#1 (Christmas Series)

TEXTS:      Luke 2:1-20; Jn. 19:5


The wonder of Christmas is not found in Heaven, or the angels, it is that God chose to fully become a human being and experience life as we know it, and to die for our sins! Many religions celebrate their founder's enlightenment and journey to the spiritual plane, or their flights from persecution; but only Christianity celebrates the journey of God to Earth to become a man and willingly submit Himself to His enemies to die for our sins! ILLUS:The Muslim calendar is dated from the Hegira, when Mohammed fled to Medina to escape persecution. Our calendar is also dated from a journey, but it was not a journey to flee persecution. Christ willingly made the journey from Heaven to earth, and when his time had come, willingly went to the cross to die at the hands of his enemies. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). There is no way that God can overlook humanity, He has experienced being a human, it is the greatest marvel of the universe! Few expected God's plan would be so primitive, so plain, so humble; that He should come as a helpless baby dependent on human parents for His own survival! When we behold the man Jesus, we are amazed at God's love and persistence in saving us! PROP. SENT:      The Bible teaches us that God in becoming man has made possible the forgiveness of sins so that we can experience His eternal life.

I. GOD'S MESSAGE       2:1-14

A. Grave Moments     2:1-7 1. The wonderfully pastoral scenes of Christmas plays in Churches are hardly the reality of the first Christmas, consider the following facts of the first one: a. Big government was running the country into the ground financially! b. Constant new taxes were draining the middle class, big expensive government projects were the cause of this. c. Divorce was common, as was abortion. d. Religion while still popular had lost most of its power to change the culture or impact society's values. e. Political scandals had caused most people to lose trust in politicians. f. The justice system was out of control. g. Constant terrorist attacks in the middle East kept the Roman empire nervous. The middle East unrest threatened world peace. h. Crime rates were high, and the disparity between rich and poor was growing. i. It was a rough noisy time! 2. The scene with Joseph and Mary was anything but pastoral and peaceful! a. They would have to handle the scandal of pregnancy without being properly married! b. They would have to travel in Mary's 9th month of pregnancy - by donkey! c. They were being forced to do this by the government, which of course would only result in higher taxes! d. The mad rush of people into a small town meant crowded conditions and no place to rent for sleep! e. And while away from home Mary goes into labor with no place to deliver! f. Nothing about their personal circumstances is peaceful or deeply spiritual looking! 3. Under such dark traumatic conditions God decides to change the course of human history … for the better! ILLUS:Early Christians wisely decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on a day that was already a recognized holiday, December 25. Celebrating on this day would keep them from suspicion and danger. The Romans called December 25 "The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" because it was so close to December 21, the winter solstice. For Christians it became "The Birthday of the Unconquered Son." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). 4. The facts of Jesus' delivery speak for themselves: a. Note the verse states, (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." -- note that it states SHE wrapped Jesus in clothes, this was not normally done by the mother, but by another woman who assisted in the birth … their poverty and the surprise was so sudden that Mary wasn't even afforded the normal helps at such a time, to say nothing about putting Jesus in an animal feeding tray for lack of a crib! b. It was a tough time for society … and for Mary and Joseph! 5. The fact of the first Christmas arriving in very grave moments though should give us hope, for if God can change the circumstances of a dark time so long ago, He can again … and again with His son Jesus! B. Greatest Message     2:8-14 1. The Shepherds being the first to be called raise some interesting things about God's coming too! a. These were shepherds of flocks between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (about 6 miles away). This area was reserved for raising sheep for slaughter at the Temple for sacrifice to cleanse the sins of those who came to worship God! (1. It is not strange then that Jesus who was the "lamb slain before the foundation of the world" should be born here! (2. Jesus was both the Shepherd, and the sacrificial lamb of God! b. Shepherds were the lowest class in Israel … unlike the image we usually have today of them. They were considered so low in Jewish society that they were never permitted to testify in a court of law EVEN if they were an eyewitness to a crime, their testimony was considered too unreliable!! (1. Isn't it interesting that God then chose them to be the FIRST TO TESTIFY for Him? (2. Shepherds were NOT thought of warmly, they were despised in Jewish culture in Jesus day … but these are precisely the first ones God chooses to deliver good news and have them share it with others! c. Even the angels showing up was not a welcome sight by Jews … most Jews of Jesus' day assumed that when angels showed up it was almost always BAD news … hence why the Shepherds react at first with FEAR! In fact, the angels have to say to them, "Do not be afraid…" -- they were terrified! d. This was NO CHOIR of angels … the Greek word literally translates, "heavenly ARMY" not at all a choir of angels … our pageants get this wrong! (Note: The Bible never says they were singing!) (1. How ironic again, an ARMY announcing "PEACE ON EARTH!" (2. This peace is said to be "for all the people." -- not just Jews, everyone! 2. No wonder this was the greatest message! a. No amount of Christmas plays and decorations can give us the true sense of how radical this announcement was in the midst of fear, depression, anguish, and corruption! b. We don't appreciate the radically good message this announcement is for the whole world today either! ILLUS:Some businessmen are saying that this could be the greatest Christmas ever. I always thought that the first one was. -- Art Fettig in Quotable Quotations, by Lloyd Cory. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 18. 3. The good gift from God was wrapped up and waiting for them in a manger in Bethlehem … the city the prophets had said would be the birthplace of the Messiah. a. How could uneducated poor shepherds be sure to find this one baby in a crowded city of people who had come for the new census? b. Even in a crowded city like Bethlehem, it was still a small town, how many baby boys would be born in that one night … and how many would be found in an animal feeding trough? Not likely more than one … so they couldn't miss! 4. For the first time in their lives these shepherds realized how much God loved them, and the world! They couldn't stay behind and just wonder about it, they had to go behold the man … and behold God's son! II. GIFT TO MANKIND     2:15-20; Jn. 19:5 A. Great Marvel!     2:15-19;      Jn. 19:5 1. The Shepherds arrive and find exactly what the angel had said they would find … "a baby" a. God wrapped up fully in humanity! b. We cannot overemphasize the marvel of this! c. Incredibly, God who knows no limitations, experiences our limitations! d. God so loved us, He chose to know what we know, to feel what we feel … in most other religions it is the other way around, man is always trying to know and feel what God knows and feels … but in Christianity God reverses the procedure! 2. They beheld the only begotten of God, yet fully man too! 3. Have you ever stopped to realize what lengths God has gone to love you? ILLUS:There was a European monarch who, a couple of times each year, would take off his royal garb and, dressed as a peasant, go out amongst his people. The courtiers worried about this, but the king said, "I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live." But God came as a baby in a barn. -- Bruce Thielemann, "Glory to God in the Lowest," Preaching Today, Tape No. 75. 4. What must have passed through these Shepherd's minds while they gazed on the Christ child … perhaps they wondered how they who were the poorest and the lowest could be given the privilege to be the first called by God! a. Shepherds were the first to be called to "testify" or preach the good news … no wonder we call Pastors today "shepherds" b. God considered them worthy when the court of man would not! c. They immediately overcame their fear of rejection by society and they started proclaiming the miracle of God in sending man's savior to the world … a human baby who was the Christ of God! d. Notice that Luke states (Luke 2:18) "all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." -- again, simply affirming the amazement others felt too that such poor unreliable witnesses like shepherds would be chosen by God to deliver this news! 5. Tragically, Pilate when viewing Jesus later could also say "Behold the man." (Jn. 19:5) but without seeing the same thing as these shepherds saw … what about you? B. Glorifying Messiah!     2:20 1. And now the response, the proper response to what God had just done … much praising of God! a. The angels were praising God in the heavenly sphere. b. The shepherds were praising God on Earth. c. What about you … will it just be gifts under a tree again this year, or praising God in the highest!? 2. It is rather odd how during this time of the year people will "put on some spirituality" and miss the wonderful joy of worshipping and praising God all the time! ILLUS:Each year in Washington, D.C., someone rents a hall, hires an orchestra, and advertises a sing-along production of Handel's Messiah. People stand in line to get tickets. The choir numbers five thousand. They pay for the privilege of singing Messiah. Of course, it is always a privilege to sing of the Christ or to speak of the Christ. Why do we not take advantage of our opportunities to do it? -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). 3. It is a rather curious thing that we will go to great lengths to worship when the season is right … yet the season to worship God is always right! a. I wonder how these shepherds continued their life? b. Did they continue to marvel as they thought of that baby, as they watched Him grow up, as they watched Him die on the cross … to be slain as were all the sheep they watched that were intended for slaughter at the Temple? c. Were their lives changed forever? HAS YOURS? 4. This season makes us BEHOLD THE MAN … and wonder how marvelous God truly is in that He clothed Himself with our humanity! (next week we will look at "BEHOLD THE KING") CONCLUSION:    Mankind thinks it can save itself, and when God sent His son as both God and man you would think this method would have been well received. Yes, a man could save humanity, but only a sinless man, and for this only God could do the job! What a plan -- behold the man, the savior of the world -- Jesus was both 100% God and 100% man! ILLUS:As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone he would not. Incarnate, he could and did. -- Malcolm Muggeridge in Jesus. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 15.