Sermon Christmas 2021
Today is Christmas. For many of us, it’s a day of family visits and festive foods. But soon, the happy – or sad memories will linger, and then slowly fade.
If ever there was a time you and I needed an permanent anchor for our souls, something that will remain true, and positive, and will not ever fade away, it is this day – especially as we face 2022. That is why I want us to look to Luke’s gospel on the day we celebrate the Lord’s miraculous birth. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has something to tell us.
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”
It is important at the outset of this gospel letter Luke wrote to Theophilus that, although Luke penned the words, he was directed by the Holy Spirit who inspired Luke’s letter. That does not mean, of course, God dictated word for word what the physician should write. What it means is God illuminated and directed Luke regarding what to report and HOW to report it. God permitted the inspired write to express divine truth in the manner and the vocabulary the writer was already accustomed to – yet God at the same time protected them from writing error. That is one reason St. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). And St. Peter tells us, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21).
So while Luke’s purpose of the letter was so that he would “know the exact truth about the things” he had been taught, God used the physician Luke to write those things so that WE TOO can know the exact truth about the things we have been taught – assuming, of course, that we have been taught by honorable and biblically knowledgeable men and women – including our parents who taught us the word of God.
The exact truth. Not everyone wants to know truth. Truth demands of the hearer an action – either receive the truth and LIVE obediently to the truth, or – to reject the truth. We MUST take sides. No one can stay neutral very long in the face of truth.
Jesus warned about those who reject truth. Here is what He said: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:19-21)
So, what is it that God had Luke write to Theophilus who, many commentators believe was Luke’s friend? What are those truths?
Well, Luke’s letter has 24 chapters of truth, and we cannot take time in this one message to expound on all that the Holy Spirit wanted Theophilus – and us – to know. So, for this Christmas message I will limit myself to only a few truths we can know on Christmas 2021.
Exact truth number one: Jesus’ birth was miraculous. Here is how Luke records it: Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:26-34)
Jesus’ birth was miraculous because Mary became pregnant with Jesus without having intercourse with Joseph, her betrothed husband. THAT is a critically important truth we must know because many today in the pulpits and even more in the pew scoff at the idea of a virgin conception of Jesus.
Some even here might wonder about it all. We know where babies come from. Mary knew the biology of it all. That’s why she said to the angel Gabriel, and let me paraphrase it for us, “How can this be, since I am not intimate with a man?”
Those of you who know the story, Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke1:35-37)
Nothing will be impossible with God. It’s what God also said to Abraham when his wife, Sarah, laughed at the promise that she, in her very old age, would have a son. God said, “Is anything to difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). It is what Jeremiah acknowledged to the Lord when he wrote: “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
Christmas is the story of God’s miraculous physical intervention into the affairs of His creation. No longer, as some supposed, a distant management of the affairs of life. No longer an absent landlord of this home called earth. Christmas is God’s answer to those charges that God doesn’t know what it is like to be ‘Me’ – because yes He does know what it is like because He became human and lived and died as a human. And He rose again on that third day JUST AS every child of His will rise again in our own resurrection.
Why should it seem so inconceivable that the God who created the suns and the moons and the planets by simply SPEAKING them into existence, why should a simple virgin conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb be so unbelievable? I never cease to be shocked at the absolute hubris of creatures – men and women – creatures created by God who dismiss the miraculous because they do not understand it or think it can happen. There is no more arrogant a person than that.
So, this Christmas, what do YOU believe about the exact truth Luke wrote to Theophilus about Jesus’ miraculous birth?
Exact truth number two. God the Holy Spirit wanted Theophilus – and you and me – to know that John the Baptist had developed doubts about Jesus. You may remember the story when John was in prison, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the Expected One? Or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19)
Why might St. John the Baptizer have asked that question? Surely, he knew the story surrounding the miraculous birth of Jesus. Surely his aunt Mary told him and his mother and father –Elizabeth and Zacharias – the message she received from the angel Gabriel. So, why was John now questioning it all?
It could be – and this is what I think to be the case – it could be that John, as each of Jesus’ twelve disciples and the nation of Israel itself at that time – everyone expected the Messiah to bring His reign to earth and do away with their Roman oppressors.
But as far as John could tell, Jesus was not doing that. And to make matters even worse and more confusing, if Jesus was the Expected One, then why did He allow His cousin to be arrested and thrown into a nasty, stinky, filthy prison for standing up to the abusive and wicked Roman king Herod?
It seems to me that those are some reasons John might have gotten to thinking he’d gotten it all wrong.
Do those kinds of doubts make their way into the minds of even mature Christians today? They’ve heard the stories of Jesus all their lives. But this same miracle worker is, for them, not now meeting THEIR expectations of what He ought to do and how He ought to do it.
When the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write about John’s confusion, perhaps God is telling us that our doubts are okay – because HONEST questions result in seeking honest answers, as John sought answers. Never think God doesn’t want you or me to seek truth when we struggle with faith. Seeking truth with an honest heart is how we grow in our faith.
Has Jesus sometimes disappointed you? Has He not met your expectations in the past – or even now – when you asked for things that are really important to you – like healing your child, or spouse, or parent? Like getting you a job so you can pay your bills. Like relieving your loneliness. Or to supply you the finances to pay the rent and put food on the table?
All Christians at some point make an adult decision to give our heart to Jesus. And as we continue our faith journey, we continue to offer Him our heart. But what about the hopes we have for ourselves or our family? What about our dreams? Our deepest longings and expectations? And what do we do when life takes a sharp turn, and our dreams are irretrievably lost, like charred ashes after a house fire?
If you haven’t yet asked yourself that question, the time will come when you have to ask it. That’s why, on this day after Christmas, I urge us all to prepare now for our answer. Everything in our life from that moment of distress and deep disappointment – everything in our life from that point on will depend on our response.
Now let’s get back to John’s disciples and the Lord’s response to John through them: “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Luke 7:22-23)
And there is the answer to our dilemma when we face our own questions about Jesus when He fails to live up to our expectations. If we are at times not sure of His Lordship and Messiahship because of His words, then we can believe in Him because of His works. And you might remember that is precisely what Jesus said to the doubting crowd in Jerusalem: “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
And His most miraculous work, His most wonderful work, was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah when Jesus took upon Himself – an ineffably wonderful work in itself – when Jesus took upon Himself your sins and mine, when Jesus substituted His life for yours and mine: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, AKJV)
And as if to emphasize the point, God repeats several verses later: reiterated several verses later, “My Servant will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” (verse 11, NASB)
Which brings us to exact truth number three: Jesus is going to return to earth – not as a baby, but this time as a Lion. Here is Luke 21:10-19, 25-28:
10 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. 16 But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives . . . 25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Jesus is coming back. We can be absolutely certain of that because He promised to return. Now, while it is true that there have been in history periods of famines and earthquakes and persecutions and wars – Remember Jesus said in Mark’s gospel that these things are just the beginning of the upheavals earth and those who dwell on earth will experience before Jesus returns. BUT – Luke also records Jesus to say: “when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
“Let not your heart be troubled.” You will remember Jesus’ words to His disciples in chapter 14 of John’s gospel. “You believe in God; believe also in Me.” Then the Lord went on to say, “In my Father’s House are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will return to take you to Myself, that you may also be where I am.” (paraphrase of John 14:1-3)
Luke wrote what is the exact truth the Holy Spirit wants us to know as we journey our journey with Christ in this life into 2022 and beyond. We looked today at only three of those truths: Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, It’s okay to be disappointed, and yes, Jesus is coming again. Soon. I hope before this day is over. But even if it takes another decade for His return, we can rest our souls in His arms, who promised – He is preparing a place for all who love Him, for all who call Him Lord, for all who obey His voice.
Merry Christmas. A blessed 2022 to all of us. And Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.