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(Speaker enters, carrying an armload of packages.) Okay, let's check this list one more time... Let's see... Mom & Dad--check. Grandpa--check. Grandma--I still need something little for her. Aunts--uncles--check. Cousins--check. No, wait. There's still Jimmy--the man who has everything. Great! Oh, and there's Charles, and Beverly... This is not good. Every year it's the same thing. I tell myself I'm going to get this shopping done early, and then it never fails: Here I am on Christmas Eve, picking through everyone's leftovers, trying to find those perfect gifts. Not that there are any "perfect" gifts. Oh, why do I even bother?

All right, who else is on this list? Let's see... "Jesus"? Oh, wait a minute. Now you can see how delirious I get when I'm worrying about Christmas shopping. I can't imagine what crazy thought was going through my head when I wrote that down.

Although, you know, I guess it's not a bad idea. I mean, it is Jesus' birthday--that is still why we celebrate Christmas, isn't it? You know what? I think I'll do it! I'll get Jesus a Christmas present! Oh, I know I can't actually give it to him, as in wrap it up with a bow and watch him open it--but who knows? Maybe it'll calm me down a bit. Maybe it'll be just the lift I need to get back in the ol' holiday spirit.

So let's see, then... I'm picking out that perfect gift to give to Jesus; what'll it be? (Hums "Happy Birthday.") Well, maybe this is going to be harder than it looks. Wait, though. Wasn't there a story in the Bible about some wise men who gave presents to Jesus themselves? Maybe I'll get an idea there. (Flips through the pages of a Bible.) Let's see... Here it is: "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11).

Hmm. I think I'm in trouble. First of all, I'm afraid that gold is a bit out of my price range this Christmas. And frankincense and myrrh?--well, that's just plain silly. You don't find that sort of thing around here, and to tell you the truth, I don't know where you would find frankincense and myrrh. Oh, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. I guess it is kind of silly for me to think that I could give Jesus a decent present for Christmas?!

I wonder if there's anything else in here that might help? Let's see... (Flips through the pages and stops suddenly on...) Wait! What's that? Something about a "present"? Where was it...? Oh, no, never mind. It's not "PRE-sent," it's "pre-SENT." "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" [Romans 12:1]. Oh well--that was close, anyway. (Pauses, then rereads Romans 12:1.) You know, I think I figured it out? I'm not delirious, you know that? I think I've figured out what Jesus wants for Christmas! He wants me! (Laughs, bemused.) That's right--he wants my life to be "holy and acceptable" to him! A "living sacrifice." I remember reading about the sacrifices that the people would offer up to God in the Old Testament. They had one offering called the "whole burnt offering," where the entire lamb would be completely consumed by the fire. It was supposed to symbolize the people's commitment to be absolutely, one-hundred-percent devoted to God. It was a serious thing. And you know what Jesus wants from me this Christmas? He wants me to present myself as a "living sacrifice," so completely consumed by him that there's nothing left over at all from that person I used to be before I met Jesus!

The rest of Romans 12:1 says that, if I do this, it is my "spiritual worship." Yes, that's it! That's what Jesus wants me to give him this Christmas! When I talk about the nativity, the birth of Jesus, and all those great stories, he wants me to worship him! And I don't mean just "worship" him with my words; I mean "worship" him with my life, with everything that I am! Serve him as Lord, and Savior, and Master! That's not a bad Christmas gift, if I do say so myself. It sure beats that new pair of socks I bought for Uncle Fred!

I'm still not quite sure how gold and myrrh and frankincense fit into the picture, though. Let me take another look at that... (Reread Matthew 2:11.) "...and they bowed down and worshiped him." That's it! They worshiped him! How about that? The wise men already knew what I just now figured out! (I guess that's why we call them the "wise" men, huh?) The important thing here is not all the expensive stuff they brought with them. The important thing is that they bowed down and worshiped Jesus! If they had just ridden into town with their big stash of gold and perfume, and just dropped it off at Mary and Joseph's door, who would've cared? I'll bet they sure wouldn't have gotten written up in the Bible for it! No--they came to worship.

I guess the same is true for me, too. I can give money to that Lottie Moon offering, that Christmas offering for foreign missions--but if I don't bow down and worship Jesus while I do it, it's not much of a present. I can pat myself on the back for how much hard work I've done for the poor and needy this Christmas--and all year round, for that matter--but if I haven't taken time to present myself as a "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God," then I haven't remembered Jesus at all. I've left him off my Christmas shopping list. But if I do remember Jesus in this way, it gives a new, more special meaning to all the Christmas gifts I give to people.

You know what? I feel a lot better already about all this shopping I've still got to do. I might even be able to muster up enough holiday spirit to buy a present for old Aunt Mary! I want to thank God right now for showing me the gift that I can give to Jesus this Christmas. Will you pray with me? (Prays.)

(To audience:) It is hard to find that "perfect gift" at Christmas. But God has delivered that one absolutely perfect gift to us: He gave us His Son, on that first Christmas long ago, so that "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It is that simple. And right now, there's a "gift" that each and every one of us can give back to Christ on this Christmas morning. If you know Christ as your Savior, you can commit right now to make your life a "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" in every area, holding nothing back. That can be your gift to Jesus. If you've made the decision in your heart to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, but have never made that decision public, you have the chance right now to come down here and let your friends and family know that you've decided to follow Jesus. That would be a splendid present to give to Jesus right now! If you've never accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, and asked him to enter your heart and your life to save you and give you eternal, abundant life, I extend to you right now the invitation to do so in your heart, then come forward and make that decision known to all so that we can rejoice with you. All of heaven would celebrate if you offered that sort of present this morning! As we sing, and as you consider what Jesus has given to us, and for us, consider also that question: "What shall I give to him?" (End of Sermon)

December 14, 1997 Coy Wylie

Christmas 1997
A Joyful Season of SongLuke 1:39-801. Have you ever noticed how people love the songs of Christmas? The years go by but the same songs come back just after Thanksgiving. Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Away in a Manger, all these and many more are ever popular timeless reminders of the birth of our Lord. We hear them all throughout the Christmas season, on secular radio stations, on muzak in elevators and the hold line on phone systems. We hear them in department stores and restaurants. We sing them at church too. I love to sing them, don’t you?2. Even unbelievers, people who have never been born again, people who don’t profess a personal faith in Jesus seem to enjoy these carols of the Christ-Child. They sense feelings of peace, joy and love that fill their souls for a few weeks each year. Why? Because in these wonderful worship songs they sense a little light shining in their dark lives. V.79 tells us that the birth of Jesus would "give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death."I recently heard from a pastor who had a special outreach during the Christmas season. He took a group of carolers from his church to several local bars. They always asked the owners permission first and without exception were allowed to sing. After singing several Christmas hymns they passed out Christmas gospel tracts. They often saw tears on rugged, lonely cheeks… light was shining on those who sit in darkness.3. I love the old carols of Christmas. Though most of them were written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, they still carry the powerful message of the incarnation, the "infleshment" of the Son of God. As wonderful as those songs are, we need some new songs to celebrate the advent of the Lord. The recent Christmas songs that come to mind are I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. I hear recent Christmas songs sung by chipmunks, pigs and barking dogs. Maybe you could write lyrics to a new Christmas song. Who knows? Perhaps a song that you write will be sung 200 year from now.4. For those of us who believe, singing about Jesus isn’t just for the Christmas season. The Holy Spirit places a song in our hearts 365 days a year. Eph.5:18-20 tells us to be "filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." We always have a reason to sing.5. God’s people have always sung to Him. In Deut.32, we read a song from MOSES that praises the Lord and reminds the people not to stray away from him. DAVID the King penned many songs of praise to the Lord.6. In this great passage of Scripture, we see two joyful songs inspired by the Holy Spirit that anticipate the coming birth of the Lord. The first is from Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is called The Magnificat and has been sung and studied from the earliest days of the church age. The second song is from Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist as he prophesied amazing details about the ministry of Jesus. It is called The Benedictus. Mary’s song resembles the song of Hannah, the song of an expectant mother. On the other hand, Zacharias’ song is more like the prophetic writings of the OT. Let’s examine them both.I. The Joyful Song of Mary (vv.39-56).A. The Context of Mary’s Song (vv.39-45). 1. In vv.26-38, we learn the details of how the angel "Gabriel" was "sent by God" to Nazareth to speak with Mary, a young woman who was "betrothed" or engaged to a carpenter named Joseph.2. Mary is told that she is "highly favored" and "blessed… among women" for she would soon give birth to a Son… the Son of God, the Messiah. Mary protests that she has not "known" a man, that she is a virgin. The angel then explains that the child would not be the offspring of a man, but of the Holy Spirit and she would bear "the Holy One… the Son of God." 3. She is also told that her "relative," Elizabeth who was in "old age" and barren was in the six month of pregnancy. The angel adds, I think with a smile, "For with God nothing will be impossible." 4. In submissive obedience, Mary accepts the angel’s charge. She says, "Let it be to me according to your word." 5. In v.39, we see how Mary "arose…with haste" and traveled to Elizabeth’s house in "the hill country" of Judea. It seems that she didn’t tell Joseph but went away to stay with her cousins for "three months" (v.56). Both women were pregnant under miraculous circumstances. In Elizabeth, she would find the only person on earth who understood her.6. Mary went in the house and "greeted Elizabeth," perhaps with a hug. As soon as she did "the babe leaped in her womb." It’s normal for babies in the womb to move a lot in the 6th month. This must have been something much more significant, more extraordinary. It’s as though John the Baptist was welcoming Jesus for the first time. 30 years later, when he welcomed him again, he would say, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).7. At that point, Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and spoke out "with a loud voice." God gave Elizabeth a special word for Mary. 8. She said, "Blessed are you among women." Ever since God’s promise in Gen.3:15, godly women in Israel had hoped to become the mother of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. God had selected this humble girl from a small village out of millions of Hebrew women for this special role. 9. Elizabeth also said, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb." Somehow through this word of prophecy, she knew Mary was carrying the Messiah.10. She went on to make that more plain by asking, "Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Notice that there is no jealousy. Though it was a marvelous thing for her to conceive a child in her "old age" she knew Mary was even more blessed.11. How Mary’s heart must have pounded as Elizabeth described her own child who "leaped in my [her] womb for joy." Elizabeth goes on to further bless Mary because she "believed" the promise from the Lord… unlike Zacharias… more about him later.B. The Message of Mary’s Song (vv.46-55). As we examine Mary’s song, The Magnificat, three truths become obvious. First, Mary too was "filled with the Holy Spirit." These words were from God. Second, Mary knew much about OT Scripture, particularly Genesis, the Psalms and the prophets. It is filled with quotations. Third, Mary knew much about the character of the Lord. 1. Mary knew that God is our Wonderful Savior (vv.46-48). a. First, she says her "soul magnifies the Lord." The word "magnifies" usually means "exalt, extol or declare the greatness of." However, the basic meaning of the word is "to enlarge" as in a MAGNIFYING GLASS. The closer we come to the Lord the larger he become. Mary felt so close to God that as she worshiped, He was magnified in her eyes. In the same sense, that’s what worship should mean for us too!b. Her "spirit… rejoiced in God" her "Savior." Before this blessed announcement, through faith she knew God was her only "Savior." Now she understood even more. God would come in the flesh through her own flesh to be the "Savior" of the world (cf. Psa.34).c. She also gives the reason for her gratitude: God had "regarded" or chosen her, a person of "lowly state" from a little town on the backside of the tracks for this honor. How we ought to praise God that according to Eph.1:4, God "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." d. Mary also realizes that from that time onward, "all generations will call me [her] blessed." No one would ever forget her. Now, we know that Mary was a wonderful young women "blessed" by God for a special role; however, we are never, never, never told to worship her. Mary was a human just like us. This passage makes it clear that she was as worshipper, not an object of worship!2. Mary knew that God is our Source of Strength (vv.49-50).a. Mary says God is "mighty" or of great strength. God’s strength was so obvious to her. She was completely overwhelmed because He had "done great things" in her life. Perhaps she thought of the angel’s words in v.37, "For with God nothing will be impossible." b. She says, "Holy is His name." She knew this before, but really knew it now. One day all men will say that of her Son (Phil.2:9-11).c. She says He has "mercy on those who fear Him." This is from Ps.103:17. To "fear" doesn’t necessarily mean, "be afraid," but rather, to honor Him by obedience and worship.3. Mary knew that God is our Righteous Judge (vv.51-53). a. As we read these verses it is apparent that in Mary’s mind, God’s choice of two unlikely humble persons like she and Elizabeth point to a powerful revolutionary principle in which God would renew everything through the coming Messiah.b. What man sees as significant, God has "scattered," "put down" and "sent away." What man sees as insignificant, God has "exhaled" and "filled." We see a similar principle in 1 Cor.1:26-31. 4. Mary knew that God is our Faithful Father (vv.54-55). a. This is the final line of the song, the "Amen" to her prayer. She has looked ahead to what God will do as the Righteous Judge and now she bases that on what He has done… He has been a faithful Father.b. God was true to His promises. He "helped His servant Israel." He remembered His covenant of mercy that He "spoke to our fathers." He remembers the covenant He gave to "Abraham and his seed forever." God had never been unfaithful in the past and would never be unfaithful in the future.C. The Conclusion of Mary’s Song (v.56). Mary stayed with Elizabeth "about three months." What wonderful conversations they must have had. It seems that she stayed until just before John the Baptist was born and then "returned to her house." Obviously, when the baby was born there would be a stream of visitors and it would be obvious that Mary was about three months pregnant. It was now time to tell Joseph.II. The Joyful Song of Zacharias (vv.57-80).A. The Context of Zacharias’ Song (vv.57-67).1. In vv.5-25, we learn that the angel Gabriel had also announced the birth of John the Baptist, not to his mother, but to his father, Zacharias who was a priest, ministering in the temple in Jerusalem.2. The priest ministered seasonally, often living elsewhere near Jerusalem in "the hill country" of Judea and in Jericho. The announcement came while Zacharias was "serving" in the temple and taking his turn to "burn the incense." As he did so, he saw Gabriel standing by the altar. 3. Gabriel told him that his wife would bear him a son, although they were both "well advanced in years." This son would be "great in the sight of the Lord" and be "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. He would also have a vow like that of a Nazirite.4. This son would "go before" the Messiah "in the spirit and power of Elijah… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." 5. In v.18, we see that Zacharias questioned whether this was physically possible. Because of this lack of belief, Gabriel said that he would be "mute," unable to speak "until the day these things take place." 6. After Mary stayed with them for three months and went home, when Elizabeth’s "full time came" she gave birth to a son. All the "neighbors and relatives… rejoiced with her." At her baby shower, they could hardly speak of anything but that "the Lord had shown great mercy to her." Elizabeth was no longer barren; her shame was gone!7. On the "eighth day" according to Jewish law, they presented the baby boy to be circumcised. During this ceremony, a name was officially bestowed on the child. The friends and relatives strongly suggested that he be called "by the name of his father, Zacharias." However, his mother insisted that his name would be "John" (gift of God; Jehovah is gracious). 8. The people were perplexed because none of her "relatives" were "called by this name." So they "made signs" to Zacharias. They were appealing to him. Isn’t it funny how people get involved in family matters that are none of their business? It still happens today!9. With a "writing tablet" a piece of waxed paper on a board, Zacharias wrote "His name is John." He didn’t write, "We’ve decided to call him John," or "John is a good name." He said "His name IS John." It was settled. He would do the will of the Lord without question.10. No sooner had this happened than "his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed." For the first time in nine months he spoke and the words that came out of his mouth were "praise[ing] to God." 11. This was the talk of the community. Everyone marveled and asked "What kind of child will this be?" B. The Message of Zacharias’ Song (vv.68-79). When Zacharias finally spoke, these were the first words to come from his mouth. He, like Elizabeth and Mary before him was "filled with the Holy Spirit." For nine months he had silently considered the work of the Lord. With all the flavor of an OT prophet, his Benedictus speaks of the mercy of the Lord, just as in the name "John." 1. Zacharias knew that God is our Merciful Redeemer (vv.68-70).a. Zacharias "blessed" the Lord God because in the Messiah He has "visited" (been with us "Emanuel) and "redeemed" us. Though he was thrilled about the birth of his own son, John. Here we see he is even more jubilant about the soon coming birth of the Messiah.b. God has also "raised up a horn of salvation." There are two meanings here. First, a horn is a symbol on an animal’s strength. Second, in the OT to take hold of the horns of the altar was a plea for mercy and forgiveness. Note also that this "salvation" would come through "the house of His servant David" (cf. 2 Sam.7:12-13). John was not of the house of David, only Jesus.c. The Lord spoke this" through the mouths "of His holy prophets." 2. Zacharias knew that God is our Merciful Deliverer (vv.71-75).a. What was it of which the "prophets" spoke? There are over 400 references to the Messiah in the OT. They spoke of the fact that God’s people would be "saved from our [their] enemies." This didn’t refer to Rome, but to the powers of the evil one.b. God will in "mercy… remember His holy covenant," "the oath" that was sworn to Abraham. That oath is specifically in Gen.12:3, "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."c. Though through salvation, we have already been "delivered" from the power and penalty of sin, the ultimate fulfillment is when Christ sets up His kingdom and then we will "serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness." 3. Zacharias knew that God is our Merciful Provider (vv.76-79).a. Zacharias’ "child" John would be called "the prophet of the Highest." Unlike the prophets of the OT who foretold the coming of Messiah, John would introduce Him personally! (Jn.1:29).b. John would "go before His face" and "prepare His ways" ("make His paths straight") and "give knowledge of salvation to His people" ("Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!").c. God the Father in His "tender mercy" has "visited us" with the "Dayspring from on high." That’s what Christmas is all about anyway! The "tender mercy" of God came to us in a manger!d. "Dayspring" is a beautiful title for Jesus. It is used only here. It literally means "dawn, the rising of the sun." The OT alluded to this: Isa.60:1-2 says, "Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you." Mal.4:2 says, "But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings." Have you ever watched the sunrise dispel darkness? That’s exactly what Jesus came to do. Don’t think of Christmas so much as a baby in a manger. Think of it as the sunrise of God’s mercy!4. The "Dayspring" or Sunrise, Jesus has come to "give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death." He has come that He might "guide our feet INTO the way of peace…" that is "peace with God." Rom.5:1 says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." C. The Conclusion of Zacharias’ Song (v.80). "The child grew," God’s plan was fulfilled. We don’t sing because of tradition, we sing because of the "Dayspring" has shined in our lives!!!   

The Fullness of Times

Galatians 4:1-7

1. Larry Farthing shares this little poem called Christmas Means…

Christmas means that:

  • He descended that we might ascend (John 6:38, 14:3).
  • He became poor that we might become rich (2 Cor.8:9, Jas. 2:5).
  • He was born that we might be born again (John 1:14, 3:2,7).
  • He became a servant that we might become sons (Phil. 2:7; Gal. 4:6, 7).
  • He had no home that we might have a home in heaven (Matt. 8:20; John 14:2).
  • He was hungry that we might be fed (Matt. 4:2; John 6:50).
  • He was thirsty that we might be satisfied (John 19:26).
  • He was stripped that we might be clothed (Matt. 27:28; Gal. 3:27).
  • He was forsaken that we might not be forsaken (Matt. 27:26; 28:20).
  • He was sad that we might become glad (Isa.53:3; Phil. 4:4).
  • He was bound that we might go free (Matt.27:2; John 8:32-36).
  • He was made sin that we might be made righteous (2 Cor.5:21).
  • He died that we might live (John 5:24, 25).
  • He came down that we might be caught up (1 Thess.4:16, 17).

2. Christmas also means that God is never late. He never misses a deadline. He sent His son into the world right on time. God’s timetable is always perfect. Our timetable and God’s timetable are not always the same. There are times when we want God to act right now. We pray "God give me this promotion right now… God get me out of debt right now… God give me patience and give it to me now!." We understand that in His great wisdom, God chooses not to answer those prayers. The One who created everything from nothing, who sees the end from the beginning, who embodies all wisdom and knowledge is never late. He’s right on time. It may not be our time, but is always His time.

3. In the Christmas season we see a great reminder of the fact that God acted in just the right time when He sent His Son to the earth. V.4 of our text says, "When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman." That’s an amazing statement! Have you ever thought that there was a perfect time for Jesus to be born? You might say, "Pastor does this mean that there was one time in all of history when all things were perfectly in line for Jesus to be born?" I believe that is exactly what this verse means. Jesus came at precisely the right time. Christmas reminds us of God’s perfect timing.

4. Now you may be saying, "So what? What does that mean to me?" Just as God’s timing was perfect in the coming of Jesus, His timing is perfect in your life. Just as the people of Jesus’ day didn’t understand God’s timing then, you may not understand it now, nonetheless, it’s perfect. Maybe today is the perfect time in your life for God to move in a special way. Today may be the time God speaks to your heart, answers a dilemma, comforts you, strengthens you, or encourages you. Today may be the perfect timing for you to be born again.

5. In this passage, we’ll see just how perfectly God works out His plan in history. IT will also reveal how He perfectly works His plans in our lives. Let’s examine the preparation, the purpose and the privilege of Jesus’ coming.

I. The PREPARATION of His Coming (vv.1-3).

We are told that the first advent or coming of Christ happened in "the fullness of the time." Throughout the Old Testament there were numerous prophecies given concerning the coming of the Messiah. There were prophecies concerning the manner of His birth that He would be born of a virgin. There were prophecies concerning the place of His birth, that He would be born in Bethlehem. We see these prophecies being fulfilled as Jesus was born that glorious night. But just as there will be a perfect time for His Second Coming, there was a perfect time for His First Coming. God had pulled all things together to prepare for the first coming of Christ and for the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel.

A. There was RELIGIOUS Preparation. Throughout the Old Testament, God had been dealing with His chosen people, Israel. It would be through them that the Messiah would come. But Israel was always straying from God. They refused to simply worship Him alone, and were always following after the gods of the peoples around them. Over and over, God judged Israel for this idolatry.

Finally, we see the culmination of judgement in what is known as the Babylonian captivity. God finally allowed the entire nation to be conquered by Babylon and taken from their homeland into that country.

1. The first major effect of Babylonian Captivity is that it returned the Jews to monotheism. During that captivity, the Jews came in contact with the Persians. Now, the Persians were Zoroastrians, or monotheists. As a matter of fact, some feel that the Magi were Zoroastrian priests, but we have no way to confirm this. In any event, it seems that the Jews were delivered from following after the idols of the pagan nations around them.

2. The second major effect of the Babylonian Captivity is that the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed under Ezra. So, for the first time, the body of Old Testament literature known now as the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament, was pulled together; thus paving the way for the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

3. A third major effect of the Babylonian Captivity was that the Jewish synagogue came into being. Until that time, the Jews had worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now, there was no longer a temple, and so the Jews developed a method of assembly we now know as the synagogue. The synagogue, incidentally, is the pattern on which the Christian Church is fashioned. So we can see from all of these events, the religious preparation for the coming of Christ.

B. There was CULTURAL Preparation.

1. In 350 b.c., there arose a man by the name of Alexander. He was the son of the Macedonian King, Philip. We know him as Alexander the Great. He conquered the entire known world in twelve years.

2. Under Alexander’s influence, the world became Greek in culture, philosophy, institutions, art, drama, literature, architecture, thought and language. Greek was spread so widely that the ordinary people become very familiar with a style of Greek known as Koine, or common Greek. It became an international language.

3. This was very important because in 280 b.c., the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This is called the Septuagint. The stage was set for the preaching of the Gospel. Religiously, the Old Testament Scriptures were gathered; linguistically and culturally, the lines of communication were opened. The time was right.

C. There was POLITICAL Preparation.

1. By the time Jesus was born, Rome ruled the world. The Romans had conquered all the nations around them. In doing so, they built roads that would link the entire Roman Empire. They suppressed open criminal acts, and created a fine postal system.

2. God determined those who would ascend to power in the Roman Empire. At the coming of Christ, Caesar Augustus was the emperor. Little did he know that when he called for a census, he was in fact doing God’s will.

3. Because of his edict requiring all of the people to return to their place of origin and be taxed and counted, a pregnant woman and her husband made a historic journey to Bethlehem. Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, was guided by the sovereignty of God to the place prophesied in the Old Testament where Christ would be born.

D. There was SPIRITUAL Preparation.

1. Look back with me to 3:23-25. These verses provide an analogy of how God prepared people’s hearts to receive the Messiah.

2. V.22 says, "the Scripture has confined all under sin," that is by reading the Bible we all know that we are sinners. V.23 says that "before faith came we kept under guard by the law." Before Jesus came, people tried to keep all God’s OT laws. Guess what? They couldn’t do it. It was impossible. God designed is that way. V.24 says "the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ." In other words, because we realize keeping the law can’t save us, we know we need a Savior…Jesus!

3. In 4:1, Paul uses a slightly different analogy. He speaks of an "heir" who is a "child." In fact, he says that such an "heir… does not differ at all from a slave" even though he is "master of all." Why? Because he is "under guardians and stewards," tutors who make him study, who point out his faults, and punish his mistakes

4. However, this only lasts for a while, "until the time appointed by the father." In Greek culture, this wealthy young "heir" is schooled and disciplined and treated like a "slave" until the time that his "father" gives him his full inheritance.

5. V.3 says, "we were children… in bondage under the elements of the world." God’s people were under the law, the "tutor" or "guardian." The law was harsh and its punishment was harsh.

6. Now look at v.4. We were "in bondage" until "the fullness of the time had come." Draw a line from the phrase "until the time appointed by the father" to "when the fullness of the time had come." Jesus’ coming signified that the time for a rich spiritual inheritance had arrived.

7. God’s timing means that we are no longer under the law. "The fullness of the time" means that we now live in the full inheritance of God’s spiritual blessings!

II. The PURPOSE of His Coming (vv.4-5).

A. Jesus came to FULFILL (v.4).

1. Jesus came in the "fullness" of time to fulfill the work of the Lord. There was much to that night in Bethlehem almost 2,000 years ago than merely a babe in a manger.

2. God "sent forth His Son." Jesus left His place of prominence and privilege in heaven to dwell in the womb of a young woman from Nazareth. How the angels must have trembled with awe. The Creator of the Universe was carried about in a woman’s womb.

3. He was "born of a woman." This speaks of His humanity. Because He was the offspring of the Holy Spirit and had no human father, He is absolutely divine. However, in his mother, He is absolutely human. He often referred to Himself as "Son of Man." This is vital. It means Jesus understand what it is like to be a man. He knows the hurts, the hardships and the grief of mankind. He knows what it’s like to be human.

4. Jesus was "born under the law." Jesus was born under that "tutor," that "guardian." However, Jesus was different from all other men. The law didn’t point out His sin and His failures because He had none. On the contrary, the Law pointed out His perfection! The Law proved that Jesus is qualified to be the perfect Sacrifice for our Sin. God had referred to the coming Savior some 400 times in the OT. Jesus came to earth with the mission to do His fathers will. He said in Mat.5:17, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."

5. Jesus had more in mind in His coming to this Earth than giving us a holiday. God had a great purpose for Christ’s coming. God had planned this event before the Earth was formed. Now the time was right. And Christ came.

B. Jesus came to REDEEM (v.5a).

Jesus not only came to "fulfill" the law and prophets, He came "to redeem those who were under the law."

1. Most people think that God will accept them on the basis of their good works. They believe that God somehow measures their good deeds against their bad deeds and that in the end their good deeds will be greater than their bad deeds.

2. Guess what? No one is that good. Is.64:6 says, "All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." That is the point of the OT law. It is our "tutor" our teacher that shows us that the best that we can do will never be good enough. It points us to our need of a Savior.

3. We were under the law, but could not keep the Law. So we stood condemned by our own inadequacy. Our own works testify to the fact that we cannot be righteous in ourselves. So Jesus came. He bore our humanity. He bore our iniquity. He died on the cross in our place. In His death, He accepted the full measure of God’s punishment for sin for us.

When I was a child, my mother used to collect savings stamps at the grocery store. We would paste them in books and then go to the "redemption center" to buy stuff with our stamps. The "redemption center" accepted those silly stamps as payment. Jesus died for our sins and He offers His death to His father as payment to "redeem" or buy us back from the penalty and the power of sin.

4. That offer still stands today. We have one of two choices: We can choose to live our lives in our own strength, taking our chances that we can live righteously enough to earn our way to heaven. On the other hand, we can accept God’s offer of salvation by faith in the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s the best Christmas gift ever.

C. Jesus came to ADOPT (v.5b).

1. This verse teaches that Jesus’ purpose in coming was not only to fulfill and redeem, but also to adopt us into His forever family, "that we might receive adoption as sons."

2. The word "adoption" in Greek comes from two Greek words. One means "to place" and the other means "a son." Thus "adoption" means "the placing of a son."

3. When you came to Jesus, when you were saved, God adopted you into His forever family. He not only forgave you of your sins, assured you of a home in heaven and placed within you the Holy Spirit, but He adopted you. He made you His son or His daughter. Now you have all the privileges of sonship. More about that in a moment.

4. There is a beautiful picture of this in the OT. 2 Sam.9 describes how when David became king, he brought the grandson of His former enemy Saul, a young man named Mephibosheth into His house. It was customary to kill the offspring of the previous king. Instead, David brought this poor, lonely, crippled boy in to his home and seated him at his table. The table covered his crippled legs and God’s grace covers our sinful past.

5. Friends, Christmas means I’ve been adopted! As the old song says, "I’m a child of the King." Jesus was born in a manger not only to pay for my sins, but also to adopt me into God’s forever family!

III. The PRIVILEGE of His Coming (vv.6-7).

A. We are no longer SLAVES but SONS.

1. In the analogy in vv.1-3, we see that an "heir" even though he is a "child does not differ at all from a slave." V.7 says "you are no longer a slave but a son."

2. V.6 says, "because you are sons God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts. V.4 says "God sent forth His Son." Here is says, "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son." God sent His Son to give us access to Him. He sends His Spirit to give us intimacy with Him.

3. Because we are not slaves, because we have God’s Spirit indwelling our hearts we cry out "Abba Father!" It is the Spirit who is "crying out." However through the Spirit we also cry out "Abba."

4. What does "Abba" mean? The word is a tender expression of Father. About the closest word we have in English is "daddy." God makes us sons and brings us close, in intimacy to Him. He puts His Spirit in us, places us in our laps and we call Him "Abba," Daddy.

B. We are not just SONS but HEIRS.

1. V.7 continues. It follows a sense of logic, "if [you are] a son, then [you are] an heir of God through Christ." If "through Christ" you have become "a son" then it makes sense as "a son" that you are also an "heir."

2. An "heir" inherits the wealth of his father. As believers we have and we will inherit the "fullness" of our Father’s wealth. Christmas means that we have not only the gift of salvation, but all the wealth of our Father in Heaven.

3. Rom.8:16-17 says, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."

Almost 2,000 years ago, there came a night when "the fullness of the time" had come. The angels appeared over the portals of heaven in expectancy. The plan of God through the ages was beginning to unfold. It would be only moments before they announced to the shepherds, "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11-12). Thus when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. Unable to contain heaven’s joy any longer, the angels would explode with the cry of jubilation, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." The fullness of time had come. Maybe it has come in your life today.

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From the Throne of Heaven to an Animal Feeding Trough

Sermon Text: Luke 1:48
Scripture Reading: Luke 1: 46-55, Matthew 11: 2-6
Sermon Title: "From the Throne of Heaven to an Animal Feeding Trough"
Behavioral Purpose: To move the participants in Church of the Reconciler to strengthen or establish a relationship with Jesus this Christmas.
Genre: metaphor: Seeing and opening the gifts of Christmas
Conflict/Issue/Resolution: What are the true gifts of Christmas and how do we open them?
Crucial and Interesting Details: To be lame is to be disabled in any way. Leprosy is a condition of being socially and religiously profane and contaminated. Mary was blind and deaf to the gifts of Christmas bur her experience opened her eyes and ears. Biblical blindness is spiritual as well as physical. To be deaf in the Bible is a spiritual; condition as well as a physical one.

Move 1: The Christmas gifts Mary saw.
Move 2: Naming the Christmas Gifts for All.
Move 3: Unwrapping the Christmas gifts.
Celebration: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Date: 12/13/98

Move 1:

Mary like all the rest of the world was blind and deaf to the reality of Christmas. Christmas was only a promise understood and hoped for by a very few. The Word had not become flesh.

But Mary’s experience of God being born in her as a baby healed her blindness and opened her ears to Christmas. In her lowliness Mary found favor with God and heard the Word of God.

31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

With healthy eyes and unstopped ears:

1 Mary then knew that there is encouragement in Christ, that there is consolation from love, that there is sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy with God. Mary knew joy complete: She knew the mind of Christmas, having love, unity and of one mind. In humility she regarded others as better than herself, looking to the interest of others. The one6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a baby, being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of being born in a barn and laid in an animal feeding trough and then died on a cross.

Mary heard and experienced that God became a homeless baby. She was no longer deaf and blind to Christmas. God came from the throne of Heaven to a feeding trough for animals to meet the needs of all humanity.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The Light was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' ") 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

From God to a baby! To cast out our sin and be born in us today!

Move 2:

John was one of the few beside Mary who heard and saw Christmas. But in his disappointment and in his imprisonment for righteousness and because of his lack of vision and faith in times of trouble he began to wonder is Christmas really happened.

He asked has Christmas happened or not? Is Christmas real John asked? Did you come from the throne of heaven to be laid in a feeding trough for us or not? Has God become a baby for us or do we still have to wait?

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was serving the lowly, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: These are the gifts of Christmas, God became flesh so that5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

I was laid in a feeding trough for all the world! God became a homeless baby in me so that all might have life!

Jesus made it clear to John and to us that the gifts that point to the reality of Christmas are the work of God among the lowly for the lowly so that all might have life!

The blind receive their sight. Those with unhealthy eyes being unable to see the love and power of God can now see that God loves the entire world. Our youth are collecting eyeglasses so that all might see the love of God, the gift of Christmas.

The lame walk. Those disabled in spirit mind body and relationships are now enabled walk in the presence of God with boldness because of the grace in which we stand. This is the gift of Christmas.

The lepers are cleansed. The lepers, those socially and religiously contaminated are now clean. Sinners, the homeless, addicts, homosexuals, felons are now clean.

The deaf hear. Those who have never deeply and truly heard of Grace, free unmerited love, now rejoice in being accepted and loved through faith. This is the gift of Christmas, hear the word!

The dead are raised. Those dead in sin, controlled by lies, greed, hate, fear, and revenge, are now animated by love. The dead no longer return evil for evil, they are now alive and over come evil with good.

The poor have good news brought to them; not good information, but good news. It is not good information that saves us but the good news of the action of God that saves us. God has become a baby for us. It is real news, God did not act to impeach us but came from the throne of heaven to be laid in a feeding trough as a homeless baby to save us! It happened, believe it! Read the headlines today, from the throne of heaven to an animal feeding trough, the world is saved! God has acted for the poor. The poor are loved, accepted, forgiven and made joint heirs with Jesus. Good News, read all about it!

These gifts, these realities of Christmas are ours. To open the gifts we must establish and sustain a relationship with Jesus. Just as Mary experienced God in God’s moving from the throne of Heaven to an animal feeding trough so can we be gifted by God becoming a baby. Our relationship with God is assessable. Jesus can be born in us. There is no blindness, lameness, leprosy, deafness, power of death than can keep us from being blocked out of Christmas. Christ is for all! Hear the Good News! Happy! Happy! Happy!

Move 3:

We unwrap these gifts by faith. Jesus will cast out sin and enter into our life.

Nancy and I have the wonderful joy of having a grandbaby. The reality of that joy is in the relationship we have with Mary Hannah. We spend time with her every Sunday afternoon and other times that we can. . Without the time of committed relationship there would be no gift of joy of being a grandparent. It takes a growing relationship built through shared time.

To see what Mary saw and to see what John saw we must spend time with Jesus. We must have our unhealthy eyes turned from the things of this world to Jesus. You can’t keep watching the xxx rated videos and expect to see the joy of Christmas. The true joy of Christmas cannot be received with out seeing the love of God in Jesus Christ. Take an inventory. What do you look at? Jesus’ love is Christmas. Heal the unhealthy eyes let the light of God’s love into your being.

To hear God’s word our unhealthy ears have to be unstopped. What music do you listen to? What words do you hear? It takes time listening to God’s word to hear it with clarity. We may not know how to speak and understand Gospel language and words. You don’t hear them on the media. What do the words grace (free unmerited love), faith (a sure trust and confidence in the action of God in Christ), righteousness (love of God neighbor and self), hope (death will not have the last word), eternal life (we will live forever), death mean for you? Can you hear what God speaks? Take the time to listen! Study the Gospel language. Unstop our ears. Learn the Gospel language!

We live in a very complex and complicated world. We need a relationship with God. This relationship will unwrap the gifts of Christmas. We will not be blind and deaf any more. We can sing with Mary. Can you sing with Mary today?

My soul magnifies the Lord. My Spirit rejoices in God my savior. Is your witness full of assurance like Mary’s witness?

The mighty one has done great things for me.

When we fly on an airplane precautions are taken to provide oxygen for the passengers in case the cabin pressure is lost. As a flyer instructions are given for you to put the oxygen mask on your self before you assist another person.

This is true with the gifts of Christmas. We must take responsibility for our relationship with Jesus. We can’t do this for anybody else. This takes time but it is the best gift we can give others. We can be in very difficult and demanding situations like Mary’s poverty and oppression or John imprisonment. But we cannot not assist others unless our relationship with Jesus is solid strong and regular. Unwrap the gift of Christmas by faith so others can hear you sing! My soul magnifies the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my savior!

We must build a relationship with Jesus that is biblically sound. We must spend time in the scriptures. We must have spiritual friends. We must read the books of great Christians who have gone before and now stand in the more immediate presence of God. Martin Luther King, Jr. John Wesley, and others. And we must converse with living Christians who know God and serve in the power of the Spirit. We must worship with the community of faith. We must partake of the sacraments. We must visit the poor.

Give the gift of eternal life this Christmas open the Christmas Gifts of faith.

Think about Bethlehem where God became a baby, came from the throne of Heaven to an animal feeding trough so that God can be born in us today.


O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars together , proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to all on earth.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still,
the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

Can you hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

UMH # 230

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