Simeon Found Peace

Giving birth to a child in a manger might have been no big deal, but if it were to happen today in our culture, Mary might have been asked, “Are you the lady who had a child in a manger?” And Joseph could have been reprimanded for not having strong words for the indifferent innkeeper.

We do not know much about Jesus’ early years. Therefore we appreciate the few peeks we have into those first few years of his life. We have one of those brief looks at Jesus when only a baby as our text today.

Mary and Joseph went to the temple when Jesus was forty days old. During that visit they met Simeon, whom Luke describes as “righteous and devout.” It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. On this particular day he was moved to go to the temple, where he saw Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

Simeon took the babe in his arms and, as he looked into the child’s face, uttered these words:

“Lord, now lettest Thy servant depart in peace according to your word;

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation

which thou has prepared before the face of all people;

A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

When Simeon looked into the face of Jesus, he found new peace. Remember that he is described as a “righteous and devout man.” This person knew a great deal about the Messiah who was coming. He had read the prophets and remembered what Isaiah had written: “A virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son, and his name will be called Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). He had also learned from the prophet Micah that the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem. Simeon spent much time around the temple, and you can be sure he heard some fluent and brilliant rabbis preach on the coming of the Messiah. To acquire this knowledge about Jesus made Simeon excited! To look into Jesus’ face changed Simeon’s life. Learning about Jesus is quite a bit different from meeting him.

Simeon was now ready to die. His soul was at peace; he was ready to go and be with God.

How much like Simeon many of us are! We are faithful members of the church. We may not be technical theologians, but we have acquired much Biblical knowledge during our lifetime. A few of us have attended a theological seminary to study Christianity and other important disciplines that relate to the Christian faith. However, while there is much Biblical illiteracy among lay church members, there are also many who have much Biblical information. If one has average intelligence, goes to church every Sunday, and attends Bible studies and small group classes, they will know a great deal about the Christian faith. This is where we can identify with Simeon.

Having an intellectual understanding of Jesus, yet having never met him, is possible. Knowledge about Jesus does not bring peace; meeting Him does. When this peace invades your soul in your later years, it is easy to pray with Simeon: Any time you are ready to receive me into your heavenly home, I am ready, Lord. I have heard many people pray this prayer when their body is worn out, loved ones and friends have died, and their work on earth has been completed. “I am ready when you are, Lord.”

It is right for a younger person to pray, “Lord, now let your servant be a strong witness for you in a culture that is just as indifferent as was the innkeeper on the night of your birth.”

In Simeon’s prayer there is a verse that tells of Jesus’ birth marking the beginning of a new age. He prayed, “(Jesus is) A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” The world had entered the Christian Age. The covenant message, once given to Abraham, was still for Israel, but it now extended to all people. Those who received Christ as Savior and Lord were now His people, and we could talk about the “spiritual Israel.” No one was to be excluded from this salvation prepared for all people through faith in Jesus Christ.

In this Christian Age, God is revealed in Christ as our Father, whose will is to live in a personal relationship with us. Through His Word, God wants to look into our face, take us by the hand and say, “Come follow me. I will comfort you, forgive you, strengthen you, and direct you until we meet in the heavenly home.”

When we receive Christ, it is the beginning of new age. Then, and only then, can we join old Simeon and say, “I am at peace.”

The Shepherds Were Terrified

If fear is the topic being discussed in your group, you can be sure that each person will have something to say. Fear is real in most peoples’ lives. It does not take much to make us afraid. Just a visit to the doctor’s office for a physical can be frightening. “What might the doctor find to be wrong with me? Could the lump be malignant? Are my chest pains only heartburn, or are the vessels clogging?”

Recently the economy has caused some fears. An elderly member of our congregation told me that she had invested much of her life’s savings in the Enron Corporation. Now she agonizes over whether she will have enough money to supply her needs until she dies.

The concern about people’s opinion of us has always been with us. Not many are able to say with St. Paul, “It is a small thing that I am judged by you or any human court. It is the Lord who judges.”

It is the confrontation with the unknown that causes fear. When this confrontation involves our relationship with God, especially in times of serious illness or death, even the most fearless persons are terrified. It was this kind of experience that terrified the shepherds.

Fear was the most common emotion in the lives of those people around the manger. When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he was afraid. The angel tried to settle him down by saying, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” I am not so sure this angelic counsel settled Joseph’s nerves completely, for he stood in the presence of the Divine. This was a unique fear.

St. Luke tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” when the angel broke the news saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. . . . Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus.” We know Mary was given a divine task, and she believed the Lord was with her, but that did not mean she was free of fear.

Then there were the shepherds watching their sheep. When the angel appeared to them, they were also terrified. What did the angel say? “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” I have to believe their knees were shivering and their stomachs were upset as they left the hills to find this important child.

These shepherds had their daily fears. They were always afraid of the wild animals that could attack the sheep. There was also the fear that one of the flock would wander off and would need to be accounted for to the owner of the flock. These were daily fears, but to stand in the presence of the angels sent from God was another kind of fear.

The closest we come to identifying with the shepherds is when God speaks to us clearly from His Word. Those passages from the Bible, which we have committed to memory, speak powerfully to us under certain circumstances. Many times I have read those beautiful words from John 14:3 to a dying person: “I will come and receive you that where I am, there you may be also.”

The dear soul about to leave this world will say, “I know that it will be wonderful, but leaving loved ones and standing in the presence of Jesus is frightening.”

It is a confrontation with a God who is almighty (and I am a weak human being saved by His grace alone) that causes the fear. The angel’s comforting words “fear not” would have been silly counsel had he not told them why there was no cause for fear: “There is born to you this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” It is this Savior who will take away your fears.

Hearing this word the shepherds could have said, “Wow! What an experience! What do you suppose this child looks like?” Yet this was not their response. Rather they said, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Joseph and Mary and the baby who was lying in the manger.

Note their response. They made a decision: Let’s investigate. The investigation led them into the presence of Christ, and there in the manger they met the Savior. The Holy Spirit was present and created within the shepherd’s soul a faith that Jesus was the Savior as had been proclaimed.

The presence of God, speaking through the angel, created fear in the hearts of the shepherds. The Word of the Lord telling of the Savior who had been born created an interest in seeing what God had to offer them. Standing in Jesus’ presence, these men received Him in faith as the Messiah and Savior of the world. That is how people came to faith in those days, and that is the way it happens today.

Fear is related to faith. It was fear that sent the shepherds to the manger where the angel’s words, “He is your Savior,” came alive. Faith was created in their hearts. Fear was replaced by peace, and peace sent them out with joy in their hearts. “They spread the word concerning what the angel had told them about the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds had told them.”

Let us personalize this story. We live with fears, all kinds of fears. Some of them come from our own making and a little common sense will take care of them. Control your spending and the fear of debt will disappear. Control your tongue and many of your social fears will disappear. Yet some fears are beyond our control. We do not have the answers about how we should control them. We are confronted with the unknown, such as what the future holds for us. God’s word says, “Fear not, for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). God does not simply tell us not to fear and give no basis for his counsel. He tells us why we are not to fear: He is with us.

However, then comes the next step: God says we should not fear. Do I let that advice remain a simple Bible verse with no effect on my life, or do I investigate what it means? The shepherds went to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. Where do I go to meet this Savior? Spend a few minutes with Him each day to hear him speak to you through the Scriptures. Decide to hear that word preached. Find a few Christian friends with whom you can discuss these great Biblical promises. Spend more time in prayer.

In these ways we learn what Christ has in store for us. It is through these teachings that the Holy Spirit works. These Bible verses are no longer simple words; they become divine truths that will grab our heart and change our life as He begins to control it. I become a new person in Jesus Christ. First I was afraid; then God presented me with the facts. Through these facts the Holy Spirit created faith in my life, and this faith sent me out into the world to tell others of the Savior.

That is the way it happens. Has God been permitted to change your fears into joys through faith in Jesus Christ? This is an extremely personal matter. Millions of people who attend worship services this Christmas season still do not realize the experience of the shepherds can be their experience also. He wants to change your fears into joys. Will you let Him?

Indifference

Jesus was born in a manger! This is an emotional part of the Christmas story. Two young people had traveled seventy miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census and pay their taxes to Caesar. The young lady, Mary, was pregnant. It was in this condition that she and Joseph heard the indifferent words of the innkeeper: “Sorry, there are no rooms left.”

No one seemed to care. Do you suppose that at least one woman could have said in anger, “You men don’t understand what she is going through. Why doesn’t someone do something to help her?”

The writer of the carol Away in a Manger catches the emotion of the event:

“Away in a manger, no crib for his bed

The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;

The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,

The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

Without making too much of this emotional scene, there are some questions that come to mind. Where was God in all this? Jesus was the God incarnate. Couldn’t He have provided better for his Son’s entrance into this world?

Why wasn’t Joseph more aggressive in providing for Mary? He could have been more forceful. He is presented as a passive introvert with no backbone to speak a strong word for his wife.

Why didn’t some able-bodied man not come forth and give up his room for Mary? She needed the bed far more than he did.

This story can touch our emotions and bring a tear to the hardest heart. However, today we think about the emotional response of the innkeeper as we continue our series on the Advent theme, People Around the Manger. The emotion, if there was any emotion, was one of indifference. Who cared about this child to be born?

Was the innkeeper sorry that he could not offer Mary and Joseph better accommodations? Rather than being sorry that he could not serve a woman about to have a baby, he was probably more frustrated that he did not have more rooms. He could have then rented them when many in Judea were coming to be counted in the census and pay their taxes. Look at the money he was losing. Maybe he should have been more aggressive and enlarged the inn. On the other hand, there were so many months in the year that business was slow, and during those times his facility had ample rooms. Preoccupied with his own business problems, Jesus’ birth did not have a high priority on the list of things that were bothering him. A woman was going to have a baby. That happens every day. He was not hostile to the young couple. He was just indifferent to the whole matter. It did not affect his life.

There is a powerful lesson to be learned from what happened in Bethlehem’s Square that day. Walter Bowie, writing in The Interpreter’s Bible, says that inn depicts our life. Jesus has grown up. He suffered, died, was buried and resurrected. As the Risen Lord, He now comes knocking at our heart’s door asking for a place in our life. “Behold. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Yet the door is shut.

How often He receives our answer: “There is no room, Jesus. I respect you, and someday I want to become more involved in your mission here on earth. However, right now I am a busy person. There is a living to be made, a family to raise, and a hundred and one other things that demand my attention. My plate is full.”

How can we be so indifferent to the Son of God? The answer is simply we do not know who is knocking at our door and what He has to offer. If we did, we would do some rearranging in our life to make room for Him. Listen to our answers:

Do you need a Savior?

I am a really good person.

Do you need direction in your life?

I am accomplishing my goals.

Who helps in the difficult times of life?

I have a loving family and reliable friends to help me.

What about facing death, which can come anytime?

I have thought of that when a person younger than I was taken in an accident. It should be of concern, and I have given it thought. I have my will made out. My family will be well taken care of if I have to leave them. That is about as far as I can go. The rest is out of my hands.

This person has limited his life to the few years we spend on earth. “I can only deal with what my mind can comprehend. It is too philosophical for my practical mind to consider what God can do to enrich me and make my life secure.”

Many who have been converted and come into a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ later in life give the most dynamic testimonies. How different their marriage is when Christ binds them together. How they would have raised their children differently had they been Christian when their son and daughter were small. How different their sense of values would have been if they had permitted Christ to point out to them the most important matters in life. A life motivated by greed was improving the financial statement, but destroying relationships with people.

But then comes the glorious statement of faith from the new convert. “Christ asked to come into my life. Empowered by His Spirit, I let Him in, and life was different.” St. Paul said it so well: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and the new had come” (II Corinthians 5:17).

Christ stands at the door of our soul. He might speak to us through a carol. His voice might be heard in a discussion with a friend as we are talking about the true meaning of Christmas. He could use a Christmas sermon heard in church, on the radio, or television to confront us with His grace and love. Or it could be just sitting back and thinking out about all the Christmas parties you have experienced in your lifetime, but never took time to give the core of the Christmas Gospel serious thought (There is born to you a Savior who is Christ the Lord).

Wherever you are in your relationship with this Babe whose birth we celebrate, why not take a lesson from the innkeeper. Don’t be indifferent to Christ knocking at your heart’s door. He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and (now listen) THE Only Way to Heaven.

Far More Than a Fish Story

In my opinion, one of the most gifted entertainers today is Garrison Keiller with his Prairie Home Companion show. This man has a great talent to draw verbal pictures of life in Lake Wobegon. This fictitious Norwegian community in Minnesota, according to Keiller, is a place “where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average.”

Garrison Keiller, in his presentations of this community, describes life in Lake Wobegon in such a way that makes the characters seem alive. You can actually picture them going about their daily tasks with all the joys and frustrations of their rather simple life. While these stories make one double over with laughter, they are far more than fairy tales. They become real people.

Those of us who have come from similar backgrounumor, but acknowledge the truths being presented. On a vacation in northern Minnesota some years ago, I found myself looking around for this community and wonder, one of the town characters, was still living.

Today, in our text, we meet another great story teller. His name is Luke, and his inspired pen brings us some great Biblical truths that are an important part of our Christian faith. I relived the story in our Scripture text several years ago as I stood on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. I recalled the days when Jesus sat in a boat teaching the crowd that had gathered. It was also the day when Jesus called Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing nets and become His disciples.

Seventy years ago, my Sunday school teacher, Mary Thompson, taught me this story. This woman, like Garrison Keiller, could make stories come alive. “Today, Jesus is calling all of us to be fishers of men,” Mary emphasized. “Some might become pastors and preach these great Biblical truths from a pulpit. Others will remain right here in our hometown and work in the paper mill where they will have an opportunity to tell the same story to their friends. It matters not where you tell the story about Jesus. It only matters that you tell it.”

Then she taught us this song that I have sung all these years:

I will make you fishers of men.

Fishers of men,

Fishers of men.

I will make you fishers of men

If you’ll follow me.

If you’ll follow me.

If you’ll follow me.

I will make you fishers of men

If you’ll follow me.

Think of it! This gifted woman taught this lesson to her Sunday school class, and it lives not only in my head, but also in my heart today! That shows how important it is to have good Sunday school teachers. They impart truths that we carry with us for the rest of our days.

Let us study this story in more detail. Jesus stood by the Lake of Gennesaret teaching the people. The people crowded around Him in order to hear. So, to give Himself a bit more freedom, Jesus got into a boat, which belonged to a fisherman by the name of Simon. When he finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we have been fishing all night and did not catch anything. (Those of us who are professional fishermen know you do not catch fish at this time of the day, nor do you catch fish in deep water.) Yet, because you have told us to do this, we will obey.”

Can’t you see the crowd? Most of them knew the basic rules for fishing, and this simply did not make sense. Probably someone in the crowd said, Jesus is a master teacher, but it is obvious He knows nothing about fishing. Another could have argued, Don’t be too sure. I am sticking around to see what happens.

When Peter and his brother Andrew did what the Lord told them to do, they caught fish. They caught so many fish, in fact, that their nets broke and they had to ask other fishermen, probably James and John, to assist. The crowd went wild. They had seen Jesus perform a miracle before their very eyes.

This was too much for Peter. When on the shore, standing in Jesus’ presence, he fell on his knees, and said, “Lord, go away from me. I am a sinful man.” (I don’t belong in your presence.)

Then came Jesus’ punch line: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” The Bible says they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Yes, this is a great story, but it is more than a story. It carries with it an important lesson for those of us who trust Christ as Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord. For in fact, Christ calls us to be fishers of people. This then leads us to a couple of questions: Who is Jesus calling to fish, and where are the fish they are supposed to catch?

The fish in our text symbolize millions of people in our world who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Where are these people? Many live in parts of the world where the Gospel of Jesus has never been heard. Hearing Jesus’ command to go and tell the Gospel, the Church, throughout its history, has sent thousands of people to proclaim it. The results are that some of the strongest parts of the Christian Church today are in Africa.

During these last years we have become better acquainted with the Mideast where the name of Jesus is not known. Though the doors are often shut to the Gospel of Christ in these Moslem-dominated countries, our missionaries continue to labor there, often in great danger.

Our young people have a renewed interest in world missionaries. Some denominations and para-church groups are sending hundreds of people to these wide-open fields to bear witness to Christ, both in word and in deed.

The Internet gives us another opportunity to proclaim the Good News of Christ. Even in our small Internet ministry we hear from many countries on a weekly basis. People hear the message on ChristianCrusaders.org and want to know more about the Christian faith.

The United States continues to have masses of people who live without Christ. We find many in our prisons. The Church has been responsive to the needs of the men and women who are incarcerated. Prison Fellowship, under the leadership of its founder Chuck Colson, has had a rich ministry among these people. Not long ago a man, who greeted me following a service, told me he became a Christian while in prison.

When we look at what is happening in our government, we find evidence that many of our leaders have no relationship with Christ. The decisions of our judges and legislators reveal their defiance of Christian teachings. If that were not so, abortion would not be legal, and the blessing of same sex marriages would receive no consideration. What shall we do? Jesus tells us to use every opportunity we have to let people know that God’s Word is still supreme.

Unbelievers are also found in our churches. Some stand in the pulpits; others are found in the pews. Much work needs to be done within the walls of some of our most beautiful and prestigious churches. Let us not kid ourselves. Not all that is proclaimed on Sunday morning has the blessing of Almighty God.

It is exciting to know spiritual fishing is good right in our everyday society. Unbelievers are all around us – at our schools and where we work, play, and socialize.

Who again are those Jesus is calling to fish? He is calling those who know Him in a personal way. They are Sunday school teachers, pastors, lay people who share Christ with others during the week. They are parents who have built their homes with God’s Word at the center and are teaching their children the great Biblical stories that will shape their lives and make them great people of God.

Tell the story. Many are anxious to hear. Some of them are walking around you every day.

Mary Stood in Awe

Today our text introduces us to a young lady living in Nazareth who was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. This was not so unusual in those days, and it would be perfectly normal today. However, then something happened. An angel brought Mary a message that was unusual when he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.”

Mary was startled, and seeing her fright, the angel sought to comfort her. “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You are going to have a son, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He is going to build a Kingdom that will have no end.”

This was an unusual message. Mary did not comprehend what was going to happen. Had someone visited her the next day, she would not have been able to explain what was all involved in the angel’s proclamation. The Bible tells us that for thirty-three years “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.” One could wonder if Jesus’ mother really comprehended all that had taken place when she saw him taken up to heaven.

Today we know this revelation as “The Doctrine of the Incarnation,” meaning God became man and walked among us. God revealed himself in the creation. He also revealed himself through the Word of God spoken by the prophets and the apostles and recorded in the Holy Scriptures, our Bible. However, His greatest revelation was as the God-man. He came to walk among us and be tempted as we are, yet without sinning. He came to take our sins upon Himself and restore us into fellowship with God.

When Mary held the babe in her arms, she was holding the God-man. We can only accept this truth in faith. It is so simple a child can understand. Yet it is so profound the wisest human cannot comprehend its meaning. God took the initiative and came to earth to show us who He is. Through His lowly birth, his life filled with suffering, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his glorious resurrection, he revealed his love for all humankind and offers salvation to all who will receive him.

Overwhelmed by this mystery, Mary stood in awe. The Bible says, “She was greatly troubled and wondered what kind of greeting this could be” (Luke 1:29). However, she did ask an important question: “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. . . . (Remember this, Mary,) nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:35-37).

Hearing this Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (38). What a statement of faith! Mary is not to be worshiped; neither is she to be ignored. She is to be honored for being chosen by God to be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. We receive Christ as our Savior and Lord in faith, and it is the Holy Spirit who creates this faith in us. Faith is a gift.

God has a place for us in the building of His Kingdom. Remember the inspired words of St. Paul when he said, “We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ, God making His appeal through us” (II Corinthians 5:20). Your calling is with your children and grandchildren as you share the great truth that Jesus is not just a baby who grew up to be a great religious leader. He is God who has come to be our Savior. These children will go into a world that will belittle this truth, but let them leave their homes having learned from their parents and grandparents who Jesus is.

You might believe He has no place for you in the building of this eternal Kingdom. Yet let me assure you, when you are older and you view your life in retrospect, you will see what God has done through you in the lives of others. It is nothing for us to boast about, for it was simply God working through us. Then we can join Mary and stand in awe. Our regret will be in not having let Him use us more than we did.

The Christian lives with the mystery of God’s revelation. There are those who say, “Give me something I can understand, and I will be a believer. Prove to me that Jesus is God. Let someone come back from the dead and tell me there is a heaven. More than that, let them tell me the only way to that heavenly home is through trusting in Jesus, and I will be the best follower of Jesus in our town!”

Talk with people who have walked with the Lord Jesus for many years and they will tell you that the most exciting part of their relationship with God is living with the mystery. You never know how you will experience His love tomorrow. There is always something new in that relationship.

Let me use a very human illustration. For fifty-five years I have lived with a very exciting woman. I never knew what my wife was going to do next. Even at seventy-seven years of age and the victim of a stroke for the past eight years she surprises me. Last week she said, “I have decided to have a Christmas coffee for some of my friends.” I thought it would be two or three women who would come for a leisurely cup of coffee. No big deal. I saw the list later that evening. She is having twenty-four persons in for her party! I suggested we hire a lady to prepare the food and serve the coffee. Then she could sit and enjoy her guests. I soon got a strong reply. “Not on your life! Before they come I am going to ask you to help me. After they come, you may leave and the ladies will do what I cannot do.”

You never know what she is going to do next. That is exciting! Well, if that is exciting, how much more exciting it is not to know what God is going to do next! We live in a tense and frightening world; we do not know what will happen next. Will we have to go to war and see thousands of people killed?

It is exciting as a Christian to believe that God is on the throne, and He has some plans too. We do not want a religion so small that it fits into our understanding. We do not want a god who is no bigger than our minds can figure out. We want a God who leaves us standing in awe wondering what His next move will be, always assuring us that he loves us and we are his eternal sons and daughters. That is why we can learn from Mary’s statement: “I do not understand what His messenger just told me, but I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as He said.”

The Day God Came to This World in the Flesh

It’s time to get ready for Christmas. The world doesn’t let us forget that it is time to prepared for this great family holiday. The merchants are advertising their wares. Much of their profit for the year depends on how well a christmas season they have. The neighbors remind us that it is time to get out and decorate the house. Tradition tells there is a certain amount of baking that has to be done and there are special dishes such as lutefisk and lefse, which are a part of the holiday menu. Society tells us there are parties to attend, and the children are reminding us of their school programs. These are no longer called Christmas programs, for fear the non-Christian part of our population will be offended. Today they go by others names and they are pretty much stripped of any references to Jesus. Rudolph the red nose reindeer takes the place of the Christ child, and Santa is featured in place of the Virgin Mary.

It is in this setting that the Church celebrates Advent! This is the season of the Church year when the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts to relive that event in history when God came to this world in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem.

Because there is so much of the secular in our culture, it is important for us to get it straight what the celebration of Christmas is all about. The Bible has the answer. We read,

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ÔAbba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

What does this mean? It says, “But when the time had fully come . . .” The date of the incarnation was during the reign of Caesar Augustus as emperor of the Roman Empire. He ruled from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14 This is like saying in modern times, “It happened during the Bush administration.”

Think of it! God broke into history in physical form. It was not enough that He revealed Himself through the creation or the Prophets’ teachings. Now He reveals Himself in the form of a human being to walk among us and be tempted as we are, only without sinning.

The text continues, “Born or a woman and born under the law.” The Virgin Mary was His mother. She was a virgin engaged to Joseph. It was a miracle. She knew no man.

God came to earth approximately 2,000 years ago and presented Himself to humankind as a baby. This is known in theological language as the incarnation. God has clothed Himself in human form. This baby seen in the manger is not only human, but divine. He is the God-man. Can you see how easy t is for secularism to make Jesus just a human? Certainly they would be willing to say, “he is one of the greatest people ever born. Others like him would be Mohammed, Ghandi, and Plato. He taught a strong ethic and is the founder of a strong world religion.” This is the message you hear in many college classrooms and in places where we work and socialize. This kind of an understanding of Jesus gives Him respect, but makes Him only one of many great religious leaders. Certainly He is not the only way to the Father. He is no threat to anyone. However, this is not the Biblical viewpoint, and no Christian can reduce Jesus to being a mere man. The Gospel of John speaks clearly on the incarnation when it says,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came form the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2, 14).

This is who Jesus is according to the Bible. It is important that, as Christians, we give a clear witness to who He is.

And why did He come? “To redeem those under the law that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

Jesus came to “buy us back” that might live in a personal relationship with God as His sons and daughters forever. In Christ we are God’s children. We are not slaves, but heirs. What an inheritance God has given to us in Christ. Look at a few of these gifts:

“I give you the complete forgiveness of your sins.”

Do we realize what a tremendous gift this is? Those sins not only weigh us down and make life miserable for us during our earthly journey, they damn our souls for all eternity unless forgiven. To live the abundant life, we must come face to face with our sins and deal with the. The only way we can deal with our sins is to confess them and trust Christ to forgive us. This is the primary reason for God’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus. He died on the cross to pay the ransom for our sins. He was raised on the third day to claim victory for us over sin, death, and the devil.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

A gentleman sat in my study and said, “I have no job. I have no money. I have no family. I have no peace.” Once he was a wealthy man with a wife and children. He was the owner of a prosperous business, but greed and a strong conviction that he could run his own life took away these blessings. Is there a message of hope for him? Of course there is. Right now this many is a slave, but Christ has come to invite him back into the family of God through the forgiveness of his sins. That’s the Gospel. Our peace is walking with Christ and know God as our Father to whom we can come at all times. The babe has come to show us that God is not only the Almighty. He is not just some mighty power, but He is the one who loves us and walks with us n good and bad days.

“I have come to prepare a place for you. . . . And I will come again to receive you that where I am there you may be also ” (John 14:3).

In Christ our Heavenly Father welcomes us home to live with Him forever. Here we face the mystery of knowing the details of the next life. What little we know about it is glorious. There will be no sorrow, suffering, or death. All tears will be wiped away, and there will be no hunger or thirst. With the assurance that this home is a part of our inheritance, we can go about our work realizing we are eternal beings and the best is yet to come.

While this world was not aware of what was happening when Jesus was born, those around the manger displayed different emotions. Mary stood in awe. The innkeeper was so involved in making money that he was completely indifferent to the fact that a child was being born out in the manger. The shepherds in the field observed strange things happening in the heaven, and they were afraid when bright lights shone around them and angels talked to them. Then there was Simeon. He met Jesus, Joseph, and Mary in the temple. Taking Jesus in his arms, Simeon prayed,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Now Simeon’s soul was at peace. He was ready to leave this world, for he had seen the Messiah. Then there was King Herod. When he learned that One had been born who was called King of the Jews, he was angry and devised a plan to have the Christ Child killed. There was a lot of emotion shown around the manger.

While our Christian faith is not built on emotion, we cannot deny that, when we stand in the presence of Jesus, there is emotion in our souls also. That’s what we will talk about in the next five sermons.