Well, it’s been about a week since Christmas…and it’s New Year’s Eve today now. How’d that week go for you? It’s always a really weird week for me. I feel kind of stalled. Like, Christmas is over and it’s time to move on, but New Year’s is right around the corner, so I can’t really get any traction or momentum going on anything during that time. Maybe it’s a mental block from back when I was a kid and had Christmas vacation between those two holidays.
For whatever reason and wherever it comes from, for me there’s always a tricky mental shift moving between those two. Christmas is over for all intents and purposes. The gifts are mostly given, the parties are attended, and the sweets have been eaten. So much time was spent over the last month or two building up for that, now I have to remember what life was like before and shift back to that.
And at the same time, it’s the New Year, a time when many of us take the opportunity to try to refresh our lives symbolically with resolutions to do things differently once the calendar turns over. That does seem to make an amount of sense, it’s a nice logical flow. Christmastime is over, it’s time to leave that behind and move on to something new.
Maybe though, maybe let’s not do that this year. After all, the story of Jesus wasn’t over with Christmas. It wasn’t like there was this great build-up to the birth of Jesus and then everyone came by and saw how amazing he was and then …the lights went out and end scene. People didn’t turn away, go home and forget all about it after that. Christmas was the start of Jesus, not the end.
And it was the start of something amazing, something wonderful that we would do just as well to not leave behind once December 25th is passed. What began there is something that so many people want, and even more people need without knowing they want. It’s something we need ourselves just as much and the closer we hold it, the better our lives are going to be year-round, and that’s going to pour out and affect the lives of those around us.
Maybe that’s the thing we do differently this year. Maybe that can be the resolution. To not let Christmas be “over”, but to carry that beginning forward into the new year. Like I mentioned a moment ago, that’s really the way it was meant to be. The celebration of Christ didn’t stop after his birthday.
After all, we’re only a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus. In our account for today, we see that even forty days later he was still being celebrated. (Next week when we celebrate Epiphany we’ll see that even up to two years later he was still being celebrated!)
But for today we turn our eyes to the Temple in Jerusalem. As I said it’s about forty days since Jesus’ was born. Forty days since those shepherds maybe came over from the neighboring town of Bethlehem and ran through the streets telling wild stories about angels and a Savior born. And living in Jerusalem was a man who was waiting: Simeon.
He was a devout Jewish man. And so he was waiting, like all the true Jewish believers, for God to send the one he promised. The one anointed to save his people. The Messiah in the Hebrew language. The Christ in Greek. God had literally been promising this since the beginning of the world and Simeon trusted that this Savior would happen.
Maybe Simeon heard the rumors from the shepherds and got excited, realizing this was really happening. But he was still waiting. See, he had a special insight from the Holy Spirit, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” That’s what he was waiting for.
And so on this particular day, he is moved by the Holy Spirit to visit the temple. And good thing, too. Mary and Joseph are there to present their firstborn, according to the law. Simeon sees them, sees the baby, and he knows. He knows who that is. He knows what it means for him. And just can’t help himself. He runs forward – at least, as fast as he can for his age – scoops up the baby, and bursts into one of the greatest songs of truth, joy, and praise that we have recorded. So great, in fact, that we hear it every month as part of our liturgy. Maybe you recognize it more like this.
There’s a reason this song is part of our regular liturgy. It so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Christian, to be someone who has seen and believes in Christ, though I’m not sure we think about it as often as we hear it. Do you understand what Simeon was saying here? He had been promised that he would live to see the Christ. Now he had. He was ready to depart in peace. And he didn’t mean leave the temple. He meant he was ready to die. To leave this life.
How could he say that? I mean, maybe at one point you’ve said something like, “Well, now I can die happy,” but I doubt you really meant you wanted to drop dead right there and leave this life. Simeon did though. Because he…really understood. Everything he needed from this life, everything he truly wanted, it was here in this infant in his arms. This boy meant he was saved. It meant the world was saved. He was forgiven and at peace with God. Heaven was open to him. What more could possibly happen here that could improve on that? What was left to do here? And so, his response: Take my life or leave it Lord, I don’t need it anymore. I can depart in peace.
That is the kind of peace you can just drink in. I love every chance I get to sing this song because of the peace it reminds me I have in Christ. The kind of peace I think we all wish we could have a little more often. And brothers and sisters, we absolutely can if we just cling to Christ after Christmas as tightly as Simeon did. If we make holding him our resolution this year.
After all, why do we make resolutions year after year? Well, think about them. Very few of us resolve to watch more TV in a week or eat more cookies each night after dinner. We pick things that we think are good for us, things we think will make us better. Either we resolve to do things that will improve our health or we resolve to do something we’ve always meant to or get rid of bad habits or start good habits. Whatever it is, we’re trying to do something to make our lives better, to accomplish something meaningful. Why? Because we don’t feel complete yet, we want to improve, we want to be good enough, we want something more out of life. We just want to be better.
I get the drive. It makes perfect sense. But the resolutions we usually chase to reach that goal are a fool’s errand. Even if we manage to hold on to the resolution (and how many do?), accomplishing those things won’t make the feeling go away. Saving more money, losing weight, quitting a nasty habit…I’m not saying don’t try to do those things – but they won’t make the feeling go away. You’ll still feel like there needs to be more before you’re done, before you’re good enough… before you’re really complete.
It makes sense why we try. You don’t feel like you’re complete or good enough (and you’re not), so that’s where you focus your effort, on yourself. You work on making yourself better. But it doesn’t and it won’t work. We, ourselves are the problem. You can’t save a burning building by using the burning building. You can’t fix the problem with the problem. This internal need to want to do better, to be better, to feel complete, it comes from the fact that we’re not all those things. We’re not good. We’re not complete. We’re broken.
We’re born apart from God. Born in sin. And instinctively we know this. So our default reaction is, as we said, to try to chase whatever in this life we think will fix that, even as Christians who should know better. And maybe the worst part is that on our own, we never really learn. When was the last time in your life you didn’t have some goal in front of you that you thought, “When this is done, when I have this, when I accomplish this, I’ll be happy. I’ll be complete, I’ll be content.” How many of those have you gone through so far? I’ve lost count. I still fall for it.
It doesn’t work. But the Christ. He makes the difference. We cannot be better enough for God. He is. We should be punished for what we’ve done. He was instead. Christ fixes what’s wrong with us, Christ makes us complete, Christ gives us the only thing we truly need from this life: peace with God himself. Christ finishes the work of our life.
Do you get that? Jesus died and rose so that your crimes would be paid for and so that the Father would see you as perfect. You are going to heaven. That’s a done deal. You do not need anything else from this life. That thing you think you have to finish before you run out of time? Don’t need it. All the nagging things that need doing before you can feel rested? Not so much. Look back to the manger and let the peace of these words just wrap you up, “Lord you let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
I’m not saying this is a license to sit idle, God has given us work to do here while we’re here. I’m saying see the Christ, embrace him in the joy of knowing what he means for you and realize you don’t need this life anymore. He completes your life by bringing you peace with God, and that’s all you needed. Work for God out of joy, not a driving desperation to accomplish. The real work is done.
And what is that work that God asks of us while we’re still here? There are a few things, but one of the greatest is to Give this message of hope to others. And this is not a chore. This is making Christmas our lives. Look again at Simeon. He saw the gift, he saw the hope, and he was complete. He did not smile, embrace Jesus and move on quietly. His heart overflowed with what was done for him and it poured out in song, it poured out in telling the people around him how amazing this gift was. He couldn’t help but share.
We see the same a little further on in our reading with Anna on that same day, who herself saw Jesus and couldn’t help but talk about it. She talked about it anyone who would listen, anyone who was also waiting for the Messiah to make them complete. She didn’t smile, think “that’s nice” and go on with her day. She had to see, and she had to tell.
This is the uncontrollable natural response to the real peace and completeness that the gift of Christmas brings us. Last week we talked about giving the manger another look. Keep doing that. Look in it again to see the fullness of your life. See the baby there that grew to a man, who died in your place and gave you everything you ever need. Feel the peace, the relief that comes from knowing your life is complete, and there’s nothing else you need to chase after or give up or do harder to make it better.
So, take all that time and effort and energy you would’ve used chasing those things you don’t need, and use it for God instead. Use it for something that matters. Give that same message of hope to others this year. Make that your resolution. To not leave Christmas behind but to take that truth out into our lives every day, to keep the peace with you and to let the joy and relief of that peace overflow to those around us.
Keep on giving, long after Christmas. Give the one thing that anyone needs. Give the gift that gives them the same peace and joy you know. Give a message of Hope. Amen.
I have three sisters in my family. Every year since I was young we have drawn names for Christmas. This means that whatever name you draw out of a hat you are in charge of getting gifts for that person. It’s a pretty good “Christmas-gift-getting-system.” The reality is that the simple magnitude of gifts – one – allowed us to stress a lot less and focus on other things. It also works well as spouses etc. added. Rather than have to add to the gift count – the spouse enters the rotation and the number of gifts needed to be bought remains the same: ONE.
This past year one of my sisters had the bright idea that everybody should get gifts for everybody! A gift for each sister – a gift for each spouse – a gift for every child – even a gift for every canine. (Which is way more doggie gifts than there should be.)
Not gonna lie; I started to panic. Because suddenly I had a lot of presents that I needed to GET!
Get one for my wife.
Get one for sister 1, one for sister 2, one for sister 3.
Get one for brother in law.
Get one for dog in law.
Not to mention get one for all of Julianna’s family too!
And for me – Christmas ‘stress’ is born in the word “getting.”
I doubt I’m alone.
We need to “GET” the right gifts.
We need to “GET” the lights up.
We need to “GET” the cookies right.
We need to “GET” the right Hatchimal that the commercial told us.
We need to “GET” a second credit card.
We want to “GET” a Christmas bonus.
We want to “GET” a new sweater.
We want to “GET” a peaceful time with family.
And all this focus on GETTING means all we end up GETTING is heartburn.
There must be a better way.
Today we are starting a 3 weeks sermon series on GIVING. Our goal is to look at the original Christmas story and see how it is all about GIVING. Today we will start learning about giving by GIVING A SECOND LOOK at the manger in order to really grasp the incredible gift that God gave to us that first Christmas. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Second Look at What’s in the Manger
In order to take our second look, I want you to go back about 2000 years to a place called Bethlehem. It’s pretty busy. Not because of Christmas – but because of the census. “Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their home town to register.” (Luke 2 v.1)
And busy it was. Long lost sons. Married and relocated daughters. Grandsons. Granddaughters. Even crazy Uncle Lou have all returned in order to be counted in Caesar’s mandated census.
And most make it there. They arrive during the day. Their relatives put them up. They fill up all of the Motel 6’s.
Except for one couple.
Meet Mary and Joseph, they’re a bit late.
To be fair – it was a long journey. From Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles – whether you take the shorter mountainous trade route or the longer flat route by the Jordan River – it would have taken the top Ironmen about 8 days.
Joseph wasn’t an Ironman.
And Mary was about 8 ½ months pregnant.
So, they trudge into Bethlehem after two weeks of donkey travel, two weeks of sleeping under trees, two weeks of “Ugh Joseph. We need to slow down.” Two weeks of “Do they have any chocolate-covered pickle trees in this wilderness?”
When they finally saw it, Bethlehem must have been like an oasis to them. Firelight burning from the windows -- visible about a half mile off.
Joseph. We need to hurry. My water broke.
Suddenly there is no peace.
They need to GET to town!
They need to GET to a hotel.
They need to GET a room!
I’m sorry. There isn’t any vacancy here.
Dude, you should have gotten here sooner, we’re all booked.
Get off my lawn already – the other guests are trying to sleep!
Until Joseph --- Can’t you please put us up for a night!?! My wife is in labor. We traveled for two weeks and the other six inns are full! I need to GET her a spot for the baby to be born!
The innkeeper holds up his hands.
He adjusts his tie.
And he says, “Well…we do have a spot in the barn…”
And they head around.
And Joseph helps Mary off of the donkey.
And Mary rests on a pile of hay.
And Joseph runs for a bucket of water.
And Mary cries out in pain.
And the nearby cattle begin mooing at the commotion disturbing their sleep.
Which causes the neighbors dog to bark.
Which causes the neighbors’ neighbor’s dog to bark.
Until all that noise and commotion is replaced by the gentle cry of a baby.
“And she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk. 2:7)
And that…is the manger scene.
What do you see when you look at it? I think there are a couple different perspectives.
(1) The Nativity Perspective. Maybe you’re a nativity-ist? You see a quiet, gentle baby in a quiet, gentle scene, where even the cows are smiling. Mary isn’t sitting. Somehow she’s kneeling moments after birth. Joseph is calmly looking on – not like his hand is in pain because of how hard Mary was squeezing it.
If that’s what you see – you get a gentle, comforting feeling. It lasts for a bit. Until your own children start fighting about who gets to open the first gift…
(2) The Realist Perspective. This one happens when you think about it for a bit. You see a chaotic birth followed by a baby, wrapped in strips of old cloth, laying down next to the slobber filled hay – a scene that would have the Sanitation Department on Lockdown!
To be fair this scene provides a bit more comfort. You get to see the human spirit in action! You say, “Look at those odds that the couple faced! They got past the donkey travel, they got past the lack of vacancy, they made it to a spot where they could have a child – and if they can do that, I can get these stocking stuffers wrapped too.”
(3) The Divine Perspective.
But if that’s all you see in that scene…I need you to look closer.
Because the Bible tells us that there was more going on.
“The grace of God has appeared…” (Titus 2:11)
This is an interesting statement. Because grace is a concept. It’s an abstract object. It’s not tangible.
Grace is something that you give. It’s something that you get. It’s something that you receive.
And grace is something that humans do very poorly…even at Christmas:
You gave me what? Mental note to get them a $5 gift next year.
These cookies are off…That is NOT how grandma made them.
OK. That’s enough! You kids are too loud and Christmas. Is. Cancelled!
But when the Bible talks about grace.
It means grace.
Not “human defined grace” …But God’s grace.
And who can bring pure GRACE but the God of GRACE Himself?
Which is why when you look closely in that manger. You see GRACE.
GRACE who came out of the luxuries of heaven itself; to a stinky, sweaty, animal excrement filled barn.
GRACE who had been rubbing shoulders with holy, perfect angels; now on earth with crude sin-filled peasants, prostitutes and drunkards.
GRACE who owed us absolutely nothing; but who came to earth to GIVE us everything.
Understand this – when you look into the eyes of that little child, you are looking into the eyes of God himself.
II. What the ONE in the Manger Gives
That’s important to know.
Because if that’s God in the manger, he’s going to be bringing a plethora of good gifts.
He’s like that one uncle….The one who comes around Christmastime and bring all kinds of junk food. Tootsie Roll, cookies, a few of your favorite toys – maybe even the one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that your mom told him NOT to buy because you have too many TMNT toys.
He’s the kind of person that when you see him, you know you’re going to get a plethora of good gifts.
God’s just like that – only eternally better. Take a look at the gifts that he brings: “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
There’s a lot of awesomeness in this passage. Let’s break down the gifts.
Because we get it:
Wrong doing deserves punishment.
We get it so well that it is a part of our Christmas celebration – there’s this Santa Claus guy who gives gifts if you are good, but gives coal if you’ve done bad. It’s a punishment. The punishment of not receiving the good gifts and getting coal.
We all agree that naughty is not good.
And sin deserves punishment.
We just disagree on what level of naughty is deserves what level of punishment.
I was watching the Santa Claus 2 this past week. Have you seen it? It stars Tim Allen as Santa Claus and the premise is that he needs to find a Mrs. Clause before Christmas or he can no longer be Santa Claus. As a result, he has to leave the North Pole in order to find himself a date. The problem? Christmas is his busy time. He’s needed at the North Pole. So, they make a robotic Santa Claus that looks similar to him and leave him in charge of the workshop while Tim Allen goes in search of a wife.
And at first, it’s funny and cute. But soon the Santa robot starts reading the Christmas handbook. He learns that naughty kids are supposed to get coal. And when he looks at the lives of the kids from the past year, the Santa robot determines all of the kids are bad and they all deserve coal!
Here’s the thing: Santa Robot is obviously presented as the bad guy in that movie! But – he’s not wrong! The kids had done wrong and deserved coal.
The Bible speaks similarly “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) We are all sinners!
And, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) We all deserve punishment.
And God does not threaten coal for those who did wrong.
God threatens the eternal fires of hell itself.
Pastor, why are you talking about hell on Christmas? That’s kind of a downer.
Question: If you found out that you were $1000 short on rent this month and for Christmas, someone gave you $1000 that would be an AWESOME gift.
Or if you had been praying for a baby for years and find out on Christmas Day that you are pregnant, AWESOME gift.
Or if you have had cancer, but get a called from radiology on December 23rd that the cancer…is…gone. There is nothing more incredible than that.
To understand how incredible the gift of the manger is, we need to understand exactly our problem.
We needed salvation.
We needed a Savior.
We needed someone to save us from the impending punishment that we have inflicted on ourselves.
Jesus is exactly that.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
In short, it’s like the name tags on two presents were switched.
Jesus earned heaven. We earned hell.
He got hell on the cross; we get heaven as his promise!
Now maybe you’re thinking – this couldn’t be for me. I’m too guilty. I’m too far gone. I’m too far apart from God.
But notice – it’s for all people!
It’s for the poor and the rich.
For the young and the old.
For the white and the black.
For the Asian and Latino.
For the Tarheel fans and the Duke fans.
For people with all kinds of backgrounds and all different kinds of sins an all different kinds of guilt – Jesus died for you.
(2) Gift of “No”
But salvation is not the only gift of Jesus. Look at the next part, “He teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12)
One year my mom got me the Super Mario Brothers 3 game for the NES. It was exactly what I wanted! I was very excited to get callouses on my fingers and watch Mario smoosh walking mushrooms. When I got it – I remember thanking mom a bunch. I remember making her a breakfast of “pop tarts” in bed. I remember working hard on telling my sisters to “play nice.” I was so thankful for her gift that I wanted to do nice things for her.
It’s the same with salvation. When we grasp what God has done for us, the natural result – we can’t wait to do what he wants!
We say “No” to the wrong.
We say “Yes” to God.
Which means living for God isn’t a gift we do out of fear.
It’s a gift we give out of his grace -- out of his Gift for us!
Think about it at Christmas:
God’s given you everything; that teaches you to say “NO” to commercialism.
God’s has given you all you need; it teaches you to say, “You grab the last BonBon.”
God loves you dearly: it teaches you to say, “I will show love to you even when you’re being so negative right now.”
(3) Blessed Hope
Gift three is not a gift that we get right away.
Ever had a gift like that? Maybe it’s tickets to a show coming up or a playoff game or an investment into a college fund. Those gifts are nice. Even if you don’t have the gift yet, you do get the gift of looking forward to it.
It’s the same thing with God. While we don’t have heaven yet, this promise gives us something right now:
And that’s a big deal.
Because you might be hoping for a nice Christmas.
You might be hoping for some new kitchen utensils.
You might be hoping for your kids to get along.
You might be hoping that your visit with your parents goes well.
But that hope – is kind of a wishy-washy hope – because “Who knows?”
But with God there is certainty:
He was born just as He said.
He died just as He said.
He rose just as He said.
And He will take you to be with Him just as He said.
In God there is HOPE.
III. What NOW?
(1) Give the Manger a 3rd, 4th and 5th Look
Because the more you look at a well thought out gift the more you are filled with gratitude.
This happens often with ornaments. You pull one out of your ornament box -- Maybe it’s a macaroni spray painted gold ornament with a picture of your kid when he was 6. What happens? Every year when you decorate the tree you see the ornament and you are filled with gratitude and love.
How much greater that truth when we focus on our Savior Jesus?
God’s love fills our hearts and the bad news, the scars of this past year, the anxieties of this life is pushed out.
So, don’t just look at the manger right now.
Look later tonight. Read Luke 2. Watch The Nativity on Netflix. Come back to worship tomorrow. Make a plan for worshipping repetitively throughout the New Year.
Give the manger a second look so that God’s love can flow to you and through you.
(2) Do Good “in the NOW”
Titus says this, “God’s grace teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” In the Greek language (the original language of the Bible for this section) it literally says, “in the NOW age.”
Meaning – not tomorrow.
Do good this evening with your family.
Be the one to clean up the wrapping paper.
Make sure people’s drinks are filled.
Pass out hugs and smiles like they are going out of style.
And GIVE His message of love.
Because Christmas was always about GIVING.
What God GAVE to us.
What God is GIVING to us.
What God will GIVE to us.
And what God will have us GIVE to others.
May God bless your giving this Christmas and always. Amen.
Today is the Kids’ Christmas program which is the one time a year that the kids get to do the main part of the worship service. They’ll be in charge of teaching the message – granted, it’s the same message that I’d teach – only a lot cuter. (Maybe it’s the beard).
To be fair: It will be cute.
The girls will be wearing cute little dresses.
The boys will be wearing cute little sweaters.
The singing will be cute – cuter if it’s offkey.
And it’ll be cute when that one kid shouts the entire program.
It will certainly be a cute program.
But you need to approach this as more than cute.
Isaiah 61 says this, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is one me, because the LORD has anointed me!” Focus in on that word “Anointed.” Back in the day Israelites would anoint people with oil in order to identify them being appointed to a special position. They’d pour oil on the head of the future king. Oil on the head of the general. Oil on the head of prophets.
Here someone is anointed. But not with oil.
Here someone is anointed, but not by another human.
Someone is anointed with the Holy Spirit by God Himself.
What kind of a job do you have when you are anointed – not with oil – but with the Holy Spirit himself?
The LORD anointed me…To preach good news. (v.1)
Does this not seem a bit strange?
Because I would think that if God had a message for me it’d probably be less pleasant:
I saw what you did earlier.
I saw that fight with your wife.
I heard that foul language.
I know what you did last Christmas.
I know all of you filthy, guilty, no good, very bad sins that you have done.
And when people do wrong – I do much worse than coal in a stocking.
No. Not good. At all.
Did you know this isn’t the only time this passage is in the Bible?
In fact, 700 some years after this passage was prophesied…Jesus preached a sermon on this very passage.
It wasn’t very long.
One sentence only.
He said this, “The LORD has anointed me to preach good news. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In other words:
I am the anointed.
I’m the One on whom God poured His Holy Spirit.
I’ve got the good news.
I will perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all your sins.
This is good news.
Good news from God.
Good news from God to you.
Good news Jesus taught his disciples.
Good news that his disciples wrote down.
And years later, 2017 even, here we are looking at it – God reveals it to us.
It’s like unwrapping a gift all over again.
What is that good news?
A half-off sale at Macy’s?
No. Much deeper than that.
Take a look at how Isaiah says it next:
God has anointed me…
…To preach good news to the poor, To bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim freedom for the captives, to release the prisoners, To comfort all who mourn. (61:1-2)
And you might be looking at that and thinking:
I’m feeling pretty poor. It is Christmas season. Hopefully by the end of this service my bank account will grow a couple hundred.
And I’m feeling broken hearted – I’ve been dealing with this divorce for a while now. It’d be nice to be reunited with my loved ones.
And I’ve got a cousin in prison. He’s been there long enough. Can you release him please?
And this will be my first Christmas without Grandma. Can you bring her back?
If you think that’s what Jesus is talking about, that’s too physical. Too earthly. Jesus came to deal with the spiritual. He speaks about the heavenly.
Which is WAY better.
To the poor – Jesus says, “Here is priceless treasure that money cannot buy: a luxurious penthouse in heaven and the golden jewelry of forgiveness to adorn your neck.”
To the brokenhearted – God says, “I’m sorry they left. But I won’t. I will always love you. And I will always be faithful to you. And I will never leave you.”
To the captives – God says, “That addiction will not overpower you! It does not own you. I own you!”
To the prisoners – God says, “You are free. Don’t let that guilt imprison you anymore! You are free because you are forgiven.”
To the believers who mourns – God says, “I know what it’s like to spend Christmas apart from a loved one. My Son actually…and He. But 3 days later…he came back to life. And because he lives, your loved one will live; and you will live too.”
Good news, right?
Really good news.
And I love the last way Isaiah describes it in verse 2 “To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,” and this is not just talking about Christmas Day. No. The day the Lord brings us home with Him. The day of His grace. This is more than, “Hey, it’s Christmas Day, you can open up the presents underneath the tree.” No. Under the tree you find God’s grace. Under the tree you find His forgiveness. Under the tree you find your Lord’s love for you.
Isaiah in this passage loves describing how wonderful this good news is. And now he gets into three word pictures.
In verse 3, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Look at the first one, “A crown of beauty.” Have you ever worn a crown before? Like an actual crown? To wear an actual weighted crown with gold and jewels, that would be impressive.
Have you worn ashes before? Sweat and grime, not very pretty.
What’s the point?
As humans, we know what it’s like to sit around in ashes – in our sin, in our yuck, in the wrong we’ve done, and in our guilt. And Christmas comes as a reminder of it.
But the good news of Jesus…God comes around and places a golden crown of righteousness on your head. He removes all of the dust, all of the dirt, all of the ashes, cleans you up, and there you are – royalty. You’re a part of God’s kingdom now.
The oil of gladness instead of the oil of mourning. Oil was used back then a way of appearing better than you were. We cover ourselves with sadness (oil of mourning) as we’re sinful, but Jesus covers us with the oil of joy (gladness). Words of forgiven. Words of love. Words of in my kingdom.
And “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Spiritually speaking, our clothes have holes in them. Not holy, but full of holes. Spiritually speaking, we’ve got sin after sin after sin! And here God comes along and He covers us with His garment of praise. He covers you and me and all the sins and all the stains and no one can see them. Before God’s eyes they are nonexistent.
A garment of praise! That changes our lives, right? That’s why we’re singing “Joy to the World” at Christmas instead of “Gloom to the World.” “Joy to the World” because of what Jesus has done.
And here’s the result “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.” (vs. 3)
Oaks are strong. Oaks are large. Oaks grow nice and tall. Oaks are sturdy. Raleigh is the “City of Oak Trees.”
Do you ever feel like an oak of righteousness, spiritually speaking? Do you ever feel like that, “Man, I am strong! Nothing can sway me at all! My faith is great!”
I don’t. I feel more like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Not very strong.
But Jesus says, “I will make you oaks of righteousness.” God says this; this message will build you up. If you go a little farther in Isaiah, verse 11, it says, “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” Part of the way He does that is by turning you into an oak of righteousness. He fills us with forgiveness, His gospel, again and again and again. He grows our faith and continues to grow our faith.
If you’re feeling like you aren’t an oak of righteousness, then you need to get into His Word, and He will continue to grow your faith. He says, “That’s how I view you already, allow me to make that faith vibrant in your life.” So, suddenly like an oak tree you stand tall and you stand firm, no matter what happens.
And then – His praise will spring before all nations!
How do oaks spring up everywhere? Well they plant their little acorns and more oaks spring up!
And leads us to our final big truth today. Here’s what God tells us this Christmas:
As an oak of righteousness, you’ve got Good News. We’ve got Great News to share.
Share that Good News!
Share that Good News with anyone who doesn’t know it – family member, friend, Starbucks Barista – anyone! God will make it grow; that’s not up to us. Plant that acorn as an oak tree of righteousness.
That’s who you are and that’s what you do! Share it!
This is the message of Jesus.
This is the message of Christmas.
It’s more than cute.
May God implore than on our hearts this Christmas and always.
Today we are continuing our sermon series on Isaiah’s Christmas prophecies. Last week we learned how the virgin birth makes the Messiah unmistakable. Jesus is THE Messiah, THE Anointed One. THE Savior.
And maybe you took that truth home and thought, “Cool! What does that do for me? My bank account is still low. My job still stinks. My family life is NOT awesome. And to be honest – some pretty awful stuff happened to me this week.”
Today we are taking a look at a prophecy that talks less about who the Messiah is, but what the Messiah has to offer. Before we do that, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Darkness that Was
The lesson for this morning is from Isaiah 9. A bit of context: The year is 733 B.C. and after years of warnings, years of rebukes, and years of trying to call the people of Israel back to faith…God has just brought judgment.
Armies have overtaken Israel.
War has overrun the land.
Most cities have been destroyed.
People are dead.
Houses are burned.
Families have been broken apart.
In short, things weren’t very merry and bright.
But now that destruction has come, Isaiah doesn’t respond with “I told you so.” Not at all. Chapter 9 is not about gloom. Look at what Isaiah prophesies: “There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations.” (9:1)
Take a look at Zebulon and Naphtali on an Old Testament map. They are on the north east side of Israel. They have the wonderful blessing of being located right next to the Sea of Galilee, being located right near some great fishing and having some very fertile farm land. But they also had the less the wonderful blessing of being the very first bit of land that invading countries from the East would attack.
And attack they did. This land was known for being the sight of some gruesome battles and some terrible Israelite losses. Hence: “In the past God humbled the land of Zebulon and Naphtali.”
But in the future. “In the future he will honor Galilee of the nations.”
Fast forward 770 years. Same area of Galilee, only there isn’t war going on anymore. It’s the Pax Romana – the peace of Rome. There aren’t any battles. There aren’t any sword fights. There isn’t any bloodshed.
But to one man – there’s still war.
Meet John the Baptist.
He’s a soldier, but not the traditional kind.
Instead of armor, he wears camel skin.
Instead of MREs, he eats bugs.
Instead of a sword, he wields the law of God.
Because he’s not battling the Assyrians.
He’s battling sin.
John looks around at the crowds. Sin is everywhere.
Sin is what is ruining that family’s relationships. She yells at him; he yells at her and the kids yell at each other because they can’t deal with the anger.
Sin is what ruined that booze smelling guy in the corner – he did a horrible sin and he can’t deal with it; so, he drinks and drinks and piles up more sins and more sadness.
Sin is what ruined that lady’s life. The one by herself. She cheated on her husband. She cheated with her best friends’ husband. Now? She’s been ostracized.
Sin is even what ruined those nice, churchy looking guys – Their failures and their inadequacies are too much for them to admit; so they wear fancy robes and drip oil into their beards – just so their outward appearance can distract them from the inward awful.
Sin is the real reason for darkness.
So, John fights.
Repent every last one of you.
Repent of sin.
Repent of trespassing.
Repent of vileness.
Repent of harassing.
Repent of hatred.
Repent of lust.
Repent of gossip.
Repent of sloth.
Repent of addiction.
Repent of pride.
Repent of racism.
Repent of lies.
Repent of sin.
Put up a fight.
Come out of the darkness.
Come into the light.
And people listen. They repent.
“Now what? We can stop doing the sin…maybe… but our guilt is still there. There is no way to get rid of it. There’s no way to make up for it. I can quit doing the sin, but the guilt of what I’ve done. That’ll stay with me. It’ll overpower me. It’ll overcome me. Like a cloud of gloom, it will consume me.”
And John can’t help. At least not personally. Because you see when John looks at sinners, he also sees himself.
Unable to help.
As he stands on the banks of the Jordan River, in the land of Galilee, in the very spot that Isaiah prophesied about, at the very spot where John had seen sinner after sinner after sinner, John sees someone else.
John sees someone different.
John sees the Light.
“Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:3)
Galilee is where Jesus began his preaching ministry. It’s where he did all sorts of miracles. It’s where he battled the darkness of sin with the precious words of the light.
And that’s good news.
II. The End of Darkness
Have you ever been to a harvest party? I’m not just talking about the modern, city slicker equivalent where we drink pumpkin spiced lattes and wear flannel – but a real harvest party! Where after weeks of tilling, planting, irrigating, weeding, hoping for rain during drought and praying for a break during flood season, harvest comes, and you celebrate! You eat some corn dipped in butter. You drink some wine. You play toss the hay bale because there’s nothing to worry about anymore!
Or have you ever been to a plunder party? After years of fighting, years of sweating, years of sleeping in the dirt and cuddling in the mud, finally you conquer the city! Then, the spoils – the gold, the silver, the comfy chair, the fancy robes, the giant legs of ham and bags of delicious Doritos that were theirs are now yours!
Or have you ever been to a “I’m-not-wearing-a-yoke-and-puling-a-heavy-cart-anymore” party? Because a yoke is that big old wooden thing that they put on oxen so that they can’t go anywhere without pulling the giant load behind them. It’s tiring. It’s annoying. It’s awful. But when that is released, and you are finally free!
But none of that compares to what Jesus did for us.
After years of toiling in sin and guilt and shame, Jesus provides a harvest of righteousness.
After years of fighting and losing to temptation, Jesus provides the plunder of eternal life us.
After years of being burdened by guilt and shame and impossible demands of God’s law, Jesus removes that yoke. And sets us free.
6 For to us a child is born. (of a virgin – we’ve identified him) It’s Jesus.
To us a son is given. As in a gift. As in he came for us! As in his life is for us. As in his death is for us.
And the government will be on his shoulders. He’ll be in control after he comes.
Not whatever awful thing it is that scares you.
The One who is control is the One who loves you.
The One in control is the One who died for you.
The One in control is the One who conquered sin and death for you.
Darkness is not in control.
The One who conquered the darkness is in control.
III. The Reign of Light
And what’s the kingdom like under his control? What’s it like to live under the king of Light? Isaiah gives the answer in verse 6-7 by giving this king some Divine Titles. Let’s examine each:
(1) Wonderful Counselor
When you hear the word counselor, there’s really two definitions that you might think of. (1) The Counselor who sits in a chair and strokes his beard and says, “That’s interesting.” (2) an advisor in the king’s court who tells the king when to attack, when to defend, and when to hold a fancy party. This is the definition that we’re dealing with.
Which is very interesting. Because Jesus has already been identified as king and now he’s been identified as counselor too. He’s being identified as his own right-hand man.
Humans would do well to take note. Because we tend to think of ourselves as God’s right-hand men and women. As if we’re Jesus’ own spiritual advisors:
Jesus, I know you have everything under control, but you should probably give me a bigger Christmas bonus then everything will be fine.
Jesus, if you really knew what was best, you’d heal Aunt Clara in time for the holidays.
Jesus, if you really wanted to make a righteous judgment, you’d give that guy a lump of coal.
You don’t give counsel to the Wonderful Counselor.
You take counsel.
Because no one knows better than the one who knew enough to Creator this incredible world.
No one knows better than the one who knew exactly what it took to save it.
No one knows better than to guide your life than the one who knows where it will end up.
(2) Mighty God
I was at my gym the other day for a competition. There was a section of the competition (in which I didn’t compete at all) where people did powerlifts. Where they lifted barbells loaded with weight over their heads.
And when I got there, there was a barbell that had three 45-pound plates on each side of the bar. 90, 180, 270 plus the 45-pound bar = 305 pounds. And I thought – that’s a bit too much. Who’s going to lift that? Who’s going to be able to power clean that? Is this a mistake?
Nope. Some guys walks over, takes a breath and throws it into the air!
Jesus is MIGHTY GOD. That means he’s a lot like a powerlifter. In fact, he’s THE Powerlifter.
No matter how big your sin is.
No matter how big your sin was.
No matter how much it has weighed you down.
No matter how much it is weighing you down.
Jesus can lift it. And he did. In fact, he lifted it up and dragged it through the streets of Jerusalem and carried it to the cross.
And if you think your problems are too heavy for him to deal with?
Think again. He’s MIGHTY GOD!
(3) Everlasting Father
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the batteries in this microphone were getting a bit old. But when I went to the closet to check for batteries we didn’t have any. So, we bought some new ones and switched brands. Good idea. The last brand that we had would last for about one Sunday of preaching – or 2 services. The new set? It’s still going strong.
Jesus is like that. He’s still going strong. He keeps going and going and going and going…and always will go.
And remember he’ll be going for you! Because look at the second part. The word Father does not point to a Trinitarian, theological controversy, but to the reality that believers are God’s children.
And he’s not a Father that runs off.
He isn’t tainted by sin.
He doesn’t get drunk.
He doesn’t slap mom around.
He doesn’t hurt or harm you in any way.
He loves you.
He cares for you.
He disciplines you – sure – but He does so with your eternal interests in mind – aka—that one day you’ll come home.
(4) Prince of Peace
Because unlike how a lot of royalty are portrayed in current shows like REIGN and GAME OF THRONES, Jesus isn’t about violence. He isn’t about blood, violence, political gain and power – not even dragons rampaging the village.
Jesus is different. He doesn’t break peace to bring war.
He brought war to bring peace.
He fought sin. Beat sin. Violently beat it on the cross. And rose triumphantly in order to bring you peace with God.
You don’t have to worry that your God is going to enact divine judgment on you.
Not when you believe in Him as your Savior.
Because then you have peace.
“Repent!” That’s John the Baptist’s cry. That’s the cry of Scripture. That’s what God, our King is imploring you.
Don’t just hear it today. Take a moment. Meditate. Turn from sin!
Because what we tend to do is choose a sin that we don’t struggle with and repent: “I repent of getting together with a group of teenagers to gossip!” That’s not repentance.
Look at your life. What do you struggle with? Where do you lose the battle? Where have you given up fighting? Where is there darkness?
Cry out to God for help.
And trust Him.
Because REPENT is a 180. It’s not a 90 degree turn from sin to another sin. But from sin to trust in your Savior. Trust in the Messiah. Trust in the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
And when you trust, well:
You walking in darkness have seen a great light.
On you living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Today we are beginning a 3-part sermon series on Isaiah’s Christmas prophecies. The goal is to take a break from the gift wrapping, the shopping, the wreath making, the tree decorating, cookie baking, cookie eating, and Netflix Christmas Special watching…to meditate on the peace-giving truth that God’s original Christmas gift for us – Jesus – was a gift he had planned for centuries before it ever happened.
Before we dig in with our first prophecy, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Reason for Messiah
All of these prophecies that we will looking at are a special breed of prophecy. Something called Messianic Prophecies. That means that these prophecies aren’t prophecies about what you’ll get for Christmas, who the Bowl Selection committee will put in which bowl game, or how Stranger Things will end, but they are prophecies about who the Messiah will be.
Which leads to the question: Who or what is the Messiah? And why do I care?
In the very first book of the Bible, the origins of the universe are explained by God’s himself. In it, a wonderful earth is described.
An earth without pain, an earth without sadness, an earth without hangnails, car exhaust or holes in the Ozone layer.
An earth without broken toys the day after you give kids gifts at Christmas, Starbucks cards that run a zero balance.
An earth without spoiled eggnog in the back of the fridge.
An earth without cancer, racism or mass shootings at a Jason Aldean concert.
An earth without error.
An earth without sin.
An earth of perfection.
And part of that perfection involves two human beings – Adam and Eve.
And part of that perfection involves granting these human beings the ability to show love to their Creator by not eating from the tree in the middle of the garden.
And Adam and Eve listen…
They have fun peeling and eating bananas.
They enjoy seeing how can get to the end of a carrot first.
They play the game where they toss soybeans into each other’s mouths.
Until one day.
A talking snake come by.
And he says, Did God really say you can’t eat from the tree? He’s lying. You won’t die. You’ll just become like him. He’s just jealous of you. Trust me. The fruit will be good.
And Eve looks at the snake.
And Eve looks at Adam.
And Adam says:
I don’t know Eve. On the one hand, we could listen to God, the one who created us and gave us this wonderful, painless, sinless, deathless world to exist in.
On the other hand…it’s a talking snake.
And they make their choice.
And it isn’t God.
And in making that choice, everything God warned them about happens.
The world changes from a place without…to a place with.
A place with pain.
A place with sadness.
A place with sin and discord and racism and terrorism and evil and death.
But when God goes to find Adam and Eve – he doesn’t yell at them. He doesn’t punish them. Not at first.
First, he offers words of hope: Devil, I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers. One of them, will cross your head and you will strike his heel.
This is the Messiah.
This is the Anointed One.
This is the one who will beat Satan. In fact, that’s our definition of Messiah. Write it down: Messiah is one who would crush Satan’s head and his evil work.
The Messiah is the Savior.
II. The Importance of Getting It Right
Therefore, the Messiah is really, really important. It would be a shame to identify him incorrectly.
I come from a family of four kids and we were blessed to have a good number of presents under the tree. But sometimes – be it because it’s easier or be it because it’s cute – each one of the kids would have a gift that was exactly the same size. In other words, my mom got the kids each a very similar present.
Unfortunately, because my mom had to wrap so many gifts she didn’t always identify them correctly.
For instance: One year my younger sister opened her “set of four” present to reveal a Lion from the Wizard of Oz ornament. I immediately got pretty excited. The Lion was her favorite character and mine was the Scarecrow. I loved him a lot. We watched a lot of Wizard of Oz and I had learned all of his movements during the “If I only had a brain” song. Hopefully that wasn’t because we had a lot in common.
So, I was expecting the Scarecrow. Only to get to my same shaped box, rip the wrappings to shreds to reveal: Glinda the Good Witch? Wrong present.
That’s why mom immediately began using differently wrapping paper for different kids with name tags written in bold ink on them. Never again would a present get a mistaken identity.
God thought similarly. With much grander and more eternal consequences.
Because if anyone gets the Messiah wrong…
If they put their trust in someone who doesn’t have the ability to crush Satan, sin and death…
If we get got the Messiah wrong, then there is no salvation.
There is only a yielding to evil and death…The Bible calls that hell.
Because the stakes were so eternally high God provided us with something called the Messianic Prophecy. A prophecy is a word from God about the future. Messianic prophecy is the word from God about the future messiah. There are no shortage of these prophecies. Scholars agree that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament.
Since we are preparing for Christmas, let’s look at a few that deal specifically with his birth.
(1) Prophecy of Lineage
The first prophecy was spoken by God to a guy named King David around 1000 B.C. God said this to David “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons…and I will establish his throne forever.” (1 Chr. 17:11-12) Granted. David had a son named Solomon. Solomon became king. But Solomon did not reign…forever. That’s a reign tenure that’s reserved only from the Messiah.
And Solomon died, so it wasn’t him.
This teaches our first important truth about the Messiah. He would be a descendant of David. Somewhere on David’s family tree…somewhere below him…eventually the Messiah would come.
Which is helpful, because it means that if someone claims to be the Messiah but isn’t of David’s bloodline, he isn’t the Messiah.
This effectively rules me out.
Actually, anyone not Jewish.
(2) Prophecy of Birthplace
But it’s only so helpful. Because David had 19 sons. Meaning there were 19 possible routes for the Messiah to come from in just that one generation. Fast forward three generations and it would have quadrupled! A couple hundred years and the possibilities of hundreds of thousands!
So…another prophecy to help trim it down. But you Bethlehem…though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)
Again – ruler of Israel “origins of old from ancient times…” This is talking about the Messiah.
Micah is a prophet a decent amount of time after David. So, his new prophecy tells us – it isn’t anyone who lived before Micah. In addition, it trims it down even farther for us. The Messiah will not only be of David’s line, but he will live in Bethlehem. If a person is of David, but moved far away from Bethlehem – maybe a summer abroad in Ancient Rome, it won’t be him. Or if a woman moved away to college: “Israel State in Jerusalem,” got married and had a child there, her son would NOT be the Messiah.
Again, this is helpful. Bethlehem isn’t a huge town.
But still, over the generations, there’s thousands of options.
(3) Prophecy of the Virgin Birth
Enter the prophet Isaiah. God uses him to reveal a prophecy that really narrows down our search for the Messiah: “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Nowadays science is pretty amazing. If a family is unable to have a child, there are some science ways to make it happen. They just take the two parts that are necessary, combine them in a test tube and…a baby! It’s not fool proof, but it works. Ethics aside – the reality is that a baby can happen for a single mom from using a donor in this way.
But that technology wasn’t around at the time of Isaiah.
It wasn’t around until the last 50 years.
And even so - you still need the two parts – the word virgin implies only egg.
This means three very important things about Isaiah’s prophecies:
Every king of Israel had a mom and dad.
Every President had a biological mom and dad.
Every Olympian has had a biological mom and dad.
Even Coach K has a biological mom and dad.
Everyone in human history has a biological mom and dad.
III. The Unmistakable Fulfillment
About 600 years after the prophet Isaiah makes his prophecy, there is this one girl. She’s from the line of David. She’s about 16-17 years old. She’s engaged to be married.
And she can’t wait for the wedding. She’s been planning with her mom and dad to make sure there are the right kind of flowers, to make sure they order the right kind of wine, to make sure that they have the chicken cordon bleu or roast duck option. She’s excited to be a princess. She’s excited to start a family.
As she’s hanging her father’s laundry out to dry, she grabs one of his white sheets and spins.
She places it behind her head and imagines her train as she walks in to her wedding day.
She imagines her wedding night as she walks in to her husband’s room to be intimate with for the very first time.
And she’s imagining.
And suddenly…a voice.
She’s startled. Did someone see her dancing?
It repeats: Mary!
And as it repeats, a light starts to grow before her eyes. It’s not the sun – the sun doesn’t do that – not so quickly. She falls to the grounds and recognizes the figure of a man within the light. She had heard about these – messengers of God.
She falls to the grounds.
Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. (Luke 1:30-33)
And Mary is humbled.
And Mary is amazed.
And Mary is…confused.
How will this be? I am a virgin. I…haven’t done what’s necessary to have a baby.
The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (v. 35)
Aka. It will be a miracle.
Then, the angel leaves.
Mary is a bit nervous.
For a while, she wonders if it’s a dream. She hopes it’s a dream – she doesn’t want to lose Joseph and she doesn’t want the shame that her family will give her.
But then, she’s putting on weight.
And she’s buying bigger clothes.
And soon its unmistakable.
She is the virgin mother of the Messiah.
IV. For Real?
Now, maybe you are a skeptic. Maybe you think that’s impossible.
Maybe you think that Mary just made it all up because she didn’t want to be embarrassed as the woman pregnant out of wedlock.
You know – because crazy woman who said that God put the baby there – is better.
But keep in mind three important things that help to prove the reality of the virgin birth:
1. What Joseph goes through.
I say Joseph as opposed to Mary because Mary doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
But when Joseph finds out about what happened, he takes a moment.
He goes home. He actually makes a plan to break off the engagement, because he can’t deal with an unfaithful spouse. But he wants to do so quietly because he still loves Mary.
But then he doesn’t.
He doesn’t because an angel told him not to divorce Mary.
Think about that – he could have left her! He could have had the whole of his village on his side: “That no good Mary.” He could have been the one in the ‘break up’ that everyone sided with and surely another woman would be his soon.
Instead, he chooses to stay engaged and be ridiculed right along with her.
Because he believed what the angel told him.
This child was the Messiah.
2. The other prophecies.
Because remember – This isn’t the only prophecy that is fulfilled in Mary’s boy.
Mary is also of the line of David.
But they aren’t from Bethlehem! They live in Nazareth.
Except. About a month before Mary gives birth, Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, issues a decree that he wants to take a Census of the entire Roman world in order to see how many people he is emperor over. In order to take the census, he demands all people under his ruler to return to their place of origin.
So, Joseph and Mary have to leave Nazareth.
They have to go to their place of origin.
And where is their place of origin?
Bethlehem. Just like the prophecy said.
3. Other miracles surrounding Jesus.
Because the virgin birth isn’t the only one.
Angels appeared to Mary and Joseph.
Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was over 80 years old – well beyond childbearing years – became pregnant with John the Baptist.
An angel caused Elizabeth’s husband to be mute for the 9 months of her pregnancy because of his doubts.
There was the star in the sky for the wise men to follow.
The angels that appeared to sing the shepherds glory.
Oh yeah…and when the baby grew up?
He died on the cross. Publicly.
He rose from the dead. Publicly.
These people wrote these miracles down for us.
They also wrote down the virgin birth for us.
If all those other miracles are true, this one is too.
V. What Now?
1. Pay Attention
God went out of his way to get your attention with this prophecy and fulfillment. Because God used an event unlike any event ever in human history.
He didn’t say, “The Messiah will one-day wear flannel.”
Or, “One day the Messiah will be wearing some skinny jeans and have a man bun.”
He said, “The Messiah will be born of a mom…and that’s it.”
God used an extraordinary event to point to the Savior so that you didn’t miss it!
It’s like one of those Christmas light villages with the really big pop up Santa, reindeer that flash to the beat of Trans-Siberian orchestra and a mortgage invested in the light display. It’s crazy. It’s awesome. It’s screams: NOTICE ME!
The Virgin Birth is the over the top, exuberant, blinking Christmas light display of Messianic prophecies.
It’s God screaming PAY ATTENTION!
Because Jesus is the Messiah.
He is the only one that can save you from this world of sin and death.
Not some other god.
Not some other religion.
It’s Jesus alone.
2. See God!
Because look what’s in that manger. The prophecy from Isaiah ends like this: “The Virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son and will call him Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14)
Immanuel is a pretty neat name. Scripture tells us that Immanuel is Hebrew for “God with Us.” Although don’t think of it simply as a name with a meaning. It’s a name that says its meaning.
Ima is the Hebrew word “with.”
Nu is the Hebrew word “us.”
El is the Hebrew word “God.”
In English it’d be like naming your child “GodIsWIthUsLiterallyInTheFleshRightNowInThisChild.” All one word. Besides meaning that the kid will need a very long driver’s license, it also means this child, isn’t just a child.
He’s God himself.
Which means your God is not God who dwells far off!
He’s not the Force.
He’s not a Big Bang.
He’s not an impersonal, divine wrathful king.
He saw the pain that was in this world.
He saw the sin.
He saw the death.
And He didn’t run from it.
He ran to it.
He came to earth and experienced the pain, the suffering, the sadness, even death itself --- on a most painful instrument of death!
In order to fulfill prophecy.
In order to fulfill purpose.
In order to save you.
3. Stop Looking Elsewhere for Your Messiah
Because maybe you are nervous this Christmas.
Maybe you are nervous Christmas won’t be that great.
Maybe you are looking for something to give you a bit more confidence…
A bigger paycheck.
A positive health result.
A good visit with family.
If you only have the right toy for your kid…
If you only have the right topper on the tree…
If you only have the right cookies on the table…then!
Christmas will be saved!
And I’ll be saved.
For a moment.
From my painful past.
From my daily struggles.
From this sin filled world.
But what happens when the toy is the wrong toy?
What happens when the cookie is burnt?
What happens when that family gathering is a disaster?
And now…instead of escaping this sin filled world – you just have more awful memories of it!
Stop looking in this world for your Messiah.
Look at something out of this world.
Look at something that has to be from out of this world.
Look at the baby born of the virgin.