‘A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Christmas Story in the Bible’ – Carol Service
Just three more days of shopping left before Christmas! Ladies, hands up if you’ve already got all your presents and you’re pretty much ready? There’s no point asking that question to the men, because three days to go is still 2½ days more than we need, right? Mostly, men hate shopping! Let me have a show of hands if you’re a man and you’ve actually been out Christmas shopping with your wife or partner? (People, give these men a round of applause.)
I love the funny story about a husband and wife who were out Christmas shopping and they agreed to meet up at a certain place and time. The husband wasn’t there when he should have been and his wife got crosser and crosser until she eventually called his mobile and said, ‘I’ve been waiting here for 20 minutes, where the heck are you?’
The husband said: ‘Darling, I’m sorry… You remember that jewellery shop where you fell in love with that diamond necklace and I said I couldn’t afford it but I’d buy it for you one day?’
His wife replied: ‘Oh yes, sweetie, I remember.’
The husband said: ‘I’m in the pub next door!’
Tis the season to be jolly! It’s good to laugh, isn’t it? You know, the Bible says God made mankind in His own image. Well, it stands to reason then, doesn’t it, that God must have a sense of humour; God must be able to laugh and enjoy himself. The fact is, God is happy; He is joyful and He’s a loving God. He loves you. And He loves celebrations; smiling, laughing, singing, dancing, in a word, “joy”. The Bible is full of joy and rejoicing. Oh, there’s lots of wickedness, evil and judgment in there too, but the ultimate story-line from cover to cover is one of love and joy – of happiness lost and found.
For those of you who are parents with children growing up – or if you don’t have children, if I were to ask your parents this one question… When they grow up what do you most want your children to be? You know what, everyone would answer with a single word: happy! The one thing we all want for our children – for ourselves – more than anything else, is to be happy. And that’s what God wants for us too. He wants us to be happy and joyful in Him. That’s why God sent Jesus… to show us the way back; back into a right relationship with God the Father. That’s what Christmas is really all about; Jesus providing us with the way back to the Father; to be happy in Him… “I am the way and the truth and the life,” said Jesus.
It’s great to celebrate Christmas, to sing carols, have fun, give gifts and decorate our homes – it’s part of what makes Christmas so special – but if we look behind the baubles and tinsel and wrapping paper, what Christmas is really all about is Jesus; God’s greatest gift to mankind… a gift which, ultimately, is for our happiness. In the words of C.S. Lewis, at Christmas we remember the ‘central event in the history of the earth – the very thing the whole story has been about’.
Over the next few minutes we’re going to take a whistle-stop tour of the Christmas story in the Bible, and we’ll see what is the best Christmas gift ever and why. I’m going to touch on the readings that we’ve heard (listed in the service sheet) to tell the story.
1st reading, Genesis 3:8-15
In our first reading from Genesis, we were reminded how Adam and Eve were tempted and tricked by the serpent in the Garden, and how they rebelled against God and permitted evil into the world and into their lives. What’s that got to do with Christmas? Well, the once perfect relationship man enjoyed with God was now soured and there are consequences to our rebellion… but also there is hope. – Whether you read the Genesis story as a factual account, or as poetry; picture language, symbolism or a mixture of both, the point is it describes the broken relationship that has happened between mankind and God. We abandoned God’s rule over us but He has not abandoned us. God said to the serpent; to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; [but] he will crush your head and you will strike his heal.” Did you get that? One will be struck – wounded but victorious. One will be crushed – defeated and destroyed.
No sooner had Adam and Eve sinned that God announced his intention to save sinners and to do so through a descendant of the very person by whom sin entered the world. And so here, right at the very beginning of the Bible, the Christmas story starts to unfold as we look forward in hope and expectation for this “Serpent Crusher”: the offspring of woman, a Son of Man, who will come and defeat Satan and destroy him forever.
As one journeys through the Old Testament there are literally hundreds of prophecies regarding the coming of this Son of Man; God’s chosen and anointed Son – the Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek. We only picked out three of them in our readings.
2nd reading, Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
The second reading was from Isaiah who was prophet around 700 BC. Isaiah earlier prophesied (Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, who will be called Immanuel – God with us. In our reading, you remember, the prophet 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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father; Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” – Look at names given to this promised child; these are names that can only refer to God: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – his kingdom will last forever.
3rd reading, Micah 5:2-5
In our third Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah, we are even told where the Messiah will be born, in Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (v2). Jesus was born in Bethlehem. (Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but they were both descendants of King David and they had to travel to Bethlehem, the town of David, to register for the Roman census. Jesus was born while they were there.)
4th reading, Luke 1:26-38
In our next reading, from Luke’s gospel, the Christmas story is more familiar. God sent the angel Gabriel with a message to a young woman: “Greetings Mary [“Ave Maria” in Latin]… You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (v31-32)… “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (v34-35)… Cue: the virgin birth.
Reminds me of the story of the little boy doing a school project on his family: He came home one day and asked: “Dad, where did I come from?”
The flustered father replied: “The stork brought you.”
A while later he asked his mother, “Mum, where did you come from?”
“I was found under a gooseberry bush,” she said.
Granny also happened to be staying with them so the little boy asked her, and she too held the same line, “The stork brought me,” she said.
Well the next day, he went back to school and started to write his project.
It began: ‘There hasn’t been a normal birth in our family for three generations…’
In the case of Jesus though, it really wasn’t a normal birth because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. (Well actually, it was a normal birth. It just wasn’t a normal conception!) Does that seem far-fetched to you? It’s not just far-fetched – it’s absurd, it’s impossible, humanly speaking. But that is precisely the point. This was God intervening in the world, in a unique way: it was a miracle. Citation
5th reading, Matthew 1:18-25
Our next reading… an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and confirmed that the child conceived in Mary is from Holy Spirt. The angel said, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua – it means the LORD saves.
6th reading Luke 2v8-20:
In our sixth reading, it’s the very first Christmas morning and Jesus is born. Here at last is the “Serpent Crusher”; the offspring of woman who will go on to defeat Satan and destroy him forever. Here is the Saviour; the rescuer sent by God to pay the price for all our wrong doings – what the Bible calls sin. A Saviour who would later offer up his life in exchange for ours; so that the penalty we deserve would fall on Him; so that we can be forgiven and restored into a right relationship with God and enjoy a happy new life now, and happy everlasting life later on.
You recall… an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds out in the fields. Now the shepherds were terrified: who wouldn’t be? If, when you think of an angel, you picture a fairy in a nightie, think again! Angels are the armed forces of heaven. They’re the Marines! And God sends them to protect and serve his people, and sometimes to deliver a message. It was night-time. The shepherds were probably huddled around a camp-fire as they guarded the sheep… then suddenly: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The shepherds were terrified but the angel reassured them (v10): “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news [that’s where we get the word ‘gospel’ from – gospel means good news… I bring you a gospel] of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And then the heavens open and a great choir of angels join together in the first ever Christmas carol service: “Glory to God in the highest, [Gloria in Excelsis Deo; the Latin version] and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” – God will be glorified and, from now on God’s peace, God’s purpose and favour will be with all men and women who please God, by acknowledging and accepting this gift of the Saviour.
Do you know God’s peace and favour? Do you want to know God’s purpose for your life? Look to Jesus and explore the Christian message.
7th reading, John 1v1-14:
In our final reading we heard: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John, one of the twelve disciples and the author of John’s gospel, calls Jesus the ‘Word’ to make a point. In the Bible God’s word is how He makes himself known. – In order to get to know someone you have to listen to their words and John is saying that God has not left us guessing about what He is like. Jesus Christ is the Word he has spoken. – If you want to know God and what He is like, take a long, hard look at Jesus and why He came. John says: “to all who believe in him and accept him; he gives the right to become children of God” (v12). That’s the best Christmas gift ever, and it’s free to all who accept it. You can do nothing to earn God’s forgiveness and favour, and you’ve done nothing to deserve it. It’s a gift from God to all who believe. That’s what the gospel and the Christmas message is about, the gift of God to mankind. But, as with any gift, it only becomes ours if we accept and receive it.
I love the tale about a little boy who went upstairs to his bedroom to write a letter to God about what he wanted for Christmas. “Dear God, he wrote, “I’ve been very good these last twelve months. Please send me a bike.” Then he thought about that and figured that wasn’t quite truthful, so he screwed it up and started over. “Dear God, I’ve been very good for the last three months. Please send me a bike.” But then he thought, ‘No, I can’t even say that’. So he screwed it up again and paced up and down thinking what to write. Finally, he went downstairs to the lounge where there was a Christmas tree, and beside it, a model of the nativity scene complete with figures and animals. He picked up the Virgin Mary and went back upstairs to his bedroom, took a fresh piece of paper, sat down again at his desk and wrote: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…!”
Isn’t that what we’re all a bit like really; we want to trade with God or persuade Him to do things for us… ‘God, if will do this for me I promise to… whatever’, or else we try to do good deeds thinking that God will be impressed and we’ll earn His favour and blessing. We want to trade with God, but God isn’t into trading like that; He’s not into balancing our deeds out, like on a pair of scales. Instead God gives to us freely and unconditionally… Actually, there is one condition… that we accept God’s gift to us in Christ… so we can be restored in our relationship with Him. You see, as with any gift, it only becomes ours if we accept and receive it.
Wise men gave gifts to Jesus at Christmas, because at Christmas God gave to us the best gift ever! It’s the most costly gift you’ll ever receive – it cost Jesus his life – and it’s the only gift that lasts forever! In a sentence this Christmas gift; the offer of Christianity is this:
‘Forgiveness for all that is past (a clean slate),
new life here for today (a fresh start),
and a wonderful bright hope for the future (heaven).’
But forgiveness, a new start and hope for tomorrow are not forced or bestowed on us automatically, but they are offered to everyone freely… “to all who believe in him and accept him; he gives the right to become children of God.” Friends, it’s your call!
In closing, if you haven’t already done so, can I encourage you to look into the Christian message yourself: come on our Just Looking at Christianity course, starting in January for six weeks (flyers will be handed out at the back on the way out).
You know, wise men still seek Jesus; wise women too! It’s your call!
God love you, God bless you and happy Christmas.
(For further resources see Christmas)