Good News and Great Joy! (Luke 2:1-20)

  • Dwight Eisenhower said, "Good leadership is getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it"
  • some people have an extraordinary ability to get others involved in getting things done
  • one person calls it "planting a seed in someone else's pot"
  • that "someone else" then waters it, helps it grow, and brings it to fruition - and usually gets the credit for it

  • it seems that this is common practice with God
  • God gets people to do what he wants them to do, because they want to do it - and they have no idea what's happening!
  • we find an example of this in Acts 4
  • (Acts 4:24) When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
  • (Acts 4:27) Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.
  • (Acts 4:28) They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

  • I read in Proverbs 21:1:
  • (Proverbs 21:1) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
  • God the Father is working behind the scenes, orchestrating the events that culminated in Jesus' death and resurrection
  • that's God's characteristic way of working
  • he is behind everything, invisible to us

  • Luke chapter 2 is the most familiar New Testament text about the birth of Christ
  • it gives us an excellent view of God's way of doing things behind the scenes - invisible, but very much in control
  • this classic narrative of Christ's birth discloses several truths about God that are a source of great joy to humankind

  • FIRST, GOD CONTROLS HISTORY
  • God uses unwitting human agents to do his bidding
  • Christ's birth proved that God is in charge
  • (Luke 2:1) In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
  • (Luke 2:2) (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
  • (Luke 2:3) And everyone went to his own town to register.
  • (Luke 2:4) 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.
  • (Luke 2:5) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
  • (Luke 2:6) While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
  • (Luke 2:7) and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

  • God worked through the decree by the supreme ruler of the empire
  • Caesar Augustus was also called Octavian
  • he is regarded as one of the great administrative geniuses of history
  • he centralized the power of the empire in Rome itself, and established the Pax Romana - Roman peace
  • Rome ruled the world
  • but the Roman Emperor was not really in charge of the world

  • Quirinius was governor of Syria
  • at that time, the Roman province of Syria included Palestine under its jurisdiction
  • Augustus, that great imperial genius, had no idea that he was being used by a power infinitely higher and greater than his own
  • the emperor ordered a census to evaluate taxation potential
  • a census was never good news
  • the empire always wanted more taxes
  • but the plan for a census came not from Augustus, but from God
  • it's hard to admit that God could actually be behind increased taxes
  • couldn't God have arranged some other means to get the couple to Bethlehem at the right time?
  • but God chose to use the mighty Roman Empire
  • hundreds of thousands of people thought they were following Caesar's decree, but they had no idea that Caesar was just doing the Lord's bidding

  • the census usually meant that a person had to return to where the family owned property
  • Joseph's legal residence was apparently still in Bethlehem
  • he may have owned some property there, so he had to go to Bethlehem for the census
  • Bethlehem was about 80 miles south of Nazareth
  • it's only claim to fame was that King David had been born in Bethlehem about 1,000 years earlier
  • Joseph decided to take Mary along with him
  • maybe he didn't want to leave her alone so late in the pregnancy

  • you probably think Caesar's decree was highly inconvenient for the couple
  • you probably imagine them saying, "Of all the times for Caesar to order a census - why now?"
  • but it may have been the other way around
  • maybe Mary and Joseph welcomed it
  • "Yessss! Now we have reason to get away from the staring and the glaring. Bethlehem, here we come!"

  • when Mary's time came, the only available place for the little family was one usually occupied by animals
  • we today probably get more upset about the unavailability of a room in the inn than Mary and Joseph were
  • the inns of that era were neither comfortable nor safe
  • travelers were often robbed at inns
  • in fact, if the inn was crowded, it may have been much better for Jesus to be born in a relatively quiet stable
  • bit in an animal shelter, unknown to the world, Mary delivered baby Jesus
  • and Mary wrapped him in cloths, and lay him in a feeding trough

  • it's amazing to read the story and capture a central truth: God is in control
  • Caesar's world empire was just a tool in the mighty hand of God
  • God said in Isaiah 40:
  • (Isaiah 40:15) Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

  • God is all-powerful, and in control of history
  • who would ever have imagined that the most powerful man on earth, Caesar Augustus, unbeknown to himself, was God's instrument in bringing the virgin from Nazareth to Bethlehem at just the right time for the birth of the Savior, according to prophecy?
  • God chose to move the world for the occasion

  • I wonder if it was for the benefit of the principalities and powers - the gods of the age and all his demons
  • they would see what was happening
  • the world was supposedly under their control - and here is the Almighty orchestrating his plan
  • kind of a holy "in-your-face" to Satan
  • that's truth number one that brings joy to humankind: God is in control

  • SECOND, GOD SETS STANDARDS
  • God makes the rules
  • God doesn't conform to our standards
  • (Isaiah 55:8) "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
  • (Isaiah 55:9) "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

  • the people we overlook as insignificant may be the focus of God's affection
  • God chooses unlikely people for glorious purposes
  • (Luke 2:8) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
  • (Luke 2:9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
  • (Luke 2:10) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
  • (Luke 2:11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
  • (Luke 2:12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
  • (Luke 2:13) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

  • God chose to make the announcement to humble shepherds
  • the good news first came to the social outcasts of the day
  • the shepherd's work made them ceremonially unclean, and looked upon as being insignificant in the culture of the day
  • (1 Corinthians 1:26) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
  • (1 Corinthians 1:27) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
  • (1 Corinthians 1:28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are,
  • (1 Corinthians 1:29) so that no one may boast before him.

  • the shepherds were the first of all the millions of ordinary people through the centuries who have heard and received the gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ, the Savior
  • (Luke 2:14) "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
  • "in the highest" suggests "among heaven's angelic hosts"
  • this was a momentous event in heaven
  • there were no yawns among the angels
  • the apostle Peter in his first letter explained that the outworking of God's plan announced by the prophets and fulfilled in Christ had the angels spellbound
  • he said, "Even angels long to look into these things"

  • it was good news that evoked great joy in the highest - among the angels
  • God's way of inaugurating his greatest act was so contrary to what anyone might have expected
  • God makes the rules
  • that's good news
  • God doesn't rule out humble, struggling people

  • three truths about God that are a source of great joy to humankind
  • first, God controls history
  • second, God sets the standards
  • THIRD, GOD SATISFIED SEEKERS
  • God rewards those who are eager to find the truth
  • after the sensational announcement by the angel and the heavenly host, the shepherds did not stay put in the fields
  • (Luke 2:15) 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."
  • (Luke 2:16) So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
  • (Luke 2:17) When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
  • (Luke 2:18) and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
  • (Luke 2:19) But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
  • (Luke 2:20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

  • the shepherds agreed among themselves, "This we have to see!"
  • it probably wasn't too hard to find the stable with the baby
  • Bethlehem was just a small town

  • they were God's chosen welcoming party sent to Mary and Joseph
  • try to picture Joseph meeting these shepherds who came out of the darkness, and asking them what they want
  • they say, "Please, sir. May we see the baby, Christ the Savior? Some angels told us that he was born. We just had to come"
  • I picture Joseph, with tears in his eyes, saying to Mary, "Mary, how could we ever doubt? This baby is the Son of the living God for certain. Angels just told these shepherds about him. They left their sheep and came right away!"
  • and "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

  • if you were making the arrangements, it would have been so different, wouldn't it?
  • I'd have called Placido Domingo or Pavaroti to come and sing, and Yatzak Perlmann to play his violin for the Messiah
  • God arranged the shepherds to be an impromptu welcoming party for the entrance of the Son of the Most High, the Savior
  • verse 17 tells us that the shepherds spread the word
  • they were the first Christian evangelists
  • the shepherds were seekers whom God satisfied
  • the shepherds came looking for Jesus, and they found him
  • (Luke 2:20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

  • I'd like to ask for your response
  • how has God been at work in your history?
  • I wonder what God has been doing behind the scenes to bring you to the point where you are right now
  • but here you are, Christmas Eve, sitting where you're sitting
  • do you think that God has anything to do with it?
  • are you amazed that God cares about you?

  • that's probably how the humble shepherds felt
  • but God sent the news to them first
  • are you sincere about "checking it out?"
  • Hebrews 11:6 says, "It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him"
  • are you seeking him this evening?
  • are you sincere about checking it out?
  • have you seen the Savior this Christmas?
  • have you even looked for him?
  • or are you mostly focused on all the other activities?
  • the God who controls history, and the God who sets the standards, is the God who is willing to reward you this evening, if you diligently seek him
  • because God satisfies seekers
Adapted from a message by Dr. John Crocker
Posted on December 24, 1998 and filed under Uncategorized.

Bethlehem or Bedlam?

  • no trip to Israel is complete without a visit to the Church of the Nativity, located in Manger Square, Bethlehem
  • it was built around 325 A.D over the hillside grotto believed by most to be the site of the birth of Jesus
  • it is a church that has never been destroyed, making it one of the oldest and most famous churches in the world

  • to enter the church, you must enter what is called "The Door of Humility," just four feet high
  • it was originally designed to prevent people from riding horses into the church
  • but the effect today is that everyone - even President and Mrs. Clinton, who visited last week - must stoop in humility to enter the church

  • within the church, located under the chancel, is the grotto of the Nativity
  • in the crypt at the front of the grotto, you will find a silver star on the marble with the words, inscribed in Latin, "Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary"
  • next door is located another church, where every year on December 24th at midnight, images of Christmas celebrations are broadcast around the world

  • one hundred and thirty-three years ago, a young clergyman by the name of Phillips Brooks made a pilgrimage to Israel
  • on Christmas Eve, while enroute to worship at the Church of the Nativity, he took time to stand in a field outside of Bethlehem, where sheep still grazed
  • Brooks was so overwhelmed with emotion that when he returned home, he wrote one of the most loved Christmas carols of all time - O Little Town of Bethlehem

  • the underlying theme of his Christmas hymn is the theme of quietness
  • it begins, "O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!"
  • later, it says, "For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love"
  • then the third verse reads:

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the wonder of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

  • Phillips Brooks was on to something
  • he knew that the essence of Christmas calls for a quieted heart that has been unplugged from distractions and busyness

  • you might not have heard of the name St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital, located in London, England
  • but you've heard of the English word that is derived from its nickname
  • a slang name was given to this notorious insane asylum: bedlam
  • a word today that is associated with mass confusion and madness
  • but the word bedlam originated with the St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital - an insane asylum

  • just think of it: the name of the town in which Jesus Christ was born eventually became the basis of an English word meaning mass confusion
  • I looked up bedlam in the dictionary and found this definition: "a situation of noisy uproar and confusion"
  • that's a pretty good description of a lot of Decembers that I've had
  • could it be that one of Satan's strategies is to lead Christians from Bethlehem to bedlam so that we don't end up worshiping Christ
  • we don't end up being changed by the celebration because we're absorbed with situations of noisy uproar and confusion

  • Christmas calls for a quieted heart that has been unplugged from distractions and busyness
  • those who are willing to quiet their hearts, and who place themselves in a position to celebrate God's silent ambush on sin, will recognize the true message of Christmas - Jesus Christ
  • my goal this morning will be for you to take very practical steps to take time away from the Christmas rush in order to become calm, and to focus your thoughts exclusively on Jesus

  • I'm going to do something this morning that might, at first seem unfair
  • I'm going to add three things to your to-do list for this week
  • you've probably got plans of where you're supposed to be at what time, not to mention last-minute items that you need to pick up
  • you might have some gift-wrapping left, and I'm sure there's at least one person here who hasn't even begun his Christmas shopping
  • but if we're going to arrive at Bethlehem rather than Bedlam - if we're going to quiet our hearts - then there are three things that we need to do, following the example of Mary in Luke chapters one and two

  • FIRST, WE NEED TO RESPOND
  • please turn your Bibles to Luke 1:26-38, where we see that Mary had a responsive heart
  • the setting is Nazareth, a small town off the trade routes in Galilee
  • Galilee was not the place to be in those days - it was surrounded by Gentiles; its residents were known to be lax regarding kosher laws, and had the reputation of being pugnacious
  • and the angel Gabriel is sent there to visit Mary - a woman who was betrothed to be married
  • in that day, betrothal was a legally binding relationship that preceded marriage
  • although sexual intimacy was not allowed, only divorce or death could sever betrothal; and if death took place, the girl, even though unmarried, would be considered a widow
  • so Mary was betrothed
  • in all likelihood, she followed the custom of the day, in which betrothal took place soon after puberty
  • it's likely that Mary had just entered her teens
  • the angel Gabriel appears to this girl, in an out-of-the-way location - a girl that we wouldn't consider old enough to drive a car, and tells her:
  • (Luke 1:30) "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
  • (Luke 1:31) You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
  • (Luke 1:32) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
  • (Luke 1:33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

  • now, pause here and ask yourself how you would respond
  • when Gabriel made a similar announcement to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah expressed doubt
  • Zechariah momentarily doubted the angel's promise because of his old age
  • he made the mistake of trusting his intellect and understanding rather than accepting the purposes of God
  • but unlike Zechariah, Mary didn't ask for a sign - she only asked for an explanation of how God would do this, given that she hadn't had sexual relations with a man
  • and once Gabriel explained it to her, look at how she responded in verse 38:
  • (Luke 1:38) "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

  • now think about it
  • in those days, a young, unmarried girl who became pregnant faced possible disaster
  • unless the father of the child agreed to marry her, she would probably remain unmarried for life
  • if her own father rejected her, she would then be forced into begging or even prostitution to earn a living
  • on top of that, who would believe a story about an angel visiting her or being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit?
  • and yet Mary responded, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."

  • in choosing her response, Mary was able to focus on God's will rather than society's approval
  • then, as now, quietness involves attentiveness to God's plans and a willingness to accept whatever he brings our way, regardless of what society tells us
  • what is amazing about Mary is that she was able to hear and accept God's will above the noise of society's customs and her own intellect

  • this week, you need to respond to what happened 2,000 years ago
  • Jesus Christ came as the most amazing Christmas gift given ever, and yet it's going to be difficult to focus on him rather than all the tr immings of Christmas
  • most of all, there's the danger that some of you might not even realize the true meaning of Christmas
  • it's not about Santa, presents, or family
  • it's about Jesus Christ coming on a rescue mission to save men and women who had destroyed their relationship with God
  • the Bible tells us that the motivating factor in Jesus coming to earth was his love for you
  • and this love deserves a response
  • there's no way to adequately describe what Jesus Christ left to come as a small, dependent baby born among smelly animals in a dark cave
  • he came knowing that he would face persecution, hatred, and ultimately death
  • and the motivating factor was his love for you
  • it would be a tragedy if you didn't respond to the greatest gift ever given, the way Mary did

  • not only do we need to respond
  • SECOND, WE NEED TO WORSHIP
  • the second thing we need to put on our to-do list this week, if we're going to end up in Bethlehem rather than in bedlam, is to worship
  • Luke 1:46 and on records what is known as the Magnificat - a song of Mary that is an outflow of what had happened in her heart
  • Mary was overwhelmed by the Lord's goodness to her, and in response she sang one of the most beautiful and profound songs of praise in the Bible
  • she said:
  • (Luke 1:46) And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord
  • (Luke 1:47) and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
  • (Luke 1:48) for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
  • (Luke 1:49) for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name.
  • and then Mary continues to praise God, not only for what he was doing in her life, but for his attributes, what he was doing in society, and what he had done in Israel

  • I don't know if it's ever occurred to you before, but if you study the first two chapters of Luke, those chapters contain multiple songs
  • it's as if the only appropriate response to Jesus' coming is music!
  • from Mary, to Zechariah, to the angels, and even old Simeon - all found that the only way they could adequately respond to the coming of the Christ-child was to worship in song
  • trying to stop their praise that first Christmas would have been like trying to stop the flow of a mighty waterfall
  • worship is the only appropriate response

  • Westminister Abbey is the most famous church in Great Britain
  • it is located in London, and has been the site of coronations and burials, including the burial of Diana just over a year ago
  • it's also the site of some controversy today
  • under a new vicar, the organist has been fired, and an admission charge has been levied for tourists
  • there is a storm surrounding what he is trying to do, and I'm not sure what really is taking place
  • but I like one thing he said
  • he's trying to change Westminister Abbey from a tourist attraction to a place of worship, which involves limiting the tourists
  • and the three words he used, which I like, are "recover the calm"
  • recover the calm of an abbey that was designed to be a place of worship

  • this morning I'd like to apply these three words to Christmas
  • recover the calm!
  • make Christmas a time of worship rather than just a cultural holiday and attraction
  • recover what Christmas was originally designed to be - a time of worship to the God who came to earth
  • what a tragedy it would be if we let this week pass without taking time to worship the King of the universe, who came to earth 2,000 years ago
  • take time to worship

  • so far I've put two things on your to-do list for this week: to respond and to worship
  • there's one more thing I'd like you to do this week, and for many, this might be the hardest part
  • WE NEED TO MEDITATE
  • this coming week, I'm convinced that we all need to create some uninterrupted time in which we get alone, close the doors, and meditate
  • (Luke 2:19) But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
  • Mary took the time to ponder what God's actions had been, and what they might mean for her and for the world
  • Mary was able to do what we so often ignore - she was able to let the true meaning of Christmas percolate within her soul
  • she was able to meditate slowly, to turn over in her mind the presence of God in human flesh
  • to wonder, no doubt, at how the God of the universe entrusted her, a young married teenager, with the responsibility of raising the one who created all things
  • we need to do what Mary did
  • William Law writes, "To speak with the tongues of men or angels on religious matters, is a much less thing than to know how to stay the mind upon God, and abide with him in the closet of our hearts, observing, loving, adoring, and obeying his holy power within us"

  • I've added three things to your to-do list, but this last one will require you to take further action
  • if you're going to meditate on Christ's coming this week, you may well have to remove some of what you have planned
  • you may have to make room this Christmas for Jesus, and block out some time for simplicity and meditation
  • you may need to do major surgery to your schedule this week.

  • it's been said, "If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall"
  • that's true in finances, but it's also relevant to the health of your soul this coming week
  • you may need to do only as much as you have energy to do, and to carve out some time for more important things - the reflection and meditation exemplified by Mary

  • Basil Pennington uses the metaphor of a pond to describe the importance of stillness in our receptivity to God, and I think it has particular application to Christmas
  • when you throw a stone into a pond, the stone will create ripples that reach to the shore all around - but only if the pond is still
  • when the pond is quiet and still, the arrival of the stone can be read over the entire surface
  • but when the pond is not still, when the surface of the water is already ruffled and tossed, the arrival of the stone will go undetected
  • where the wind has disturbed the surface, the stone can't be disturbing
  • where a storm is present, there is so much commotion already going on that no one will notice a few waves more or less
  • they will be lost in the frantic motion of the surface

  • your life is like that pond
  • if your life is quiet and still, the arrival of Jesus Christ will be read over its entire surface
  • but if your life is not still - if your life is ruffled and tossed - the arrival of Jesus Christ will go undetected
  • we need to develop a responsive heart this Christmas, and the prerequisite will be quietness

  • so, my friends, I hope you'll add three things to your to-do list this week
  • to respond, to worship, and to meditate

  • the city of Bethlehem is not a little town anymore
  • it is a bustling Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem
  • any pilgrim who has visited Bethlehem knows the sounds of car horns, the blare of the Moslem minarets, and the hum of industry
  • in much the same way, our personal worlds are far from the quiet scene pictured in that famous carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem
  • yet, whether we are living in modern-day Bethlehem or in Toronto, the quietness that Mary experienced firsthand can make our Christmas Day - or any day - an occasion to be responsive, worshipful, and reflective before God's love
Posted on December 20, 1998 and filed under Uncategorized.

Christmas for All the People (Luke 2:10-14)

  • to be honest with you, I think that my favorite Christmases took place when I was a child
  • how could you complain?
  • to start with, school was cancelled for at least a week - closer to two
  • all sorts of strange things began to happen
  • in those days, I don't remember Christmas festivities starting much earlier than the first week of December, but I still remember things like the Santa Claus parade, sitting on Santa's lap, eating homemade fruitcake
  • those were the days that you were even allowed to sing Christmas carols in the public school
  • I remember the excitement of seeing presents wrapped under the tree, family arriving and bedding down on the floor, or really, wherever there was room in the house
  • Christmas was a fun time for me

  • I think my favorite Christmas was the first time I had money
  • I had begun working part-time and had accumulated a wad of cash
  • and so, without any credit cards, and with a big thick wad of cash in my pocket, this teenager set out shopping
  • and I bought gifts for everyone
  • a toaster-oven for my mother - that was a big-ticket item for me in those days
  • finally, after years of $4 gifts for my family, they all got something better
  • nobody was forgotten - not my friends at church, not even the girl I liked but had never talked to
  • that was the Christmas to end all Christmases

  • it wasn't all secular
  • on Christmas Eve we gathered at the church, reflected on the true meaning of Christmas
  • and on Christmas Day, without fail, I remember my preacher uncle standing up and giving a few reflections
  • but for me, the Christmases I enjoyed most took place when I was a child

  • I used to wonder what was getting all the parents stressed out
  • what's there about Christmas not to like?
  • I used to marvel that for parents, weeks of nagging and lists of requests, not to mention work parties, open houses, Christmas pageants and choirs, evenings and Saturdays of shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, wall-to-wall people in the house, credit card bills - I used to wonder how that all didn't add up to happiness
  • but now the shoe's on the other foot
  • it's only December 13, but it already feels like it's been Christmas for months
  • my first Christmas event this year was in November
  • I have half my shopping done and none of it wrapped, but I feel overwhelmed at the thought of even entering a shopping mall and fighting with the crowds
  • my calendar is sadly lacking in empty spots
  • and with all the rush, commercialism, and pressure, it's easy to conclude - Christmas is for kids
  • that the only people who really enjoy Christmas are children - too na?ve to really understand what it's all about
  • or perhaps simple enough to see through all the junk and able to see the true meaning of Christmas

  • maybe you think Christmas is for children, or families, or, if you're really cynical, retailers
  • perhaps in your weaker moments you've sighed and longed for January to come, and for life to return to normal
  • researchers tell us that December is one of the most depressing times for people - a time when many at the very least just endure the season, and at worst are driven to very dark thoughts

  • I want to ask two questions this morning of Christmas: what is Christmas about, and who exactly is Christmas for?
  • QUESTION NUMBER ONE: WHAT IS CHRISTMAS ABOUT?
  • with all the commercialism and stress, what is Christmas really about?
  • let me read from the Luke 2:13 and on
  • (Luke 2:13) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
  • (Luke 2:14) "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
  • the end of verse 14 is pregnant with meaning, and it tells us, in order, the two things that Christmas is really about
  • first and foremost, Christmas is something that brings glory to God
  • as part of God's eternal plan, the birth of Christ brings glory to God
  • why? because the glory and majesty of God became apparent in human form
  • glory should be given to God in the most of exalted ways, when we see what's transpired in a little village in Bethlehem
  • one commentator says, "Having been informed of the Savior's birth, a birth under such circumstances and with such a self-sacrificing purpose, these angels never before had been so thrilled! No wonder, therefore, that from the bottom of their hearts they shout, ‘Glory to God in the Highest!'" (William Hendriksen)
  • so that's what Christmas is still about today
  • God's glory is the primary purpose of the plan of salvation
  • it's an opportunity, first and foremost, to worship God for what he has done

  • but the angels gave the second purpose of Christmas - the second reason Christmas took place
  • it's the second thing that Christmas is all about
  • Christmas is a message of good news to people
  • "on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests"
  • while interpretations on this verse vary, I think what the angels said is: "Peace is now given to people whom God has graciously chosen"
  • upon whom does God's favor rest?
  • it rests upon those, as Ephesians 1:4-5 says, whom God "chose...before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight"
  • in other words, it rests upon all those, who in the grace of God, respond and follow him and become one of his people
  • that's what Christmas is all about

  • one of the reasons why many find Christmas to be such a depressing and stressful time is that we live as if Christmas were about other things
  • this year, I've still sent out cards and I still plan to open presents
  • I will still have visions of sugarplums dancing in my head
  • but that's not what Christmas is about
  • Christmas is about one of the greatest events that ever took place in history: the coming of Jesus Christ as Savior, which brought glory to God and good news to people
  • that's what Christmas is really about

  • Luke 2 answers a second question
  • QUESTION TWO: WHO IS CHRISTMAS FOR?
  • (Luke 2:8) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
  • (Luke 2:9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
  • (Luke 2:10) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
  • Christmas is for all people
  • Christmas is a message of good news for all people, regardless of nationality, age, wealth, fame, social position, gender, and education
  • we have made a huge mistake in allowing Christmas to become the possession of just children and retailers
  • just look at those who first heard about his birth

  • it is a message to all classes
  • the first ones to learn of Jesus' birth were poor, downtrodden shepherds
  • they were a despised class
  • the Pharisees of that time said there were six professions that were unworthy
  • one of those was being a shepherd
  • a shepherd was not permitted to give testimony in a court of law
  • a shepherd was not permitted to enter a synagogue, because his activities were considered ritually unclean
  • people did not have dealings with shepherds
  • shepherds in that time were usually very young, just as David in the Old Testament was only a boy
  • they were considered as untrustworthy
  • and yet God chose them to be the first witnesses to the birth of Christ

  • in Jesus' home town, Nazareth, he stood up to speak in the synagogue, quoted from Isaiah 61:1, and said:
  • (Luke 4:18) "The Spirit of the Lord is o n me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
  • (Luke 4:19) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
  • (Luke 4:20) Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,
  • (Luke 4:21) and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
  • Jesus' ministry was to the poor - to the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed
  • the gospel is a message of good news to poor, downtrodden shepherds, and it's a message to us this morning

  • Christmas is not only a message to all classes, it's also a message to all nations
  • Matthew 2 tells us that pagan, idol-worshiping sorcerers or magicians came with gifts from a land in the east to worship Christ, sometime after his birth
  • in what is sometimes called the Great Commission of the Old Testament, Isaiah 49:6 says of the Messiah:
  • (Isaiah 49:6) "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

  • Jesus said in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world"
  • that's who Jesus is
  • and the message of Christmas is to all people, and that includes people of every nationality and every country of the world
  • Jesus was announcing that he is the one whose presence would benefit all people - not just the Jews

  • Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world
  • 80% of Ontario's visible minority population live in Toronto
  • and over 80 different languages are spoken in our city
  • last year, over 80,000 people from 169 countries moved to our city
  • it is expected that within three years, foreign-born residents will comprise more than 50% of our population
  • and Richview Baptist Church is in the middle of this explosion
  • we have a strategic opportunity, because we have a message of good news that's for all people - regardless of nationality

  • we have an opportunity to demonstrate that Christmas is not just a North American holiday
  • Jesus Christ is heaven's gift to all nations
  • Jesus came to save the whole earth - all the people of the world
  • somebody once wrote:

    God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of all...of the educated or the illiterate, of the healthy or the sick, of the young or the very old. He is the outpouring of light, the glimpse of the sun, or the changes of the weather which are the same for everyone without exception. (Author unknown)


  • a gem dealer once visited a gem and mineral show
  • he noticed a blue-violet stone the size and shape of a potato
  • he looked at the stone, glanced at the price, and said in the most casual voice to the person tending the booth, "You want fifteen dollars for this?"
  • the seller had seen that the rock wasn't as attractive as the others he had on display, so he lowered the price to ten dollars
  • the dealer bought the stone
  • it was a 1,905-carat natural star sapphire, and was later appraised at 2.28 million dollars

  • our world wasn't a beautiful place when God sent his son to redeem it
  • many would say it's even worse now
  • but just as the gem dealer recognized the worth of the "potato" stone and god the deal of a lifetime, so God recognized our world's worth
  • only he didn't get the deal of a lifetime - he gave it to every person on earth throughout the ages
  • in Christ, we're neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female
  • we're all reduced to the common denominator of sinners in need of salvation
  • that's why Christ came; that's what Christmas is all about

  • I don't know who you are, but if you've come thinking that Christmas is for kids, or if you think Christmas is anything but an occasion for God to be glorified, and for the good news of a Savior to be given to all people, then you're missing the point
  • because that's what Christmas is all about
  • Christmas is for all people

  • so Christmas is a message to all classes and all nations
  • but there's one more thing to notice
  • it is a message that benefits only those who respond
  • (Luke 2:14) "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
  • we could get into a complex theological argument about who these people are, but let's get down to the point
  • the message is available to everyone, but not everyone benefits from it
  • only those who respond - those upon whom God's favor rests - receive the benefits that come from Christ's coming
  • salvation and its fullness are not automatic for everyone
  • Darrell Bock writes, "Only those who respond to God's grace and follow the path lit by the rising sun will experience the peace into which that path leads. Jesus comes for all, but not all respond to and benefit from his coming"
  • there's a response required, a verdict that you need to reach

  • in one of the great Christmas passages, Jesus explained to Nicodemus why he came to earth:
  • (John 3:16) "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.
  • (John 3:17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
  • (John 3:18) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
  • Jesus said himself that a response is necessary
  • those who believe in him don't perish; they will have everlasting life
  • these are the people that have put their trust and confidence in Jesus, that he alone can save us
  • nothing else could ever save us from what we should fear most - eternal condemnation
  • but according to Jesus, whoever does not place trust in Jesus is condemned already, because they haven't believed in the name of God's one and only Son

  • so there's a choice to be made
  • are you going to let God's favor, God's good will, be to you?
  • I challenge you to come to a verdict on this matter this morning

  • who is Christmas for?
  • Christmas is for all the people
  • Jesus is heaven's gift to all nations
  • he's God's gift to you
  • so don't let Christmas be about kids, or retailers, about gifts, or even about families
  • let it be about the good news of Jesus Christ, that will be to all people

  • after the 1996 Olympics, a man posted a web site entitled "Feel the Flame Forever Burn: Atlanta's Olympic flame is alive and well. Find out why I have it, how I got it, and what I plan to do with it"
  • well, we don't have the Olympic flame
  • we have the light of the world, the message of good news that is for all people
  • let's make this Christmas about why we have the good news that shall be for all people, how we got it, and what we plan to do with it
  • let's make Christmas about the good news of great joy that will be for all the people

  • [benediction]
  • O God, what a marvelous gift you have given in offering yourself to all people!
  • bless the world, save the nations
  • and may we in love, obedience, and thanksgiving celebrate the day of your coming
  • Amen.
Posted on December 13, 1998 and filed under Uncategorized.

Honor the Stable Born King (Isaiah 9:1-7)

  • please open your Bibles to Isaiah 9 this morning

  • on Sunday evening, October 30, 1938, millions of Americans tuned into the CBS radio network
  • they heard an announcer's voice breaking into the music of the orchestra:
  • "Ladies and gentleman, we interrupt our program of dance and music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News"
  • then, during the next hour, the audience was stunned to hear a series of increasingly hysterical voices narrating an invasion of Martian monsters, landing first on a New Jersey farm, then unleashing poisonous gases over New York city

  • the broken voice of an announcer cried out: "Avoid bridges to Long Island - hopelessly jammed. All communication with Jersey shore closed...No more defenses. Our army wiped out...artillery, air force, everything wiped out. This may be our last broadcast"

  • as the program was broadcast, hundreds of thousands thought that a space invasion was actually happening
  • of the six million people who heard the broadcast, no fewer than one million experienced serious levels of distress
  • thousands were thrown into absolute panic
  • only later did people realize that they had been listening to an Orson Welles - Mercury Theatre production of a science fiction story called The War of the Worlds

  • this morning I'd like to look at an invasion that actually did take place
  • this invasion is not a work of fiction, but a historical fact
  • and it did not take place from outer space, but according to the Bible, from heaven itself
  • and, unlike the fictional invaders in The War of the Worlds, he did not come announced to millions of listeners, but he came silently, almost unnoticed, except to a few relatively minor people of that day

  • one of the amazing things is that this coming was foretold hundreds of years before it actually happened
  • eight hundred years before a virgin mother conceived and bore a son, the prophet Isaiah prophesied who was coming
  • as he wrote, the situation was bleak
  • Assyria was closing in on Israel
  • Isaiah prophesied to a cocky king and his defiant people that judgment was inevitable
  • Isaiah's prophesy in Isaiah 8:21-22 couldn't be much worse:
  • (Isaiah 8:21) Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.
  • (Isaiah 8:22) Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

  • friends, the scene was a hopeless one
  • but unexpectedly, Isaiah prophesied that God's salvation would come from an unexpected place: Galilee of the Gentiles, in verse 1
  • it was the other side of the tracks
  • and what Isaiah prophesied in verses 2 to 7 is nothing less than political and spiritual freedom
  • according to Isaiah, a light would come to penetrate the darkness
  • Israel's enemies would be vanquished
  • and a king would reign - a king described in verses 6 and 7
  • the government would rest upon his shoulders
  • he would reign on David's throne
  • and there would be no end to his government

  • listen, friends: in the middle of our gloom and despair, when it appears that our troubles and sorrows will never end, the Lord always provides a way
  • when everything appears to be going wrong, and when it appears as if there is no hope, the Lord has given a light to those of us who walk in darkness

  • and this morning I want to look at the babe lying in the manger, not through the eyes of the shepherds, the magi, Mary or Joseph
  • I want to look at Jesus Christ through the eyes of the prophet Isaiah, 800 years before he was born
  • Matthew 4:15-16 tell us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy
  • let's ask ourselves what Isaiah sees as he looks at Jesus

  • I believe Isaiah tells us two things: who Jesus is, and how he will come
  • I'd invite you to look with me at verses 6 and 7 as we ask:
  • WHO IS THIS KING?
  • who is this divine invader?

  • if you remember the context, Assyria was closing in on Israel
  • Isaiah prophesied that their defeat was sure
  • things couldn't have been bleaker for the nation
  • and Isaiah gets right down to the bottom of who Jesus Christ is: Jesus Christ is God's solution to a desperate situation
  • Jesus Christ is God's way out of a hopeless situation
  • when all else seems hopeless, according to Isaiah, this child is the only hope in a desperate situation

  • Isaiah uses four terms to describe Jesus
  • these are poetic terms - rich in meaning, but difficult to understand, especially with the change in language over hundreds of years
  • but try to understand just who Isaiah says Jesus Christ will be

  • verse 6 calls him "Wonderful Counselor"
  • the word counselor is different from how we use it today
  • today, we think of a counselor as a professional to whom we go with our personal problems
  • but that's not what Isaiah had in mind
  • Isaiah was thinking of the sort of counselor mentioned in 1 Kings 12 - an advisor who gives advice in government deliberations - especially military advice
  • this is a person with the wisdom necessary to carry come up with a plan

  • the term wonderful frequently means supernatural
  • when you put the two words together - wonderful counselor - you get the picture of somebody with a supernatural or divine plan
  • and we know that's true of Jesus - the one who was intimately acquainted with the counsels of God from eternity
  • he is the very wisdom of God, who knows all things, and nothing ever takes him by surprise

  • Isaiah also says that he is Mighty God
  • in 325 AD, the church declared that Jesus is of the same essence with the Father - in other words, that Jesus is indeed God
  • but 800 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah said the same thing
  • he called Jesus mighty God
  • whereas kings and Caesars of the ancient world viewed themselves as gods of the people, Isaiah claimed that the king he had in mind is the Almighty God
  • it talks about his divine power

  • the third name Isaiah gives to him is the Everlasting Father
  • I've always wondered why the Son of God would be given the name, "the Everlasting Father"
  • and the answer is this: it isn't describing his relationship with God; it's describing his fatherly rule over the nation
  • God's original design for Israel's kings is that they would care for the people as a shepherd would care for a flock
  • yet these kings failed
  • just read the Old Testament prophets
  • time and time again, the kings are condemned for mistreating the people and leading them astray
  • in contrast, Isaiah prophesies that Jesus will be a shepherd who will always care for his people, without end
  • that's who Jesus is

  • the last name Isaiah gives to Jesus is also found in verse 6: the Prince of Peace
  • Jesus is called the prince of Shalom
  • for us, peace is a negative thing - the absence of war
  • but the biblical sense of the word is much different
  • and, as applied to a prince or a king, it has two implications:
  • he will defeat his enemies and win victory for his people
  • and as well, he will bring divine peace and blessings to his people
  • though a king, he will stoop to the role of prince to accomplish a truce among warring nations and divided hearts
  • he would be the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace
  • the one who, according to verse 7, would reign forever, "establis hing and upholding [his kingdom] with justice and righteousness, from that time on and forever"

  • "Enemy-occupied territory - that is what the world is," C.S. Lewis writes
  • "Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage"

  • you don't just humor or accommodate someone whose titles are Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace
  • your only option in the presence of royalty is to show honor

  • when Queen Victoria of England lived in her summer residence, Balmoral, she used to take long walks through the countryside in simple clothes so that she wouldn't be recognized
  • on one such occasion, it began to rain, and she ran to a little cottage for refuge and asked the old woman who lived there if she might borrow an umbrella so she could make her way home

  • the woman had never seen Queen Victoria, and had no idea who she was
  • being a little cantankerous, the woman grudgingly replied, "Well, I have two umbrellas. One is very good and almost new. The other is quite worn. You can take the old one; the new one I don't want to lend to anybody. Who knows when I would get it back?"
  • and with that, she gave the queen a tattered umbrella with spokes sticking out all around

  • Queen Victoria thanked the woman kindly, thinking, "An old umbrella is better than none at all"
  • she promised to return the umbrella right away, and graciously departed, smiling

  • the next morning, when a servant in royal garb returned the old umbrella with thanks from the Queen of England, the poor woman was horrified
  • "If only I had known," she said over and over again, "If only I had known"

  • make no mistake about it
  • the one who was born in a stable two thousand years ago was a king - the fulfillment of myriad prophesies of the Old Testament
  • he is the one who has a perfect plan, and is carrying it out
  • he is the Mighty God - he has power to conquer his enemies, because he is divine
  • he is caring for his people like a tender Father, and will never stop doing so
  • he's bringing his people peace - not just the absence of conflict, but a peace that passes all understanding, no matter what the situation
  • I'll say it again: Isaiah presents Jesus as God's solution to a desperate situation
  • and you know
  • you know this morning who he is, and your only choice is to worship him

  • that's the answer to question one: who is he?
  • the answer is, he's a king like no other

  • but we need to answer question two this morning, in order to understand the way God is working
  • because in looking at the baby born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, well - he doesn't seem like this Mighty God
  • but Isaiah answers another question about Jesus:
  • HOW DOES HE COME?
  • not only, "who is he?" but "how does he come?"
  • and the answer is found in verse 6:
  • (Isaiah 9:6) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given
  • the same person who is the Mighty God becomes a child who is born
  • the ancient of days becomes an infant of a span long
  • the Everlasting Father is a son given

  • Philip Yancey writes:

    Before Jesus, almost no pagan author had used "humble" as a compliment. Yet the events of Christmas point inescapably to what seems like an oxymoron: a humble God. The God who came to earth not in a raging whirlwind or devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become an ovum, a single fertilized egg barely visible to the naked eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a fetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager...The God who roared, who could order armies and empires about like pawns on a chessboard, this God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenage couple for shelter, food, and love.

  • G.K. Chesterton wrote, "The child that played with moon and sun, Is playing with a little hay..."

  • I read of a Hindu, who could not believe in Christianity because he could not contemplate a God who would so humble himself
  • then one day the he came across an anthill
  • he tried to get close enough to study it, but every time he bent low, his shadow caused all the ants to scurry away
  • he recognized to himself that the only way in which he could ever come to know that colony of ants would be if he could somehow become an ant himself
  • and that was the moment in which his conversion began
  • that's the divine invader

  • U.S. News and World Report once put out an article on pigs
  • a man named Dale Riffle and received a Vietnamese potbellied pig as a gift
  • at that time, they were popular as exotic pets
  • unfortunately, pigs aren't necessarily ideal pets
  • Dale's pig, named Rufus, wouldn't use its litter box, and apparently began to eat Dale's carpet, wallpaper, and drywall

  • but the man loved his pig so much, he sold his suburban home and bought a five-acre farm in West Virginia
  • and he began to take in other "exotic pet pigs" whose owners found them less than perfect companions

  • in Dale Riffle's 180-pig "hog heaven," the pigs snooze on beds of pine shavings, soak in plastic swimming pools, and listen to piped-in classical music
  • they socialize in age-graded affinity groups
  • they never need fear that they will one day become bacon or pork chops
  • Riffle told U.S. News and World Report, "I think we're all put on earth for some reason, and I guess pigs are my lot in life"

  • it's incredible that someone could love pigs so much that he'd leave his nice, suburban home to live in "hog heaven"
  • but think what the Son of God did: he loved us so much that he left his throne in heaven to be born as a helpless baby in a cave
  • that's humility!

  • as we approach the communion table, reflect on who Jesus is
  • he is God's hope for a desperate situation
  • he is the Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace
  • and yet he became nothing for your sake
  • he left his throne in heaven to be born as a helpless baby in a cave, so that he could save you - so that he could redeem you

  • how do you honor a stable-born king?
  • you worship him
  • you give him your all
  • I don't know if you've worshiped him yet
  • I don't know what your relationship with him is like
  • but I'm telling you this morning, you can begin to worship him today
  • you can respond to the divine invader by accepting his perfect gift of salvation, by accepting that gift of love and forgiveness that brought him from heaven's throne to a dirty cave filled with animals
  • and he can become your king today

  • let's pray
  • the reason Jesus left heaven and all the rights of his majesty was for you
  • Jesus loved the world so much that he came to a stable to redeem creation
  • he willingly gave up all his rights to bring you salvation
  • this morning you can become a subject of this humble King, and turn yourself over to his reign
  • by accepting his love, and accepting the perfect sacrifice he made for you
  • if there's somebody here who would like to do this, who would like to accept God's answer to a desperate situation, would you raise your hand this morning?

  • benediction
  • Christ Jesus, we come to honor you, born in a stable yet still our all-powerful king
  • this week help us to be your faithful subjects
  • as we honor the birth of the baby, may we also remember to kneel before you, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Almighty, the King of Glory!
  • Amen.
Posted on December 6, 1998 and filed under Uncategorized.