Intro: This past week has been busy at the Mall. Gina and I walk there for our exercise in the evenings and yesterday was the busiest. It was like playing football evading the people you meet or pass over. The stores were busy with shoppers. But I wonder if everyone really knows the true meaning of Christmas.
The first Christmas was not like that. The night was quiet except perhaps at the inn because there were people coming from different parts of Israel to register for the census just as Joseph and Mary did. However, there was no room for them at the inn. The only place that was available was at the stable for animals. How is that for the Creator of the heavens and the earth to be treated this way? Jesus experienced His first humiliation by man. This is really what it means to have a humble beginning. No one can say that Jesus is better than them because I am sure none of us were born in a feeding trough where animals eat their hay if this is what a manger means. Nobody knew who this baby was and what he brings. And many missed the real meaning of that first Christmas. Here’s what they missed.
“The Real Joy of Christmas”
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rest.” Luke 2:8-14
When did Christmas as we celebrate it today come into the mind of God? Not very long after God created Adam and then Eve, God revealed this truth to Adam and Eve after they sinned what He would do with the tempter who caused them to sin. God did not excuse their sin when they both disobeyed God’s only command, “You must not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Gen. 2:17.
Eve was deceived and sinned. Adam willfully disobeyed God and sinned. As a result God gave each one of them different punishments for their sins. But Satan who was in the serpent, God cursed. Adam and Eve were not cursed but the ground was otherwise there would have been no hope of salvation for them. And God by His grace saved them by covering their sins with an animal skin representing the righteousness of Christ and by the shedding of His blood. The devil was cursed and God will have complete victory over him. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” Gen. 3:15
This was the beginning of the conflict between men and the loss of fellowship with God. Sin brought about separation from God and the loss of joy, the joy that only God can bring and give. This was the good news the angels declared to the shepherds. I want us to notice that the good news was first proclaimed to the lowly shepherds. Not to the ones living in palaces or to the wealthy. But since the angel said to all people no one is also left out. Magi’s came we refer to as the three kings from foreign lands bringing gifts to Jesus. Instead of the angels proclaiming the good news to them, God guided them to Jesus through a star, a light of unusual brightness to draw them to Jesus.
What then is the joy of Christmas? The joy that comes from the Savior who was born in the town of David we know as Bethlehem. This joy does not come automatically to everyone? One can be happy but joy is an inner feeling that is produced by the Holy Spirit. It does not come because of certain happening but as the result of having been forgiven of all sins and restored in a right relationship with God. No one can have this joy when the conscience is not cleansed. One can seek temporary happiness by having a party, enjoying wine to make the heart merry or strong drinks to get a high and if that is not enough, drugs to get a higher high. When the happening is done he goes back to reality and the guilty conscience is still there because there is no peace with God. Joy and peace come together. Without peace there can be no joy. That is why the angels were praising God because of the men and women who will come to have peace with God through the Savior. The angels know this peace because they are from God, messengers at that time. Today the message of this good news is no longer carried by angels but by those who have received God’s favor and who are now at peace with God.
So how does one have this peace with God? The angels were praising God for this. “Peace to men on whom his favor rest.” Salvation is God’s favor that he endows or grants to men according to His will. This is what is referred to in the Bible as “grace”. This is how God will save anyone. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:8-9
God’s favor continues to hover on earth and even in this room tonight looking for hearts to rest His favor. I know that the grace of God in salvation has already rested on many of us here but there may be those who are here and have not yet received God’s favor. This may be the night, just like when the angels appeared to the shepherds. “A Savior has been born to you.” “You” mean you, who are here tonight. God is addressing you personally. Did the shepherds respond when they heard what the angels said? They believed and acted on what the angels told them, so they went to Bethlehem and saw the baby lying in a manger. This is what faith means, to act on what you have believed. What happened after they saw the baby? “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:17-18
What was the result to what they have experienced because they believed? “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20
How does this apply to everyone today though it happened some 2,000 years ago? Here’s what Jesus said to Thomas after He was raised from the dead. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” John 20:29
Jesus did not remain a baby but He grew up to accomplish what He came for, to save sinners from their sins so that they will have peace with God and have eternal life through Him. And this is the good news that started with His birth and ended with His death on the cross, the ultimate of Christ’s humiliation. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Cor. 15:3-4.
By believing this good news even though we were not there at His crucifixion and resurrection, by faith we act upon this by receiving Christ into our hearts in order to be cleansed of our sins and receive forgiveness through His blood. Salvation that will make a sinner be at peace with God resulting in great joy is found only in Jesus Christ. There are only two things He requires, that you turn away from all your sins in repentance and surrender them all to Christ to pay and then receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior into your heart. This is God’s gift to you. And this is God’s promise that will be true to you because He will stand by His Word, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Don’t leave this place tonight without being reconciled and have peace with God so that you can have this great joy of Christmas. Come to Jesus. He is calling you and inviting you to the cross for He did not remain a baby but grew up as an adult to die and pay for your sins. If God is convicting you of your sins and your need for salvation, accept this greatest gift God is offering you in the person of His Son and you will receive the greatest blessing of your life.