The Miracle Of Mercy

Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

What does Christmas mean to you? This is a question I hear a lot this time of year. Typically, it has been those who profess some sort of allegiance to Jesus Christ that answer this question, but not anymore. If you have read the Toronto Star recently, you may have come across articles where Muslims, Jews, and Hindus give their answer to the question: "What does Christmas mean to you?".

That is a fair enough question to ask, but let me suggest to you that it is not the best question. This time of year, the best question to ask is, "What does Christmas mean ?"--not "what does Christmas mean to you or me?", but "what does Christmas mean? ".

The distinction here is important. I could tell a police officer that a yellow light means to me that I should speed through the intersection, but I am sure that the officer has no interest in what the yellow light "means to me". What is important to the police officer, and what should be important to me, is what the yellow light means .

For this reason, I confess to you that I often get my back up when people begin telling me "what Christmas means to them". In fact, this kind of talk almost ruined one of my favourite T.V. shows the other night.

I was watching the show, "Due South"--a Canadian produced show about an R.C.M.P. officer working in Chicago as a policeman. At the end of the show, the main character, Fraser, stood up to talk about what Christmas meant to him. As he did, I could feel my sarcastic side kick into overdrive--"Here we go again", I thought. I was sure Fraser was going to tell me how Christmas was all about "tolerance", or that it was all about "helping one another", but he didn't. Instead, Fraser insisted that Christmas was all about "forgiveness".

"That is it!", I exclaimed. Finally someone had got it right. Christmas is about forgiveness . Now, I don't want you to take Fraser's word for it, and I don't even want you to take my word for it--but I invite you, take the apostle Matthew's word for it.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that "an angel of the Lord" visited Joseph to inform him that Mary was carrying a child conceived by the Holy Spirit(1:20). The angel goes on to tell Joseph that "(Mary) will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins"(1:21).

Jesus was born, Jesus came to this earth, to save people from their sins. Scripture tells us that all of humanity had gone astray. All of humanity was guilty before God. All of humanity needed their sins to be forgiven.

Jesus, therefore, was born to us, in order to die for us. The death of Christ was intended to be the means to forgiveness for all who put their trust in Christ. The mission of Christ was to accomplish forgiveness for those who would come to trust in Him .

For some people, this is a difficult concept to comprehend. It is difficult to measure forgiven sins. If my bank were to forgive me of my debt, I could measure that by the $0.00 on my monthly statement. But for someone to say that my sins can be forgiven--well that is difficult to measure.

Thankfully, our heavenly Father does not leave us without sufficient testimony to His capabilities. To demonstrate His infinite power and trustworthiness, He sent His Son into the world through the womb of a virgin, and took His Son from the world by raising Him bodily from the dead.

These miracles--the miracle of the virgin birth and the miracle of Christ's bodily Resurrection--are demonstrations that God is capable of this miracle of mercy--the miracle of forgiving us of our sins.

One of the difficulties, however, is that the miracle of the virgin birth--a miracle intended to help us put faith in God's forgiving power--has become, for some, a stumbling block for faith.
I am reminded of the time when a young lady approached me at a friend's get-together when she heard I was a minister. I had never met this young lady before that night, but when she heard I was a minister she came right over to me and said "I don't believe in God, you know".

Taken by surprise as I was, I simply said that she was entitled to believe as she wished.

Then she asked me a question: "You don't believe in the virgin birth do you? Everybody knows, you have to have sex to have a baby".

After pausing for a moment--taken back by her boldness--I declared to her that I did believe strongly in the virgin birth, but before I allowed her the opportunity to respond to my answer, I asked her a couple of questions:

"Let me get this straight", I began, "so you don't believe in God?".

"That's right", she responded.

"And you don't believe in the virgin birth?".

"No I don't", she replied.

"Now before you evaluate my belief in the virgin birth, keep these things in mind: I do believe in the existence of God. And I believe that this God is a powerful and personal God. And I believe this God created the Universe and everything in it". Then I asked her, "Now if this God exists, don't you think--in light of His power--that a virgin birth would be fairly easy to accomplish? That compared with creating our Universe, a virgin birth was pretty much "small potatoes" for a God of this magnitude?".

At this, she nodded and smiled, and the conversation ended. This young lady, though not converted to my way of thinking, now understood that her disbelief in the virgin birth was simply a necessary conclusion for someone who did not believe in God. And by the same token, she understood that my insistence on the virgin birth logically followed my belief in a powerful and personal God.

Now after saying all that, I don't want you to only be consumed by the miracle of the virgin birth. The greatest miracle of Christmas is, in fact, the miracle of mercy . The greatest miracle is that God loved sinful humanity so much that He became human to save us. God became one of us to save us from our sins. God became one of us in order to forgive us.

This is why we celebrate. This is why we should be so full of joy and peace--because Christ has made peace between God and man.

And since God has been merciful to us, it is only appropriate that, this season and all seasons, we be merciful to one another. Amen.