God’s Message at Christmas
"And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, 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." 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!"
For just a few moments this Christmas Day Morning I want us to think about God’s message concerning his Son who was born at Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. God wanted people then and he wants people now to understand why it was that he sent Jesus into the world at all.
We’ll look at this under three headings: the Gift is offered, the Gift is assessed and the gift is received.
The Gift is offered:
What is it?
v.11 "A Saviour – who is Christ the Lord"
In the history of God’s people we find that a number of leaders were raised up to deliver to deliver the people at moments of extreme gravity and danger. Each of them proved to be more or less successful but only for a limited time and in a limited way – they were after all mere men or, more rarely, women. The Saviour given at Christmas was and is different – he is no mere man but Christ, the Lord. He is the anointed One sent by God and who indeed is himself God.
We only need a Saviour when we’re in danger or trouble of some kind. And God’s gift of a Saviour tells us that in his opinion we are in danger whether or not we feel it or realise it.
The graver the problem the greater the Saviour must be if we are to be helped! The greatness of the Saviour whom God gave tells us that our problem was (and is) huge. Elsewhere in the gospel record of the first Christmas that problem is clearly identified: it is the problem of sin that not only cuts us off from God but which also exposes us to his wrath.
To whom is it offered?
v.10 "for all the people"
It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, clever or slow, rich or poor, English or some other nationality – God’s gift is offered to all. Some receive it gladly and others refuse – we are each responsible for how we respond to God’s gift, to the Saviour who is presented to us.
The Gift is Assessed:
But is this gift any good? Is it suited to us? Will it do what it was intended to do?
Over the years we have probably received many different gifts and some of them have proved to be better than others. Sometimes a gift fails to satisfy – it is the wrong, size, the wrong colour, the wrong model, the wrong version. Sometimes it is damaged or broken, sometimes it just won’t work and sometimes the batteries are dead or missing.
So what of this gift?
It works! It has been working down through the last 2000 years and has spread throughout the entire world – and all kinds of people have found that to be true.
Some gifts can meet many of the criteria of being a good gift and yet fail to produce any strong accompanying emotions – not so with this gift! When we receive and understand this gift of a Saviour we are not left indifferent – we have entered into a relationship with a great friend who will never let us down, who will never leave us and who will always instruct us, guide us and help us. He gives us true purpose in life as he delivers us from a fruitless way of life.
Have you never noticed that Christians are singers? And so often we are singing for joy even in the midst of difficulties and dangers: our songs express that we’ve come to see that the best friend to have is Jesus!
But the giving of Jesus as Saviour doesn’t only have an effect upon us who receive the gift it has an effect on God as well. He is glorified as his gracious generosity is appreciated and indeed he is glorified in everything that Jesus does. Jesus is at the heart not merely of the Christmas story but he is at the heart and centre of the whole Christian faith:
We often talk as though peace were no more than the absence of strife and conflict but In the Bible peace is much more positive than that. Peace, true peace, exists when everything exists in a proper and perfect harmony. Peace is found in wholesome relationships are restored and enjoyed. The peace that comes with the coming of the Saviour is no small thing: a restored open and pure relationship with God and with others
The Gift is Received:
As we look out at the world in which we live in the 21 st century we don’t see a great deal of this do we? Where is this wholesome joy to be found? Instead of pure relationships between people we constantly hear of abuse and exploitation. Few speak respectfully of God and even fewer are genuinely concerned to glorify him.
Does this mean that God has failed? That this gift offered at Christmas is a sham? What are we to make of it all?
Well the angel choir points us to the answer. Listen to what they declared:
v.14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
The last phrase is important. It tells us that the blessings are restricted to a particular category of people and describes this group as "those with whom he is pleased". The question poses itself: "Who are these people?"
This is where many go wrong and simply assume they know the answer. "Isn’t it obvious?" they reason, "we have to work hard and please him by doing our best."
But that simply isn’t it at all. For one, our best is simply not good enough. But God doesn’t expect or want us to try to earn his favour by what we do – he wants us to put our trust in him and to receive what he offers us freely as a gift.
In other words he is pleased with those – all those, but only those – who receive the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have a number of examples of what this might look like all through the Christmas story:
They heard the message announced to them by an angel and then backed up by a whole multitude of angels. Once the angels returned to heaven the shepherds just had one thing on their minds – they were going to see for themselves!
It wasn’t that they were going to see whether or not it was true – they had heard and believed – they just wanted to go and see the thing that God had told them about. And they went to nearby Bethlehem were they found Mary and Joseph looking after their baby son whom they had put to lay in an animal’s feeding trough, a manger.
They shared all that they heard from the angels and when they returned to their sheep they did so glorifying and praising God for all they had seen – and they had seen the Saviour who is Christ the Lord.
Simeon & Anna
These two were godly people who lived in Jerusalem. Both were looking to God to keep his promises to his people in sending "consolation" to Israel. This consolation was to be brought through the coming of the Messiah, the Christ.
Once again God was at work and so ordered things that these two arrived in the temple just at the moment that Mary and Joseph were fulfilling their religious responsibilities with regard to the new born.
Both respond in their own way to this child and both see him as the One who would fulfil God’s purposes. How glad they were! No indifference on their part as they rejoiced and shared with others too!
The wise men were astrologers from the east. Somehow they understood that a new king was to be born in Israel – they had probably heard something about the Jewish hope for a Messiah and when they saw some new star in the sky they deduced that his time had come.
They didn’t sit back and simply tick a few boxes instead they packed their boxes and headed off on a long journey to visit this new king. They didn’t simply want to see him but to pay him homage as well. They undertook a long arduous journey encountering a degree of hostility in Israel itself and they came to Jesus. They rejoiced when the star finally indicated the child’s precise location and when they entered the house where he was they worshipped.
And now all that is left for me is to urge you to do the same. Come to Jesus in faith and trust. God is pleased with those who welcome with a warm embrace his Son and God’s blessings are for such as these. Have you come to him and rejoiced?
May each of us "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that ... believing ... have life in his name."