Advent Angels Sighting #4

Advent Angel Sightings 3_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

          Please read Luke 2:8-20.

Our focus during Advent has been on the angels.  But this week I’ve read and heard a lot about the shepherds.  One fellow said they were servants of the temple, tending the sheep used for the sacrifices.  Another said they were hiding out, complaining and maybe even plotting against the census that had been ordered by Rome.  I suppose either, neither, or both of those things could be true.

What I believe is indisputable, however, is that these were ordinary joes, working men suddenly overtaken by God and by history in the course of their ordinary lives.  It ought to serve as an inspiration to all of us that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to ordinary folks.  The angels bypassed the palaces and temple and went to a work site.  The good news came first to people much like us.  That’s God’s justice and maybe His sense of humor.

CONTEXT: The scene is a countryside, which fits with Bethlehem as a rural village and with Luke’s theme of the most important birth happening without the notice of the world’s rich and powerful.  KEEPING WATCH means they were taking shifts looking out for predators and keeping the flocks together.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

  1. Luke reveals information about angels.

A single angel appeared first and delivered the message.  The angel is not named, but it might have been Gabriel who did all the talking in chapter one.

The situation starts out very much like the other angelic visitations: sudden appearance, glorious light, fearful response, angel says, “Don’t be afraid.”  Another consistent feature is that the message is GOOD NEWS.  Contrary to the angelic message delivered to Mary and Zechariah, this one is not going to affect the size of the shepherds’ families.

It is GOOD NEWS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.  That is, for all the people of Israel, as directly stated in 1:17, 68, 77.  On the other hand, Luke tended to use this expression to refer to the “common people” as opposed to their religious and political leaders.

It will occur IN THE TOWN OF DAVID; a hint that it will fulfill prophecy.  As we see later, Jesus did not fulfill popular expectations of the Messiah, but He was obedient to fulfill prophecy and the will of God the Father.

A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU indicates that this baby will be more than just another heir of David.  He will play the pivotal part in God’s salvation.  This is an exceptional verse.  There are three titles mentioned in v.11; SAVIOR, CHRIST (“Messiah” or “Anointed One”), and LORD.  This is the only New Testament text where all three titles appear together.  This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is referred to as “Savior.”

THIS WILL BE A SIGN: a circumstance so unique that it will be possible to identify the individual child.  A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER are a mixed message; the CLOTHS imply the baby is wanted and cared-for, but LYING in a manger feels like abandonment. Verse sixteen makes it clear the when they arrived, the shepherds found MARY and JOSEPH there, so the baby was not abandoned after all.

Once the message is delivered, A GREAT COMPANY of angel APPEARED.  A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST uses military terminology, but their activity is not military, it is worship; they glorify God.  Worship of God in heaven seems to be the primary activity of angels and we see it here for the first time.  Given the importance of Jesus’ birth, it makes sense to worship God on this occasion.

The worship promotes the idea that PEACE is the thing God is attempting to achieve here.  The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Peace is much more than the absence of conflict, a temporary ceasefire.  It is a state of prosperity, security, and harmony, a degree of well-being, a taste of heaven on earth.  In Old Testament prophecy, a state of shalom is associated with the kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring to pass.

Who are the recipients of this peaceful kingdom?  The angels’ hymn says cryptically, MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.  We don’t have enough information here to know whether this meant the Jews or the Church or both, in their turns.  It doesn’t really matter as the emphasis is not on the MEN, but on God’s FAVOR, or His grace.  Neither the Jews nor the Church deserve God’s FAVOR, so it is purely grace.

The message delivered, the angels returned to HEAVEN.  After all, they came from heaven.

  1. The shepherds responded faithfully.

They responded immediately.  In the same sentence that reports the angels’ return to heaven, the shepherds have decided to go to Bethlehem to check it out (verse fifteen).  Verse sixteen states they HURRIED OFF to Bethlehem.  This detail conveys an immediate response but also implies an enthusiastic one too.

They responded enthusiastically.  All that is reported about the shepherds conveys people who were understandably enthused to have been visited by angels and saw for themselves that the angel’s good news was perfectly true.

They responded worshipfully.  Verse twenty tells us the shepherd glorified and praised God, just as the company of angels had done in verse sixteen.  What they thought was praiseworthy was that God had kept His promises.  Everything the angels announced had come to pass; they had HEARD and SEEN it for themselves.

They responded evangelistically.  Verses seventeen and eighteen tell us the shepherds SPREAD THE WORD.  They reported their encounter with the angels and their meeting the baby and His parents. These verses also report the reaction of those who heard the shepherds’ testimony: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED.  As we’ve seen, amazement is the usual reply when people perceive God at work.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

What strikes me about Luke chapter two after verse two is that the only people mentioned who are “high and mighty” are the angels.  The HEAVENLY HOST appear in contrast to the powerless people who are named in this chapter.  Jesus is a baby; Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and literally everybody else are peasants.  This alone ought to squelch our ambition to “be somebody” or even get noticed.  We can get tired of our routine, long to escape our ordinariness.  Have you ever been greeted by someone who asked, “What’s new and exciting?”  What did you answer?

The shepherds had an answer to that question.  “Let me tell you something!” they’d say with excited voices.  Here’s something new and exciting: we have exactly the same good news that they did!  Jesus is born!  God has kept all His promises and delivered life and light to everyone in the dark shadow of death.

The angels and the shepherds had the same job, only the shepherds were volunteers.  Their job was to tell the GOOD NEWS.  That is our job too.  We have news to share and in this season we have an abundant opportunity to share it!

 

RESOURCES:

Word Biblical Commentary, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

Advent Angel Sighting #3

Please read Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.

Advent Angel Sightings 2_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

In March of this year it was announced that a statue titled “The Virgin and Laughing Child” is actually a work of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It is said that he created the work in 1472, when he was 19 or 20 years old.

The statue depicts a woman holding a young child whose face bears an obvious expression of delight.  Religious art scholar Diane Apostolos-Cappadonna sees the charming sculpture as an expression of Da Vinci’s Christian faith.  She concluded the article, “Simply put, Leonardo illustrated how Jesus’ humanity came from his mother and his divinity from God.”

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/what-leonardos-depiction-of-virgin-mary-and-jesus-tells-us-about-his-religious-beliefs/

CONTEXT: Gabriel’s appearance to Mary followed his appearance to Zechariah six months earlier.  While the two accounts have many similarities, we will focus on the aspects of Mary’s account that are unique.  In the process we will continue to learn about angels and also appreciate the very positive example Mary has set for us in regard to our own obedience to God.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

  1. Mary’s unique situation.

Of the six birth announcements delivered by angels, Mary and the unnamed mother of Samson (Judges 13) are the only women to receive one.  John Nolland wrote that while this section is similar to the other five birth announcements, it is also similar three passages where God called Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah to do special things.  Mary is being told a lot more than “Congratulations!  You’re having a baby!”  After all, her child would be the greatest human being ever born.

Unlike the men, Mary was not afraid at the angel’s appearance, but was GREATLY TROUBLED by his words (29).  She must have realized in an instant that normally a man required to make a baby: she was troubled to think who this man might be and how this would affect her betrothal to Joseph.

Mary alone was said to have FOUND FAVOR WITH GOD (30).  While this can be assumed in the other four situations, it is not directly stated by the angelic messengers in the other birth announcements.  However, the emphasis of the word FAVOR is on God, not Mary.  Contrary to the belief of our Catholic friends, there was nothing superhuman about Mary.  The word meant “furnished with grace.”  Grace is always about the giver, not the gifted.

Grace is received because the giver decided to give it, not because the gifted deserved it.  The Bible teaches we are saved by grace.  It is not by our works, but by God’s love that we enjoy salvation.

Finally, Mary’s is the only virgin birth – ever (34).  People allege there are virgin births in other religions or in mythology, but none of them are in analogous to what Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth.

  1. Mary’s faithful response.

She started out TROUBLED and wondering but ended up trusting God.  I wonder how reassuring Gabriel’s explanation was (35-36).

In those days the Holy Spirit was not often mentioned, so that alone might have put Gabriel’s explanation outside Mary’s frame of reference.

She must have wondered what the word “overshadow” meant.

As it was used in the Bible, the term “overshadow” simply referred to the presence of God.  For example, in Exodus 40:35, the word referred to God’s presence in the form of a visible cloud that “overshadowed” the tabernacle.  Gabriel’s use of this term was meant to remind Mary of the cloud and to reassure her that her pregnancy would be miraculous, a creative act done by God Himself.

Verses 32-33 and 35 promise her child will be the greatest man to ever live. In her circumstance, would that be comforting, exciting, or intimidating?

Gabriel relates news that Mary possibly did not know: her kinswoman Elizabeth was having a miraculous baby of her own.  Knowing she was not facing this on her own must have been encouraging to Mary.

Surely the most convincing thing Gabriel said to Mary was his assurance, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD (37). It was in response to this statement that Mary declared her willingness to serve.

Without understanding everything that would be required, Mary simply obeyed (38).  She understood her role in all this: not the center, but a SERVANT.  “MAY IT BE TO ME AS YOU HAVE SAID” communicates wholehearted acceptance of God’s will.

“Parthenogenesis” is the $10 term used in biology to refer to the development of an egg into an organism without fertilization.  There are animal and insect species that reproduce in this way.  However, science alone cannot explain the Virgin Birth.  Indeed, it has often been denied on a scientific basis.

This doctrine is one of central importance to our faith, so we should be unwilling to surrender it just because science can’t account for it.  The Virgin Birth is a handy example of an issue where faith has to trump science.  It is a belief where the question of “how” – as Mary asked it – is not at important as the question “why” – as Gabriel explained it.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

Biology aside, this passage stresses the historical fact that Mary was a virgin when Gabriel brought to her God’s message of her holy Son.  (So much so that it’s stated twice in v. 27!)  I believe this is important for several reasons, one of them being that in the cultures of this day, it was widely believed that the father actually made the baby, the mother merely incubated it.  Believing that, people would naturally assume that Jesus inherited a sin nature through his earthly father.  However, as there was no earthly father, Jesus did not start out life hampered by a sin nature as you and I did.  So when Paul wrote GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US, SO THAT IN HIM WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21), he affirmed that Jesus did not even have a sin nature.  Jesus was innocent from birth and maintained His purity throughout life.

What we learned about angels in this passage is that they are likely to take a hand when events are of historic importance.  The birth of the one and only Son of God is obviously important.  Based on the dialogue Gabriel had with Mary we may note in addition to delivering messages, angels are often called upon to explain the message to their human recipients.

Mary is a fine example for all of us to follow because obedience preceded understanding.  That’s what faith does: it allows us to obey God even when we don’t understand all the implications of His will.  Mary asked the “how” question and received a full answer, but it’s unlikely she knew in that moment all that being suddenly pregnant would cost her.  It’s unlikely she knew or cared about the biology.  When she was reminded that “Nothing is impossible for God,” she accepted that statement at face value and moved forward to obedience.  Similarly, we must never allow worldly thinking or fear stop us from being faithful to obey God’s call.

 

Resources:

Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson

Word Biblical Commentary #35a: Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

“Virgin and Laughing Child” is unveiled as Leonardo da Vinci’s only surviving sculpture

Ready to Die

Please read John 12:1-11.

maryanoints080316_01

Do I love Jesus as much as Mary did?

          The subject of the Sunday School lesson was missions.  The class of eager eight year-olds had just met their first missionary and they were excited to hear about life in far-away Africa.  The teacher wanted to capitalize on their enthusiasm, so she asked the class if they’d like to give the missionary $1,000.

“YES!” the kids replied enthusiastically.

“How about $100?”

“YES!” they shouted.

“Would you give a dollar to help this missionary?”

All the boys responded with another loud “YES!” except for Johnnie.  The teacher noticed this and asked him, “Johnnie, why didn’t you say ‘yes’ this time?”

“Well,” he said clutching his pocket, “I HAVE a dollar!”

That’s human nature, isn’t it?  As long as sacrifice is merely theoretical or in principle, we’re all for it.  When it becomes actual or personal, we suddenly have reservations.

In our passage, we see Mary making a huge sacrifice to honor Jesus.  While we obviously don’t measure love with dollar signs, we do measure a sacrifice by what it costs us.  The more precious the thing we sacrifice, the more love that indicates.

John referred to Mary’s action before he gave us any details of it.  In 11:2, he explained who Mary was; THIS MARY, WHOSE BROTHER LAZARUS NOW LAY SICK, WAS THE SAME ONE WHO POURED PERFUME ON THE LORD AND WIPED HIS FEET WITH HER HAIR.  This detail is out of chronological order.  If John had been written for the Internet, 11:2 would be preceded by the words “Spoiler Alert!”  He’s teasing what will appear in the next chapter.

  1. Mary’s sacrifice. (12:1-3)

Verse one provides us with the context for this event.  The time was SIX DAYS BEFORE PASSOVER, the last week of Jesus’ life.  The place was the village of Bethany; the home town of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

John does not record the incident in Luke 10:38-42 but story is in keeping with Luke’s characterization of the sisters.  In Luke, Martha worked in the kitchen and complained that Mary wasn’t helping her.  Here in John, Martha served the meal.  In Luke, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teaching.  Here in John she is at His feet again, but this time to perform a lavish sacrifice.  John goes into some detail to assure us Mary’s sacrifice was great.

She poured out A PINT OF NARD, AN EXPENSIVE PERFUME.  This was a fragrant oil make from the nard plant which grows in the mountains of northern India.  Pure NARD was diluted or combined with other ingredients to make incense, cosmetics, perfume, or medicines.

As Jesus would refer to it in verse seven, dead bodies were also covered with the stuff.  This not only masked the smell of decay, but it made the linen cloths covering the body stick to it.

The fact that Mary POURED IT ON JESUS’ FEET is a detail that is hard to explain.  Normally, a person’s head was anointed, not the feet.

That she WIPED HIS FEET WITH HER HAIR is another striking and out-of-the ordinary detail.  In Jesus’ culture it was inappropriate for a woman to bare her head.  In Luke’s account the woman had LIVED A SINFUL LIFE, so she might be willing to flaunt cultural norms.  In that culture as well as ours, this was an intimate act, an extreme show of emotion.

Set aside the cultural norms for a moment: it was illogical to apply perfume and then wipe it off with anything, especially one’s hair.  Mary’s action here is impossible to explain.

John noted THE HOUSE WAS FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF THE PERFUME.  This is a wonderful poetic description.  This is the first of two clues that Mary poured the whole thing out on Jesus’ feet, an extravagant use of an expensive possession.

  1. Judas’ objection. (12:4-6)

Judas objected to Mary’s action (vs. 4-5).  I imagine Judas’ rebuke coming after a moment of stunned silence after Mary surprised them all.  Mary’s action was not at all practical; a little bit of that concentrated perfume would have been sufficient to be hospitable.  It was an intimate and expensive way to demonstrate her love for Jesus.

“IT WAS WORTH A YEAR’S WAGES” Judas protested.  Turns out, his assessment was quite accurate.  An alternative reading in the Greek texts provides an amount: three hundred denarii.  As a one of these coins was the typical day’s wage for a laborer, 300 would be about a year’s worth.

His objection masked his real motive: greed.  Judas had never before demonstrated any great concern for the poor.  As treasurer, Judas had been trusted with the group’s purse; a trust he violated to add to his own purse or buy things for himself.  People have tried to understand what motivated Judas to betray Jesus, but the only personal motive the gospels offer is greed.

This situation will come up again in 13:29-30, where Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer.  When Jesus sent Judas away, the others assumed Jesus had sent their treasurer to get provisions for the Passover or to make a donation to help the poor.

The other explanation of Judas’ betrayal is a spiritual one: he was a tool in the Devil’s hands (Luke 22:3; John 6:70; 13:2+27).  It’s likely greed was the door Judas opened and the devil walked right in through it.

  1. Jesus’ explanation. (12:7-8)

John doesn’t explain Mary’s motive, an omission which stands out because of the extremity of Mary’s act.  He does, however, explain why this pint of nard was available in the first place.  It seems Mary and Jesus originally had planned another use of the nard.  Jesus said, “IT WAS INTENDED THAT SHE SHOULD SAVE THIS PERFUME FOR THE DAY OF MY BURIAL.”

Instead of following that plan, she poured it all out – she did not dilute it or reserve it for Jesus’ burial.  This is the second of two clues that point to this (the first is in verse three).

Jesus’ statement about the poor (v. 8) has been misused to justify any less-than-compassionate attitude toward poor folks.  We should moderate our urge to personalize or make a rule out of everything.  The first question we should always ask of the Bible is, “What did this mean at that time?”  In this case Jesus warned them that He would not be around much longer, so now was the perfect time for Mary to anoint Him.

Jesus knew human nature and the sinful condition of the world.  Those two facts insure there will always be poor folk.  He also affirmed what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 15:11 = THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR PEOPLE IN THE LAND.  THEREFORE I COMMAND YOU TO BE OPEN-HANDED TOWARD YOUR BROTHERS AND TOWARD THE POOR AND NEEDY IN YOUR LAND.

  1. Meanwhile, back at the Sanhedrin. (12:9-11)

Jesus attracted a LARGE CROWD even while doing nothing more than eating dinner (v. 9).  John 11:19 tells us MANY JEWS were in Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha on the occasion of their brother Lazarus’ death.  It’s reasonable to believe part of the LARGE CROWD had witnessed Lazarus’ death and hung around to see what would happen next.

This scene is a dinner given to honor Jesus, with Lazarus invited.  Verse nine reports the CROWD had also gathered to see Lazarus.

The Pharisees’ fear of the CROWD surfaces in vs. 10 and 19, “LOOK HOW THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE AFTER HIM!”  The crowds following Him intimidated THE CHIEF PRIESTS so much that they planned to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.  Only John reports this detail. We have no evidence they ever murdered Lazarus.  This information explains why the Jewish leaders were determined to kill Jesus.

Two factors combined to put pressure on the Jewish leadership.  The raising of Lazarus caused Jesus’ popularity to skyrocket just as people were travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover.  I presume they wanted to kill Lazarus to eliminate this important evidence of Jesus’ power and to end his “celebrity status.”

Do I love Jesus as much as Mary did?

          The question gets at the heart of our faith – what am I willing to sacrifice as a demonstration of my love for Jesus?  Mary sacrificed a great deal of money and humiliated herself to make an extravagant gift.  Do I love Jesus enough to sacrifice my pride?

As we conclude, allow me one more example of sacrifice.  Of the 56 men who signed our Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British and tortured until they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost sons in the Revolutionary War.  One signer had two sons captured.  Nine fought and died in the war.  One saw his ships sunk by the British navy and died in poverty.  More than thirty of the fifty-six signers made great sacrifices to advance the cause of liberty.  We would honor their sacrifice by taking our involvement more seriously.

Those signers who endured heart-breaking loss made great sacrifices in the name of securing freedom for succeeding generations of Americans.  While we may never be called upon to make such deadly sacrifices, we are all called upon to demonstrate our love for Jesus in daily sacrifices of self.  We must surrender all to the one who gave His all for our salvation.  We gather around this table to remember Jesus, who laid down his life for us, the most unselfish act in all human history.  In light of all He did, how much do we love Him for doing it?

 

Resource:

The Anchor Bible, Raymond C. Brown.

A Forever Kind of Love

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

Please read Psalm 89 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to research my remarks.

Picture the usual Christmas scene and focus on the husband and wife opening their gifts to each other.  This is one of those moments in life when something funny is bound to happen.

The husband pointed to an ill-wrapped package and said, “Open that one next.”

The wife picked up gift and unwrapped it, opening it to find one of those obnoxious singing-and-dancing robot Christmas trees. She is a bit shocked, remembering how just days ago she had pointed out how much she hated those things when she and her husband were shopping together.

Holding it at arm’s length she said, “Weren’t you listening when I said I thought these were the most annoying things ever?”

“Open that other gift,” the husband said, pointing to a long package that is even more poorly wrapped and is very heavy.

His wife set down the robotic Christmas tree as if it were radioactive.  She opened the second package to reveal a sledgehammer.

“Is this for what I think it’s for?”

The husband replied, “And you thought I wasn’t paying attention!”

<Adapted from https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-christmas-jokes/ on 12/21/17.>

We pin a lot of hopes and waste a lot of time trying to both please and surprise one another with Christmas gifts, don’t we?

One person wrote about how her dad got her mom a DVD of her favorite movie.  That would’ve been a thoughtful gift, except the DVD was a rental and they didn’t own a DVD player!

When calamities come, one question that springs to mind is “Why?  Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  The worst calamity to ever befall the OT people of God (Judah) was to be taken over and taken captive by the Babylonians.  This psalm is one of many examples of songs lamenting this terrible circumstance.

The psalm writers were not shy about expressing these questions, even accusing God of neglecting them.  They pleaded for an end to their suffering and leaned on His promises to encourage their hope.  This morning’s Psalm is an example of this way of attempting to renew the hopes of the captive Jews.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the dynasty of David (Psalm 89:1-4).

In verses one and two the LORD is worshiped because of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS.  These words occur seven times in the 52 verses of this psalm.

Eternity is bound up in this song; it is meant to be “The Song that Never Ends.”  We see this in the use of FOREVER and THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS; this worship is as eternal as HEAVEN ITSELF.  In Hebrew, the word translated as FOREVER is an indefinite length of time.  It is not exactly the same as the New Testament idea of eternity.  For example, in Romans 11:29, Paul wrote GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.  This assures us that God is not going to suddenly change His mind.  Our salvation is secure.  Here we see the idea that eternal means “unchanging.”

The LORD’s GREAT LOVE, a constant (faithful) LOVE.  So faithfulness is another aspect of things eternal.

These divine virtues they have been ESTABLISHED…IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The idea implied in the Hebrew is that the psalmist is creating a record of God’s faithfulness that will be preserved for future generations.

The appropriate human response is to praise God for His perfect love.  The words SING and DECLARE cover the two main ways we humans use our mouths to praise God.  The phrase WITH MY MOUTH meant “aloud” or “loudly.”  The joy of being in God is not supposed to be something we contain.  It ought to be too wonderful for us to conceal or hold inside; it ought to flow out of us, revealing God’s LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to our family and community.

The rest of this song gives us examples of other reasons the LORD is worthy of worship.

Vs. 5-13 = God’s power over creation.

Vs. 14-18 = God’s moral power.

Vs. 19-29 = God’s Son will be imbued with power.

Vs. 30-45 = God’s wrath against sin is mitigated by his covenant LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to keep His part of the covenant.

Vs. 46-52 = Worship includes pleading to God for mercy and relief from His discipline.

Verses three and four explain one aspect of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS: His eternal covenant with David in which God established the dynasty of David forever.  (See also vs. 26-29.)  King David is referred to as the LORD’s CHOSEN ONE and His SERVANT, emphasizing the special relationship they enjoyed.

The title CHOSEN ONE refers to the way God always works.  He chooses us first.  He makes His plans and attempts to work them with our cooperation.  The emphasis is never on our qualifications, but on God’s choosing and empowering.

The title SERVANT refers to David doing his part of the covenant-relationship; doing God’s will.

The COVENANT God swore with David was to establish an eternal dynasty, having one of David’s descendants reign over God’s people for all eternity.  The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus, who was a member of David’s royal family and because of His victory over death, Jesus Christ will reign as King for all eternity.

We are to feel secure in this promise.  The psalmist expressed that feeling of security in a couple different ways: he used the words STANDS FIRM (2) and ESTABLISH (4) to assure us of this trustworthy foundation to our faith.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) is there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David and went back only as far as Abraham.  The purpose behind that family tree was to show that Jesus is related to all Jews.

The genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (1:1-17) is also there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David.  But Luke’s version goes all the way back to Adam, with the purpose of showing that Jesus is related to all people.  Some people also think that even though Mary’s name is not used by Luke, these ancestors Mary shared in common with Joseph.

The love of God the Father for Jesus, God the Son, was expressed three times in the New Testament.

The first was at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), where the voice from heaven said, “THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

These words were repeated by the voice of our Heavenly Father at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), with an addition, “LISTEN TO HIM.”

In John 12:20-50, Jesus taught some Greeks about eternal life and prayed, “FATHER, GLORIFY YOUR NAME.”  The heavenly voice responded, “I HAVE GLORIFIED IT, AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN.” Jesus explained that the voice spoke so that the people there would realize that His immanent death would provide salvation for all people.

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

In an article entitled “Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas,” Bible Teacher and Pastor John Piper put Christmas in perspective.

“Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was ‘fullness of deity.’

“And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.”

<Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/keep-close-to-the-heart-of-christmas on 12/21/17.>

On this last Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve just hours away, we reach the climax of our struggle to keep Christmas centered on Christ.  Too soon, the day will be over and we’ll wonder why we got into such a fuss again this year.  We’ll vow to do better next year and probably fall back into old habits instead.

We’ve learned that Jesus Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments.  He gives all that is needed for salvation to all who will, by faith, receive it.  Be one of those people at Christmas and all year long.

A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

The Shepherds Rejoiced

(Please read Luke 2:8-20.  The following remarks are based on the NIV.)

MESSAGE: God pointed the shepherds to their Savior and they rejoiced.  We should do the same.

A Domino’s Pizza delivery driver was left in tears when an Ohio church tipped her more than $1000 after she delivered a $5.99 pizza.  Natasha Boyer woke up Oct. 4 to find an eviction notice on her door. Then she headed off to her job as a pizza delivery driver for Domino’s, little knowing a “miracle” was about to come her way.

The 21-year-old single mother was on the receiving end of a random act of kindness performed by the congregants of Sycamore Creek Church in Pickerington, Ohio.  “Our church has been pushing congregants to do more acts of kindness, but this is the first time we did it together as a collective group,” pastor Steve Markle said.

When Boyer arrived at the church, the pastor called her up front and asked her the size of the biggest tip she’d ever received. Ten dollars, she replied.  Markle responded by giving her a $9 tip — followed by $1,046.

“I had no idea what was happening,” Boyer said. “They told me to wait 15 minutes because I was going to have to walk up on stage. I was in total shock.”

Markle had just finished giving a sermon about a financial miracle, not expecting to make one happen himself. “I called Domino’s ahead of time and asked them to pick a delivery driver that wouldn’t mind coming up on stage. That’s all I knew about her,” he told TODAY. “It was cool to see my sermon come to life.”

Boyer’s eyes filled with tears as she hugged Markle and thanked the congregation. Markle then said a prayer for her and everyone cheered.  Boyer now has enough money to pay her rent plus the late fee. “They saved me. They saved my son,” she said. “I’m forever grateful.”

<Retrieved from http://www.today.com/kindness/deliver-us-eviction-church-gives-pizza-deliverer-1-000-tip-t52161 on 11/27/15.>

I offer this story to you as an example of grace.  Grace is extravagant, seemingly random, frequently illogical.  It is free and undeserved.  When it comes from God it always redeems.

  1. A promise is made to the shepherds (8-14).

Verse eight tells us that the first recipients of the Good News were at work; they were KEEPING WATCH OVER THEIR FLOCKS.  WHY the birth of the Messiah was first announced to shepherds is something about which we can only speculate.  What is more clear is WHEN the announcement came to them.

LIVING OUT IN THE FIELDS implies a springtime scene, not a winter one.  In the winter, the sheep were penned up at night.  One commentator speculated that Jesus’ birth happened close to the Passover.  This appeals to me as it provides a second linkage between Jesus and the most important Jewish Holy Day.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul referred to Jesus as our PASSOVER LAMB, a reference to His sacrifice for our sins.  But He may be our PASSOVER LAMB in both His birth and His death.

The traditional December 25th date was established by the Church in the fourth century for reasons other than strict biblical scholarship.  Since then, scholars have literally argued for the birth of Christ occurring in each month of the year.

The second clue for timing is the phrase AT NIGHT.  These people observed four “watches” during the night.  Shepherds of many different flocks would cooperate in watching the sheep by taking different watches.  The significance of this clue is subtle:  The first Passover occurred at night and the Jews expected that their Messiah would arrive at night.  Even this detail has some significance, so wonderful is the Word!

In verse nine the promise of GREAT JOY is announced: AN ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED.  In the Greek, this language conveys a sudden, surprising appearance.  (Isn’t that how they always come?)  The phrase OF THE LORD is used to denote God’s actual presence OR it can denote something that is especially great.  OF THE LORD is always the BEST.  As Luke uses the word APPEARED, it means to stand by.  The angels do not appear overhead, but right among the shepherds.

THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHONE.  In the Bible, GLORY indicates the presence of God, His spiritual presence manifest in physical light.  This isn’t just a bright light, but an intense emotional and spiritual experience of God’s power and holiness; this is proved by the shepherd’s reaction.

THEY WERE TERRIFIED (a sensible reaction).  The experience of God’s holiness and power is so intense that smart people become aware of their own sin and shrink back in fear (i.e., Isaiah in Isaiah 6).  Think about it – how should you feel when you are suddenly in the presence of someone who knows you completely and can do anything to you?

Fortunately, there is no reason for their terror; the angels have appeared to bring a positive message, not condemnation.  In verse ten it is written: “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS.”  The message breaks down into three parts.

“DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  This is often the first thing angels say when they appear.  It shows that the perfect love of God should cast out the fear we naturally feel (see 1 John 4:18).

“GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY.”  Notice the two qualifiers: GOOD news of GREAT joy.  The appearance of angels is extraordinary enough, but the occasion is not for them; the message is more important than the messengers and it is a VERY GOOD message.  Don’t let the three-letter word escape your notice; it is the focus of our Advent preparations.  JOY is what this season is all about.  We must share the shepherds’ JOY.

“FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.”  One of the understated themes of the Old Testament is that the nation of Israel was supposed to draw all people to God.  The original statement of God’s plan was that Israel should be a LIGHT TO THE GENTILES (see Isaiah 42:6) and that all the nations would be gathered for worship on Zion, the mountain of the LORD (see Isaiah 2:2).  Here’s an important part of the Good News: God has made salvation available to ALL PEOPLE in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Nationality no longer matters.

The specifics begin in verse eleven: “A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU.”

“IN THE TOWN OF DAVID.” (Bethlehem) Hundreds of years earlier, King David, as a boy, worked these very same fields as a shepherd.  The child would inherit his throne and so God is keeping His promises with perfect continuity by appearing to the Bethlehem shepherds.

“A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU.”  All human beings stand in need of a Savior.  Sin is a universal problem with deadly consequences.  We cannot solve it on our own.  Jesus is the solution to our sin.  So the YOU here is obviously not just the shepherds.  The birth of the Savior is a joy to all of us.

“HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.”  CHRIST is the Gk version of the Hebrew word “Messiah.”  It means “Anointed One” and refers to God’s promise to send a Savior.  This is clear in the Old Testament.  To be “anointed” is to be set apart for God’s service.  The person or object was dedicated to God’s exclusive use by putting oil on them in a ceremony.  The shepherds would be familiar enough with the Bible of their time to know this.  They likely understood the significance of this GOOD NEWS.

In verse twelve the shepherds received specific instructions on how to recognize Him: “A SIGN.”  In the Bible, a SIGN is always an earthly reality that points to (symbolizes) a heavenly reality.  In this case, the SIGN is the unique aspects of this special child’s birth.  The word can also be used to refer to a miracle as miracles always serve as pointers to God.  Jesus’ birth to a virgin and many other aspects of this story point to all kinds of miraculous circumstances.

They were instructed to look for “A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”  This is a self-contradictory description; an oxymoron.  How could both these things be true?  A baby WRAPPED IN CLOTHS is obviously wanted and well cared-for.   A baby left LYING IN A MANGER is evidently abandoned and unwanted.  It is a particularly odd choice of places to set the heir of David’s throne, who ought to be in a palace cradle.  Paul expanded on this amazing contrast in 2 Corinthians 8:9; FOR YOU KNOW THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THAT THOUGH HE WAS RICH, YET FOR YOUR SAKES HE BECAME POOR, SO THAT YOU THROUGH HIS POVERTY MIGHT BECOME RICH.

They needed a SIGN this specific and unusual to avoid a case of mistaken identity.  Even in a village as small as Bethlehem, there might’ve been more than one baby that looked like a newborn to the shepherd’s eyes.  Would you trust the average man to tell the difference between one newborn baby and another?

In verses thirteen and fourteen a whole HOST of angels affirm this message.  A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST.  Luke declares this fact in such understated language, it must be true.  A made-up story would be more descriptive and sensational.  The sole messenger is supported by an unnumbered throng of the angelic race.

The angelic host was PRAISING GOD.  GOOD NEWS should always result in praise to God.  Here the angels set a good example for us to follow.  One of the tasks God assigns to His angels is to deliver messages; the Greek word means “messenger.”  Another of their roles is to worship Him.  We see both of these functions in this passage.

Their hymn of praise? “GLORY TO GOD…PEACE TO MEN…FAVOR”  These two reasons they have for praising God have come into being because of the birth of the Christ Child.  As Jesus later said of Himself, glorifying God and bringing peace to men is why He came.  HIGHEST and ON EARTH are a contrast of places that describe the origin of this action and its recipients.

  1. The shepherds rejoiced when the promise was kept (15-20).

In verse fifteen the shepherds resolve; “LET’S GO TO BETHLEHEM.”  The angels returned to heaven, their message delivered and their worship offered.  The shepherds were given a SIGN, not a command.  Though it was certainly assumed in the SIGN they were given the shepherds were not commanded to go to Bethlehem; they decided on their own to go.

Though our English translations do not convey the emotion of the Greek words, you can still hear the eagerness in their voices as they discuss it and decide to go immediately to the village.  Their willingness to go is another indication of their faithfulness.

“WHICH THE LORD HAS TOLD US ABOUT.”  This shows the shepherds understood the angelic message.  By faith they accepted it and made immediate plans to act upon it.  We should all demonstrate this kind of trust in the word of God.

Making the trip, they found God’s word true (v. 16).  THEY HURRIED OFF is a detail that justifies our earlier interpretation of the shepherds’ eagerness.  Perhaps they had been particularly godly men who had been waiting eagerly for the arrival of the Messiah and now He’d come.

They FOUND MARY, JOSEPH AND THE BABY, WHO WAS LYING IN A MANGER, just as the angel had announced!  Seeing with their own eyes, they understood the reason for the child appearing at the same time cared-for and abandoned.

The joyous shepherds could not help themselves; they shared the reason for their joy with all who would listen (vs. 17-18 & 20).  WHEN THEY HAD SEEN HIM.  This is an important point.  The shepherds acted by faith and went to Bethlehem.  Then faith became sight – literally.   This is the way it’s supposed to work for all of us.  God never intended faith to be perpetually unseen.  It starts out that way, but it is supposed to become a personal experience after that.  How sad would it be if faith were only ever a theory.  Faith that is not confirmed in experience is a faith that is not yet realized.  This is the relationship between faith and works.  Doing godly works moves faith from spiritual to physical.  One of the godly works that confirms true faith is telling others about it and that happens in two contexts.

In vs. 17+18, we see the shepherds WITNESSING to the truth; telling others about their experience.  They SPREAD THE WORD = “gave exact information” (Greek).   Similarly, our witnessing needs to follow the “Joe Friday” method: “just the facts.”  the truth that we have to share is so wonderful it needs no embellishment.

Part of what this means is that we need to resist the temptation to attach our personal views and politics to the Gospel.  Don’t misuse the truth to propagate our stuff.  People know instinctively know the difference between the truth and a sales pitch.  We have nothing to sell, but the truth to give away joyously and generously!!

The reaction to the shepherd’s message was surprisingly positive: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED.  We’re so used to being lied to that the truth has an effect of causing amazement.  People want to hear the truth and most will respond positively when they hear it.  In the culture of that time, shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder.  They were popularly believed to be habitual liars and thieves.  So it’s almost miraculous that they were believed enough for people to be AMAZED.  I think their witness must have been so powerful, they were so fully convinced, that their witness overwhelmed people’s prejudice and they earned a hearing.  No one is more persuasive than an eyewitness.

In verse 20, we see the shepherds WORSHIPING because of the truth.  They were GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD FOR ALL THE THINGS THEY HAD HEARD AND SEEN.  Do you suppose the shepherds went about singing the same song the angels had sung in praising God (v. 14)?  A reason for their exuberance is that things WERE JUST AS THEY HAD BEEN TOLD.

The context of their worship was not in the temple, but amidst their everyday lives: we read THE SHEPHERDS RETURNED.  They went home and back to work.  They worshiped God in the midst of their daily lives and among their regular community.  Similarly, we must take our joy into everyday life.  In our individual contexts of home, work, and community, we are to worship and witness just as the shepherds did.

Mary’s response is private and quiet in contrast to the shepherds’: she quietly considered their witness (v. 19).  Note the two things it says about her.

MARY TREASURED UP ALL THESE THINGS = “guarded.”  They became sacred memories to her.  Isn’t this something most parents do?  As we get older, we hold the best memories and let the others go.  But this is an absolutely unique situation, so Mary’s treasure-house included statements by Gabriel, her cousin Elizabeth, and now the testimony of the shepherds.  She put all these statements about Jesus together and considered their meaning.  No one on earth knew as much about the destiny of baby Jesus as Mary did.  She was justifiably awestruck by the role she was playing in the history of God and His people.

She PONDERED THEM IN HER HEART; they became points of prayer, meditation, and consideration.  In the original language, to “ponder” means to weigh, examine mentally, think about.

Is it fair to say that most of us live out our faith following Mary’s example than following the shepherds’?  We prefer to keep our faith a “private matter;” we treasure and ponder our faith, but we don’t get excited and we don’t carry it out into public.

The thing is, this passage does not condemn either approach.  Instead, it offers both Mary and the shepherds as examples for us to follow.  I want to say that we should be both at various times and as various opportunities present themselves.  We should have private and public expressions of faith.

A janitor who heard a baby crying in an empty New York City church was astonished to find a real newborn baby in the church’s Nativity scene with its umbilical cord still attached.  Jose Moran said that he found the baby after returning from his lunch break on Monday, only about an hour after the manger was set up in the Holy Child Jesus Church in Queens.

Police say the baby boy, who was found wrapped in a blanket, was brought to a hospital and found to be in good health. “At least whoever abandoned him brought him to a safe place and didn’t leave him to die,” Moran says. “I hope he finds the right home. He’s a miracle baby.” Police are trying to track down the newborn’s mother.

New York has a “safe haven” law allowing people to drop off unwanted newborns at places like churches, hospitals, and fire stations, but the mother could still face charges because the law requires authorities to be immediately informed of the baby’s whereabouts. One of the church’s parishioners has already offered to adopt the boy. “God works in mysterious ways,” Father Christopher Heanue said. The infant was “a kind of gift to the church in a poetic way, so we’d love to see it stay in the community,” he says. <Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/216601/real-newborn-found-in-church-nativityscene.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=1696368&utm_campaign=20151125 on 11/27/15.>

That’s an amazing story too, another example of grace. This baby’s mother gave her child the gift of life and a chance to be saved.  The law charges her with a criminal act, but God is gracious enough to redeem any action, turning even tragic events into praiseworthy times.

Grace is the thing we must cherish like Mary and proclaim like the shepherds.  There are plenty of legalists in the world, but too few gracious people.  Grace brings joy. What better time of year to be extravagantly joyous than this season of Advent, leading up to Christmas?  Let me challenge you to follow the examples of Mary AND the shepherds.

 

Joyous Discovery

(Please read Luke 2:8-20, NLT.)

Thesis – Advent is a time of joyous discovery for each of us as we celebrate the ancient discovery of Jesus’ birth.

One of the contrasts in this passage is between the messengers and the recipients.  Angels are a different race of beings entirely.  They are God’s messengers and heavenly worshipers, but they also exist to assist us.  They are mysterious and exalted beings and the Bible testifies that they often work among and pass for regular human beings.

Shepherds, on the other hand, were the most ordinary folk you’d hope to find in that ancient culture.  Their vocation was mostly viewed positively in the Bible, but in Jesus’ time they were belittled as unclean, untrustworthy folk.

The angels announced the ultimate reason for joy (8-14).

          In vs. 10-11, 14 we find the angelic message.  It details what’s happening, when, where, how, and why.  We’ll examine all ten parts of their message.

  • “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  When angels appear in their glorious, heavenly, form, they are intimidating visually and physically.  We know this because people are always afraid when they appear.  We know this because the text says so, THEY WERE TERRIBLY FRIGHTENED; and because the angel always says, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”
  • “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS…”  This phrase had cultural significance; the birth of Augustus Caesar was announced as “good news” of the birth of a “savior.”  This is a case of Luke using the empire’s own language against them.
  • “…OF GREAT JOY…”  This is our key to the passage.  The birth of Jesus brought great joy then and it should now as well.
  • “…FOR EVERYONE!”  The salvation God offers thru Jesus is universal in its scope but conditional in its effects: you have to receive it by faith.  Otherwise, it is not effective; God chooses not save or condemn anyone against their own will.
  • “THE SAVIOR”  It is abundantly plain in the birth narratives that the purpose of Jesus’ birth is to be the Savior of all humankind.  It is firmly rooted in OT prophecies (see Deuteronomy 20:4; Joshua 22:22; Psalms 24:4; 25:5; Isaiah 25:9).  It was actually a widely-used term term at that time; physicians, rulers & philosophers were called “saviors.”  Curiously, it is the only time Luke uses SAVIOR to refer to Jesus.
  • “THE MESSIAH”  The Greek version of this word is “Christ,” and the word means “The Anointed One.”  It is rarely used in the Old Testament, but the Messiah was nonetheless widely expected by Jews of that time.
  • “THE LORD”  This is a title of respect akin to “sir.”  It was commonly used to pay respects to men in positions of authority.
  • “HAS BEEN BORN TONIGHT…IN THE CITY OF DAVID” = These two, taken together, highlight the immediacy of the blessed event.  The shepherds had the honor of being the first eyewitnesses on the scene.
  • “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN”  As is the case with all of life, our ultimate purpose is to direct people’s attention to God; that’s what it means to “glorify” Him.  God is the greatest good and the biggest favor we can do to one another is to draw attention to Him.
  • “PEACE ON EARTH TO ALL WHOM GOD FAVORS.”  (See Luke 10:21.) This phrase affirms what we noted earlier; God’s salvation provides the possibility of everyone being saved, but some will reject it. God’s favor rests on those who accept His gracious offer by faith.  Because they are saved, they will have PEACE, even ON EARTH. Including the shepherds demonstrates that God’s favor rested on them.  They represent the common person.  Having wealth or fame or power does not indicate God’s favor – those men had none of those things.

The sign that verified the truthfulness of the message is found in verse twelve. This is an excellent sign – it is so unusual as to be unmistakable: “A BABY IN A MANGER, WRAPPED SNUGLY IN STRIPS OF CLOTH.”  A baby occupying a manger might’ve been taken as a cast-off, abandoned and exposed, left to die.  (Like a baby left alone on a park bench.)

However, wrapping a baby in strips of cloth is a sign of caring.  This practice was done to keep the baby’s limbs straight and to keep it warm; to help it survive. According to Scripture, all prophecy is proven to have come from God when it comes true.  The angels have made some BIG PROMISES here and having a sign to back them up is a very good thing!

The shepherds and Mary discovered it for themselves (15-20).

          You can tell the shepherds were excited about the news (see 15-17, 20).

  • As soon as the messengers had disappeared, they were on their way to Bethlehem.
  • Listen to the way they described the good news; “THIS WONDERFUL THING.”
  • Look at the happy haste they showed: THEY RAN TO THE VILLAGE.
  • Hear the joy in their voices as they TOLD EVERYONE WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND WHAT THE ANGEL HAD TOLD THEM ABOUT THIS CHILD.
  • Watch them go back to work, GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD…BECAUSE THEY HAD SEEN THE CHILD, JUST AS THE ANGEL HAD SAID.  We can be this way, can’t we?  We believe in God and yet are still surprised when He answers our prayers with a “yes” or does things we didn’t expect Him to do.  The shepherds were pleased to have been included in this divine event and they wouldn’t stop talking about it.  It would be great if we followed their example in THIS way!

Jesus’ mother Mary quietly joined the shepherds in their excitement (v. 19).

  • MARY QUIETLY TREASURED THESE THINGS IN HER HEART. Celebrations do not have to be loud and raucous to be true.  Worship occurs just as readily in quiet and reflective moments as it does in more demonstrative ways. The faithful response of all disciples is to perceive the will of God and then act upon it.
  • AND THOUGHT ABOUT THEM OFTEN.  This word refers to deep reflection on a topic; it literally meant “get it all together.”  It also translated as waging war (see Luke 14:31) and carrying on a conversation (see Acts 17:18).  So Mary really wrestled with these things, trying to figure out what it all meant.  This too is a good example for us to follow; to dwell on the word of God, to meditate on it and apply it to daily living.

Though the birth of Jesus was a private event – just Mary and Joseph – it did not stay that way long.  Soon afterward, a group of shepherds showed up, having received instructions and directions from a whole army of angels. Whether we receive the news exuberantly, as the shepherds did, or quietly, as Mary did, the point is that we receive this news.  Advent is a time of joyous discovery for each of us as we celebrate the ancient discovery of Jesus’ birth.