Christmas Eve in Nazareth

December 23, 2007 / No. 3390

Dear radio friends,

    Luke 1:26, 27 we read this in the Bible:  “And in the sixth month [that is, the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist] the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee,…to a virgin…[named] Mary.”  That is the most fundamental truth of the incarnation, of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus Christ.  It was sent from God.  It comes from God.  It starts, it originates, it is initiated by God.  God sent His Son into the world.  Christmas has no meaning without God.

     In America, it apparently has a meaning without God.  And in Europe.  And in Tibet.  There is even now a Buddhist Christmas, and perhaps there is a Muslim Christmas.  All around the world there is Christmas.  But not God!  The world tonight may have much of the “Christmas spirit,” but the world wants none of God, because the world is in rebellion against God, as it was long ago when God’s Son came into the world.

     But Christmas is all about God—of what God’s grace has done.

     The truth of what we call Christmas is the truth that God, the only God, and there is none other, the Creator and the upholder of all the world, came into this world in His Son.  He came to accomplish His purpose of redemption of His church.  Not ceasing to be God, He became a man.  He entered this creation.  He who said to Moses out of the burning bush:  “I AM WHO I AM”; He who is the absolute reality:  “I do not come into existence, I do not get better, I have zero development in My being, I simply am all that I am always”; He who is the I AM, the glorious God, came in the womb of a virgin.  He who inhabits eternity joins Himself now to flesh in a virgin’s womb, becomes a baby and comes into the world, a world that is in rebellion against Him, in order that He might save His people from their sins.  I Timothy 1:15:   “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

     On this day our thoughts turn again to the marvel and to the wonder of God’s love in the sending of His Son.  And I would like, for a few moments, to visit the virgin Mary in Nazareth by going to the passage Luke 1:26-38, which is pregnant, that is, filled, with gospel life, with the marvel of the unfathomable mystery, the marvel of the incarnation, the coming of God’s Son into the world.  And we would like to answer today three simple questions:  How did God break into this creation, that is, how did He come?  Who is He that came?  And what response must we have?

     How did God come into the world that He had made?  He did so by doing the impossible.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  We read in Luke 1:37 that the angel Gabriel said to the virgin Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”  That was the word that came to Mary when she was perplexed, when she asked:  “How can God become a man in the womb of a virgin?”  When all of our objections are over—how can a virgin conceive?—and when all the other objections that are brought against the gospel have spent themselves, the answer is:  With God nothing shall be impossible.  For this is the wonder of God and of His grace.

     We say, but how can my sins, those awful sins that I cannot even remember, those terrible sins, be forgiven?  How can this black, terrible thing that is happening in my life be used for my good?  How can death be gain?  How can death be good?  When all of the questions concerning “How is it possible…” have been asked, this truth remains:  With God nothing shall be impossible.

        God had been getting ready for this objection throughout the ages of the Old Testament.  In Genesis 18:14, when God has promised that Sarah, ninety years old, would have a son, He had responded to her and to Abraham:  “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?”  In Job 42:2, Job was finally brought to confess, “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.”  We read in Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah Lord GOD!  behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee.”

     God says, “I can make this happen.  And I did.”  God’s Son came into this world through a virgin birth, through a woman.  Mary will serve as God’s instrument.  As Gabriel said to her, she will be blessed among women, highly favored of the Lord.  She will be the chosen servant (instrument) of God for the coming of His Son into the world.  In verse 28 of Luke 1, Gabriel greets her, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee.”

     Now what would she expect that to mean?  What would Mary have thought that to mean when she is so greeted by an angel?  Was the angel promising her romance and a happy-ever-after marriage, several healthy children, grandchildren, physical needs supplied, some traveling,  good health—all that we think of when someone says, “I’ve been so blessed”?  Is that what Gabriel meant?  No, it is not what you think.  God’s blessing to Mary will bring to Mary a life of heartache from that moment on.  Joseph would suspect that she had committed adultery.  There would be a long trip on foot or donkey when she was at the end of her pregnancy.  She would give birth on a barn floor, with the stench of manure around her.  She would lay her little boy in a feed trough.  And soon she would have to flee to a foreign country (Egypt), with her heart in her throat.  And her son would grow up to be rejected and crucified.

     Gabriel says to her:  “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, God is with thee:  blessed art thou!”  Yes, she would be blessed.  She would be blessed in that she would serve a greater purpose than she could ever imagine.  Through it all, God would bring forth His glory.  Through it all, God would accomplish His gracious, eternal salvation.

     God would enter the world through a virgin birth.  It is very plain that Luke, the inspired writer, emphasizes that Mary was a virgin.  She had not lived with a man.  And Mary herself acknowledges that.  When the angel says that she will have a child, she answers, in verse 34:  “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?  I am a virgin.  I never had sexual relations with a man.  I am betrothed to a man called Joseph.  But I am not married.  Joseph and I have not been together sexually.  I cannot have a baby.”

     That is something for young people to hear.  This is, of course, not the point of the passage.  But it is, nevertheless, beautiful.  Virginity is beautiful.  Mary kept herself for the Lord and for her future husband.  Do not let the world press you into its mold.  Keep the gift of God in your virginity.

     But how did this happen then?  The angel answered that in verse 35:  “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee:  Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”  The birth of this child is utterly unique.  There never has been another human being born like Jesus.  The virginity of Mary proclaims that He is the Son of God.  God says, “This is My Son.  Joseph is not the biological father.  My Son is human.  He is born of a woman.  But He has no human father.”

     But how?  How did God’s Son come?  Luke 1:35 is probably one of the most important verses in the whole Bible.  The Holy Spirit, there, is said to have come with divine power and impregnated the virgin so that the child is human and at the same time divine.  Mary had asked, How?  She was asking there for an explanation.  She was not asking, in unbelief, for proof.  Just before this Zacharias the priest had asked the angel Gabriel a question, too, when he was in the temple and Gabriel had said that his aged wife, Elisabeth, was going to have a son.  And Zacharias answered the angel:  “Whereby shall I know this?  I need to have some proof for this.”  The angel Gabriel did not like the question, and he shut Zacharias’ mouth.  You don’t ask angels for proof!  When an angel appears before you from the presence of God, one thing you do not do is ask for proof.

     But Mary is not asking for proof.  She is asking for an explanation.  There are some questions that are OK.  You may ask God, “How?”  Just do not say, “Prove it.”  You may say, “I need understanding, Lord.  I need to know as much as I possibly can know.  Please explain this to me.”  But do not demand of God proof.

     And the angel said, “Mary, God Himself, the third Person of the blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is going to come with all of His mighty, creative power.  The power of the Highest shall overshadow you, shall envelop you under the shadow of His wings.  You will come where all is holy, chaste, pure, safe, and secret.  And you will become pregnant with the Son of God in flesh.”

     We cannot go any further.  For the book of Ecclesiastes says that we do not know how the bones do form in the womb of her that is with child.  So is the work of God who doeth all.  God formed in the womb of the virgin His Son, flesh of flesh, and at the same time, God of God.

     Who is this that comes through the virgin birth and through this marvelous incarnation?  He is the King.  Not “a,” but “the” King.  In verses 32 and 33, Gabriel says to Mary, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest:  and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  And he shall reign…forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”  Gabriel is talking about the King of kings, the Lord of Lords, the Son of the Highest.  He shall have a throne.  He shall reign.  He shall reign over a kingdom that has no end.  He will rule over all things under God.  There shall be no overthrow of His rule.  He shall reign forever.

     This is very controversial.  I am not referring now to the controversy within the Christian church over whether or not Jesus Christ will reign over an earthly kingdom.  But I am referring now to a controversial issue on a more basic level.  You and I do not like kings.  We are sinners.  We do not want God.  We do not want anyone ruling over us except the fool, ourselves.  Our language is, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?”  Our language is, “We will not have this man reign over us.”  We want democracy.  We want to be the ones who determine for ourselves.  Our land would idolize democracy.  It would say, “Democracy is the last great hope for mankind.”  We are fighting a war—Iraq—shedding blood for democracy because we believe that democracy will save the world.  We want to vote.  We want to rule ourselves.

     But this one is the King.  He is perfect and wise and benevolent.  He is just and a lovely King.  But He is King.  Almighty.  All-powerful.  God alone.  He comes to dethrone pride, to dethrone sin, and bring us into joyful submission and obedience to Him.  This one, Jesus Christ, did not come into the world to be elected.  He came as the sovereign who elects.  He did not come for us to vote for Him.  He came as the sovereign King to change our hearts.  He is not some evil king, some cruel, egotistic ruler.  But He is King.  Democracy does not save.  Democracy is not the last great hope for mankind.  If you trust in it or in anything other than this King, it is an idol.  This King saves.  He brings peace with God.  He creates us anew in His image.  He conquers death and hell.  He leads us to glory.  He is God’s glorious King.

     Gabriel told Mary four things about Him as King.  First of all, He would be holy.  “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”  Let that land on your ears as good news.  He is holy.  Hebrews 7:26, “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”  It means that when He dies He is the perfect Lamb of God to take away our sins.  It means that when He lays Himself upon the altar of the cross it will not be for His own sin.  But it will be for ours, because God will lay upon Him the iniquity of us all.  It means that He will be the One on earth with passionate, unflinching resolve to do the will of God for us sinners.  It means that He will be flawless.

     Secondly, Gabriel says He will be the Son of God:  “he shall be called the Son of God.”  And that means that, while He takes to Himself what was not His—the human nature— He remains what He is and ever shall be:  God.  It means that He is both God and man in one person:  Son of God.  Let that land on your soul as good news!  You have a King who has no superiors, nothing above Him.  No one can destroy Him.  And thus, no one can take you from Him.  This King has infinite power.

     Thirdly, Gabriel said that He would be called Jesus:  “And thou shalt call his name Jesus.”  How precious is that name!  That is good news.  The King of the universe is given the name “Savior.”  God did not leave it to Mary or to Joseph to decide what they would name Him.  But God said to Joseph, “I will decide.  He is My Son.  He is Savior from sin.  Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”  Let that fall on your heart as good news.  Could God state His purpose more clearly?  Jesus did not come to condemn us.  But all His holiness and all His deity and all His power stands in the service of His saving mercy.

     And then Gabriel said that He would be a King forever, “and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”  He is the King of the universe.  Our King Savior will never be replaced.  There will be no election for another.  There will be no successor sitting upon His throne after Him.  Let that fall on your soul as good news forever.  He is King forever.  He is now done dying.  He now has a life by virtue of indestructible resurrection.  He has taken His throne at the right hand of God.  All power, mercy, and holiness are His.  His salvation is sure.  His protection is invincible.

     Who came?  God’s Son—holy, divine, saving, for ever—the King.

     As an ambassador of this King, I have been commissioned on this day in His name to call you in the name of the King to embrace Him by faith.  Are you burdened with sins and trials and sorrows and heartaches?  I have been sent in the King’s name to say:  “Embrace this Savior, this only King, this wonder-Child, God’s Son born of the virgin Mary.  Embrace Him by faith.  Confess your sins, which He knows.  Forsake them.  Bow down before Him with love and adoration of your soul.  Embrace Him by faith in your way tonight.  Lay down your rebellion—whether it be your secret sin, your pride—and confess the Son.  Drop your rebellion.  Kneel.  Embrace the Savior by faith, the gift of a sovereign God.  And receive, in His name, pardon and righteousness and eternal life.”

     All who reject Him, all who stand against Him, all who despise Him shall be consumed by Him.

     And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  That is amazing.  That is amazing grace.  She believed.  She believed God would do the impossible.  How can a virgin have a child?  How can that child rule for ever?  How can sin, awful, horrible sin, be destroyed?  Mary believed.  She believed in God.  She knew God.  She believed that God would accomplish His will through His Son.  She embraced the gospel.

     Embrace the gospel tonight by faith, in the circumstances of your life.  By faith cling to this gospel.  If you do not, if you go forth this day and live without Him in rebellion, you will perish.  But in Him, in this King, a wall of fire shall be around you.  Death shall part unto eternal glory.  And you will live for ever in Him.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for this Word.  And we pray for its blessing upon our hearts and souls.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.