Dumpster Diving

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she 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.

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. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

What would it take to get you to go dumpster diving?

What would you have to lose to convince you to jump into a trash-filled, smelly, slime-on-the-walls, partially rusted dumpster to get it back out?  Probably something really important.  Something too precious just to write off.  When I was at UCLA, I worked in food service my first two years on campus.  It was a great way to make extra money and it had the convenience of being close by since I lived in the dorms.  Charlie was one of my shift leads and he was the type of guy everyone looked up to.  Fair, hard-working, and kind-hearted, Charlie would help anybody.  And thank God, too because one day somebody forgot their retainer on the food tray and didn’t realize it until after we had closed the food line.  Which meant that all the trash had already been dumped into the dumpster.  About five or six bags of food trash – that night.  Smelly, slimy, half-eaten food trash.  And that doesn’t count the trash that was already in the dumpster before we started the night.  This was in my “pre-church” days so I know if it were up to me I would have said to the person, “Wow, that’s too bad.”  But lucky for them, they went up to Charlie who said, “Sure, we’ll find it.”  I was on the dish crew with Charlie that night and so he rounded us up and led us to the back dock where the dumpsters were, and without hesitation, Charlie jumped in and started throwing back out the bags of trash we had already dumped inside.  We laid them out on the dock and went through them one by one until we found it.  Sure, we were smelly and slimy, but nothing a good shower and some Tide couldn’t clean up.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

And for us it’s a remarkable occasion.  It’s a night of celebration and of gratefulness for his birth into the world.  We think of it as this beautiful moment when the stars were shining bright and he was surrounded by two loving parents and a host of angels, animals, and shepherds.  But what must it have been like for Jesus?  What must it have been like to leave Heaven for the likes of us?  I imagine it was quite a bit like jumping into a dumpster.  Not that the Earth isn’t beautiful or that God’s creation isn’t worth it, but when you compare it to being in Heaven, it must have seemed an awful lot like dumpster diving.  When the apostle John received a vision of Heaven (which we read about in Revelation), he describes a place of sheer beauty.  He describes the walls being made of jasper, the foundations of the walls and buildings being made of precious stones like emerald, sapphire, and agate, and the gates literally being made out of one pearl each.  Can you imagine the size of the clam that had to have given up those pearls?  It’s interesting because John describes the streets as being made of gold and clear as glass at the same time.  We can’t take John’s vision literally.  It was his human mind trying to process the vast grandeur of Heaven in terms he and we could understand.  And there isn’t a way for us to do that well.  The enormity and beauty of Heaven is simply beyond our comprehension.  But we can read John’s words and know that it is a place of indescribable beauty and peace and joy.  People of every type are there.  People of every color, of every size, of every everything are in Heaven, lifting up praise to God.  The first time I heard that, I was only about ten years old and I couldn’t help but think, “Do I really want to do that for all eternity?”  In my head, I pictured billions of people sitting in pews with hymnals singing “How Great Thou Art” over and over and over again.  It sounded like the opposite of Heaven.  But as I grew older I realized that I was being limited by my own understanding of worship.  Instead, people are SO overjoyed to be there they can’t help but shout and sing and dance in pure and utter happiness.  And that’s what Jesus gave up for us.

Heaven will be filled with people of every size, color, and type lifting praise to God

He saw humanity and knew we needed him.

From Heaven, he could tell that human beings were in desperate straits.  We were lost sheep in need of a shepherd.  And so he sacrificed Heaven and all the peace and joy that goes with it, to come down here to help us.  He came here, knowing that not only would he lose the beauty and tranquility of Heaven, but he was coming to a place that would largely reject him, that would undermine his ministry, and that would try and ultimately succeed in killing him by one of the cruelest ways possible.  And yet, I imagine that like my friend Charlie, Jesus didn’t hesitate.  And through the virgin birth, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph.  That is how much he loves you.  We often think at Easter about the injustice and cruelty Jesus suffered on our behalf.  We recount how he died for us and for our sins.  But we rarely think about what he left behind to give us this chance at redemption in the first place.  He gave up Heaven for you and for me.  As it says in John chapter 3, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  That is why we are followers of Jesus Christ.  Because we believe.  And when you believe, it’s hard not to feel this overwhelming sense of awe at what Jesus did.  Not just on the cross but the entirety of his life on Earth.

He came to bring hope.

That seems pretty clear.  The angel said as much when the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  That’s one of my favorite parts of the story of Jesus.  The angel doesn’t go to the high priests or the rulers of the land or the rich and powerful.  The angel goes to the lowest of the low in society – the shepherds – and brings to them of all people the good news of hope and love for all the world.  Today a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  Life might have been easier for Jesus had the angel tried to convince those in power of Jesus’ arrival.  Or would it?  Would they have been able to hear the Good News or would they, like Herod, have found reasons to try and stop Jesus from ever becoming the person he needed to be?  As Stephen Miller wrote, “Most Bible experts see a theme in this story: empathy and compassion for the poor. Jesus came in humility to bring the good news of salvation to the poorest people.  Some 30 years later, Jesus said as much during a worship service in his hometown of Nazareth: ‘The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor’ (Luke 4:18).”[1]  Jesus came to those who needed him the most and when you need him most, if you put your trust in him and turn to him, he will be there for you, too.

Sometimes the best stories are the simple ones.

I was struggling this year to come up with a “good” Christmas Eve sermon.  How do I tell the story of Christ’s birth in an unique way that no one has ever done before?  How can I make the birth of Jesus Christ SPICY?  And then I was reminded of something another pastor said.[2]  It wasn’t particularly about Christmas Eve, but basically he said pastors spend so much time trying to tell a story in a new and different and more relevant way.  They try hard to come up with some new angle or new thought no one has heard of before.  But how can you really do that with the birth of our Lord and Savior?  Is there really a need to come up with something SPICY for the virgin birth of God into the world?  Isn’t that a story that pretty much stands on it’s own?  Sometimes we need to take a step back and simply remember the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ and what it means for us.  We just need to remember that Jesus came for each and every one of you, to give you “hope and a future” as it said in Jeremiah.  Jesus came to save the least and the lost.  He left behind the glory of God and the beauty of Heaven because we needed him.  He dove in without a second thought.  And there is truly nothing more wonderful or glorious or amazing than that.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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[1] Stephen M. Miller, The Jesus of the Bible, p. 57.

[2] Frances Chan, former pastor of Cornerstone Church, said this at a Catalyst Conference many years ago.

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