Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | December 24, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38

THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS — It’s about…

  1. A miraculous Child
  2. An everlasting kingdom

 Based on Luke 1:26-38

Introduction

Conduct a “man-on-the-street” interview. Watch the Christmas specials on television. Listen to the conversations around you. And then ask yourself this question, “What do people say that Christmas is all about?” I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would put serious money down on the bet that the most popular sentiment about Christmas is that it’s about kindness and giving. The holidays and the music and the sights of winter and the contrast of people in need verses people buying more presents than they know what to do with — all of these things are mixed together in a kind of psychological blender, someone presses the “puree” button, and out comes this late-December time for family gatherings, charitable donations, and a little bit more love and kindness to our neighbor than we might be inclined to show the other 11 months of the year.

In a world where greed and gain are driving forces, a little more giving is a good thing. In a world where people tear one another a part daily on social media and in the press, a little more love is badly needed. In a world where families are splintered and broken, a little time for healing and patience is a welcome change of pace. These are all good things. But there’s just one problem. None of these things are really about Christmas. None of these things are exclusively Christian. None of them truly define the meaning and significance of Christmas. None of them fill the emotional and spiritual hole in our hearts that crave more meaning and purpose and hope than just an encouragement to stay off Santa’s naughty list.

This morning we are celebrating the Fourth Sunday in the season of Advent, and it occurs on Christmas Eve this year. This is usually the Sunday of the year that helps us to make the transition from the preparation thoughts we have heard throughout Advent and brings us into the Christmas celebration. As we make that transition this morning, the Gospel for this service will help us keep a proper perspective and outlook on everything we are going to celebrate tonight and tomorrow. The message that the angel Gabriel had for Mary, the mother of Jesus, will help us to understand the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about a miraculous child, and an everlasting kingdom. 

I.

Our modern world is not without its skeptics of the Virgin birth. Many skeptics of God’s Word, even skeptics who describe themselves as Christians, begin with the assumption that the miraculous is impossible. Then they craft theories that dismiss the miracle and that explain why those who followed Jesus assumed something miraculous about him and his origins. But God is in the business of miracles! Those who presume that a miracle can’t happen are claiming the role of God for themselves, because only someone who is outside of our world and responsible for our universe is able to say what is and isn’t possible.

New Testament Illustrations 006We will do well this morning to listen to God’s angel explain this miracle to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The angel announced to her that she would be the mother of the Son of God—not your typical birth announcement by any stretch of the imagination! Mary had an honest question for the angel—not a question expressing doubt but a question seeking sincere information. In the ancient world, how does a virgin conceive and give birth to a child? The angel’s answer to Mary’s honest query revealed a miraculous conception and a miraculous Child. “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” And later the angel adds, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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.” The phrase, “Most High,” was an expression for God. The child Mary is to bear is called the “Son of the Most High” and then the “Son of God,” and this child will be conceived by a miracle involving the Holy Spirit and the power of God the Father.

Why do you suppose people today struggle with the idea of a child miraculously conceived by a divine miracle that brings God into our world and makes God a part of our human race. Is it because we moderns “know” that these sorts of things just don’t happen? Is it because it sounds too much like a fairy tale for our “sophisticated” generations to believe it? There is much truth to those theories, but I came across another thought as I prepared for this sermon that I found striking. The well-known Anglican theologian N.T. Wright said this about mankind’s skepticism of the Virgin birth: “Put all this together—the conception of a baby, the power of God, and the challenge to all human empires—and we can see why the story is so explosive. Perhaps that’s one reason why it’s so controversial. Perhaps some of the fuss and bother about whether Mary could have conceived Jesus without a human father is because, deep down, we don’t want to think that there might be a king who could claim this sort of absolute allegiance?” That’s an insightful point. Wright is saying, “Here’s why people deny the miracle: Deep down inside our sinful nature, we don’t want to think that there even is a God who could make this miracle possible and to whom we ultimately must answer!”

The fact that Jesus is God and man in one person is not just a piece of religious trivia, though sadly it often becomes just that. No, there is tremendous significance in this miracle! You may see an ordinary baby in an unusual makeshift crib, but that is no ordinary baby in the manger. That little baby is God in human flesh, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. The reason some struggle with the thought of this miracle, and perhaps the reason we don’t always take it as seriously as we ought, is because this miracle means that God entered into our world. But God entering into my world means he sees what a fake, façade, and failure I can be and often have been. Does God coming down into our world echo the threats of parents who yell up the steps to their disobedient children, “Don’t make me come up there!”? Is God coming down here to take care of some unfinished business with unworthy sinners who sinfully act as if they are unimpressed and uninspired by this miracle?

Yes, God came down! That is truly God in the manger! When you see Jesus, you see God. When you see the Son promised to Mary, you see the God who promised to come to earth. But why? Is this just our Christian story this time of year? Is this just our religious tradition? Truth be told, if the story stops there, isn’t it kind of empty? God became one of us. So what? Why? And if truth be told and the story stops there, isn’t it also kind of frightening? The perfect God who lives a perfect life now takes his place alongside me and shines the light of his perfection on the sin in my life that brings me shame and embarrassment and guilt. Do we really have to have an encounter with God in human flesh for Christmas to be Christmas? The answer is “Yes,” but there is a part of me that wishes the answer was “No!”

II.

The First Reading in today’s service (2 Samuel 7:8-16) presented us with some interesting and challenging thoughts. The context was that King David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, but the Lord responded through his prophet, Nathan, that the time wasn’t right. David’s son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. Then God made David a promise. David wanted to build a house for God, but instead, God was going to build a “house” for David—a kingdom that would be ruled by one of his descendants eternally. God spoke about the future, and described David’s descendants on his throne. Most of those descendants would be the sons of generations to come who would literally rule over the Jewish nation, some of whom would wander away from God and bring on his punishment. But one of those future descendants would be Jesus, who would not reign over a literal earthly kingdom, but who would establish a new, spiritual, everlasting kingdom that rules in people’s hearts and will ultimately be established forever in heaven.

Those thoughts from our First Reading, recorded about 1,000 years before Jesus, are echoed by the angel Gabriel as he describes Mary’s miraculous baby to her. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” The nation of Israel as it was known in biblical times did not last. If God’s promise of an everlasting kingdom meant the earthly nation of Israel as it existed in the Old Testament, then we have a problem! But the kingdom that the angel described is spiritual, not earthly. This spiritual, everlasting kingdom is the same kingdom Jesus talked about over 30 years later when he stood on trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate on the day he was later crucified. When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

The thought that God is among us should be frightening. The thought that God is establishing some kind of kingdom among us should be even more frightening. Why is he here? What is he doing? What will be my standing in this kingdom? And how much trouble am I in?

But when we see what this miraculous child in Mary’s womb came to accomplish, fear melts away. Jesus is setting up a kingdom that is not a place in this world but a place in human hearts. Jesus is setting up a kingdom in which he rules not by might and force but by grace and mercy. Jesus rules in his kingdom not with an army but with his Word. And now Jesus uses the story of his birth recorded in the pages of his Word to show you how he established this eternal, spiritual kingdom from his journey that began in Mary’s womb and headed for Calvary’s cross. Now Jesus shows us why it was so essential that he take on our human flesh, because only then could he take on the punishment for our sin and endure it in our place on the cross. Now Jesus shows us that he has set us free from being locked up forever in Satan’s kingdom and he has put us on a journey that leads to his everlasting kingdom in heaven– a kingdom promised to David, described to Mary, and now revealed to you.

new-testament-illustrations-012When we understand that Christmas is part of God’s plan to bring us into a spiritual kingdom of his love and grace through his Son, doesn’t that make everything about Christmas fall into place? Now we have the real meaning of Christmas! Now we have a Savior who fills the hole of emptiness, guilt, and regret with the forgiveness he won. Now we have a Savior who has given us the freedom to love one another not out of obligation or guilt, but out of pure and sincere Christian love. Now we see that God became man because mankind was lost without God. Now we see that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary not to create some kind of romantic religious tradition that is shared by many people, but to create a kingdom of people who share a common faith in the Son of God as their Savior from sin.

Jesus journeyed from Mary’s womb to Bethlehem’s crib to his home in Nazareth to the cross and finally to his empty Easter tomb to free you from Satan’s kingdom and to bring you into his kingdom forever. And that means your celebration of Christmas is not merely about holiday music and family gatherings and nostalgic ambiance. Your Christmas celebration is about the sure and certain fact that through Jesus you are redeemed from sin, restored to God, and forgiven of all guilt. You are part of his kingdom now through the faith he has planted in you. You will be a part of his kingdom forever when he takes you and all believers to our eternal home in heaven. And these truths give us purpose and reason right now to love, forgive, encourage, and help our neighbor who also needs to hear about the real meaning of Christmas.

Conclusion

The world turns Christmas into a portion of a winter solstice, end-of-year holiday. And even Christians who know that Christ needs to be in Christmas are sometimes unsure what that means. If you want lasting joy, meaning, and purpose this Christmas, then look past the commercialism, the sales, and the crazy schedule, and see why that divine child came into this world. Learn about the unique kingdom he established, the generous forgiveness he bestows on you, and the glorious heaven that he has opened for you. Amen.

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