The first Christmas was a time when God made himself known to individuals. There had been a silence lasting four hundred years, some were eagerly awaiting the promised messiah and in the Christmas story we see that silence well and truly broken. God revealed his purposes through angels, the fulfilment of scripture, through miracles and through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through angels God spoke to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph in a dream and to the shepherds. Those of us who believe the bible accept the existence of angelic beings but what we read in both Matthew and Luke’s account is to say the least unusual. For so many angelic appearances to occur in such a short time is surely significant.
God spoke through the scriptures; many Old Testament prophesies were fulfilled at the birth of the Lord Jesus. That he was born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), of the line of David (Isaiah 16:5), in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), that he would be both human and divine (Isaiah 9:6) all spoken hundreds of years before Jesus and finding fulfilment at his birth.
God spoke through miracles; the virgin birth unique in history, the census ordered by a gentile Caesar for his own purposes yet resulting in the words of Micah being fulfilled and of course there is the star. Many have searched for evidence regarding the star in the ancient records but Matthew writes that it is a special miraculous star since it moved ahead of them and then came to a rest over the house.
God is clearly at work through the Holy Spirit in the birth narratives (particularly in Luke). The Lord Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41), Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67) and the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon, he had revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Christ and he was also moved by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:25-27).
All of this must indicate the God was doing something extraordinary, he is engaging with the human race in a way not previously seen.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
God’s greatest revelation, his definitive statement to the human race is Jesus Christ, God has indeed spoken to us by his Son. So much of God is revealed in Jesus, not what he looks like but his character and his attributes.
In Jesus God’s holiness is revealed. Christ was untainted by the world. We know from our own experience that though we may set out a vision of pristine whiteness, before any time we start to get grubby and soiled whether in the clothes that we wear or in our thinking. Wearing white will not clean the environment around us, our environment will inevitably soil our clothes. Those who knew Jesus also knew that he was perfect, righteous and holy.
God’s love is revealed in Christ. It is the engine that drives the plan of salvation, “But because of his great love for us” (Ephesians 2:4), “God so loved the world that he gave” (John 3:16). A love that is not self seeking or self serving but a love that gives, a love that is faithful and a love that reaches out to sin soaked humanity.
God’s power is revealed in Christ. In the authority that he exercised over the elements, sickness, evil forces and even death but more than that in his own death on the cross. In his greatest servant song Isaiah asks “to whom has the arm of the Lord (his strength) been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1) He goes on to give the most vivid description of the suffering and death of the messiah in the Old Testament. The message is clear, if you want to see God’s power look to the cross. It is at the cross that sin is broken, death is defeated and sinners are reconciled to a holy God.
God’s grace is revealed in Christ. Grace is simply unmerited favour, many like to use “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense” but the point is the same, in grace God reaches out to a people who do not deserve, cannot attain or earn his favour or love. In fact the human race deserves the opposite, to be banished and excluded from the presence of one who is holy and completely pure. The Christmas story shows us that God is a God of grace who has taken the initiative in order to reconcile sinners to him. Those who visited the child were outcasts, shepherds living lonely lives away from society and often ceremoniously unclean excluded from temple worship and Magi revered in their own lands but despised in Israel as gentiles. Grace reaches to the outcasts and brings them to the centre. “He does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10)
God’s glory is revealed in Christ. There are other faiths that believe in one all powerful God but Christianity stands alone in that it reveals a God of grace. The gospel is truly glorious, what other faith speaks a message of reconciliation and forgiveness all achieved by God and not us.
As Paul writes in Romans 12:1, ”Therefore in view of God’s mercy, let us..” and similar elsewhere, we must respond to all that God has done for us. There are a number of responses in the Christmas story that can provide lessons for twenty-first century Christians.
Meditation, not in the way that we often think of meditation but in dwelling on the events and thinking deeply about them. Mary treasured these things in her heart (Luke 2:19&51), she weighed them, meditated on them. It can be daunting to have to produce a number of Christmas talks and sermons on what is quite a small portion of scripture and each must be different from other talks this year and previous years. I have found that the more you meditate on the word of God, the more that you see. If bible believing Christians hold the bible in such high esteem, meditating on the word should be a way of life. “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises”. (Psalm 119:148)
Obedience. I recently watched the film “The Last King of Scotland”, it gave an interesting insight into the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda during the 1970’s. I’m old enough to remember that at the time, Amin was constantly portrayed as a lovable clown whereas in truth he was a cruel and brutal dictator responsible for the deaths of thousands of Ugandans. Living under his leadership would have been terrifying. Herod was another brutal man who was responsible for the deaths of many members of his own family as well as countless others. To defy Herod was not a decision to be taken lightly. The Magi are an example for believers in that they chose obedience to God rather than Herod.
Proclamation. The first to tell of the Saviour’s birth were the shepherds (Luke 2:17), probably not the people that we would chose. It should encourage Christians to move into sharing their faith for if the first evangelists were poor shepherds surely he can use people like us.
Praise. There is only one response when confronted with God’s salvation, to praise God and that’s exactly what the shepherds did. Sometimes in his letters Paul seems to burst into praise and when the Pharisees told the Lord Jesus to rebuke those who were praising him, his reply is telling, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40).