MESSAGE DELIVERED: DECEMBER 25, 2016
This morning, all across this country…all around the world…those same words are being read. The simple telling of the most amazing event the world had ever witnessed! The Birth of the Son of God!
There are simply not enough words in the English language to convey the ENORMITY of that event…when Almighty God…the Creator of Heaven and Earth, came to LIVE ON the Earth…as one of His own Creations!
But I’m really glad that each of you are here this morning, since today is Christmas and the world is in a WHIRL of BUSINESS, of last preparations or traveling to be with family on Christmas Day…and the really sad thing is MOST of them are STILL going to MISS the REAL Christmas.
I enjoy spending Christmas morning gathered around a beautifully decorated tree with my family and watching as they open their gifts. I get a lot of pleasure in GIVING those gifts…but I don’t really NEED a special day to remind me to DO that! I think it’s an awful lot of fun to give gifts on OTHER days as well…for NO reason at ALL…except to tell them that I love them!
The IDEA of gift giving at Christmas is often said to have ORIGINATED with the MAGI…the WISE men that came to Bethlehem SEEKING the Christ Child and bearing precious gifts for Him.
But actually, the idea of GIVING on Christmas Day goes a lot farther than THAT!…because it was GOD HIMSELF that gave the FIRST Christmas gift…you can read about it in John’s Gospel, chapter 3, verse 16. “For God so loved the world, that He GAVE His Only begotten Son.” And, He determined to DO that before the foundation of the Earth!
So, today, people will celebrate the day in all sorts of ways as almost EVERY family has developed their own TRADITIONS for Christmas. And that’s good! Anything that brings families together is GOOD!
But I want to spend a few minutes this morning looking at how SEVEN people…or GROUPS of people…”celebrated” the FIRST Christmas…all of which are found in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. So, an angel appeared to Mary and told her that SHE had been selected to bear the Son of God. And she humbly answered, “may it be unto me, even as you have said”…and she left immediately to go and visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth.
You remember there have been TWO miraculous conceptions taking place at around the same time: Mary conceived the Son of God with NO outside influences…only the OVERSHADOWING of the Holy Spirit…but six months EARLIER, ELIZABETH had ALSO conceived…naturally…long PAST the time when it would have been POSSIBLE for her to DO so “humanly”!
So the FIRST response to the Christmas story that I want to look at is from Luke 1:42 when Mary arrived at the home of Elizabeth and called out a greeting to her elderly cousin. We are told that the child in Elizabeth’s womb LEAPED for JOY at recognizing the Child MARY bore as God’s Son! And, Elizabeth broke out in a song of PRAISE!
Luke’s Gospel BEGINS not with the Birth of CHRIST, but with the birth of the FORERUNNER, John the Baptist. His parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth were BOTH far TOO old to have children when the angel visited them with the news that John would be born!
So, Elizabeth was already pregnant when Mary came to see her, to share her OWN news! And when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the scripture says she was “filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke out with a loud voice”!
Elizabeth is the FIRST person I want you to see this morning, and see how SHE reacted to the news that CHRISTMAS was almost here…”SHE BROKE FORTH WITH PRAISE”!
And THEN it was MARY’S turn to offer praise in the form of that beautiful song of joy we call the “MAGNIFCAT”, which we looked at just a couple weeks ago…where she said…”My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior”.
Mary’s is the SECOND response among people to the news that the first Christmas was on its way, and let me point out the TRUTH of what Mary said, “My soul does magnify the Lord…”. I know you have all at some point looked at something through a magnifying glass and you also know that when you magnified whatever it was that you looked at, you didn’t really make it LARGER, but only made it APPEAR larger in YOUR EYES!
Mary didn’t actually make God BIGGER by praising Him, but she gave Him more ROOM in her OWN life!
Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Mary arrived, and Mary stayed with her for THREE months. So she probably remained to assist with John’s birth and then returned to her own home.
That was when ZACHARIAS who had been struck mute because of his initial UNBELIEF, regained his voice! At John’s circumcision, when he was to receive his name, relatives suggested that they call him after his FATHER’S name. But Zacharias wrote “No!…his name is JOHN”, as the angel had instructed him. And, immediately his voice returned and he opened his mouth to proclaim, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people”!
Zacharias is the THIRD of the seven to respond to the news with words of PRAISE to the Great God Who brought all this to be!
The first few verses of the second chapter of Luke describe the actual Birth of Jesus and the story of the stable, because there was found no room for them at the inn. And I want to remind you that the INN and the village of Bethlehem represent the HEART of MANKIND out in the world. In the place where Christ SHOULD have been JOYFULLY received, no place for Him was found! But the crude and humble STABLE offered Him refuge, and so it is that in the world that Christ came to save…MOST hearts will remain CLOSED with NO ROOM for Him…while a small humble minority will welcome Him and be blessed beyond measure for doing so!
BUT, following the Birth, we see the FOURTH group I want to look at…the ANGELS! A SINGLE angel…probably Gabriel, God’s messenger, appeared before a small group of shepherds out on a Judean hillside.
We are often told that when angels appear to men, they appear as beautiful brightly shining figures resembling men. When Gabriel suddenly appeared before these shepherds shining brightly in the darkness of the night where just a moment before there had been only stars and moonlight, the shepherds did NOT turn to one another and say “My, ain’t he pretty?” The scripture says they were “sore afraid”! That means they were SCARED half to DEATH!
But Gabriel said for the FIRST time, the words the earth has been YEARNING to hear ever since Eve bit into the apple! “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of GREAT joy. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a SAVIOR, Who is Christ the Lord.”
And here comes that FOURTH group I want to look at. Those angels. “And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the Heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, good will to men’”. If those shepherds were scared when ONE angel suddenly showed up in front of them, I can only IMAGINE how they reacted when the heavens rolled aside to reveal THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS OF BRILLIANTLY SHINING BEINGS ALL PRAISING God with loud voices!
But the SHEPHERDS are the NEXT group! It’s those angels and THEIR response I want you to see…angels that were a group created by God, far BEFORE man ever came into being, angels who were accustomed to being in the very PRESENCE of the God of the Universe! Angels who LEFT the glories of Heaven to bear witness to the WONDERS that God has now brought down to us! Those angels PRAISED and GLORIFIED God for the thing that He has done.
And THEN we see the shepherds…after the angels had vanished…after they had time to CALM DOWN…THINK about what they had seen and heard…maybe to CHANGE their underwear!…they said, well, let’s go SEE what they were talking about. And they went to Bethlehem. And apparently they didn’t have any trouble FINDING the stable, and the new-born King of Kings. And having SEEN, Luke 2:20 says, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard”.
Scripturally THEY were the ONLY group to actually VISIT the STABLE when the WISE MEN arrived. They saw, not a BABY, but a CHILD…and not in a STABLE, but in a HOUSE! But their reaction to the Child was the same: they fell down and WORSHIPPED!
The SIXTH group I want you to see shows up in verse 25, when Jesus is 40 days old, and Mary and Joseph travel back to Jerusalem to present Him at the temple, as the law says…to REDEEM the “first born”. There is a man there who seems to be WAITING for them although he didn’t know WHO he was waiting for! His name was SIMEON and he had been PROMISED by God that he would not DIE before he had SEEN God’s Messiah appear!
Simeon SAW the child in Mary’s arms…and he KNEW Him, EVEN as a BABY!…just as the unborn John the Baptist had KNOWN Him, even while still in His mother’s womb. And Simeon TOOK the Child from His mother and held GOD in his OWN arms! IMAGINE THAT! And he BLESSED God for having allowed him to SEE the BEGINNING of Salvation!
But, old Simeon ALSO spoke to MARY that day…and he told her that he KNEW how GREAT this Child would become…but also how HATED He would be…as the religious leaders of Jerusalem would rise up against Him, and ultimately KILL Him!…this tiny, innocent, precious Child! But, that THROUGH this Child, RIGHTEOUSNESS would be revealed where it actually existed and NOT where it only PRETENDED to be!
And that’s when the SEVENTH and final person I want to tell you about appeared. Verse 36 identifies her as ANNA, and calls her a “PROPHETESS”…a woman who TAUGHT God’s Word. And she is only the THIRD woman to be so named in the entire BIBLE! One of the others being Moses’ sister Miriam. Anna was a widow, 84 years old, and NEVER LEFT the Temple…but fasted and prayed before God day and night.
SHE ALSO recognized God’s Son in the form of this tiny Baby…and she reacted with PRAISE as all the OTHERS I’ve told you about did. And she also went around the Temple grounds telling EVERYONE who would LISTEN just WHAT WONDERS had now occurred!
So here’s the point. SEVEN times in Luke’s Gospel, people are exposed to CHRISTMAS, and seven times they broke forth in praise and worship! Seven times their hearts were filled with thanksgiving! Seven times they blessed the God of Israel and MAGNIFIED the Lord in their own lives! So what should OUR reaction to this CHRISTMAS DAY be?
We should WORSHIP Him publicly! Mary could have worshipped God all alone for what He had revealed to her, but instead she went immediately to the ONE person who would KNOW what she was experiencing because that OTHER person had experienced the SAME thing! That’s why we gather together with other believers…others who have had the SAME experience of Salvation through the Blood of Christ…and ESPECIALLY at this time of year! The GOOD NEWS of CHRISTMAS is just TOO good to keep to ourselves! Even Gabriel, God’s personal messenger who had brought news of the IMPENDING Birth to so many, brought a MULTITUDE to announce the ACTUAL Birth! We NEED to worship our Lord with other believers!
ALSO, we should worship Him PERSONALLY! Look again at the stories of Zacharias…Elizabeth…Simeon…Anna…their lives were completely GIVEN to God! Their lives were LIVED out in praise to Him!
And lastly, we should also worship Him PRIVATELY! Regarding the beauty of the Christmas story, Luke wrote that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”. And we need to do that! In those quiet moments of our lives…spend time THINKING about what WONDERFUL things our God has done for us…things we never will and never CAN deserve. But He did them ANYWAY, because He LOVES us!
In preparing for this season, I have sat in my cabin, with a single lamp glowing, with a fire softly glowing in the stove…with SILENCE all around…and I have reread this beautiful Christmas story that Luke has preserved for us…and my heart has been gladdened by doing that!
I encourage you to do the same thing, in the quietness of your OWN home and heart!
And as you do that, I pray that the precious Peace of God the Father, the Love of God the Son and the Fellowship of He the Holy Spirit…might FLOOD your heart with the GOOD NEWS those angels sang! “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David…”…not a BABY…they said “…A SAVIOR”!!!