No Ordinary Child
Those of you who know me well, and those of you who are acquainted with my theology, know of my passion for recovering the meaning of Christmas. It's not that I don't enjoy all the presents, it's not that I don't enjoy those excellent turkey dinners, and it's not that I don't enjoy sharing my home with family and friends.
What strikes me, however, is that none of these things are the point. The reason for celebrating Christmas is, first and foremost, a religious reason. To remember and to recognize the birth of Jesus the Christ is to do something that is fundamentally religious in nature.
Our problem, of course, is that, at Christmas, many things compete for our attention. It is difficult to concentrate on Jesus when the preparations for dinner are not done. It is difficult to do your daily Scripture readings when the phone is ringing and guests are visiting. There are so many things keeping us busy at Christmas that it is very easy to forget why we celebrate in the first place.
Thinking about how easily we get distracted from the point of Christmas reminded me of a non-Christmas experience I had as a child. It was mid-summer and my father took me to Exhibition Stadium to watch the Toronto Blue Jays. Going to a Jay game was, both, very exciting and overwhelming for a 10 year-old boy. On this particular day, we took our seat and watched one inning before I went to the concession stand to buy an ice cream sandwich. By the time I got through the line and back to my seat it was the 3rd inning. After the third, I went back to the concession stand to get a hot dog and a pop. I was back in my seat just in time to catch the last half of the 5th inning. I stayed in my seat until the 7th inning, when I went back to get some popcorn. This time when I returned, I noticed a frustrated look on my dad's face and he said to me, "Bryn, we came here to watch a baseball game, not to get food from the concession stand".
My dad had stated the obvious. Of course, there is nothing wrong with getting something to eat. What was wrong was that getting something to eat had become the point. I had forgotten why we were in Exhibition Stadium in the first place. We were there to watch a baseball game.
I recently read a Gallup Poll statistic that said that more than 90% of the population understands why we celebrate Christmas. We know that Christmas is all about Jesus, yet somehow when Christmas arrives we forget why we're celebrating.
The Bible texts that we are studying this morning and this evening should, not only remind us why we are celebrating Christmas, but they should also remind us how we are to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
I hear the Scripture calling for 2 things in the celebration of Christmas. I hear the Scripture calling us, first of all, to worship and, second of all, to witness. Through worship and witness we honour the birth of Jesus Christ.
Tonight we will examine the witness aspect of the Christmas celebration, but this morning our biblical text calls us to worship. The text before us today calls us to worship by describing the baby promised to Mary.
The passage begins in verse 26, "in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary"(v.26, 27).
The reference to "the sixth month" is likely a reference to the 6th month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, which is described, in the preceding verses. One other carryover from the preceding verses is the angel Gabriel who is, once again, delivering a message from God.
Gabriel greets Mary by saying, "Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you"(v.28). Luke writes that Mary was "troubled" by this greeting, and so Gabriel attempts to put her mind at ease, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end"(v.30-33).
Here lies our basis for worship. The child promised to Mary is no ordinary child. Gabriel promises that the child "will be great"(v.32). Of course, Gabriel made a similar promise to Zacharias, saying that his son John would also "be great"(v.15). So what is the difference? What makes the greatness of Jesus more special than that of John?
In both cases, the basis of greatness follows the promise of greatness. In John's case, he is said to be great because "he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah"(v.16, 17). Surely, we can see how the greatness of Jesus exceeds that of John. Of Jesus, Gabriel says that He "will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever"(v.32, 33).
What should cause us to worship at Christmas is this clear statement from Gabriel that the Son of the of Most High God is about to be born. Gabriel is telling us that Jesus is God. If we do not grasp this truth we will not fully appreciate the meaning of Christmas.
And our belief that Jesus is God flows from our belief in the virgin birth. Some people will try and say that believing in the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is not essential because Jesus would have been the Son of God even if the virgin birth weren't true. The words of the angel Gabriel, however, do not agree. In his answer to Mary's question, how can a virgin conceive, Gabriel says, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God"(v.35).
The word "therefore" tells us that our basis for regarding Jesus as God is based on the fact that His conception is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, in emphasizing the fact that Jesus is God, I would not want us to miss the fact that Jesus was also fully man. Back to Luke 1:31 again. "And behold, says the angel to Mary, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son." We attach significance to the fact that the Son of God was conceived and was born because He did not have to come to us this way. The Son of God could have simply appeared, He could have skipped His childhood and simply shown up when it was time to fulfill His ministry.
God, described as "the angel of the Lord", came and went on many occasions in the Old Testament. And when He came, He did so without the need of a human mother, and without human birth. There are times and places in Israel's history where God put on an appearance and He did not need to be born of a woman. But now, He comes, not only as fully God, but also as fully man. And to be fully man one must be born as men are born--through the womb and birth canal of a human woman. "You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son" is to emphasize the humanness of Jesus.
The greatness of Jesus then, was not based on His work as a prophet, or as a moral teacher. The greatness of Jesus is based, first of all, on His nature. Jesus was both fully God, and fully man. At Christmas, we are celebrating the fact that God literally came to us in a baby named Jesus. As the author of Hebrews describes Him, " (Jesus) is . . . the exact representation of (God's) nature, and upholds all things by His powerful word"(1:3).
Because Jesus was fully God, we should do more than celebrate His birth. We must worship Him daily as God. We must worship Him daily as our Saviour from sin. We must follow Him daily as the Lord of all things.
Many of our great hymns call for this response. Verse 2 from Angels from the Realms of Glory reminds us "God with man is now residing". And what is our response to this? "Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the new-born King."
Similarly, verse 2 of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing instructs us, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity". And our response? "Glory to the new-born King."
And finally, describing baby Jesus, the hymn Once in Royal David's City reads, "He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all".
Friends, the Incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ, is a call to worship. It is a call to worship, not simply at Christmas, but it is a call to worship every day of our lives. So " Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the new-born King." Amen.