This is the final week of our Gifts of Christmas Series, it is Christmas Day, and we look at a quote by Martin Luther, "Christmas for a believer involves three miracles." We'll look at those three miracles this morning.
This message is based on Matthew 1:18-25. To read it now, click here.
This is the final week of our Advent Sermon Series titled, The Gifts of Christmas. This is the time of the year when we spend a lot of time thinking about what gifts we might want for Christmas, and carefully considering what gifts we will give to others, so we’re taking some time on Sunday mornings to think about what gifts God wants to give to us.
This week we’re looking at The Gift of Joy. And without looking too deeply, we all experience a joy around Christmas that just isn’t around the rest of the year. Especially if we can forget about the baking of tons of cookies, and the writing tons of cards, that we don’t do so good at ourselves, the buying a ton of gifts, and all the preparations. If we can forget about all these, we have to admit, Christmas is a joyful time of year.
The TV movies call it the Spirit of Christmas. Whatever it is, there really does seem to be something magic about this time of year. There is a generosity that is rarely seen at other times. A kindness and compassion towards others. It really is the epitome of a life of faith, it’s how we’re supposed to be as Christians, yet it’s exhibited in most people this time of year, whether believers or not. And I suppose that the world would truly be different if everybody could have this generosity, kindness and compassion all year round. Perhaps it’s a miracle that they can have it now. Or maybe it’s a sign of the promise.
Martin Luther once said that Christmas for a believer involves three miracles. The first miracle is that God became a man, the second miracle is that a virgin was the mother, and the third miracle, that the heart of man should truly believe this. All three of these miracles can be seen in our reading this morning, and I want to unpack these this morning and really try to understand them.
First, that God became a man. That, in itself, can be pretty hard to accept, can’t it? We call it the incarnation – that God took a human body. And it’s a difficult concept to grasp. How can person be 100% man and at the same time, still be 100% God? We have trouble accepting it.
And many people don’t accept it. In his preface to the book, The Myth of God Incarnate, John Hicks, Professor of Theology at Birmingham, says: “The writers of this book are convinced that another major theological development is called for in this last part of the 20th Century. The need arises from growing knowledge of Christian origins, and involves a recognition that Jesus was ‘a man approved by God’ for a special role within the divine purpose, and that the conception of him as God incarnate, the Second Person of a Holy Trinity living a human life, is a mythological or poetic way of expressing his significance for us.” So John Hicks, a believer, a professor of theology, doesn’t believe Jesus was God incarnate.
None of the other major world religions believe it. The Jews, of course, don’t. The Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all believe, all accept that He lived, but they deny His deity. He was a great teacher, a great man. Not even some of the Christian offshoots – the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses – believe it.
Yet the Bible is pretty clear. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” then in verse 14, “The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us.” In Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
I think it’s a beautiful thought, that God became a man, and dwelt with us. It’s comforting to me, because I find it easier to pray to someone who knows what its like to be me. He was a real person – not some pie in the sky deity demanding things that can’t be done. Sure, when we hear His commands they sound hard enough, but doesn’t it make it easier to know that He’s been here. He knows the temptations that we face, He knows the struggles that we live through – because He has lived through them as well. Many religions have god’s that are unapproachable. Not Christianity! Jesus understands what we are going through, and loves us all the more because of it.
If you follow baseball, you might know that in 1990, Joe Torre became the manager at the St. Louis Cardinals. At that time, Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto suggested that managing could be done better from the broadcasting booth. High above the field you can get a much better view of everything happening on the field. Torre thought about it for a minute, then said, “upstairs you can’t look into their eyes.” In the person of Jesus, God choose to come down to the field so he could look into our eyes.
Martin Luther’s second miracle of Christmas was that a virgin was the mother of this child. That’s another one that a lot of people have trouble accepting. A leading Catholic Bible scholar, Father Raymond Brown, has declared the issue of the virgin birth unresolved, meaning they can’t agree on it. Theologians and scholars have been arguing this for hundreds of years, and they can’t agree!
Yet again, the Bible is pretty clear that is what happened. In Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah says, “the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Now to be honest here, I’ll give you a little language lesson, the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Isaiah was written in Hebrew, and the word Isaiah used for virgin could also mean a young child. So was she really a virgin? Or was she just a very young child?
However, in our reading this morning, when it says that a virgin will be with child and will give birth, that was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word is very specific, it can’t mean a young child. It can only mean that Mary truly was a virgin. So the Bible is clear that it was truly a virgin birth. Why might that be important?
Perhaps, the virgin birth is important because it shows that anything is possible with God. The virgin birth isn’t the basis of the incarnation, and it certainly isn’t proof of the incarnation. But it is a sign to us, as Isaiah said when he wrote, “The Lord himself will give you a sign.” It is a sign that God’s most precious gift to humanity is given entirely by grace. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, we just have to have faith.
Which brings us to Martin Luther’s final miracle, that a human mind could believe all this. Miracles are incredibly difficult for the modern mind to grasp. We’re always searching for the explanation. Some people go so far as not believing anything unless it can be scientifically proven. We tend to be very skeptical of anything we can’t see.
But even then it wasn’t easy to believe. In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul writes, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” The idea of God becoming a man and born of a virgin was thought of as foolishness even then to those who didn’t believe.
C.S. Lewis wrote that people by nature want to excuse themselves rather than be responsible. Often we would rather look for excuses why something can’t be true, then to consider that if it is true, we need to be doing something differently. We don’t like change. But change is what repentance is all about. It is an opportunity to do something about what we know we are doing wrong. It’s an opportunity to do something about the sin in our lives.
That is a side to Christmas that the world largely ignores. We love the appealing parts, the Christmas Spirit, the decorations, the good cheer, the giving and receiving of gifts. But most people don’t want to think about the deeper meaning of Christmas – that a holy God became a baby, born in a manger. That, as Max Lucado would put it, God came near. Despite our sin, despite our questions and our unbelief, God came near.
The Rev. Eric Ritz talks about a Christmas card that he received one time. It said,
If our greatest need was for information,
God would have sent an educator.
If our greatest need was for technology,
God would have sent a scientist.
If our greatest need was for pleasure,
God would have sent an entertainer.
If our greatest need was for money,
God would have sent an economist.
But since our greatest need is for forgiveness,
God sent a Savior.
Among the gifts, decorations, family and feast, I hope you are able to remember that while they are all nice, they are not really Christmas. Christmas is about our deepest need, the need of a Savior, and God meeting that need by coming in person, in the form of a helpless baby born in a manger. Immanuel – God is With Us. It’s a gift of joy that can’t be explained.