It’s only three days until Christmas. During these past few weeks, people all around the world have been preparing for this day by shopping and cooking, baking, decorating, attending Christmas programs and concerts. All this activity has been happening around a 2,000-year-old story. It is the story of the birth of Jesus.
For some, this story is meant for children to re-enact in a pageant and nothing more. It is cute and charming. Others view it as a made-up folktale, a legend of sorts, or a myth not to be taken seriously. Others will listen with a sympathetic ear hearing it as a sad story of social injustice about a poor couple forced to leave home by an oppressive government. There was no place for poor Mary to give birth except in cattle stall.
But for the believer in Jesus Christ, the Christmas story is so much more! The Christmas story is a rescue story. It is Good News of the power of God for salvation. In Matthew’s version of the Christmas story, after a lengthy genealogy revealing Jesus’ family tree, it begins this way:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way . . .”
The story in Matthew is not as glitzy as Luke’s version of the birth. There are no shepherds, no choir of singing angels, or a stable scene with animals. Yet it is every bit as profound and loaded with good news for you and me.
We find Joseph center stage in this episode. He’s troubled because he just learned Mary is pregnant, and he knows he is not the biological father. Joseph is a good person. Matthew describes him as just, righteous. So Joseph was going to quietly divorce Mary to save her the embarrassment and condemnation from the rest of the village of Nazareth. But just before he follows through on this, he has a dream in which he receives a message from God. An angel speaks to him.
Some people wonder if God speaks in dreams. My response is, according to Matthew and elsewhere in Scripture, He does. Remember Joseph and his coat of many colors in Genesis, God speaking to Abraham in a dream, and several other places as well.
“Do you believe in angels?” people ask. Absolutely! Angel stories, or angelophonies as they are called, are present throughout Scripture. More importantly, Jesus talked about angels as being real. The message Joseph heard from the angel is so central to our story. Hear these words again:
“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to move ahead with this marriage. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
“Joseph, son of David” tells us Jesus is from the line of King David. He was ultimately the One promised by God as a King to reign forever in David’s lineage.
“This child is conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
What? Joseph must’ve initially thought. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! This baby in Mary’s womb is God’s child? She’s still a virgin? Impossible!
This kind of reaction, by the way, is still given to this day by those who are skeptics of the Christian faith. This is outrageous thinking they say. Scientifically impossible!
I believe God can do anything He wants to do, don’t you? The God who created everything, who threw the sun and stars and the moon into space, who created this beautiful, awesome complex world can make a virgin birth happen as well.
A pastor, Peter Larson, one time wrote,
“The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities – a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit.’”
The name this angel talks about – Jesus – is really the Good News here. It means, “God saves,” for He will save His people from their sins. Jesus is the Savior. He’s not here to save people from the power of Rome or another exile as in the past. He’s here to save people from something bigger, much deadlier – their sins. Jesus is the only one who can do this.
Many people find it difficult to accept that there is only one way to rescue us from sin and judgment. Listen to a Christian apologist, Greg Koukl, use the following analogy to show how Jesus is the one and only solution we need.
“Most ailments need particular antidotes. Increasing the air pressure in your tires will not fix a troubled carburetor. Aspirin will not dissolve a tumor. Cutting up credit cards will not wipe out debt that is already owed. If your water pipes are leaking, you call a plumber, not an oncologist. But a plumber will not cure cancer. Any adequate solution must solve the problem that needs to be solved, and singular problems need singular solutions. Some antidotes are one-of-a-kind cures for one-of-a-kind ailments. Sometimes only one medicine will do the job, as much as we may like it to be otherwise.
“Humankind faces a singular problem – people are broken, and the world is broken because our friendship with God has been broken, ruined by human rebellion and sin. Humans – you and I – are guilty, enslaved, lost, and dead. All of us, everyone. Everywhere. The guilt must be punished, the debt must be paid, the slave must be purchased. Promising better conduct in the future will not mend the crimes as of the past. No, a rescuer must ransom the slaves, a kindred brother must pay the family debt, a substitute must shoulder the guilt.”
There is no other way to escape. Jesus is our one and only solution, our Savior.
Matthew inserts at this point,
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. They shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us.”
The Lord’s identity is confirmed as well. Who is this Jesus? He is “God with us.” God in the flesh. God has not abandoned His world, even though we may deserve it. Instead, He steps into the world to be with us. He experiences everything we experience – the limitations, the pain, the suffering, and so on.
This story teaches us two wonderful truths, which are meant to shock us and throw us at the same time. This is really good news for you and me.
First of all, Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. God has entered our world to be with us. He understands us. We have a great high priest who sympathizes with us, who can say I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been there.
But Jesus is also God for us. He came to save us from our sins. We have all sinned against God. We have fallen short of the glory of God. We are rebellious and self-centered, which keeps us separated from God, for the consequences of sin is death. On our own, we are helplessly, hopelessly lost. We cannot solve this by ourselves. But God in Christ has come to rescue, to save us, to break the chains of sin and death, and set us free to live in a saving eternal relationship with our Creator.
Jesus will later go to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin and endured our punishment. He bore God’s wrath for sin and bridged the gap between God and humankind once and for all.
This, my friends, is why Christmas is such Good News meriting great celebration. God has come to rescue you and me. Forgiveness and eternal life have arrived through Jesus Christ. We are not on our own. We have a Savior. He is Immanuel. God has come to be with us, to save us.
I like these words from Pastor Tim Keller, which summarizes my thoughts well.
“If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All it will do is crush you into the ground considering that.
“But if Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, you are going to know much more about God. If Jesus is who He says He is, we have a 500-page autobiography from God in a sense, and our understanding will be vastly more personal and specific than any philosophy or religion could give us.
Because of Christmas, look at what God has done to get you to know Him personally. If the Son would come all this way to become a real person to you, don’t you think the Holy Spirit will do anything in His power to make Jesus a real person to you in your heart? Christmas is an invitation by God, which says, Look at what I’ve done to come near to you. Now draw near to me. I don’t want to be a concept. I want to be a friend. What good news that is!
The climax of the story is Joseph’s response. He trusts. He obeys. He will dedicate himself to raising and protecting this child, as we see a few verses later when he has to quickly take the family to Egypt.
Hear these words again:
“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel commanded. He took Mary as his wife. He did not have sexual relations with her, and when the son was born, he called his name Jesus.”
The rest is history.
We are reminded that the Christmas story calls for a response from us. We respond. Joseph responded. We’re not to simply listen, nonchalantly nod to this story, and then put it back on the shelf until next year as if it didn’t happen. We are to do something with it, do something about it. One might have any number of responses to this Jesus who came humbly and helplessly the first time around but will come again someday in power and majesty once and for all to rule as Lord over the world.
• Some will reject the story. They will reject the offer God is making as preposterous.
• Others might respond with repentance and faith. They will turn around and come home to Jesus Christ and trust their life to His care and leadership, saying ‘yes’ to Him. They will trust in what He did for them at the cross and the empty tomb.
• Believers in Christ will respond with praise and thanksgiving, a grateful heart, much like the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift.” On Christmas we say, thank you.
• Other believers in Christ will experience a renewed trust in Him and a renewed commitment to being a great-commandment and great-commission person – loving God, loving neighbors, telling everyone they can about Jesus.
What will it be for you?
You’ve just heard the greatest story about the greatest person who ever lived, who did the greatest thing anyone could ever do for you. The greatest thing you can ever do with this story is to believe and follow Jesus.
May the words of this Christmas carol be our prayer today:
♬”O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us our Lord Immanuel.”♪
Pastor Steve Kramer