A number of years ago now I undertook a wonderful train trip all the way from Perth to Maryborough. There was the Indian Pacific from Perth via Adelaide to Sydney. Then there was the XPT from Sydney to Brisbane and finally the Tilt Train from Brisbane to Maryborough West. I left Perth after lunch on a Sunday and arrived at Maryborough West after lunch on Thursday. It was a wonderful journey but it certainly didn’t have much effect on human history. Others have undertaken longer journeys by utilising various forms of transport but I want us to focus today on a much longer journey, one which did change the whole gamut of human history, which caused the whole of human history to be reset. It began in heaven and ended on earth. I don’t know how long it took. Possibly it was extremely short. You see time and distance have little relevance in heaven and are more usually associated with life on earth. But the move from eternity to time was part of Jesus’ journey. We know that the beginning and the end of this journey were at opposite extremes. One person likened it to a diver undertaking a deep dive.
The diver commences his dive from the light and freedom of the air. As his dive proceeds the diver’s plunge takes him on a journey through the various temperatures and colours of water with conditions going from warm to cold and light to dark until he finally reaches the deathlike ooze of the bottom region where he successfully retrieves the treasure he was diving for. As he searches, the light he carries illuminates the darkness around him. That surely is a wonderful illustration of the journey that God in the person of His Son, Jesus, undertook to retrieve us who were so precious to Him.
Another illustrator likened it to moving from ultimate affluence to living on a rubbish tip. And for Jesus that rubbish tip and all its immoral stench was Earth.
But this journey is not popular with some theologians and other self-confessed knowledgeable people because this journey defies logic. Why would God do this?
You see for Jesus this was a demotion, yes, not a forced demotion but a voluntary one. But a demotion it was. And none of us like a demotion, do we? Jesus left the splendour of heaven and close fellowship with His Father to descend to the wicked conditions on earth, having divested Himself of all His heavenly glory. In the process the Creator became one of His creatures with the same limitations that they had, except for their ability and willingness to do wrong, to sin. And now Jesus can give us victory over all our limitations because he faced the same struggles as we do, but the difference is that He never once succumbed to wrongdoing.
7. He gave up his place with God and agreed to be like a servant. He was born to be a man and became like a servant.
What a great stoop this was!
Jesus moved from existence as a spirit to becoming a being limited by a human body. He moved from deity to humanity. But the amazing thing is that when He assumed our humanity, He retained His deity. Perhaps we should retitle our carol from “Glory to God in the Highest” to “Glory to God in the lowest”. Christ’s birth was evidence of a lowly man. Christ’s incarnation was evidence of God lowering Himself in order to raise us up.
Jesus started in heaven and came down to earth, in flesh, as a servant, submitting to death. He went from the glory of angelic adoration, to birth in a manger. The second person of the Trinity is beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. Let us try to grasp the wonder of a king purposely becoming a pauper.
Lord Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square was too high for people to see the details of his face, and so a smaller statue was made at eye level — this is the concept behind Jesus’ birth. We could see God, for example, in the wonders of God’s creation but we didn’t really know and understand exactly Who God was, so He brought Himself down to our level, as it were, by coming, in the person of Jesus into our world.
Yes, Jesus is unique in history, and has changed the world more than any other person and we must see that God had planned it all. It was all orchestrated by God the Father for our salvation.
4. But when the right time came, God sent his Son into the world. A woman gave birth to him, and he came under the control of God’s laws.
So one of the messages of Christmas is this –
3. Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.
4. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves
5. and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought:
Demotion, humility is the way of the kingdom. Matching the attitude that was in Jesus requires some downward steps.
We need to take a step of intentional demotion, to exercise humility by serving others. Taking a step down helps us to live a life of joy and blessing in Christ.
10. God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would do good things. God had already planned those good things for us. God had planned for us to live our lives doing those good things.
We need to be quiet to hear what those good things are. Are our lives too noisy to hear the assignments God has planned for us? God speaks to the stilled heart.
Let us look more closely at some of God’s planning not for us this time, but for Jesus.
All angels are God’s messengers.
But God’s planning for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah involved one angel called Gabriel who stood in the presence of God. He is never described as the archangel in the Bible but we do know that he is one of the few named angels and therefore was of high rank.
The pronouncement of very important messages seems to have been reserved for Gabriel. Gabriel is therefore known as the angel of revelation or announcement. He expresses in his demeanour a sense of purpose. His intervention is not of a general nature but he brings a very specific revelation, a revelation of great importance requiring an all-encompassing commitment from the one who is the focus of the pronouncement. While his messages were in fact good news they involved a certain degree of concern, maybe even of bewilderment for Daniel, Elizabeth and Mary, the ones he visited. His visits seem to have been associated with a vision, whether a conscious vision or one that could be described as a dream is perhaps not always clear
In the case of the Christmas story, he was first sent to a woman named Elizabeth with the message that she was to bear a son who we know was John the Baptist the one sent to prepare the way for the entry of Jesus into this world.
This is what we read
5. In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
7. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
It appears that having children was what Zechariah and, no doubt, Elizabeth, too, had been praying for.
13. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
But when Zechariah’s prayer is answered this is what he said,
18. Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know this is going to happen? My wife and I are both very old.”
19. The angel answered, “I am Gabriel, God’s servant, and I was sent to tell you this good news.
Do we see a little bit of us in Zechariah? I certainly see myself, bigtime.
I remember when we had contact with quite a few Urangan children and one in particular had apparently moved from the area. I had been praying publicly that God would bring her back.
One night we were at the Chapel and Kirsty walked in.
Of course I thanked God for answering my prayers didn’t I? To my shame I have to answer that that wasn’t the case. Rather looking at Kirsty I blurted out, “What are you doing here?”
Remember, too, the early Christians and Peter.
14. When she (Rhoda) recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but running in, she announced that Peter stood before the gate.
15. But they said to her, “You are mad!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”
16. But Peter was continuing knocking; and opening the door they saw him, and were astounded.
So there comes a message for each of us this Christmas. God has heard our prayers and will answer even though from human appearances that might appear to be unlikely.
Perhaps we deserve the same as Zechariah because as one commentator notes in order to open Elizabeth’s womb God had to shut Zechariah’s mouth.
20. Now, listen! You will not be able to talk until the day when these things happen. You will lose your speech. Why? Because you did not believe what I told you. But these things will really happen.”
So after Gabriel’s visit and announcement to Elizabeth she falls pregnant and the way is now prepared for a human messenger to testify to the arrival of Israel’s Messiah.
4. Isaiah the prophet wrote about John when he said, “In the desert someone is shouting, ‘Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for him.
Let us trust God to involve us in His plans and to expect from Him good news that involves some specific task of witness for us to perform.
One month later Gabriel appears again with a new message for a different woman called Mary. Who was she?
She was probably only a teenager, but no doubt was faithfully carrying out her domestic duties when Gabriel arrived.
She was from the town of Nazareth which seems to have had a bad reputation possibly for its lack of morality.
45. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “Remember what Moses wrote in the law. Moses wrote about a man that was coming. The prophets wrote about him too. We have found him. His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph. He is from Nazareth.”
46. But Nathanael said to Philip, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
And yet, in this environment Mary had kept herself morally pure.
She was promised in marriage to a man named Joseph and we learn again that this relationship also was morally pure and Mary remained a virgin.
The Jewish people had long looked for the promised Messiah.
6. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
He would be born of a virgin mother.
14. Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
No doubt every young Jewish woman hoped that she would be the mother, though they would have known that He would come from the line of David. But perhaps few of those eligible had even begun to contemplate the responsibilities that being the mother of the Messiah would bring. Mary was about to find out.
So out of all Jewish girls why was Mary chosen? Surely there must have been reasons for this.
We have already noted that she was morally pure and qualified by remaining a virgin and that she was descended from David.
The virgin birth from a spiritual point of view is essential for our salvation. Our Saviour must not only be human but also removed from man’s sin nature. And what a great thing to contemplate, the thought of God inside a human body.
But what other characteristics made her suitable?
Could it have been her receptivity to God’s plans? Could it be that she had an attitude of expectancy that she would be the one? She passively received the announcement from God and did not proudly boast about it. In fact she was troubled by the grand greeting that Gabriel gave her and protested that she was in fact the Lord’s servant. She did, however, recognise that she would have a very special place in history.
48. He cares for me, his humble servant. From now on, all people will say God has blessed me.
She did not seek to play first violin which plays the melody but was rather satisfied with playing second violin seeking to instead harmonise with God’s plans.
While she was no doubt hoping that she would be chosen she probably had not planned this for her life. Nevertheless she sought to proclaim God and not herself and so she accepted and obeyed the message. She did not resist the news that she would give birth to Jesus but was wholly concerned with doing as God wished. And because she was obedient God in the person of Jesus entered human history with Mary as His mother.
The fact that Mary believed Gabriel’s message is a great wonder. Mary questions the possibility of the prophecy, just as Zacharias did but Elizabeth was Mary’s proof that nothing is impossible with God. We also read that Elizabeth recognised that Mary was the mother of the Messiah and told her so.
42. Then in a loud voice she said to Mary: God has blessed you more than any other woman! He has also blessed the child you will have.
43. Why should the mother of my Lord come to me?
Yes Mary was in a way central to the whole plan and we must not detract from her deserved recognition just because some have given her a greater status than she deserves.
She was well versed in the Scriptures and had a strong belief in them.
Mary essentially says, “I am available. I will be whatever you want me to be.” How great it would be if we had the same attitude.
What a blessing it would be if we had an attitude of expectancy that God had some important assignment planned for us, that we were keeping ourselves pure and humble in anticipation and were projecting ourselves as obedient servants willing to accept whatever God had chosen for us. But our problem is a tendency to resist the Spirit; Paul calls it a battle of our flesh. We begin to look at self and see our limitations rather than heed the challenge of an assignment from God and its possibilities.
18. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
The Bible teaches that humans were meant to live in obedience to God; instead, humans have chosen disobedience, trading light for darkness. It is a willingness to obey that makes it possible for us to see what He wants us to do. Our willingness sheds light on what otherwise might be darkness and uncertainty.
As a result of our flawed response, we’re a shell of what we’re supposed to be. Who knows what great and important spiritual changes may rely on our answers to the call of God in our lives.
But Mary accepted the assignment given to her and initially everything was joyful. But now came the crunch, the sacrifice, the responsibility. A pregnant woman cannot keep her pregnancy a secret for long.
Let us seriously contemplate this scene. Mary engaged to Joseph is pregnant and Joseph needs to know. I could imagine how Mary held off sharing this news with him. I suppose she eventually blurted out, Joseph, I’m pregnant. What a bombshell that would have been. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father so no doubt demanded an explanation. When Mary told him the details can you see how this would have seemed like a flimsy excuse to Joseph? Come on Mary, you can do better than that. It’s bad enough that you have been unfaithful to me but to compound things by lying about it and making up implausible, weak excuses. What sort of a fool do you take me for?
Joseph would have exhibited an ageless human trait: fear of the unknown.
And although he loved Mary he was a morally good man and knew he had to be true to, and obey God’s word. And this is what the Law which Jewish people followed said –
20 But if the man was right and there is no proof that his bride was a virgin,
21. the men of the town will take the woman to the door of her father’s house and stone her to death. This woman brought evil into your community by sleeping with someone before she got married, and you must get rid of that evil by killing her.
If he didn’t report her and expect that the Old Testament Law was carried out, he would lose his standing as a righteous person who obeyed God. In any case his personal reputation, his standing in the community, would be dragged down by the fact that his fiancé was with child.
What a dilemma he faced. He knew what the right thing to do was but he also loved Mary and delighted in their betrothal.
Applying human wisdom he planned to divorce her but not in a humiliating public spectacle but to do it privately with as little fanfare as possible.
But God is merciful and he appears in a dream to Joseph and we read this.
19. Then Joseph her husband, being righteous and not wanting to make her a public example, purposed to put her away secretly.
20. But while he was thinking about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take unto you Mary your wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21. And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
So God’s answer to Joseph’s dilemma is marriage.
The dream also affirms that Mary’s explanation of the pregnancy was absolutely correct and truthful.
The birth of a baby is a joyous event and is shared by family and friends but Jesus had a lonely birth without family or even any form of human company, apart from His parents.
But as Jesus grew, Joseph, an ordinary man, no doubt began to doubt that this was really the promised Messiah and those doubts perhaps lingered as he saw Jesus grow into an ordinary boy working in his carpenter shop, where he followed Joseph’s example as a practical, honest, hardworking individual. Later he also witnessed the way he was treated by the local community. These issues and the unexceptional nature of Jesus’ childhood no doubt caused Joseph to wonder about his Son’s divine nature.
As he began His teaching ministry this is what the neighbours said
3. Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were offended at Him.
In fact Joseph, and Mary, too, endured the consequences of their choice to be obedient and live as Jesus’ parents for the rest of their lives.
But they always had the assurance that God’s revelation in dreams had given them. God gave them confident faith to overcome their doubts.
One example being in the Temple where, as a young boy, Jesus amazed the Jewish teachers with His questions and answers.
But this is what happened next.
49. He answered them, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”
50. But they did not understand his answer.
51. So Jesus went back with them to Nazareth, where he was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
We hear people speak of the spirit of Christmas. If Mary were to see the way we celebrate Christmas today she’d lament that we’ve left out her Son Who is the whole point of it all. Jesus ought to be the core of Christmas. We need to recognise that His birth was an event outside normal experience. We have no category for a virgin birth or a God-Man but we must accept the uniqueness of this baby to understand Christmas.
Christmas tells us that God has a plan. Jewish people waited for a long time before their Messiah came but many were never in despair but waited with hope and anticipation. We have already noted that when the time was right, God, the Father executed His plan.
And now we wait for the fulfilment of God’s plan for Christ’s second coming and our attitude should be the same, hope and anticipation. Our waiting should not be passive but a daily exercise of faith as we wait for Jesus to come again.
The spirit of Christmas involves obedience, sacrifice and service to God and to others, with a caution that our service for others ought not distract us from serving Jesus. He must be the centre not just of Christmas but of our whole Christian walk.
The spirit of Christmas entails reflection “pondering things in our hearts” just as Mary did. God had an assignment for Mary. She humbly obeyed and accepted God’s will.
Let us ponder whether God has given us an assignment to complete. Maybe it is unique. Maybe it causes us to be apprehensive and fearful. Maybe it will bring opposition, censure or rebuke and even mean a sacrifice of our reputation.
Will we, this Christmas, follow the example of Mary and Joseph who many years ago were obedient to God’s calling? Will we have the same mind in us which was in Christ Jesus?
Initially there were few to celebrate the birth of Jesus but a birth is always a cause for celebration even for us. But how much greater is the celebration in heaven when someone experiences new birth which has been made possible by Christmas.
And we must never forget that the prime focus at Christmas should be this –
15. This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them,
My question then to all of us this Christmas is this. Has He saved you, rescued you from your sins? Are you sure He is your Saviour? Have you experienced a new birth which has brought joy in heaven?
Ask me or someone you are acquainted with if you need to know more about how Jesus can become your Saviour this Christmas.