joy is, but shall not be within a while, a time shall be when it shall not be, but my joy, Jesus said, – Mine, grounded upon me – none shall ever take from you – (Jn 16:22) not sickness, not death itself. Other it shall, this it shall not, but now you shall this day and evermore rejoice in the holy comfort of it.

There is joy at every birth but the greater he is that is born and the more beneficial his birth the greater ado is made and of him that is born here it may truly be said this is one whose birth is good news from the poorest shepherd nativityto the richest prince on the earth

You may say what you will, but surely there is no joy in the world like the joy of one who is saved; no joy so great, no news so welcome, as to one ready to perish when they hear of one that will save them. Imagine the joy of one in danger of perishing by sickness, when they hear of one who will make him well again, or the joy of one about to die by sentence of the law, to hear of one with a pardon to save their life, or the joy of one with enemies, to hear of one who will set them in safety. Tell any of these, assure them of a Savior, and it is the best news they ever heard in their life. There is joy in the name of Savior, and this child is a Savior also.

It may be that we need none of these; we are not sick at present, not in fear of the law, not in danger of enemies. It may be, if we were, we might fancy that we can be relieved in some other way. But that which he came for, that saving we all need and none but he can help us to it. We all therefore have cause to be glad for the birth of this Savior.

I don’t know why, but when we hear of saving or mention of a Savior, our mind is carried to the saving of our skin, of our temporal state, of our bodily life, and other saving we think not of. But there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers and the destruction there than of this life here. Besides our skin and flesh we have a soul and it would be good sometimes to remember that. Indeed, our first thought and care should be for that: how to be saved from our sins. Sin it is that will destroy us all and there is no person on earth that has so much need of a Savior as does a sinner; Nothing so dangerous, so deadly to us, as the sin in our heart, nothing from which we have so much need to be saved. Then if it is good tidings to hear of a Savior when it is only a matter of the loss of earth and of this life here, what of it when it is a matter of the loss of heaven and our soul is at stake and the well-doing or the un-doing of it for ever? He that could save our souls from destruction, is not the birth of such a one good news indeed? Is not such a Savior worth listening to? Is he not? But we have not the feeling of our sins that we have of our sickness; if we had, we would hear this news with greater cheerfulness and hold this day of the birth of a Savior with joy indeed.

Now a word only as to what is to be done on our part. If he is born for us, it is to some purpose. What then are we to do? Surely not to hear his tidings and let him go. There is a duty that comes with a gift and that is to receive it. If he is “born for us” and “given to us” I trust he will also be accepted by us. But how shall we receive him? Who shall give him to us? It is that one who will say to us shortly, “Take, this is my body” By which you are sanctified; “Take, this is my blood,” by which you are saved. Truly, on his memorable days of which this is the first we are bound to do something in memory of him. What is that? Would you know what it is? “Do this” – do this in remembrance of me.

And let this move us. If ever there be a day of salvation behold this is it when a Savior is born to us. If ever there is an accepted time, behold this is it when a Savior is born to us. Let us then make this so accepted a time twice acceptable by our accepting. Let us honor this day with our receiving which he has first honored by his giving, yielding him evermore but this day, the day of it, chiefly our unfeigned, hearty thanksgiving for this so good news, this so great a gift provided us in him and for him who was himself the gift:

Our Savior Christ our Lord
To whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit three persons,
one immortal, everliving, invisible only wise God,
be all honor, glory, blessing, praise, and thanksgiving
this day and for ever. Amen.

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