READ : Luke 1:26-36
Welcome to this special Words of Hope Christmas program. We invite you to join us in reflecting upon the deepest significance of this season as we tell once more the Christmas story in words and with music.
Christmas is neither the oldest nor most important festival of the Christian church. Both the oldest-that is, earliest to be celebrated-and most significant Christian holiday is Easter. The first Easter was celebrated on-well, the first Easter, the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and met with his disciples in an upstairs room in the city of Jerusalem. Evidence of just what an impact that day had upon the first followers of Jesus and eventually upon the entire Christian church is not hard to find. You can see it in the day of the week when most Christians still worship. So profoundly changed were the disciples by their encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the first day of the week, Easter Sunday, that they came back again the following week at the same time to the same place. There they met him once more. And ever since then, Christians have gathered for worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
In a real sense, Easter is the reason for Christmas. If it were not for the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, there wouldn’t be much point in celebrating his birth. Jesus’ resurrection caused his disciples to look at him in a new light. They knew him as a great and good man, a prophet, a mighty miracle worker, the Lord’s Messiah. But now they realized he was much more even than that. To conquer death itself was a feat only God could accomplish. Christmas is the festival of the Incarnation, the coming into the world of God himself. In a real sense, the whole point of the holiday is to answer the question asked in one of Christmas’s most beautiful songs: “What Child Is This?”
The first answer to the question “What child is this?” was given by the angel Gabriel as he explained to Mary what was going to happen to and through her, if she chose to assent to God’s plan for bringing the Messiah into the world. Here’s the story from chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
And the angel said to her, “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.
Who is Jesus Christ? He is the Son of God, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.
But Jesus is also a boy born like every other human child, in pain and with cries and blood. God did not enter the world in any other way than all the rest of us. The fact that Mary and Joseph were to become the parents of the divine Christ child did not earn them any special treatment. If you know the story at all, you know they had quite a hard time of it.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
ho was Jesus Christ? He was just a little baby, a human child, in fact, a poor child, who was born in a cow stall and whose cradle was a manger. The new creation is brought about through exactly the same means as the old one: by the power of the word of God. In John’s vision the Lord God himself utters the words, “Behold, I am making all things new!”-the first time incidentally in the whole book of Revelation that the One who is seated upon the throne is heard to speak. God has the last word, and he will use it to create the world afresh.
AWAY IN A MANGER
Though the citizens of Bethlehem- including, apparently, Joseph and Mary’s relatives-didn’t think enough of Jesus to do him honor at his birth or even to give the family a decent place to stay, there were those who acknowledged his true worth who knew right from the start who he really was. In ancient society shepherds were the lowest life forms, but God chose to send a group of heavenly messengers to the shepherds in the hills outside Bethlehem with the astounding news of the Lord’s birth. Maybe he knew that they just might be unsophisticated enough to believe it.
And in that 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 fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to 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 babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
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 men with
whom he is pleased!”
Who is Jesus Christ? He is the Savior, Christ the Lord.
Hark the Herald
The shepherds decided to head into Bethlehem and check out the rather fantastic story the angel had told them. But when they came to town, they saw that it was just as they had been told, sign and all. And so, naturally, they glorified God and told everyone within earshot the incredible news of the Savior’s birth. What else could they have done?
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Who is Jesus Christ? He is the Savior, Christ the Lord.