The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Dear Friends in Christ,
There’s no doubt about it. No season of the year transforms our world more than the one that reaches its climax today. Now admittedly, sometimes we grumble about how early the stores start their Christmas advertising and decorating. After all, it’s not unusual anymore to see Christmas items being put out in September, all in the hopes that they can cash in early on the billions of dollars that Americans spend each year on presents, parties, trees, and decorations. But if you’re like me, you do appreciate and enjoy the month of December when just about everyone jumps on the bandwagon and radio stations start playing the old familiar Christmas carols and the trees start going up all over town and the beautiful lights transform the otherwise cold and barren landscape into a magical winter wonderland. We might call it “The Miracles of Christmas,” which is the theme that I’ve chosen for my sermon on this Christmas morning. And over the next several minutes I want to share with you four miracles of Christmas that we especially celebrate at this time each year.
First of all, the miracle of peace on earth. Remember the army of angels that appeared to the shepherds that first Christmas night so long ago? As they sang their praises to God, they said: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men.” I suspect one reason they spoke of peace that night is because of that famous prophecy that Isaiah had recorded some 7 centuries before when he said: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Yet as we look around us in our world today, we don’t see a lot of peace, do we? In fact, this is no doubt a rather difficult Christmas for a lot of military families in our country as their sons and daughters find themselves in far away places fighting a very dangerous and unpredictable enemy that is collectively known as terrorism. Yet it hasn’t always been this way. There have been times when the miracle of Christmas brought the miracle of peace in some pretty amazing ways.
For example, back in the early days of World War I there occurred a unique event in the annals of warfare. For a few hours on Christmas Eve 1914 a temporary truce was declared and the sounds of war were silenced. At that time the war was only five months old, but already 800,000 men had been wounded or killed. As Christmas Day approached, the soldiers who were far from home began to reflect upon Christmases past and all that they would be missing with their families. Then it happened. British soldiers raised signs that said “Merry Christmas” to their German opponents. From their trenches, a loud, sweet, tenor voice began to sing the beloved hymn, “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” From the German side, a rich baritone voice joined in singing the same song, only in German.
Then the unthinkable happened. Early on Christmas morning some of the British soldiers scrambled out of their trenches into the area called no-man’s-land. They carried a soccer ball. Between the trenches they started a game. Some of the German soldiers joined in. And all of a sudden it was England vs. Germany, only not in a World War, but in a friendly, competitive, fun-filled game of soccer. Those who were there that day say the Germans won 3-2, but it didn’t matter. In some areas the truce continued into the next day with neither side willing to fire the first shot. Only when fresh troops arrived did the war resume.
What force transformed all that negative energy into positive energy, all that hatred into handshakes? Certainly no human force could do such a thing. Rather only the One whose birth we celebrate today has that kind of power, for he is the Prince of Peace. And he’s not only able to bring peace between man and man. Far more importantly than that, he can also bring peace between God and man. Isn’t that what we sing in the hymn before the sermon? “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Yes, the One who entered our world on that first Christmas day was born so that sinful human beings like you and me might be reconciled to a holy and perfect God and dwell in his perfect and peaceful presence forever. That, my friends, is what you call a real miracle.
But there’s more. For the miracle of Christmas also brings with it the miracle of good news for all people. Notice the word “all.” No one is excluded. Jesus is for everyone. We see this in his birth as well as his life. He came for the rich represented by the Wise Men who would travel hundreds of miles to kneel before this infant-King and offer him costly treasures. He came for the poor represented by the shepherds who were the very first to hear of the Savior’s birth. He came for the old represented by the aged Simeon in the temple who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he beheld the Lord’s Messiah. He came for the young represented by the children whose mothers brought them to Jesus one day so that he could lay his hands on them and bless them. He came for the Jew as well as the Gentile as we see in his ministry that reached out to people from both groups.
Now let me ask you something, my friends. When is the last time you heard of good news for everyone? That’s not typically the way life works, is it? Some win; some lose. Some prosper; some struggle. Some live healthy, robust lives; some live unhealthy, sickly lives. But God’s way is different. When it comes to Jesus, all are invited to receive this good news by faith and thus enjoy the abundant life that he offers both here in time and hereafter in eternity.
That takes us to the third miracle that Christmas brings with it and that is the miracle of the incarnation. That word “incarnation” is a fancy theological term that simply means God became a human being; he took on human flesh. John expresses this important truth in the opening chapter of his Gospel when he writes: “The Word (that’s his pet name for Jesus as the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now just one word of caution here. If you try to wrap your mind around that thought too much, you’ll quickly discover that you can’t. You’ll find that the incarnation of Christ, the enfleshment of the eternal and infinite God, is just one of those doctrines of Scripture that we finite human beings cannot comprehend.
Still, though, that doesn’t stop some from trying, which is what author Max Lucado attempted to do in one of his first books entitled God Came Near. And I must say he does a pretty good job of it. In the second chapter he writes these words that I typically read every year at Christmas time…
Well, that takes us to the final miracle of Christmas that we want to look at today and that is the miracle of God’s love. Nobody said it better than Jesus himself in John 3:16 when he told an inquisitive Jewish leader by the name of Nicodemus: “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.” The love of God that Jesus spoke of there is a love that the world certainly did not deserve. For the world he alluded to was a world that had been at war with God ever since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. But it’s also not a love that any of us deserve for through our sins we have all joined in that war, that rebellion against this holy God. And while he would have been perfectly justified had he turned his back on us forever and had nothing to do with us, his loving nature simply would not permit it.
So as one unknown author has put it: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. Had our greatest need been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness and salvation, so God sent Himself through the incarnation and provided us a Savior.”
The term the Bible uses for such undeserved love and kindness is grace – amazing grace, unending grace, unequalled grace. That’s the Christmas miracle that God offers you not just today, but everyday. So I have to ask you: Have you received that miracle, my friends? Have you trusted the Christ Child as your Savior? Have you held him in your heart just as Mary held him in her arms? Have you knelt beside his manger bed, so awestruck by this miracle of Christmas that you just had to tell others about it as the shepherds did? Have you bowed in worship before this infant-King and given him the best you had to offer as the Wise Men did? The reason I ask such questions is because such undeserved love deserves – no, it demands – some sort of response from us. May your response, whatever it is, be pleasing in his sight and worthy of the One who brought to this world – who brought to your little world – the miracles of Christmas that we have looked at today.