THE HOPE OF CHRISTMAS
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord.”
Do remember the thrilling anticipation you experienced as a child as Christmas drew near? There is something very appropriate about that thrill. On Christmas we celebrate the hope of human history and of all mankind.
Luke's Gospel has the fullest account of the birth of Christ. It begins with an angel appearing to aging Jewish priest named Zechariah. We read this from Luke 1:13-17
“The angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’”
I have an inkling of how this wondrous news struck Zechariah and Elizabeth. My wife and I wanted children from the time we were married. But children didn't come. We went through the ordeals of gynecologists and urologists with no results. After six years, we had pretty much given up. We moved to a different state so my wife went to a new doctor who was thrilled to tell her she was pregnant. Our daughter was a wonderful answer to prayer.
But Elizabeth and Zechariah were far beyond seven years. They were well into old age before God proved that nothing was impossible for Him. It does not surprise me that Zechariah was skeptical even while standing before the angel. When he asked how he could know this was true, the angel answered.
“I am Gabriel.
I stand in the presence of God,
and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”
The words “bring you good news” translate only one word in the original language of the New Testament. It is the word from which we get our word evangelize. The angel was sent to Zechariah with life changing news! His son would be the forerunner to prepare the way for the Lord.
A WONDERFUL PROMISE
Six months later God sent Gabriel to Mary, a young girl in a backwater town in Galilee. He told her she would give birth to a child who would be called the Son of the Most High. Mary asked how she could have a child, since she had not had relations with man. Gabriel answered.
“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.”
This is the climax of everything in The Old Testament. When she went to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea, Mary's very soul magnified the Lord. God was keeping age old promises.
“He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring for ever.”
Isaiah 9:6 reads,
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given.”
It is important to see that the child was born on this Earth, but the eternal Son was given. John 1:1-5 speaks of Jesus when it declares,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
THE FINAL ANNOUNCEMENT
The final prophecy of Christ's birth in the Old Testament determined the place He would be born. Micah 5:2 says,
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.”
The best known announcement of the birth of Christ was to a band of anonymous shepherds near Bethlehem. You can probably imagine yourself with those shepherds trying to stay awake when the angel appeared.
“In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'”
Immediately the angel was joined by an entire angel army.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'”
The shepherds must have stood there in stunned silence before one of them said the obvious. “Let's go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.” When they arrived, they found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was actually lying in a manger. They went away telling everyone what they had seen as the angel had told them. And everyone who heard it marveled. Surely no one was as amazed as Mary. Luke 2:19 tells us.
“Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
We too can ponder these marvelous events.
When their days of purification according to the law were completed, they took the child to present Him to the Lord and make sacrifice. There was a man in the temple named Simeon. The Lord had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. He met Mary and Joseph when they brought the child Jesus into the temple. He took the baby into his arms and praised God.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
LAST MINUTE COMPLICATIONS
Of course, God knew that the powers of this world would oppose the gospel and the kingdom of God. Mary would pay a terrible price. Simeon said to her,
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Mary would stand beneath the cross and endure something of the price her son paid to redeem our world. Everyone is not happy to see signs that God who created is intervening in our world. The good news reveals what is in the hearts of all who hear it to this day.