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The Word Became Flesh

I had originally planned to wrap up the book of 1 Samuel this morning, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to put that off for today, and instead, I’d like to begin turning our focus towards Christmas. I think Hope and all the kids have done a great job of starting that already as they take us through the progression of advent.

As we enter the season of Christmas, I think it’s important that we remind ourselves of it’s significance. Christmas is not just another holiday. It is foundational to our faith. Without the reality of that first Christmas, we truly would have no reason for hope, joy, or peace! The physical birth of Jesus Christ is central to our understanding of the Gospel. And so this morning, I want to remind us of the significance of Christmas.

Now the passage that I want to look at today isn’t one of your typical Christmas passages. It’s not directly related to the story of Mary & Joseph or the wisemen or the shepherds or even one of the many prophecies in the Old Testament that point us towards the birth of the Messiah. But it is very much related to the birth of Christ.

Each of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) – all tell the story of Jesus, but they are all very different in how they approach the story of his birth. For example, Matthew tends to focus on Jesus’ father, Joseph, and he spends a great deal of time explaining the visit of the wise men and how King Herod reacted to the birth of this new born king! In contrast to that, Luke focuses more on Mary – and doesn’t even mention the wisemen, but he includes the details of the shepherds who were out in the fields and how the angels announced Jesus’ birth to them. Then, in contrast to both of Luke & Matthew, Mark skips over Jesus’ birth entirely and jumps into the story after Jesus was already an adult.

And that leaves us with the Gospel of John – which presents Jesus’ birth in yet another way. John doesn’t really give us any specific, historic details of Jesus’ birth, but rather, he gives us a brief summary or introduction to who Jesus is and then explains why Jesus was born – rather than giving us all the details of how Jesus was born. It’s a bit more of a big picture view rather than a detailed series of events.

And so that’s what I want to look at this morning. In the weeks ahead, we’ll go through the stories and events of how Jesus came to be born, but I want to start with the more foundational issue and that is “Who exactly is this Jesus who was born some 2000 years ago and what is so significant about his birth?”

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A Future of Hope

Over the last three weeks we’ve been looking at all the background of the Christmas story. And we’ve discovered that this history of hope goes all the way back to the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth. 

You see, God had set up the perfect system for the perfect life – He would be the source of everything mankind would ever need. He gave them life, He provided delicious food to eat, He gave them an amazing place to live, meaningful relationships, purpose in their work – everything they needed, He would provide. 

And as their source, He would also be their authority. Of course, He certainly gave them incredible freedom – as well as authority and responsibilities of their own, but He was to be the ultimate authority. He was the one to determine right and wrong. 

And that was God’s setup for the perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as their source and as their authority, life would be amazing!

And it worked great! With this setup, Adam & Eve enjoyed life to the fullest as God intended it – and it was sweet. They had everything they wanted. Their relationship with God and with each was perfect and beautiful – Never any conflict or never any strife – it was exactly what you might describe as heaven.

But something happened. Sin happened. Adam & Eve rejected God as their source and as their authority and they took that role for themselves and as a result – everything fell apart. Their relationships with God and with each other was broken. The sweetness of life turned to bitterness and life on earth became painful and difficult. In fact, life for all of mankind has been a struggle ever since.

But of course, God had a plan. God knew this would happen even before He created the world, so all along, God had a plan. And this is what we’ve been looking at for the past three weeks – God’s plan to put things back to the way they were when He first created them.

And all along the way, we’ve seen that God has given us hints of His plan – He’s given several different people several different promises that all point to the same thing. 

But in case you missed the previous three Sundays, let me give you just a quick summary of some of the promises that God had given to various people throughout the Old Testament: 

  • On week one, we learned how God promised Adam & Eve that one day, one of Eve’s descendants would crush Satan’s head and defeat sin and death for all time. 
  • On week two, we learned how God promised Abraham that one day, one of his descendants would be a blessing to every single family on earth. 
  • On week three, we learned that God promised King David that one day, one of his descendants would be King for all time.

And as we looked at some of the old testament prophecies, and then as we looked at the Christmas story as recorded in Luke, we came to realize that all these promises were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. He was the one that God had been promising for some 4000+ years. He was the one who would crush Satan’s head. He was the one who would be a blessing to every family on earth. He was the one who would be King forever.

And that’s what made that first Christmas such a big deal – its because finally, after years of hoping and waiting for God to fulfill his promises, finally, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ was born as a human being and He would make things right again.

But here’s the big question that we were left with last Sunday. If you look around at the world today – it doesn’t really seem like everything’s right again – does it? There’s still pain. There’s still suffering. Satan seems as active as ever. Sin is still around in bountiful supply. Our relationships with God and our relationships with each are far from perfect. 

So… what happened? Did God’s plan fail? Did Jesus not accomplish everything He was supposed to do? Did we somehow misunderstand God’s promises? Or is it just that the story isn’t over yet? Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today. 

In our progression through this History of Hope, we left off last week with the angel Gabriel declaring to Mary that she was about to have a baby. And perhaps you came here, on this last Sunday before Christmas, expecting to hear the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wiseman and the manger and all that good stuff. 

But I’m guessing that you probably already know that part of the story and if you don’t, you can tune into our Christmas Eve Zoom party later this week and we’ll be reading through all that part of the story – complete with visual aids provided by all the kiddos! But this morning, I’m going to fast forward a little bit. I actually want to focus on what happened after Christmas – so for now, we’re going to skip the whole birth of Jesus part of the Christmas story.

I won’t spend much time talking about Jesus’ childhood either. In fact, apart from one incident from when He was about 12 years old, we don’t hear anything about Jesus until He was about 30. That was when He started doing all those miracles and teaching the crowds and training his disciples and doing all those things that you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of what happens in the Gospels happens within a period of about three years when Jesus is probably in his early thirties. But that’s still not the part I want to focus on – let’s fast-forward just a little further.

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The Fulfillment of Hope

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the Bible as a History of Hope. Sometimes it’s difficult to put the whole Bible together – to see how one story connects with the others – to see how the old Testament fits with the new Testament. But over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to do just that and what we’ve discovered is that the whole Bible is actually  the Christmas story. Everything in the old testament points us ahead to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and everything in the new testament is the result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus Christ the central figure of the Bible. He’s the central figure in world history. All of history is HIS STORY.

And so today we’re going to continue looking at God’s story. Just by way of a quick recap: Two weeks ago we started in the beginning – with God creating the heavens and the earth. And He setup mankind to have a perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. 

But of course, we know that Adam and Eve chose to reject God as their source and to reject Him as their authority – and as a consequence, their relationship with God and with each other was broken. Life became very difficult and painful for them – and all of us. The consequences of their sin would effect mankind for the rest of history, but God made a promise to Adam & Eve – that one day He would set things right again.

Then last week we fast-forwarded to Mount Sinai – where God made a covenant – or an agreement with the Israelites. And the basic gist of that agreement was that as long as the Israelites looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

But the trouble was, everyone of the Israelites was already born with a sinful nature. Every single one of them was already naturally inclined to reject God. Sin was their default. And with that sinful nature, there was NO WAY that they, (or anyone else for that matter), could possibly obey all of the terms of that covenant that God had just made with them. Our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to fully obey God.

But of course, God knew that, and so in that covenant, He gave the Israelites another glimpse of hope. Even though the penalty for sin was death, God allowed the Israelites to bring an animal and offer it in place of the person who had sinned. Instead of the person being put to death for their sin (as they deserved), the animal would be put to death in their place. It would take their punishment and it’s blood would temporarily cover their sin.

Of course, the blood of those bulls and goats couldn’t take away their sin, but it served as a symbol of hope – hope that one day, God’s promised Messiah – the Lamb of God – would come and would die in their place and His blood would take their sins completely away.

So that was last week – now again today we’re going to be doing a lot of fast-forwarding – we’ve got about 1000 years to summarize and nearly 35 books of the Bible to go through – so let’s jump right in.

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The Need for Hope

We are now just two days away from December and the Christmas season is upon us. We’ve got snow on the ground, some of you have your Christmas trees up already, and as we just witnessed moments ago, today is the first Sunday of Advent. And so rather than continuing our study of Samuel through December – I thought I’d take a short break and do a series of Christmas messages.

Quite often I shy away from a lot of seasonal-type messages – just because we hear the same things year after year after year. But this Christmas, I do want to take the next four weeks to tell you the Christmas story – the whole Christmas story. I think sometimes we get gypped and we only hear part of the story. We hear about the angels, about the shepherds, about having no room at the inn, about the wisemen, but we miss out on all the stuff that happens before that.

So I want to start us off today, not with the wisemen, not with the shepherds, not with Mary & Joseph – not even with the prophets that foretold the birth of Jesus. Instead, I want us to start in the beginning. Literally. In the beginning – Genesis 1:1 

Because that’s truly the beginning of the Christmas story. In fact, the entire Bible is the Christmas story. Everything that happens in the Old Testament is a lead up to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything that happens in the New Testament is the result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So this Christmas I want us to take a look at the big picture. I want us to try to see what God was doing right from day one. Because Jesus’ birth didn’t just happen. In fact, all of history didn’t just happen. God wasn’t just making stuff up as He went along. Before He even created the world, God had a plan. And that plan involved all the stuff that we read about in the Bible – everything from Adam & Eve in Genesis all the way to the end of time in Revelation. God had and still has a plan. 

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The Great Exchange

I want to begin this morning simply by reading through the account of Jesus’ birth as recorded in Luke 2. This really is the centrepiece of Christmas and this will set the stage for what we want to talk about today.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Luke 1:1-21

We’ve probably heard that passage at Christmas so many times that we’ve started to forget how amazing this story is. The very idea of Christmas is pretty incredible. It’s amazing enough to think that God Himself would come and live on the earth with us – that’s amazing! – but when you think that the Almighty, Everlasting, Infinite Creator of the Universe would confine Himself to the tiny helpless body of a fragile, human baby and actually become like one of us?! THAT is pretty mind-blowing!

We probably can’t ever grasp just how incredible it was for God to become human and to be born as a baby.

Think about it. The omnipotent, all powerful God who set the boundaries for the oceans and created billions of stars and galaxies – that God, as a baby needed someone to feed and cloth him and carry him and change his diapers. The omniscient all-knowing God – who calculated the earth’s perfect size and rotation and tilt and distance from the sun so that life could flourish, that God had to learn to walk and say his first words.The omni-sufficient God – the God who has never needed anything from anyone, now had to depend on his very own creations to care for him and to provide for his basic needs. He would experience hunger and thirst and pain and tiredness for the first time ever.

Imagine all that Jesus gave up and all the limitations and restrictions that Jesus had to take on to born as a human baby.

I know it’s not even close, but here’s the best way I can imagine it: We are extremely privileged to live in Canada (we have health and wealth and comfort beyond what most people dream of)- but imagine giving all that up to be born in some of the poorest places in the world.

  • Imagine choosing to give up your family to be born as an orphan on the streets in India.
  • Imagine choosing to give up your nice house to live in a cardboard box in some rat-infested, garbage filled back alley.
  • Imagine choosing to give up all the great food you eat every day (Tim Horton, Christmas dinner, roast beef & mashed potatoes) to instead live in the slums of the Philippines and eat rotting or moldy bits and pieces of stuff that you find in the garbage dumps.
  • Imagine choosing to give up your health in exchange for being born with aids or some other life-threatening disease – knowing that you’ll die a painful death long before you grow old.

That’s really what Jesus did. Jesus gave up all the amazingness of heaven (And I can’t even begin to imagine that) – and in it’s place, he came to live here. And he wasn’t born in a palace or among the wealthy or the affluent – but his first bed was a feed trough in barn. He took on the weakness of humanity. He came into this sin-filled world and lived in within the restrictions and limitations of a fragile human body.

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The Unexpected Source of Joy

We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming.  We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.

This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.

And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.

One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.

  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
  • And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.

And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.

But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.

  • Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
  • Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
  • Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.

There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.

So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?

Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?

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