Friday, December 25, 2020

The Necessity of Christmas

Below is the video of the online Christmas Eve worship service of Living Water in Centerville, Ohio. Under that, you'll find the text of the message presented during the service. Have a blessed Christmas!

Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas combines the mundane and the miraculous. It’s the moment at which, as C.S. Lewis says, the Author walks onto the stage and becomes the central character of humanity’s unfolding drama. It’s the point at which God, Who is Spirit, takes on the dust-born attributes of our humanity, to offer up His sinless life in sacrifice for our sins, then have His victory over our sin and death verified as God the Father raises Jesus, God the Son, from the dead. Christmas is, along with Good Friday and Easter Sunday, one of the three greatest events in the history of the universe.

But why was Christmas necessary? Why did Divinity need to take on dust, take on flesh? Why is it so important for you and me in 2020?

Our gospel lesson for this Christmas Eve, which only mentions the actual nativity of Jesus, His birth, in the beginning words of verse 18 and the beginning of verse 25, actually helps to answer those questions, particularly in verse 21, where the angel who has visited Joseph in a dream famously says of Mary, Joseph’s betrothed wife: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Here is a simple proclamation of God’s truth:  Law and Gospel.

The Law, you know, is God’s command of righteousness from the human race. It’s the basic and non-negotiable requirement for human beings who want life with God today and, in perfection, in eternity. To live in righteousness is to live in a right relationship with God, one in which we who are God’s creatures honor, worship, and obey God out of simple love and gratitude.

Such love, gratitude, honor, worship, or obedience to God don’t come naturally to us though. From the moment you and I are conceived, we inherit from our parents the common damning attribute of original sin. Because of original sin, our every impulse is to get our own way, to be righteous (or good) according to our own standards rather than God’s standards, and to be our own gods.

Most people will acknowledge that lives of love--love of God, if they accept God’s existence, and certainly, love for neighbor--are lives of righteousness. But we don’t live utterly righteous lives, do we? It may be possible for us to appear to live perfectly righteous lives in the eyes of others. Nonetheless, deep down, we know what our true motives are, what brooding selfishness percolates at our cores. Honesty compels us to confess that we are unrighteous. And that’s where God’s Law leaves us: aware of our unrighteousness, of the awful yawning chasm between God’s expectations of us and our total inability to meet those expectations. The Law condemns us.

This is where the Gospel comes in. The angel tells Joseph of the baby in Mary’s womb, remember: “ are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” In English, we translate the name of the Christ child as Jesus. This is a transliteration of his name from the Greek, Ἰησοῦς (Yesus). That, in turn, translates the Hebrew version of the name, Yeshua, Joshua, which means, “Yahweh [the Lord] saves” or “The Lord helps.”

Jesus came into the universe to help us, by saving us from ourselves, from the sin that would otherwise condemn us to separation from God.

God acts to save us before any of us are conceived or have any notion that we can’t save ourselves. The Gospel, the good news, is that we, who are incapable of mustering the basic righteousness that would make us acceptable in the eyes of God, are given the gift of the righteousness Jesus has had since before the universe came into being.

That righteousness is ours by faith in Jesus. The apostle Paul writes: “ apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)

Faith isn’t easy. Faith in the God Who takes on our humanity and saves us is so beyond our ability, that God has to give us faith in Jesus.

We see that in our Gospel lesson in Joseph. No child had ever been born into the world who hadn’t been born by the usual means, a woman and a man each contributing their genetic make-up to the formation of a new human life.

But if the human race was to pay the proper penalty for its sin, only a perfectly sinless human being could make the offer the perfect sacrifice of death. After all, because of our sin, all the rest of us deserve to die. If Jesus had inherited the DNA of Joseph and Mary, He would have been a sinner just like them...just like us.

That’s why the Spirit of God, intent on recreating the human race in His image, used the virgin womb of Mary to bring a new human race into being in Jesus. To do this though, God needed to show Joseph that Mary’s story of bearing a Child implanted in her womb by the Spirit was no fairy tale. The prophecies said that the Messiah, the Savior, would be born into the House of David and Joseph was the descendant of David that God chose to be the Messiah’s earthly father. Joseph needed to have faith that God could do the impossible.

God knew his man. Joseph was human, a sinner as susceptible to the same suspicions and conspiracy theories that keep human beings from seeing the truth in our times. But God also knew that Joseph, this working-class fix-it man, had a faith that turned to God in both easy and perplexing times. Even when the letter of God’s Law gave Joseph every justification for publicly dumping Mary for what appeared to be adultery, Joseph decided that the spirit of God’s Law, its revelation of God’s heart of love for all people, called him to divorce Mary quietly.

The angel, this messenger from God to Joseph, changed Joseph’s plans  though! “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)

What fears did David have that night as he dreamed? Maybe, the fear of dishonoring God by marrying an apparently adulterous woman; the fear of the wagging tongues of those who lived nearby; the fear of being played the fool.

Today, we people of faith have similar fears: the fear of being thought strange for entrusting our lives to a risen Savior we can’t presently see; the fear of rocking the boat by suggesting that racial injustice is a sin; the fear of being the one who suggests that you thank God for your food before the Christmas dinner; the fear of giving an account to others of the eternal hope we have within us because of our faith in Jesus Christ!

But God says to us today what His angel told Joseph: We need not be afraid to trust in Him. In Jesus, we know that God is trustworthy! He entered our lives on the first Christmas and He promises in Jesus to be with us always, to cover us in the righteousness of Jesus as we, like Joseph, dare to believe God for the most impossible things of all:

God’s forgiveness of our sins, though we don’t deserve it;

the righteousness of God we can never muster on our own;

and everlasting life with God that only comes through faith.

On this Christmas Eve, friends, hear the message of God’s Gospel and, like Joseph before you, believe in Jesus: true God and true man and true Lord and Savior of us all.

Merry Christmas, friends!

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