Matthew 1:18 – This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child, through the Holy Spirit.
19 – Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 – But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 – She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name JESUS, because He will SAVE His people from their SINS.”
22 – All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 – “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
24 – When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 – But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a Son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.
Colossians 1:13 – For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,
14 – in Whom we have REDEMPTION, the FORGIVENESS of SINS.
A week or so ago Sue showed me a You-Tube video of a flash mob that had been done at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum earlier this month. The mob was formed by the United States Air Force orchestra and chorus—and it was very well done—as flash mobs go. Before they did their deal, the members of these musical groups mingled among the crowds—their uniforms concealed under civilian-style overcoats. Then, precisely at the appointed moment a cellist came in unobtrusively and sat in a chair in the middle of the huge foyer to that museum. An airman, who seemed to appear out of now where, took his coat and the cellist began to play a song that is often used as a processional at weddings: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Gradually other instrumentalists came in and joined him—each with the help of airmen who brought them their instruments and took their coats.
Then shortly after the full orchestra was assembled and playing a choir suddenly appeared on an upper level, adding their voices to present a beautiful arrangement of Jesu combined with the Christmas Carol we sang a moment ago: Joy to the World. It was a holy moment in that secular place as THESE WONDERFUL WORDS were heard amidst all those airplanes and rocket ships:
“Jesu—joy of man’s desiring—Holy wisdom love most bright!
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Joy to the World the Lord has come!”
I admit that tears of joy filled my eyes as I heard those words sung and—from the You Tube video—I would say the visitors to the museum that day had a similar reaction. As the camera panned the crowd I saw that people’s faces were filled with smiles. Many wore expressions that seemed to say, “YES!” Hundreds of cameras and I-phones were held high to record the production. I mean, it was a welcome message! Joy was in that place!
Now—why is that so? Why would the message of these songs thrill the hearts of those present—as well as those like me who watched via the Internet?
Here’s my thinking. I believe that deep inside the heart of every human being is the awareness that he or she is a sinner. We are hesitant to admit it. “Sin” is not a popular word these days. In fact, it’s offensive to many—but I still believe we all instinctively know that Romans 3:23 is true and that it applies to each of us when it says, “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We are like Peter who saw the power of Jesus that day on the Sea of Galilee after the miraculous catch of fish and said, “Away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man…” Like Peter we know we are fallen and falling—sinners who sin—in thought word, deed, and inaction.
We ALSO know that our sin separates us from our Holy Creator—and as I said a couple weeks ago—we long for that separation to end.
Here’s something ELSE.
Experience shows us that this sin that infects us all kills everything it touches. It kills dreams. It kills relationships. But worst of all…because of our sin we are SPIRITUALLY dead—dead in our trespasses and sins. Plus we face the physical death that comes to all people—without hope. In short, we all understand, that as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin—the CONSEQUENCE of SIN is always death.”
John Stott did a great job of summarizing all this. He wrote, “We human beings have both a unique DIGNITY as creatures made in God’s image…and a unique DEPRAVITY as sinners under His judgment. The FORMER gives us HOPE. The LATTER places a LIMIT on our EXPECTATIONS. This is ‘man,’ a strange bewildering PARADOX—DUST of earth and BREATH of God, SHAME and GLORY.”
Well—the man, Jesus Christ, born that first Christmas night, is the EXCEPTION to Stott’s statement. You see, there is no SHAME in Jesus. There’s only GLORY! The Bible says three things about Christ: He KNEW no sin. He HAD no sin. He DID no sin. And since this is true—since Jesus was born without sin and lived without sinfulness, then He was qualified to be the Lamb of God Who could take on Himself the consequence of OUR sin as He died OUR death—died in OUR place. And that is exactly what happened on the cross 33 years after that first Christmas night. As Hebrews 9:15 says, “Christ…died [there] as a ransom to set us free from our sins.” The thing that motivated Jesus to do this was His great love for all people. As He said in John 3, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not PERISH…but have everlasting life.”
In the first century, when someone died on a cross—-when a criminal was hung on that “tree”—his crime had to be publicly proclaimed. The list of transgressions was written on a placard or “titilus” and nailed above the dying man. You probably remember that Pontius Pilate did this when Jesus was crucified. He put a notice above Christ’s head with the accusation, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (John 19:19) But—high above Pilate’s words, there was ANOTHER placard—a COSMIC placard—on which OUR sins were listed.
Though I wasn’t born yet, the sins that I would commit two thousand years later were recorded there. So were yours. You see, Jesus did not die for His own crimes. As I said He had committed none. No—Jesus died for your crimes and mine. As Paul put it in Romans 5:8 “While we were yet sinners Christ died—FOR US.”
So, I believe THIS is why our hearts soar with joy whenever we hear songs like those sung by that flashmob. We rejoice when we listen to those lyrics because they remind us of the MAIN implication of Christmas: Jesus came to fix this problem that we all have. Jesu is indeed the JOY of man’s desiring—because we all DESIRE to be forgiven and restored to God and Jesus came as THE WAY to make that possible.
I know it can be hard to see among the beauty of this season—but the truth is Christmas is much more than a celebration of a BIRTH. It’s a celebration of a DEATH as well—a death and subsequent resurrection that makes our RE-Birth—our forgiveness and RESTORATION possible.
When Sue and I were in Bethlehem earlier this fall, our guide, Laberhoff, told us something about “swaddling clothes” that I’d never heard before. First he reminded us that in the first century Jews would make the journey up to Jerusalem in order to offer atonement for their sin.
The price for atonement was a spotless, unblemished young lamb—and the flocks from which these lambs were chosen were kept on the hills surrounding Bethlehem. So the shepherds who were out in the fields that first Christmas night were no ordinary sheep keepers. No—they were men whose job it was to raise and look after the sheep that would be used for sacrifice in the temple.
One of the toughest jobs for those shepherds was to protect the new born sheep. You see, the mortality rate of sheep in those days was pretty high. But even more important was the fact that when sheep are first born, they struggle and wiggle and strive to stand up and as they do they tend to bump into things and in the process very often they would break legs or cut themselves or hurt themselves in such a way that they would no longer be deemed “perfect” as a sacrifice at the Temple. So these shepherds worked very hard at watching the expectant ewes in order to be there for delivery. Then they would receive the “unblemished” baby sheep right from the womb and to insure it would REMAIN acceptable as an offering, they would wrap it up tightly and bind it so it couldn’t hurt itself. In other words, they would SWADDLE IT. Then, after wrapping the new born sheep in “swaddling clothes,” it would be laid in the feeding trough—laid in a mange, so that the other sheep would not bother and possibly damage it in any way.
So, that first Christmas night when the angel appeared to the shepherds and told them how to IDENTIFY the new born Messiah of God, he was speaking in terms these men would understand Jesus’ life purpose. Remember? The angel said the baby would be wrapped in “SWADDLING CLOTHS” and lying in a MANGER. In other words, the Shepherds would be able to recognize the Savior—Christ the Lord—the One Who had come to save them from their sins, because He would be the newborn who was swaddled, lying in a feed trough—like a lamb prepared for sacrifice.
And of course that’s what He was—Jesus was born in order to die on a cross for the sins of all mankind. He was not swaddled just to keep Him warm. No—His swaddling and His manger…it was a foretelling of His ultimate purpose. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, was born to be OUR sacrifice, born to die in our place—born to die an atoning death so that our sins could be forgiven.
This is why every Christmas Eve here at Redland we partake in COMMUNION—as a way of reminding ourselves of this stark but wonderful truth. As we celebrate in this way, I invite all Christians present to partake with us. Even if you are not a member of this church….If you are a Christian…if you are His, this is Yours.
THE ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION