Thoughts on Christmas

…from our Christmas Eve worship gathering tonight.  We focused on Matthew 21 and the parable of the vineyard and tenants.

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

So the landowner rents the vineyard to some farmers and moves to another place. And when harvest time comes, as any landowner would, he sends his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.  Now the surprise comes to this landowner. He expected his tenants to be responsible with what he had given them, and to be obedient to his expectation to gather his fruit. What happens? (beat one, kill another, stone a third)

The landowner is astonished at how horrible they treated his servants, but in his mercy, instead of throwing them out of the vineyard, he sends a second wave of servants. And what happens to them? (treated the same way)

So this landowner, understandably confused, yet full of amazing mercy, still doesn’t throw them out of the vineyard and reasons, “If I send my son, they will respect him.”

And I want to stop this parable here to focus on the meaning of it related to Christmas.
Who do the characters in this parable signify?
Landowner:  the Lord God
Vineyard: his creation
Farmers (renters): God’s people (Israel)
Servants: Prophets, leaders, proclaimers of truth

To stretch this parable a bit, you could say that among other people, the tenants are the ones who have acknowledged, “Yes, the vineyard is owned by the landowner and we need to be responsible to cherish it, obey his instructions, and handle it well.”

They are the ones who should, I emphasize should be responsible for what they’ve been given.
Now, if we stop and consider what Jesus is saying here in this parable, he’s saying something important about God’s purposes here, and God’s dream here.

It is God who builds the vineyard. Is the vineyard important to him? It is God who gives tenants the responsibility to care for the vineyard, to relate responsibly to the landowner and to his servants.

You could say that God’s highest desire is not to remove the tenants from the vineyard, but that the tenants would meet his expectations for the vineyard. That they would cherish it, tend to it, and cultivate it; and that they would do so out of honor of whose vineyard it is.

So when harvest time comes, God, the one who made the vineyard naturally sends servants to gather his fruit, so naturally they will understand their role, won’t they?  And God seems to be astonished that they have rejected his servants.Because he wouldn’t send a second wave of servants if he knew they would be rejected, would he? And then he wouldn’t send his son if he knew he would be rejected, would he?

It seems that God’s greatest purpose for his Son is not that he would be rejected and killed, but that his tenants would recognize the authority of his Son and do what’s expected of them. God sends his Son expecting that people would turn from their twisted ways and embrace His way. This is God’s highest purpose behind sending Jesus. This is God’s highest purpose behind what we celebrate as Christmas. God’s highest purpose was to send to his Son in the expectation that his tenants would recognize him and be faithful to him.

Jesus anticipates the end of the story that we know took place today. “When the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He will bring these wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”…and then Jesus lays down the gauntlet here in verse 43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

Again, I want to drive this point home; What is the highest purpose of God according to Jesus in this story?(this, quite simply, is God’s dream for His people)

The song of Mary we find in Luke 1:46-55 is an incredible example of God’s great dreams for his world, his hope that his creation will respond to his great mercy and love and seek his pathways (mercy extends to those who fear him, scatters the proud, brought down rulers, lifts up the humble, fills the hungry with good things, sends the rich away empty, merciful to Abraham and his descendents forever); these are very practical real-life changes she anticipates and celebrates.

When we proclaim that Jesus is the light of the world, we are saying that our world lives in deep darkness; our thoughts, our relationships, our speech, our actions, the way we treat what God has made; we’re stumbling around making a giant horrific mess of things.
We confess this to be true. Yet we don’t know any better; our thoughts, our relationships, our speech, our actions, the way we treat what God has made, it all comes natural to us. So where do we turn?

When the light comes in the midst of that darkness, though, when truth comes and shows us how empty our way of life is, when God resoundingly shows us how full of hatred and hopelessness we are, how fearful we are, how mistrusting, when God shows us another way, then, we have no excuse.
We are confronted with a choice.Which way of life will we choose? The one that leads our world back to healthy thoughts, relationships, speech, action, and care? Or the one where we all keep stumbling around in the darkness, making a giant mess of things?

Why not choose joy? Why not choose truth?

Then we watched a video called “From Now On” that you can view here. Viewing it will put my closing comment in greater context.

The Magnificat; less touchy-feely and more subversive; so subversive that governments have forbidden its public reading.


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