Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How Should We Celebrate Christmas?

Part 4 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



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 know to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heart it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:15-20).


Christmas Traditions 

Every family has its own Christmas traditions. When I was a kid, every Christmas Eve we’d go to our church’s Christmas Eve service and then take a drive to look at the neighborhood Christmas lights. Before we went to bed, we’d eat chips and dip and watch a Christmas movie.

Around the world, there are many unusual Christmas traditions. In Caracus, Venezuela, it is customary to travel to Christmas church services on roller skates. In Italy, a witch named Befana hands out presents to children at Christmas. In Germany, children leave a boot or shoe outside their bedroom door on Dec. 5. If they have been good, a tree branch covered in goodies will be their reward. If they have misbehaved, they will find only a branch. In Norway, it is said that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrive of evil spirits and witches, so households hide all of their brooms before they go to sleep. In Portugal, during the traditional Christmas feast, families will sometimes set extra places at the dinner table for deceased relatives. In Japan, the traditional Christmas dinner for many is Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There are many ways to celebrate Christmas. In Luke 2:15-20, we discover how the original Christmas was celebrated.


Believing in Christmas

“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 know to us’” (v. 15). The shepherds believed the message God revealed to them through the angel. The angel had said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).

The Christmas story does us no good unless we believe it. 

The shepherds “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (v. 16). The baby lying in that manger was God in human flesh. Jesus “is God,” and he “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).


Celebrating Christmas 

How should we celebrate Christmas? The shepherds and Mary show us three ways we should celebrate Christmas.

1. Share the good news of Christmas. 

“When [the shepherds] saw [the baby lying in a manger], they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (vv. 17-18). The news of Jesus’ birth was “good news of great joy” (v. 10). A Savior had been born. The news was so amazing that the shepherds couldn’t keep it to themselves.

We also have good news to share—not only the good news of Jesus’ birth, but also the good news of his death and resurrection. But we have many excuses why we don’t share the gospel. One excuse is that we don’t feel qualified. But neither were the shepherds. They were uneducated men.

2. Ponder the miracle of Christmas. 

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (v. 19). We should not let the busyness of Christmas to prevent us from pondering the miracle of the incarnation. Ponder that almighty God became a baby. The one who made the stars slept in a manger. The one who fashioned the earth sucked his thumb. The one who gave life to the human race cried for his mother’s milk. The one who created the fish of the sea, the bird of the air, and the beasts of the earth became vulnerable (cf. Matt. 2:13). Paul writes, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: [Jesus] was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). 

Ponder that God lived life as a human. He learned (“increased in wisdom,” Luke 2:52). He worked. He was tired. He was tempted. He was betrayed. He was mocked. He suffered. He experienced what we experience (without sin). He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15).

3. Worship the God of Christmas. 

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (v. 20). The shepherds returned to their jobs, but they continued to worship God. Worship is not something that is only done on Sunday mornings, it is a way of life.

Christmas Is All About Grace


If I had to sum up Christianity with just one word, I would choose "grace." What is grace? Simply defined, grace is undeserved kindness.

On the night of Jesus' birth, the angel announced to the shepherds, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Jesus was born to be a Savior. His name means "the Lord saves." He was given this name because his mission was to "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

The world needs a Savior because all of us are guilty of sin and deserve eternal condemnation. But God showed us grace (undeserved kindness) by bringing salvation to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christmas is all about grace.

So many people have Christianity backwards. They say, "I obey; therefore I am accepted by God." This is a wrong view of salvation. A Christian saved by grace says, "I am accepted by God through faith in Christ; therefore I obey." To Christians, the apostle Paul wrote these words: "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).

The greatest Christmas gift is the gift of salvation through Jesus. God, in his grace, freely gives this gift to all who will humbly acknowledge their sin and trust in Jesus as their Savior. Have you received God's gift? I urge you to receive it today.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heralded by Angels

Part 3 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



And 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 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.” 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!” (Luke 2:8-14) 


What Is Christmas All About? 

My favorite Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It begins with Charlie Brown depressed about Christmas. He says to Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Finally, as Charlie Brown is trying to direct a Christmas play, he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds by reciting Luke 2:8-14. (Network executives didn’t want Linus to recite Scripture, thinking that viewers wouldn’t like it. But Charles Schulz was determined to keep the scene in, saying, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” (Source: Wikipedia).


Unlike Charlie Brown, most people in Canada know that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. But I think most people miss the significance of his birth. Why does the birth of Jesus matter?


Good News! 

There are many surprising parts to the Christmas story. One surprise is that the first people to be told about Jesus’ birth is a group of lowly shepherds. God cares about ordinary people. These shepherds were “in the same region …out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (v. 8). Imagine the shepherds’ surprise when “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (v. 9). As we would expect, “They were filled with fear” (v. 9).

The angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news” (v. 10). The good news that the angel brought to the shepherds was new “of great joy” (v. 10). (We could contrast the lasting joy of this good news with the temporary joy that most Christmas presents bring.) The angel also said that the good news “will be for all the people” (v. 10)—for all kinds of people. In the Christmas story, Jesus is presented as being born for all sorts of people (the shepherds, the wise men, Mary, Zechariah).

The good news was the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). What day was “this day”? We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but the Bible doesn’t say on what day Jesus was born. The baby Jesus is given three titles: “Savior,” “Christ,” and “Lord.” A “Savior” is a deliverer (cf. 1:47, 69). The “Christ” is the “Messiah,” which means “Anointed One” (cf. Ps. 2:2). “Lord” is a title used for God. “For Luke this title will become the key Christological term to describe Jesus (Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:33-36), and these later texts will define what κυριος means. For now, Luke is content merely to present the term from the angelic announcement and not explain it” (Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, p. 218). 

The angel gives to the shepherds a “sign” (v. 12; cf. 1:19-20, 36): “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). “What is amazing is not that the child is wrapped up, but who the child is and where he is. One hardly expects to find Messiah in an animal room. One would expect a palace…. Messiah’s life will contain an unusual bookend for a king, since he was born in an animal room and will die with robbers” (ibid., p. 219).

After the angel had told the shepherds the good news, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host” (v. 13). A “host” of angels is an army of angels. All of the angels were “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (vv. 13-14). God in heaven is given glory, and people on earth are given peace. “Those with whom [God] is pleased are the elect. It could also be said that they are those who have embraced Christ as Savior.

The good news of Christmas is that a Savior has been born.


What Christmas Is All About 

The angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth should cause us to ask two questions. First, why does the world need a Savior? Second, what kind of peace did Jesus bring to earth?

1. The world needs a Savior because of our sin. 

After Adam and Eve sinned, God said to the serpent (Satan), “I will put enmity between you the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This prophecy is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.”

The woman’s “seed” is Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16). According to biology, a woman does not have a seed, so there is a hint of the virgin birth in Gen. 3:15. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). When we became broken because of sin, God had a plan to put us back together—spiritually. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Because Christ was broken (on the cross) for our sin, we can be put back together.

2. Jesus brought to earth peace between God and man. 

Part of putting us back together is restoring our relationship with God. That relationship was broken because of our sin. But through faith in Jesus, we can receive eternal life. That’s the good news!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Five Favorite Christmas Carols


5. "Angels We Have Heard on High"

Come to Bethlehem, and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ the lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

4. "Silent Night"

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!

3. "What Child Is This?"

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary.

2. "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning,
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv'n; 
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

1. "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing"

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmaunuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Laid in a Manger

Part 2 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town 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 registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).


Christmas Surprises

As a parent, it’s fun to surprise your children on Christmas morning with a gift they aren’t expecting.

There are many surprises in the Christmas story. In Luke 1, there are two surprises: (1) the choice of Mary, a young girl from a small town, to be the mother of the Messiah, and (2) the virgin conception. In Luke 2, we find a few more surprises.


The Humble Birth of Jesus 

About 700 years earlier, the prophet Micah foretold, “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” (Micah 5:2). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. The prophecy was in danger of going unfulfilled. But God used a decree by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) to fulfill Micah’s prophecy (v. 1; cf. Matt. 2:4-6).

The purpose of the “registration” (“census,” NIV) was for people of the empire to register for paying taxes. “In calling the census one of the ‘whole world,’ Luke uses the standard description of any event that covered much of the Roman Empire” (Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, p. 202). The decree required people to be registered in their ancestral homes. Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David” (v. 4; cf. 1:27), so he traveled to Bethlehem, “the city of David” (v. 4) to be registered.

Verse 2 says, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Ancient historian Josephus writes that Quirinius ordered a census in A.D. 6 (cf. Acts 5:37). But both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was born during the time of King Herod (Matt. 2:1; Luke 1:5), who died in 4 B.C. This is a complex issue, but there are reasons to believe that Luke was not wrong about the census. (Darrell Bock in Luke 1:1-9:50 gives a good defense of the historicity of Luke 2:1-2.)

Mary also went with Joseph on the journey to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary were probably married at this time. Perhaps Luke calls her Joseph’s “betrothed” (v. 5) because their marriage was not yet consummated (cf. Matt. 1:25). The virgin Mary was “with child” (v. 5) as a result of the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit (1:34-35), and her baby was due to be born soon. It seems that Mary wanted to be with her husband when the birth took place.

While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, “the time came for [Mary] to give birth” (v. 6). Luke doesn’t give us any details about the delivery of the baby. He simply writes that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger” (v. 7). A manger is a feeding trough for animals. Since Jesus was placed in a manger, he must have been born in a place where animals were kept. It would have been a dirty, smelly place. Some say he was born in a cave. Others say a stable. Jesus was born in a place for animals “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7).

The one who would be King was placed in a manger. 

We could contrast the lack of concern for Mary’s baby with the world’s fascination with “the royal baby”—the unborn baby of Kate Middleton and Prince William.


’Tis the Season to Be Humble 

C. S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” This is what Jesus did. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Almighty God became a helpless baby!

The humble birth of Jesus confronts us with our need for humility. 

Paul said to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5, NIV). But humility is very elusive. The moment I congratulate myself for being humble, I have become proud of my humility. So how can we increase our humility?

Humility is the by-product of marveling in the grace of God. 

In Luke 1:46-55 (a passage known as the “Magnificent”), Mary thanks God for what he is going to do in her life. She begins her song of praise by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:46-47). We will never understand the grace of God until we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus came to be our Savior. On the night of his birth, the angel said to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11). The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” The angel told Joseph that he was to name Mary’s son Jesus because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus can never be my Savior until I humbly acknowledge my need of salvation.

Mary marveled that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. She said, “God has looked on the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:48-49). Jesus was born so that God could do “great things for me.” For me! Jesus humbled himself so that he could bring me salvation. It wasn’t that he had to do it. He was glad to do it. The grace of God is surprising. It is this grace that leads us to salvation and inspires us to live with humility.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Born of Mary

Part 1 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



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, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern 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 forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 

And the angel answered 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. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).


The Virgin's Name Was Mary

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God” to tell Mary that she would soon give birth to a son. Gabriel had also been sent inform Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would have a son (1:19; cf. Dan. 8:15-16; 9:21). “The sixth month” refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (1:24). Luke provides a few details about Mary.

First, Mary was from Nazareth. Nazareth was “a city of Galilee” (v. 26). In that day, Nazareth was a small town of no more than 2,000 people. Luke probably adds that Nazareth is in Galilee because most of his readers wouldn’t know where it was. When Nathanael was told that Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46; cf. 7:41).

Second, Mary was a virgin. Since Mary was a “virgin” (v. 27; cf. Matt. 1:23), she could have been as young as twelve.

Third, Mary was engaged. She was “betrothed to a man named Joseph” (v. 27; cf. Matt. 1:18). Unlike our marriage engagements, Jewish betrothal was a legally binding contract and could only be broken by divorce (cf. Matt. 1:19). Luke adds that Joseph was “of the house of David” (v. 27).

Fourth, Mary was shown grace. The angel addressed Mary as “favored one” (v. 28). And he later said, “You have found favor with God” (v. 30). To find favor in God’s eyes means to be a recipient of God’s grace. By his grace, God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus. (The Catholic translation is misleading: “Hail, full of grace.” Mary is not the bestower of grace.)


You Shall Call His Name Jesus

Gabriel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (v. 31). The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” The child was to be given this name because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Mary was given several promises about her firstborn son.

First, Mary’s son would a great King. The angel said, “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 forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (vv. 32-33). Centuries earlier, God had promised David, “Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:14; cf. 1 Chron. 17:11-14). Jesus is presently reigning as head of the church and will one day return as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Second, Mary’s son would be miraculously conceived. Mary did understand how a child could be conceived in her womb while she was a virgin. She asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34). The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (v. 35; cf. 3:23).

Third, Mary’s son would be holy. The angel declared, “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (v. 35). “Holy” could signify that Jesus was set apart for a special mission. Or it could mean that the virgin birth prevented him from inheriting a sinful nature.


An Example of Faith

God used an ordinary girl from a small town to bring Jesus into our world. God’s plans are often surprising! 

Mary is not worthy of our adoration, but she does deserve our admiration. In her response to God’s plan, she is an example of faith.

1. God’s plans often bring adversity and confusion. 

Mary probably anticipated that God’s plan would threaten her marriage and hurt her reputation (cf. Matt. 1:18-19). She also couldn’t comprehend how the virgin birth would happen. Being involved in God’s plan is not always easy.

2. God is not limited by our limitations. 

Mary didn’t ask for a sign, but one was given to her anyway. The angel told her, “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 36). Earlier the angel had said to Mary, “The Lord is with you!” (v. 28). We all have our limitations, but the God of unlimited power is with us!

3. God only asks us to be his willing servants. 

In the end, Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). This should be our response to God’s will. God doesn’t need the powerful, wealthy, or famous to perform his plans. He is simply looking for ordinary people like you and me who will say, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”