The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 19, 2004
95, 93, 98, 99
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Dear fellow Christians:
Do you believe in Christmas miracles? We might say, “yes,” and speak of the generous outpouring of food, gifts, and money for the poverty-stricken across the country. We could take an evening drive and point to all the outdoor light displays which transform an ordinary scene into the magical. We might mention the special warmth and consideration we receive from family and others, as well as the festive atmosphere and the anticipation of exciting things to come. All these are often held up as the miracles of Christmas. But if we take a closer look at them, it becomes clear that they are not as miraculous as they first appear. To a large extent they are more a matter of appearance than actual substance and their effect is very temporary.
What about the real thing? Is there such a thing as a genuine Christmas miracle? To minds conditioned by the world to be skeptical, it sounds too good to be true. We live in the age of science in which everything must have a logical explanation which we can discover and understand. We’re accustomed to looking for natural causes and effects, things we can observe with our five senses, events which can be tested and re-tested to prove their authenticity, things like the law of gravity.
When it comes to miracles, our natural tendency is to shake our heads in doubt because miracles are unscientific. There is no natural cause for them. They cannot be repeated, tested, and verified in a laboratory. Therefore, the thinking goes, they cannot be true. They must be myths which children enjoy, like the stories of Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman, but which have no connection with real life in the real world.
But the Lord shows us that there are, beyond a doubt, Christmas miracles—things which are so wonderful that they go past the boundaries of human thought and exceed the limits of scientific knowledge. These are real Christmas miracles, just as real as the building you are in right now, and just as trustworthy as the Lord Himself.
Matthew introduces the Christmas miracles with one simple, straightforward sentence: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.” [v.18] Any birth is a miracle, as any family will tell you. Scientists with all their knowledge and analytical equipment are still not able to fully explain life much less create it. Each new life is the handiwork of God Himself. The psalmist says, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made….When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body” (Psalm 139:13-16 NIV).
Mary and Joseph were eagerly anticipating the time when they would begin their married life together and by God’s grace have children of their own. Even though they had spoken their wedding vows, according to Jewish custom, they had not yet begun living together. But then came the realization that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew he was not the father, and he could only assume that Mary had been unfaithful. He had decided to quietly divorce her without a public trial when the angel appeared to him in a dream with stunning news: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” [v.20]
After 4,000 years, during which every baby had been born in the same way, God in this one special case superseded the natural order of reproduction which He Himself had established. This was something greater than God enabling Abraham and Sarah to have a son in their old age. This was greater than God enabling Elizabeth and Zechariah to have their son, John. In both of these cases there was a human father and mother involved in the conception. But now Joseph heard that Mary had conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit with no human father involved at all! That is a real miracle! God had prophesied it through Isaiah centuries in advance: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son” (Isaiah 7:14).
The Child would be a true son of Mary. Jesus was born with a human body and all the characteristics of any other newborn. He depended upon Mary for food, protection, and love. He grew up with the same human needs and feelings we have. He experienced joy and grief. He was truly and completely man. But He was conceived and born without the sinful nature which is a part of everyone else. He was the only baby ever born holy.
But as He lay in the manger, Jesus was more than just a holy human being. The prophet had also said, “They will call Him Immanuel.” The name means, “God with us.” Jesus is truly and completely man, but He is also truly and completely God. Isaiah had ascribed names to the promised Child which could only fit God Himself: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV). The baby in the manger is the One who created the wood from which the manger was made and who made the entire world as well. Mary held and protected the One who had given her life!
What a wonderful miracle to have Immanuel come to earth to be with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds! What a wonderful miracle to have God with us too! Even though we don’t see Him visibly, He promises, “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV). What a comfort to have Immanuel with us in our own humble lives. Imagine, God Himself is with you now. He will be with you tomorrow in the office, classroom, kitchen, and store. Our lives, concerns, and feelings may be insignificant to the rest of the world, but they are vitally important to the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Even in sickness, sadness, and loneliness, we can be filled with hope, for Immanuel is with us. And along with all believers, we are watching for that time when the Son of God who came to us in such a lowly manner in Bethlehem will return in His glory in full view of all people.
John sums up the miraculous Christmas birth like this: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The miraculous Christchild came to accomplish a miraculous mission in our behalf. The angel told Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Sin is failing to measure up to God’s holy standards. People say, “So what if I don’t? I don’t want to. I want to live my own life, and do what I think is right for me.” We Christians may sometimes downplay the seriousness of sin and soothe our consciences by saying, “It’s just a little thing. No one will know, and no one will be hurt.” We can begin to look at sin like a pet rattlesnake and believe that as long as we’re careful it’s OK to have it around. Satan would like us to believe that sin has no “bite.” But in reality, it is our greatest enemy! It makes life miserable, cuts us off from God, and kills eternally!
Jesus came as the only Savior and Rescuer from sin. He measured up to God’s standards for us with His own holy life. He fought off every temptation the Devil hurled at Him. He did away with the guilt of the world’s sin by taking the blame upon Himself. The cross cast its shadow over the manger. Jesus was born that He might die for us all.
By His life and death the Christchild has set us free from the condemnation of sin. Satan cannot accuse us of being guilty before God, because Jesus took our guilt away. We have been saved from eternal death. We will not die eternally, because Jesus suffered that death on the cross. Death for the believer is a sleep from which Jesus will awaken us to lead us to our real home. We have been rescued from the Devil’s control. His grip on our hearts has been broken, because Jesus crushed His head. We live for the Lord now. What a miracle!
There is also a third miracle of Christmas revealed in our text—a miracle connected with Joseph. Put yourself in his place. Within a short time you have suffered the shock of learning Mary would have a child, and then hearing the news from an angel that this Child has been miraculously conceived and is none other than the promised Messiah! What would you think, feel, and do? Joseph might have been totally numb at first. We don’t know exactly what he was thinking, but we are told: “Then, Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife.” [v.24]
It sounds so simple, but it is truly remarkable. What Joseph did was an act of faith. He took the angel at his word, believed the message, and acted on it in obedience to the Lord’s command. It is miraculous because he could not have done it by his own power and decision. He could not have believed. He would have said, “It’s impossible It can’t be true!” We would not have believed either. The sinful mind is hostile to God. It cannot accept the salvation God offers. But God the Holy Spirit was at work behind the scenes in Joseph’s heart creating the faith to believe the message, even though he could not fully comprehend what it all meant, and why God would have chosen Mary and him to raise the Savior of all mankind.
The miracle of God becoming man and being born on earth to save the world only happened once. There is no need for it to be repeated. Salvation has been won once and for all. But the miracle of the Holy Spirit creating faith is worked over and over again. Without that miracle we would refuse God’s Christmas gift. We would refuse to believe that a virgin conceived a Child by the Holy Spirit. We would throw away forgiveness of sins through Christ, and instead build our hopes on our own imagined goodness and abilities. We would look to science and manmade wisdom for answers. We would forfeit everything our loving God wants to give us. Praise God for His miracles!
Do you believe in Christmas miracles? Whenever we gather together to worship and hear God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is working through the Word to lead us to understand more fully and to believe more firmly. Like Joseph and Mary and the shepherds, we do believe. We know all these miraculous things took place just as God tells us in the Bible. We can’t prove them. We don’t even try. We simply know by the miracle of faith! In just a few days we will hear the news: “The Savior is born!” Look forward to seeing, listening, believing, and rejoicing in all the real miracles of Christmas! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.