Christmas 2016 sermon
Merry Christ mass
You have seen how television and movies market their new releases. Long before the shows’ release dates, they present “teasers” or “coming attractions” with just a few snippets of the show. It is done to build excitement for the release date.
With a lot of movies, they will do a pre-release showing with celebrities invited. There is lots of hoopla with floodlights and, of course, the movie critiques.
God is a master of the “coming attraction”. Here are a few of them regarding the birth of his son.
Genesis 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you (Abraham), and whoever curses you, I will curse. Through you every family on earth will be blessed.”
Genesis 22:18 “Through your descendant all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Twice here God promises that Abraham’s descendant will be the one who blesses every nation and every family will be blessed. Let me ask you, which of Abraham’s descendents has blessed every nation and every family. Jesus. Amen.
Isaiah 7:14 “So the Lord himself will give you this sign: A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel God is with us.”
Now that is both a shocking and a very specific sign. Amen?
Micha 5:2-3 “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, are too small to be included among Judah’s cities. Yet, from you Israel’s future ruler will come for me. His origins go back to the distant past, to days long ago. That is why the Lord will abandon Israel until the time a mother has a child. Then the rest of the Lord’s people will return to the people of Israel.”
Yep! That’s what is says. A child born in Bethlehem will rule his people.
But don’t miss the rest of that verse. Israel will be abandoned UNTIL this child is born.
There were approximately 400 years from the end of the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus.
Sounds kind of abandoned. Amen? Now listen carefully to me … I don’t believe God ever “abandons” His people. However, he did stop sending His prophets to them. He had another plan
Then after Jesus’ birth the REST of the LORD’s people return to the PEOPLE of Israel. The rest of the Lord’s people is …. us. But you knew that … Amen?
And notice that it says return to the PEOPLE of Israel. And not return to the COUNTRY of Israel.
I believe that refers to the fact that the gentiles (again that is us) look(ed) to the laws, prophets, and scriptures of the Old Testament for instruction. As the apostle Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“All scripture is God breathed: helpful for teaching, for refuting error, for giving guidance, and for training others in righteousness; so that God’s people may be capable and equipped for good work of every kind.”
The scripture to which Paul is referring is the Jewish scriptures … the Old Testament.
This brings us back to the prophecies about the coming Messiah. Some scholars suggest that there are more than 300 prophetic scriptures that Jesus fulfilled. That is a lot of “teasers” and “coming attractions.”
What about opening night? Were there floodlights? Oh boy were there floodlights! And how about celebrities? Nope! Surprise! Just dirty, sweaty, working class guys that stunk of sheep.
Luke 2:8-9 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, see the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”
Let’s put ourselves in their place for a moment.
It’s night. Nothing special about the night. The sheep have calmed and are lying dozing on the dew soaked grass. The shepherds are gathered around the campfire for warmth. They have kept the fire small so that their night vision isn’t hampered. They need to keep a constant watch for predators. As they are gathered there they are swapping jokes and stories. Some are reclining and staring at the amazing canopy of stars overhead.
Suddenly, the sky is ablaze with blinding heavenly light. A multitude of angels are singing as one makes an amazing announcement. “Unto you a Savior is born!”
“And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
This is the big Ta Da! to the prophecies.
And after centuries of buildup to this moment, this historic, majestic, and miraculously amazing event, were the invited quests given a precise GPS location where they could find this Son of the Most High?
No. They were given these strange directions:
For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Okay, the “City of David” is Bethlehem and the shepherds were near enough that they could run to it. But Bethlehem had a normal population of around a 1,000. However, thanks to the Roman census, it was swollen to about twice that size. Chances are that the shepherds knew that the Messiah would be from the House of David.
Here is an interesting thought from a Jewish Christian. He asks, “Are there any Jews in Bethlehem today? Not a one. Anyone from the tribe of Judah or the lineage of the household of David? We don’t even know the tribal distinctions anymore. Most of the records were destroyed when the Second Temple was destroyed. So how’s the Messiah going to be born now? This conundrum may cause a few rabbis to scratch their heads today.”
The point he is trying to make to His fellow Jews is, without having proof of linage, no one born today came claim the kingship that belongs to the messiah, only Jesus fulfilled all of the “coming attractions” that God laid down hundreds and thousands of years in advance of His birth.
However, the the shepherds in that long ago day knew that the city was full of David’s descendents, again thanks to the Roman census. So how were they to narrow the search for the newborn king?
As we've seen, the first parts of the shepherds’ directions were only slightly helpful. Imagine if the angels had appeared to you and said that the savior was born somewhere in you community. Where would you seek him? Hospital? Clinic? Doctor’s office? Home Birth? Maybe in one of the churches … but to which denomination would the newborn king belong? How could you narrow down your search?
The next bit of direction was given as “a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Well, the custom of the time was to wrap newborns in strips of cloth. The arms, legs, and torso were wrapped. Think mummy.
Babies were, and still are, wrapped for several reasons. One is warmth. They’ve just been thrust from this nice body temperature of 98.6 into the outside world. Chances are good that you were wrapped in a blanket as soon as you were born.
Babies have been in a tight space for their entire pre-birth life. Wrapping them tightly helps to comfort them.
All of this, the shepherds knew and it was of very little help as a direction to find the baby. They already knew that it was a newborn. “Unto you this night” so, any newborn that they found would be wrapped in swaddling clothes.
The next piece of information that the shepherds were given was by far the best. “You will find him lying in a manger.” That should narrow it down … but not a lot. They knew what a manger was. It was a feeding trough for animals. It would be found in every stable in town. Most stables were carved out of the stone in the side of a hill. And the manger was also carved into the wall of the stable. Just another slab of stone.
Again, think if the angels said to you, “You will find the Son of the Most High lying on a workbench in a garage in a town nearby.” Are you beginning to grasp how difficult this was for them?
Now forget the images from Christmas cards and children’s programs at church. The stables were not sanitized places with angels hovering above and singing heavenly songs of praise. There were no shafts of heavenly light shining down from a magnificent star. There was no halo like a circle of light above the baby’s head.
The stable was a dark and dirty place. How many of you have ever mucked out a stable or cleaned a barn? It was not a fun job. Amen? Stables stink and you had better watch your step. Amen?
The shepherds were not lead by a star. As a matter of fact, do realize that the shepherds were not “commanded” to find Jesus at all? No, the angelic host proclaimed his birth … but it was up to the shepherds to decide what to do. Maybe that is why they weren’t given better directions. However, they felt compelled to seek him, the long awaited savior.
But by now the angels were gone. The came. They sang. And then “blink” and they were gone.
Have you ever been out in the dark starlit night far from street and house lights? It is amazing how much you can see. Amen? But then have someone shine a flashlight in your eyes for even a second, and it becomes pitch black and you can’t even see the stars anymore. Imagine how blinded and disoriented the shepherds were after their heavenly encounter.
It was then that they began their quest to find the Christ. And somehow, despite all the obstacles, they found him lying on a stone feeding trough, in a cave, and tightly wrapped in cloth. Because to those who seek him, God always provides a way. Remember that. If you remember nothing else from this message today, remember God always … always...provides a path for seekers to find Him.e
Now let’s jump ahead thirty some years. Let’s go from Christmas to Easter because these are the two bookends of Christ’s earthly life.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, Josheph of Arimathaea ask for His body.
“And he took it down, and wrapped in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.”
Do you see the similarities? Those seeking the Messiah were drawn to a cave in a hillside. They were looking for a body wrapped in burial clothes. They were looking for him lying on a stone slab. And they were given strange directions by angels. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Now for something personal: I was raised in a “religion” that didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. As a matter of fact we didn’t celebrate anything. All I really knew about Jesus was a twisted story that claimed Jesus was one of the archangels that came to earth to free the people of Israel from Roman oppression. And he failed and will have to come back to set up an earthly kingdom.
By claiming that Jesus was an archangel, they denied both his humanity and divinity at the same time. Personally, I stopped believing what they taught when I was about twelve years old. From that time until I was in my early twenties, I didn’t really believe much at all.
I was willing to believe in a creator god who set everything into motion. As a matter of fact, I’ve always had a hard time believing that anyone could deny a creator. Look around at the intricate interplay of all the things on earth and in the cosmos and it is foolish to believe it all just kind of accidentally fell into place.
However, it wasn’t until a good Christian man asked me point blank if I believed that Jesus died for me. For me? Why would anyone die for me? I had to learn about this amazing person. That is when I began seeking Jesus. I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to look for him in either a cave stable or in a cave grave. I first found him in the people who called themselves Christians. That led me to delve deeper into the Bible.
I found Jesus there also. If you really search for him, He is everywhere in the sixty six books of the old testament. And of course the new testament is all about Him.
Have you ever lost a child in a crowd? You began looking for them everywhere and then you heard them cry out for you? That is what God is always doing for us
When I went seeking Him, I found that He had been seeking me also. Now I see Him everywhere. And occasionally He even shines out through me to others.
Like the angels to the shepherds, I am announcing that YOUR savior is here. And you, like the shepherds have the opportunity to seek him.
So, let me suggest that you seek a little deeper for Him. He is so much more than a baby, or a man in a grave. Don’t seek Him there. He has claimed his place He is the Messiah, and His kingdom reigns on earth NOW as well as the time to come. Look around you. These are the people of the kingdom. If you can’t say that you are part of the kingdom, I invite you to accept Him into your heart now.