Keep Christ at the Center of Christmas part 1 (Matthew 1:18-25; Gal. 4:4-7)

Today, we begin the Christmas season. Some would say the Christmas season began with Thanksgiving, though it seems to be moved up each year. What is Christmas all about?

Watch this video and then we’ll talk.

 

 

So, we see that Christmas has quite a history, but what is our focus on Christmas.

Thermometer versus a thermostat…

I have a thermometer, what does a thermometer do? It reads the temperature. Does the thermometer change? Yes, it changes based off of the temperature.

What do I have here? This is a thermostat. With a thermostat, does it change? It only changes based off of the setting.

Listen, our Christian beliefs do not change based off of culture. Our beliefs are not a thermometer. Our beliefs are a thermostat. Our beliefs are set based off the Bible and they do not change.

In Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Charles Swindoll tells the story of a large department store that carried a special doll at Christmas in the form of the baby Jesus. It was advertised as being unbreakable, washable, and cuddly. It was packaged in straw with a satin crib, plastic surroundings, and appropriate biblical texts added here and there to make the scene complete. The dolls didn’t sell. The manager of one of the stores in the department chain panicked. He carried out a last-ditch promotion to get rid of the dolls. He brandished a huge sign outside his store that read: JESUS CHRIST—MARKED DOWN 50% GET HIM WHILE YOU CAN!

Jesus gets discounted every Christmas. Some discount Him in anger, others in apathy. But the only proper response to God in human flesh is humble, extravagant devotion and adoration.[1]

My theme and application today is:

Keep Christ at the center of Christmas.

Let’s read:

Matthew 1:18-25:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

  1. Christ IS the center of Christmas.
    1. Today, I want to make sure we all understand this. Christmas is about Jesus. I am not meaning this just in culture. I mean from the Bible we see that Jesus is at the center. The New Testament is all about Jesus. We can make the case that the Old Testament is all about looking forward to Jesus.
    2. I am not going to walk through the passage from Matthew today except to point out a few things.
    3. This is the first book of the New Testament and the first chapter is all about the birth of Jesus.
    4. This followed what we call the 400 years of silence. From Malachi through Matthew there were not any prophets. It appeared that God was silent and then we have this chapter in Matthew.
    5. This is about Jesus’ incarnation.
    6. This is about Jesus joining us.
    7. This is about Immanuel, God in the flesh, God with us.
    8. We needed a Savior, God provided the Savior.
    9. As has been noted by the opening video Christmas has quite a history as a holiday.
    10. It seems as though Jesus’ death and resurrection was celebrated long before His birth. Very early in its history the church had an annual observance of the death of Christ and also honored many of the early martyrs on the day of their death. Before the fourth century, churches in the East—Egypt, Asia Minor, and Antioch—observed Epiphany, the manifestation of God to the world, celebrating Christ’s baptism, His birth, and the visit of the magi.
    11. We have no clear evidence for exactly when Jesus was born. The term Christmas comes from “Christ Mass.” The term Christ Mass did not come about until the middle ages.
    12. One source reads:

In the early part of the fourth century, Christians in Rome began to celebrate the birth of Christ. The practice spread widely and rapidly, so that most parts of the Christian world observed the new festival by the end of the century. In the fourth century the controversy over the nature of Christ, whether He was truly God or a created being, led to an increased emphasis on the doctrine of the incarnation, the affirmation that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14 HCSB). It is likely that the urgency to proclaim the incarnation was an important factor in the spread of the celebration of Christmas.

No evidence remains about the exact date of the birth of Christ. The December 25 date was chosen as much for practical reasons as for theological ones. Throughout the Roman Empire, various festivals were held in conjunction with the winter solstice. In Rome, the Feast of the Unconquerable Sun celebrated the beginning of the return of the sun. When Christianity became the religion of the Empire, the church either had to suppress the festivals or transform them. The winter solstice seemed an appropriate time to celebrate Christ’s birth. Thus, the festival of the sun became a festival of the Son, the Light of the world.[2]

  1. As the video earlier shared Christmas was celebrated but by the 1600’s the puritans outlawed it because it no longer was about Jesus’ birth, it became mainly about partying and drinking and so on. Sound familiar?
  2. But the whole Bible is about Jesus and Christmas must also be about Jesus.
  3. Isn’t it amazing that history is even recorded based on Jesus’ birth?
  1. Jesus came at God’s appointed time.
    1. Jesus changed history.
    2. Let’s look at Galatians 4:4-7: But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
    3. God had a plan and God still has a plan! Jesus came at the right time.
    4. Do you ever doubt? Don’t be afraid to admit that you have certain doubts or that you have certain struggles with faith. We all have doubts sometimes. But this shows us that God’s perfect plan considered every single detail.
    5. God considered every detail of when He was going to come to earth and God also considers every detail in your life. Do you realize that? We all must always remember that God knows all things.
    6. Trust in God, I encourage you to remember that we can trust in Him.
    7. Another point about timing is the timing in Judaism. Things were perfect in the physical world for Jesus to come, but things were also perfect Biblically. There were many, many prophesies about the Messiah. God had promised to redeem His people. God had promised to take care of our sin. At just the right time, when things were ripe spiritually, Jesus came. It is sufficient to say with Calvin that “the time which had been ordained by the providence of God was seasonable and fit.… Therefore, the right time for the Son of God to be revealed to the world was for God alone to judge and determine.”[3] There was a pluralism of ideas including religious ideas in first century Rome and people were ready to embrace and accept Christianity.
    8. Jesus was born of a woman and born under the law to redeem those under the law (verses 4-5)
    9. It seems to me that Paul makes a point to say that Jesus was born of a woman. Now some may think, “That is obvious!” However, there are reasons for this. All the way going back to Genesis 3:15 Scripture makes it quite clear that the Messiah would be born of a woman. Scripture makes it clear that the Messiah would come from a woman’s seed. This emphasizes the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus was the God-man and there had to be a way to unite God with man and this was the way God chose. People may say, “Why did He have to be God and man? Well, we can write a book on that topic, but Jesus had to be God to be able to take the penalty for our sins. Only someone who is God can take the full penalty, the eternal penalty actually, for every being’s sin. Jesus being God was able to take the penalty for everyone’s sin that has ever lived and ever will live. Jesus took this penalty on the cross and He paid the whole penalty in less than three days. That is why He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me!” God turned His back upon His Son (Mark 15:34). It was necessary that He was fully Human. He had to be the example. A representative of obedience. We see parallels between Jesus’ temptation and the time of testing of Adam and Eve (Luke 4:1-3; Gen. 2:15-3:7). We see this in Paul’s discussion (Rom. 15:18-19). He had to be a man to be a substitute sacrifice for our sins. If He wasn’t a man He couldn’t have died in our place for our sins (Heb. 2:16-17 cf. 14). He had to be fully man and fully God to be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). The fact that He was a man and endured temptations allows Him to sympathize with us more clearly as our High Priest (Heb. 2:18; cf. 4:15-16). Jesus’ humanity also, provides an example and pattern for our lives (John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21).
    10. But, as this verse says, Jesus also had to be born under the law. Jesus lived His life under the law and this allowed Himself to die under the law as our sacrifice.
    11. Jesus died to redeem those under the law. To redeem means “to buy back.” We were slaves to sin and the reality is Jesus bought our soul out of that slavery. There were about 60 million slaves in the Roman empire. A man could purchase a slave in a Roman city for his own use or to set him/her free. Jesus paid the price to buy us out of our slavery to sin. Then, Jesus set us free.
    12. Jesus came at just the right time and He changed history and it is still changed. Christmas was God’s idea and not ours.
    13. I’ll repeat that: Christmas was God’s idea and not ours!
    14. History is “His story.”
    15. Think for a moment about how history changed. From the beginning of time religions had been sacrificing animals to cover their sin. In the Old Testament Judaism sacrificed animals to take care of their sin. Though, the Old Testament was ultimately about grace it may not have appeared that way. There were all these laws and no one could keep the law. Romans 3:20 shows us that we have knowledge of sin because of the law.
    16. Jesus gave us a completely and obviously Grace-based life and a grace-based relationship with God.
    17. Furthermore, the other religions of the ancient world also sacrificed animals and even children. Even in the New Testament there were animal sacrifices. This all changes with Jesus’ death on the cross. Christianity swept across the world and changed culture. Christianity changed the pagan culture of Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland and many other places. Christianity totally and entirely changed Rome. Jesus is still changing the world. That is why we sing: Joy to the world
      Joy to the world
      Joy to the world, the Lord is come
      Let earth receive her King
      Let every heart prepare Him room
      And Heaven and nature sing
      And Heaven and nature sing
      And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing
    18. The world can be the way it will be. The world will take any Christian event and make it all about money, but for the Christian this must be about Jesus.
    19. Keep Christ at the center of Christmas.
  • How do we keep Christ at the center?
    1. Family devotions: Take some time to read through the Christmas story with your family.
    2. Read a devotional as a family. Read Our Daily Bread or Today in the Word as a family. These will be focused on Christmas.
    3. Give differently: choose a family mission project. Actually, go and serve as a family.

In a certain home town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdeitch by name. He lived in a small basement room whose one window looked out onto the street, and all he could see were the feet of people passing by. But since there was hardly a pair of boots that had not been in his hands at one time for repair, Martin recognized each person by his shoes. Day after day, he would work in his shop, watching boots pass by. One day he found himself consumed with the hope of a dream that he would find the Lord’s feet outside his window. Instead, he found a lingering pair of worn boots belonging to an old soldier. Though at first disappointed, Martin realized the old man might be hungry and invited him inside to a warm fire and some tea. He had other visitors that evening, and though sadly none were Christ, he let them in also. Sitting down at the end of day, Martin heard a voice whisper his name as he read the words: “I was hungry and you gave me meat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in. Inasmuch as you did for the least of these, you did unto me.”[4]

Close:

I close with something one of my mentors wrote:

SEEING YOURSELF IN THE CHRISTMAS STORY by Pastor Rick Sams

Storytelling has been a powerful means of passing down history, moral lessons, personal information and history, as well as helping people to heal and change. Let me challenge you to put yourself in the Christmas Story.

With which character do you relate most?

  1. The wise men: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2); What/who are you seeking? Worshipping?
  2. King Herod: “When King Herod heard this [above] he was disturbed…”  (Matthew 2:3); Who or what is disturbing you?”
  3. The shepherds: “When they had seen him [Jesus] , they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18). Who/what is amazing you?
  4. Joseph: “But after [Joseph] had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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 1:18-20). Who or what are you afraid of?
  5. Simeon the priest: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation [salvation] of Israel” (Luke 2:25). Who/what are you waiting for?
  6. Anna: “There was also a prophetess, Anna….She was very old…She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38). Who or what are you thankful for. Who/what are you looking forward to?
  7. Mary: “But Mary treasured these things [the angel told her] and pondered [thought LONG about] them in her heart” (Lk 2:19); Are you treasuring anyone or anything. Are you thinking long about something or someone?

There are many Christmas stories including the classic movie of that title where the precocious, pre-teen Ralphie is warned about “shooting his eye out” with a Red Ryder BB gun. But put yourself in the REAL Christmas story and see if by doing so God won’t give you a gift of healing, help or wholeness.

Do you know Christ?

Luke 9:23

God created us to be with Him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means being with Jesus forever. (Rev. 22:5)

[1] https://christmas.dts.edu/2017/12/23/first-responders/?utm_campaign=2017%20Christmas%20Devo&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=59619720&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_rAHHJ1wV5IK5MWqAoSd3mhrmjcLGfwXfdqTaXOpxQn-PnFFzViW6z8AZkIOnQwVeSTe7yg96357MSG0A0GeQuZ0lUtg&_hsmi=59619720

[2] Fred A. Grissom, “Christmas,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 288.

[3] George, T. (1994). Vol. 30: Galatians. The New American Commentary (301). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/where-is-god

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