Bernard Madoff had it made. He owns a $5 million apartment in the exclusive Upper East Side of New York. In 1980, he purchased a mansion on the seashore in Montauk, Long Island, New York, that today is worth $3 million. When he tires of living in those two places, he can fly down to Palm Beach, Florida, in one of his two private jets that he owns and stay in his $9.4 million dollar two-story, 8,753-square-foot house featuring five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and a pool. He golf's at the aristocratic Palm Beach Country Club. After a round of golf, he can go to his home in Palm Beach, walk to his dock on the Intercoastal Waterway, and take a fishing cruise in his 56 foot yacht.
For good measure, he also owns a mansion in France.
Each mansion is furnished to the hilt and adorned with priceless art work. He owns the most luxurious cars and adorned his wife in the finest, most elegant jewelry,
Can you imagine such wealth? Can you dream of such a life-style? I sure can’t. Neither can you.
But it all came crashing down on Madoff on December 11 when federal agents arrested him for security fraud in a Ponzi scheme he set up and managed.
Madoff lost $50 billion in cash and securities in money that people and institutions invested with him. Many suffer. It turns out that he is the greatest thief of Jewish wealth since the Nazis confiscated all of the Jews holdings and property in the 1930’s. Madoff is a Jew. Many of his investors were fellow Jews who trusted him as a friend.
Rich and famous people have lost millions. Men such as New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, Steven Spielburg, New York Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, GMAC Chairman J. Ezra Merkin, and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman have lost millions not to mention colleges, state retirement accounts, non-profit institutions, banks, and even other countries.
This is clearly the biggest financial scandal and cover up in world history.
Some have lost ninety-five percent of their life savings. A couple in Aspen , Colorado, was able to retire early with their small real estate business and their investments with Madoff. Now, at ages 59 and 64, they'll have to go back to work and sell their home. A widow who invested her husband's life insurance money with Madoff is left without a penny.
Madoff, 70 years old, is now under house arrest with security guards around him, and faces up to twenty years in prison if convicted.
His fall from power, prestige, and prosperity has been mercurial. A lot of innocent people have gone down with him. Overnight, he went from somebody to nobody. He plunged from admiration to appalling. In one sense, he went from heaven to earth.
I tell this story because it helps us get our mind around the significance of Jesus’ birth that we celebrate tonight. Jesus literally came from heaven to earth. In fact, He is heaven on earth.
Our God is a triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A real mystery that defies reason and understanding. When we think of the Son, we think of Jesus living on earth for thirty-three years and then ascending back into heaven. We almost look at Him as a created being like us.
He is not like us in the sense that He is created. The Nicene Creed makes it simple for us to grasp. He is begotten, not made. He is the same today, yesterday, and forever. That is, Jesus is God today, was God yesterday, and is God forever. He is eternal God.
Our triune God created the world. In Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”
In Colossians 1:16-17, the God’s word says, “For by Christ all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are one God. Again we look to Scripture to help us. “Jesus had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what” Philippians 2:6 (Message Bible).
Jesus said, “I and my Father are one (John 10:30). Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
We celebrate tonight then, not His birth because He is eternally existent. We celebrate His coming into the world as the God-man. He is all God and all man - not some freak that is half God and half man.
Such truth is impossible for me to grasp. I like to think of Jesus only as God incarnate, God in the flesh, living for thirty three years and then ascending back into heaven. I can better get my mind and heart around that. I don’t know about you, but I need a God in skin, and our merciful God did just that in sending Himself to us as His Baby Boy.
Jesus cried as a baby like you and me. He was hungry and cold like you and me. He grew tired and weary like you and me. And He was subject to every temptation - the pride of life, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh - just like you and me.
To help us in our worship and adoration tonight, let’s imagine Jesus’ life in heaven and try to put it in images what He gave up. We can use Madoff’s story to help us.
Madoff had earthly power. He rubbed shoulders with the most powerful people in our country. Politicians, heads of big corporations, movie producers, and heads of state needed him. That is power. He had their personal phone numbers. He ate dinner with them. He influenced Congress donating almost a half-million dollars to his favorite politicians in the recent political campaign.
Today, Madoff has no power. He is not free to go and come as he pleases. His days of being a mover and shaker are over.
Jesus had power - divine power. He spoke and the sun caught fire to warm the earth. He spoke and life from the earth came forth. Angels serve Him forever, and the throng of the redeemed in heaven and on earth adore Him always. He rules from the throne in His heavenly palace waiting for the day when the Father gives the nod to Gabriel to blow His trumpet as a signal for Him to return to earth in power and splendor. All power is His.
It was by His choosing and by divine design that he chose to be born as a weak, helpless, needy infant to an underprivileged woman He gave up all of His power. No longer was He the ruler of the universe on that Holy Night. He was born into servant hood - to serve, wash feet, and give His very life for the redemption of those who killed Him. Quite amazing!
If a man of great power did such a thing, we would say he is touched in the head. Yet, Jesus' lowly birth has inspired His followers to do just that - to sacrifice their power to empower others with the love of Christ and give them the greatest gift of all - salvation through Christ.
Then, there is the prestige factor. Look at Madoff. He had the private cell phone numbers of movers and shakers not only in this country but throughout the world. When he walked into a fancy New York restaurant, or teed up his golf ball in Palm Springs, people knew who he was. They respected him, trusted him with their millions, and followed his advice. To be seen with him, eat dinner with him, be invited to his paradise in Florida was to be important in return. Associating with him brought people fame and prestige too.
In one day, Madoff lost all of that. Friends now despise him. Everyone wants to disassociate with him. One of his investors committed suicide. He cannot even show his face in public. He went from a somebody to a nobody.
Now friends, think of the prestige Jesus lost. He was a nothing when He was born. Nobody cared. There was not even a mid-wife to help Mary with the birth - only Joseph. People in the streets hustled and bustled to do their business and pay their taxes. King Herod was lavished with food and drink and beautiful women in his Jerusalem palace. Caesar Augustus worried about the problems in his empire and how to keep it together. The Pharisees and Sadducees were busy making sure their religious rules and regulations were carried out to the letter. In Muslim countries today, they would be the equivalent of the Muslim culture police who have the power in many Muslim countries to beat a woman for merely showing her face in public.
Yes, everyone was busy doing their own thing and did not know that God had slipped into the world in an obscure village born to a peasant woman.
Jesus’ loss of prestige is astounding. “Jesus made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:7-8 NIV).
Spit upon, beaten, whipped, mocked, and finally crucified, no one would do that to a man of prestige and power. But Jesus came, lowly and humble of heart to suffer these indignities (Matthew 11:29) so that God’s revelation of Himself would be made known to all those who seek after the one True, Triune God.
AMAZING! BOW BEFORE HIM!
Finally, Madoff had unparalleled prosperity. His wealth made him too good to shop at Wal-Mart. Nothing but Saks Fifth Avenue would do for him. He looked down his nose at those who drove old used cars. Nothing but the latest luxury car would do for him. He was too good to buy a plane ticket and fly to Florida. He had the extraordinary wealth to fly his private jet to his Florida palace. His prosperity was rivaled by few.
But, Madoff lost it all. Today, everything he has is under court receivership. He can’t fly away. He can’t play a round of golf at his country club. He can’t dine at an exclusive restaurant. He is under house arrest.
Jesus owns it all. Everything is His. The cattle on a thousand hills, the gold, the silver, the oil, the mountains, and the seas, the rain and the trees. They are all His. We may think that they are ours, but they are not. All of us are mere renters. In His grace, He allows us to use what He made for Himself. Wouldn’t you agree that one who owns all of the gold in Ft. Knox, who owns all of the water in the sea, and who owns the very breath that we breathe is rich beyond comparison? His wealth knows no bounds.
To think He left His throne in heaven with gold covered streets and anything and everything at His disposable is quite beyond our ability to grasp. Why would anyone jeopardize such a position of eternal prosperity to walk the dusty roads of Palestine? Why would anyone leave the majesty of heaven to come to this sin-soaked earth and live among sinful, cruel, and mean-spirited people? Why would anyone leave the place of life to come to the place of death? Why would He leave the ivory palace and unite Himself with the seed of Mary and immediately be rejected by the inn keeper to be born even in a ramshackle barn in the little obscure village of Bethlehem. Why not be born to earthly prosperity in a palace? To the wife of a king or prince? Why not be born in luxury with a silver spoon in His mouth?
No, it was by His choosing and by divine design that he breathed His first breath of air mingled with the smell of hay, animals, and dung. Quite amazing!
Why? Why make His entrance to earth in such fashion? The Scripture explains this mystery. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians (8:9 NIV).
That’s why we gather tonight and celebrate with our church and with our families and friends on this Holy Night. That’s why!
What of Madoff? His power, position, and prosperity came by his plans and the work of his mind. It came because of greed. He never had enough always wanting more, MORE, MORE! It came because of ego. He wanted to be somebody - somebody rich, famous, and powerful that others would have to come to in order to prosper themselves.
But, his paradise collapsed around him ruined by the very greed and pride that built it. You could say that he came back to earth.
And what of our Lord, the baby Jesus? Why did His paradise come crashing down? Why did He lose His power, position, and prosperity? It certainly wasn’t because of greed or pride. He left Him His home in glory because of His great love for you and me - to save us all from Satan’s sorrow when we were gone astray.
Heaven came to earth that night long, long ago so that we could have a taste of heaven on earth with all of the promises of eternal life given to us through Christ. He has made us heirs to His power, prestige, and prosperity. God makes us, true believers in Him, His children and listen to the blessings that comes with being His child. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:16-17 NIV).
And again, in James 2:5: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him?" (NIV).
"Jesus left His home in Glory to dwell among the weeds.
He walked upon a sin-sick world and died among the thieves.
He sacrificed Himself for us and now all the world knows,
Above the thorns of this worldly garden, lives One Perfect Rose.
The price He paid for our salvation should bring us to our knees,
In repentance and thanksgiving for this gift of grace received.
Eternal life with God we have because our Savior chose,
To live and die among the thorns and be One Perfect Rose."
by Elizabeth Ricard ©2002
I will sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me.
How He left His home in glory
For the cross of Calvary.
by Francis H. Rowley (1854-1952)
Heaven on earth! The invisible made visible in front of our very eyes. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
Gather at the manger. Adore the infant. Worship in wonder. The Lord is come! Joy to the world and joy to you and me.
by Hughes Oliphant Old
Father, Most High, you have given your Son Jesus to be born of the Virgin Mary, to inherit the throne of David, and reign over your Kingdom forever.
Father, faithful God, ever faithful to your promises. We bless you for the birth of your Son, Emmanuel. We bless you because you are with us.
Grant that through Christ your Son, born to Mary, child of our humanity, "the first-born of all creation," we, too, be born from above, inheriting through faith, the covenant promises of the children of God, that we, too, know you as our Father and love you as your children.
All praise and honor be to you, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever. Amen.
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