This morning I want to thank Dawn and Cindy and the guys for the hard work and beautiful job they did in decorating the sanctuary for the season.  All the lights and flowers help to remind us how SPECIAL this time is…this season that we celebrate the Birth of our Lord.

And I love to watch the children when they first see for the first time the Sanctuary all decorated, and they get this look of pure wonder on their faces.

And I wonder if there is anyone here this morning, who has retained a little bit of that wide-eyed wonder that you once had as a child?  Who can still remember how excited you were as Christmas Day approached…and you could hardly wait for THAT morning, when you’d run downstairs and see all the presents under the tree…do you remember that?

Well, that is Christmas from a child’s perspective, and it was wonderful.  But, as we grow older, and learn more of what Christmas really means; as we come to understand that Almighty God has given us the most AMAZING gift so long ago…

I wonder; does the excitement and anticipation you felt as a child…does any of that remain with you, and begins to change the focus of that Hope, unto the incredible DAY, off in the not-too-distant future, when the same Jesus Who was BORN as a tiny Baby in the Bethlehem Manger…Who DIED on Calvary’s Cross…will SUDDENLY Return, to claim His Bride and take us all to Heaven?

That’s a big part of why we hold these Christmas services in this beautifully decorated Sanctuary…so we can REMEMBER that sinful man was LOST and without HOPE, and separated from God…until God sent His Son, to DIE for OUR sins, and to give us HOPE!  And with Hope now available, we can make the necessary preparations, and accept that PRECIOUS Gift which brings Salvation to our souls, so that ever after that we can live with anticipation in our hearts, as we wait for his return.

This Christmas Celebration is to remind us to keep that HOPE and ANTICIPATION alive in our hearts!  So, with that thought in mind, I want you to IMAGINE if you can, that you had been able, somehow, to stand by that Manger, and gaze down at the newborn Savior of the world, and ask yourself “just what makes a birth ‘miraculous’”?

And I want to be quick to admit that the whole process leading up TO birth, including ‘morning sickness’…’mood swings’…’swollen ankles’…’the strange cravings’…ALL those things are part of the NATURAL process.  And the physical act of birth itself, is also a completely NATURAL function.

But at the same time I will maintain that the FACT of birth, the REALITY of birth, in every single occurrence, IS a MIRACLE!

Well, what IS a ‘miracle’?  Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Collegiate Dictionary says a miracle is “an event or occurrence which can be attributed to a supernatural or divine source”.  And Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary says “It is an event that causes wonder or awe”.

So let me repeat myself and say the REALITY of birth, in EVERY occurrence, IS a MIRACLE!  If you have ever held your newborn baby in your arms, and NOT been moved to wonder or awe, were NOT move to offer PRAISE to God…then you simply were not paying ATTENTION!

EVERY child, born to loving parents, facing a life filled with HOPE and PROMISE, IS a miracle from God!

Unfortunately, a child born TO loving and supportive parents, a mother AND a father, is becoming a RARITY these days, when in excess of HALF of ALL births are to a SINGLE mother.

But, I will tell you this: even a child born with an ABSENT father, or an UNcaring, or UNloving father…a child born UNWANTED, to an already over-burdened mother…THAT child is STILL a MIRACLE!  A SPECIAL child, loved by God.

I am going to tell you about a TRULY miraculous birth, one that I am very well-acquainted with.  Some of you have already heard this story before, but it is not something you can tell once and then forget it.  And neither is it something we want to relive too often.  So please bear with me.  I have stressed so many times that witnessing is just a matter of telling others what God has done for you.  So this is a part of my witness.

So I’ll tell you right up front that Dawn and I never should have gotten married to begin with.  Everything that we did was wrong.  If a young couple like we were, should come to me today and request premarital counseling, I would do everything I possibly could, to convince them they were not ready for marriage.  WE weren’t ready!

We weren’t financially prepared to set up housekeeping.  I had borrowed the money to pay for the marriage license.  We had only known each other for a very short time.  We were both still immature.  But…nobody told us any of that!

So we got married, and it has only lasted 53 years so far.  And that was because God had His Hand on us, even before we really knew HIM.  And everyone was convinced that we “HAD TO GET MARRIED”, as they put it back then.  Because we married so quickly everyone was convinced that Dawn must be pregnant.  Well, when Dixie was born, a year and a half later, everyone just assumed that it was the longest pregnancy in history.

But her birth was a really monumental event in our lives.  When we were married, we two were made one, but when Dixie was born, we became a family.  But, we always thought that we had enough love for two daughters.  I never wanted any sons.  And for five long years, nothing happened, and then we got the blessed news, we were ‘expecting’.

In late October of 1968, we were in my all-time favorite car, a midnight blue 1963 Pontiac Bonneville, with white leather interior.  WE were driving home from Detroit, we were almost home, when an elderly lady who was speeding down the road, doing 60 in a 40mph zone, later said she ‘thought’ she saw something in the road, and swung into my lane, about 20 feet in front of us.  There was absolutely NO time to react.  She hit us head-on at 60 miles an hour.

Dawn, who was about 5 months pregnant at the time, suffered massive, near-fatal injuries, and went into labor right there.  She nearly died that night, and our unborn baby with her.  But God had His Hand on us.  An ambulance was right there, just returning from a call.

When they got us to the hospital, the best trauma surgeon in the state was just leaving the hospital.  He turned around and took her into surgery where they worked for the next EIGHT HOURS to save her life.  And they suggested that she let the pregnancy ‘terminate’, since the baby was probably damaged in the collision, when Dawn was slammed into the metal dashboard, before flying through the windshield, face-first.

But she refused, even at the risk of her own life, to harm our baby.  She received medication to hold off labor, and for the next 3 months, as she suffered through countless reconstructive surgeries, she had to get an injection EVERY day, to keep her from going into labor.  But still the doctors tried to prepare us, because her injuries were so massive, that the baby would most likely be born deformed, or possibly dead.

On February 18, 1969 they could no longer hold off labor, and our baby was born, one month premature.  And after all the pain and fear and waiting, and praying, Melissa was absolutely perfect.

I cried that day, like I’m doing now.  Dawn cried.  The doctors cried.  And they all agreed, for her to be born perfect, was an absolute miracle!  A genuine miracle from God!

Her birth was a miracle because she beat all the odds to be born healthy.  The Bible is full of stories about miraculous births.  Miraculous because they defied ‘natural laws’.  Isaac, Sampson, John The Baptist…all of them!  And then there was that OTHER Birth, the one that not only BEAT the ODDS, that not only FLAUNTED natural law…DEFIED natural law…defied all the rules of PHYSICS, and SPACE, and TIME…and a Baby was born who had NO human father, and to a mother who had never “known a man”.

On that long-ago day, some 2000 years by our reckoning, in a smelly stable, in the tiny village of Bethlehem, HEAVEN CAME DOWN!  Heaven touched Earth!  Angels sang in Glory!  And NOTHING has ever been the same!  But, the MIRACLE was NOT just the Supernatural Birth of this tiny Child.  Martin Luther, in speaking of this event, said “there were three wonders here.  One, that Almighty God should become a man…two, that a Virgin should bear a child…and third, and probably most miraculous of all, is Luke chapter 1, verse 45…’Mary BELIEVED’”!

To think that this innocent young girl, some say she may have been as young as 13…faced with this frightening angelic figure, would hear his strange words, and BELIEVE what had to be the STRANGEST message ever delivered!

And then Mary traveled to visit her elderly relative, who was already 6 months pregnant…even though she was WAY past the age where pregnancy was even POSSIBLE!  And the unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb RECOGNIZED the Spirit of the Child with Mary, although she was only DAYS from that miraculous conception, Elizabeth’s child LEAPED for JOY when Mary neared.  And Elizabeth believed!

Then when Mary returned home, already visibly 3 months pregnant, and Joseph KNEW the child wasn’t HIS…and he would have quietly divorced her…but the same angel appeared to him in a dream, and spoke to him as to the origin of this child, and JOSEPH believed!

Forty days after the Birth of Jesus, when He was presented in the Temple according to the Law, an old man, Simeon, who was filled with the Holy Spirit and had been promised he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, HE saw Jesus, and believed!  And also an old prophetess named Anna was there, and she saw, and believed.

THAT was a MIRACLE!  That people BELIEVED!  It was NOT just that God could do the impossible, because as we read there in verse 37…”with God there is NO ‘impossible’”.

The real miracle is that weak, sinful people, in those circumstances, could believe.  THAT is what is MIRACULOUS, and THAT is what this SEASON is all about!

And then there are people like ME, and YOU, people who did NOT receive visits from angels like Mary and Joseph did.  WE didn’t SEE the heavens roll back like the curtain of a stage, to reveal uncountable angels, all singing or saying “Glory to God in the highest”!

We didn’t see the tiny Baby lying in the manger like the shepherds did…we didn’t see the Glorious STAR move before us, and come to rest over the spot where the Child lay, like the Magi did.

I’ve never been to Bethlehem, or seen the Stable where He was Born.  I have never met the MAN, Jesus, face to face…or seen the marks of the nails or the spear, like the disciples did.

But there was a time, when I was a little boy, someone, probably a Sunday School teacher, read from the pages of this book “And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them at the Inn”.

And later, when I was older, I read for myself, where it says “For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ The Lord”.  And somehow God caused those words to be deeply engrafted in my heart, and eventually I believed!  And I remember that vividly, Mid-August of 1976, when all those things I had heard, that I knew in my head, finally made their way into my heart, and I believed with that belief that brings salvation.

And Jesus said “Blessed are you who have NOT seen, and yet believe”.  That’s John 20:29.  And this isn’t about the laws of physics and nature.  It’s not biology or genetics.  This is all about FAITH, and BELIEVING what you CANNOT prove!  It’s not even about HOW or WHY God did this!  This is simply about FAITH…and HOPE!  And as we continue into this season, we will continue to look at this most AMAZING Miracle, of Love, and forgiveness…but for right now, we have to look ahead, to where this Birth ultimately lead…to Calvary, where all sins were paid…where forgiveness was made available to all by the Blood of that same tiny Baby, now grown to be a PERFECT Man…and a PERFECT Sacrifice.

In all the JOY and HOPE and ANTICIPATION of this Holiday season…we have to be reminded of the PURPOSE of the Miraculous Birth.  He was BORN to DIE for YOU!  And for ME!  And for ALL who will believe….

So let me invite the deacons and deaconesses to come and prepare the Table, and as I read again, and for the last time this year, the Words of the Institution…I’m going to ask you to listen, carefully and prayerfully, and above all…BELIEVE!