Hope Lutheran Church
December 24, 2023
We were spinning out of control.
Before Thanksgiving break my sophomore year of college, I and another student decided we were gonna carpool together from our college in Minnesota back home in Wisconsin.
The night before we planned to leave, we looked at the weather. And the forecast said that a snowstorm was coming in the afternoon on the day we were planning to travel. And so we decided to leave early. We thought if we got going early enough, we could get ahead of the storm. So, we skipped our classes and we got on the road.
Once we hit the road, it became obvious – the storm had come early. I think we had about a two-second discussion about whether we should hold off on traveling, but we both wanted to get home so we could see our families. So we continued on in our little 2-door car.
We drove for about two and a half hours without any problems. Sure, we were being careful and vigilant as we drove. We were following the speed limit and even going a little bit under. We were doing everything we thought we could do to make sure that we got safely from Minnesota back to Wisconsin while driving through a snowstorm.
And then we got to the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
When you cross over from southern Minnesota into southern Wisconsin, you drive down into a valley as you get closer the Mississippi River. And as you head down toward the Mississippi, the interstate is pretty twisty and turny. We were going downhill, approaching a turn, and moving way too fast. And then the guy driving our car lost control.
We started to spin. It felt like we were in slow motion. I looked out the window and could see the snow was flying up all around us. We were waiting for impact.
As we go through life in this world, it can feel like that all the time, can’t it? Fighting through a storm we didn’t ask for, waiting for impact, and not knowing what’s going to happen next.
Because sometimes there are storms in this life that we have no control over but can totally disrupt our plans. Because some things happen to us that are what happen when you live in a world broken by sin.
When the doctor calls with the test results and the news isn’t good. When relationships crumble apart and we don’t know why. When the person you loved and cared about dies. When we look at the polarizing political and social climate that’s in our world right now.
And what makes it all even worse is that sometimes – maybe even most of the time – I make poor decisions and bad choices along the way that make it all even worse. I do things that the Bible calls sin.
That sin I’m afraid is going to come back to haunt me. That hurtful words I said to someone I care about. The foolish thing I did and now I’m dealing with the fallout. Guilt and shame I because of that one secret sin I keep falling into over and over again.
It doesn’t take long for it to all feel like it’s too much. And so we try to do something about it. We try to fix it all on our own. We try to save ourselves.
As we spun around waiting for impact, all of a sudden we came to a stop. We hadn’t slammed into or, even worse, gone flying through the guard rails on the left side of the road. But when we came to a stop, we got out of the car and realized we had a whole new problem on our hands – We were about 10 feet off the right side of the road, stuck in a foot or more of snow.
So the other guy sat in the car and as he stepped on the gas, I stood knee-deep in the snow trying to push the car. But it didn’t do anything. The wheels just spun and spun and spun. It was clear – we weren’t going to be able to get ourselves out of that ditch. We were stuck.
So often, I find myself in a ditch and I convince myself I can get myself out of it. I tell myself that if I just push a little bit harder, if I just give a little more, if I just work a little harder, if I just read the right books and listen to the right podcasts, if I just watch the right YouTube videos, if I just have the right routines, then I’ll be able to get my life back on track.
You know, it didn’t happen that day, but can you imagine how frustrating it would have been if someone had pulled up on us, stuck in the ditch, and just started barking orders at us? Because sometimes in situations like that, that’s what happens. Sometimes people pull up and rather than actually help, they start telling you all the things you should be doing or not doing.
It’s so annoying when that happens, isn’t it? When you know you have a problem – a huge problem – and then someone comes along and tells you what they think you should be doing. The crazy thing is, I willingly choose to listen to people like that all the time!
Even though the reality is no amount of self-help, no amount of personal development, no amount of life coaching can get me out of the ditch I’m in. There are always going to be storms I can’t control. There are always going to be times when I make poor decisions and bad choices – there’s always going to be my sin – along the way that makes it all even worse. And when I try to take care of it all on my own all that can happen is that my wheels spin and spin and spin, but I’m still stuck.
We don’t need someone to tell us how to do it all better. We don’t need a better model to follow. We don’t need someone who claims they can help us a little bit. What we need – what every single person really needs – is someone who actually sees the storm we’re in the middle of, who actually sees that we’re stuck in the ditch and can’t get out on our own. And then does something about it. We need someone else who comes to us and who saves us. We need a Savior.
That’s why Christmas is so important. Christmas is so important because it shows us that God knows and cares about the storms we face in this life. Christmas is so important because God knows that we can’t control those storms, but he can and he has done something about it. Christmas is so important because it shows us that God loves us and works to save us despite all the sins that are in our lives and the sins we add to this world.
And how can we know that? How can we be sure of that? It’s because of what God did at Christmas. On the night of Jesus’ birth, God came down to us. He came into the messiness and the brokenness of this world. He got right into the storm with us. But the thing is, he didn’t come with glory and power and honor. Instead, he came with lowliness and gentleness and humility.
While they [Mary and Joseph] were there [in Bethlehem], the time came for the baby to be born, and she [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Just think about that for a moment. The Son of God who lives and rules over everything was born in a barn to parents so poor they couldn’t even afford a real place to stay for the night. The eternal and all-powerful Son of God made himself small and helpless and vulnerable. The Son of God left heaven and his first bed was a feeding trough for animals.
It’s wild when you think about it for a minute. Mary needed to put clothes on God every day. Mary had to hold Jesus’ head up as his neck muscles grew. God cried because he was hungry. Jesus, true God, couldn't even stand on his own two legs when he was born.
Why would he do that? Why’s it so important? It’s because the Savior we really need had to be real person just like all of us. So that he could enter into the messiness and brokenness of this world. So that he could be held to the same standards the rest of us are held to. He needed to be be born as baby so that one day he could go to the cross and die.
But he had to be the Son of God so he could keep do it all perfectly. He had to be the Son of God so that when he died on that cross his death would pay for the sins of all mankind.
You see, Jesus didn’t come to be a role model for us. He didn’t come to tell us how we can live a better life by listening to what he says. He didn’t come to bark orders at us and then leave. He came to be our Savior. Our Savior from the storms of this sinful and broken world. Our Savior from our own brokenness and sin.
The trouble is, sometimes it can be hard for us to believe that. It can be hard for me to imagine that Jesus would come for someone like me. Because I know what I’m like. Because I know the sinful and shameful things I’ve said and done throughout my life. And so sometimes it’s hard for me to really believe that Jesus did all of that for me.
But you know how I know Jesus came for someone like me? Someone like you? It’s because of who got to hear the message of Jesus’ birth first that Christmas night. It’s because of what an angel said to those people that night.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified
That’s who got to hear the good news of Jesus first. Shepherds! It wasn’t a powerful government official. It wasn’t an influential religious leader. The first people who heard about Jesus were shepherds – people who were considered by most to be unimportant, outsiders, outcasts.
Maybe we think of ourselves a bit like that. But the good news of Christmas is that this Savior who has been born came precisely for exactly for people who can sometimes feel like they’re unimportant, outsiders, or outcasts. Because what did the angel say?
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
You see it? The angel said this good news of great joy was meant for all people. And it is. But maybe what’s easy for us to miss is that the angel said, “A Savior has been born to you.”
To you… to you… to you. You who have your own sin and shame. Your own guilt and brokenness. Not a helper. Not a role model. A Savior. Just for you.
That afternoon when my friend and I were trying our hardest to get out of a ditch, after about 20 minutes of struggling and getting nowhere, a truck pulled up. And a guy got out and he said something along the lines of, “I figured there would be people stuck out here. So I’m just driving up and down the interstate pulling people like you out of the ditch.”
He didn’t make us feel worse. He didn’t tell us what we should have done to get ourselves out of the ditch. He just backed his truck up, walked through the snow, hooked on some straps, and pulled us out. We didn’t do anything. And just like that, we were back on the road, heading home.
This Christmas – every Christmas, every day – Jesus’ promise for you is that he came into the messiness, the storms of this world so he could save you from them. He came into this sinful world for sinful people so he could pull us up out of the ditch we could never get out of on our own.
He was born as a baby and placed in a wooden manger so that someday he could go to a wooden cross to die and take our sin upon himself. All so you could know that your sin has been forgiven, forgotten forever. So you can know and be sure that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Merry Christmas. Amen.