The Activity of God at Christmas

Title: The Activity of God at Christmas


Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Date: December 7th, 2008

This is the second Sunday into the Christmas season this year and today I’d like to speak on the activity of God at Christmas time. What I mean by the activity of God is God’s ordinary and extra-ordinary activity, God’s providential activity – the invisible, behind the scenes activity of God – and God’s miraculous activity, which is visible and apparent. All of these were present at the first Christmas – and all of them are present to one degree or another today as well. In both Christmas accounts found in Matthew and Luke, we see God’s providential moving and God’s miraculous moving in the events before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. Let me read Matthew 1:18-2:23 (read). In this short description we see both the providential and miraculous hand of God moving things along to bring about his perfect will on earth. For example, there is the miraculous angelic activity that takes place in both the life of Mary mother of Jesus and also Joseph, earthly father of Jesus. There is of course the miraculous virgin birth itself. There is the miraculous star guiding the wise men to the baby Jesus. And the miraculous dream that reveals to them to leave the holy land by another route avoiding Herod. Joseph also receives dreams concerning the baby Jesus and what to do and where to go. All of these and more miraculous activities happened in and around Christmas. Then there were the providential or behind-the-scene activities of God at the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem and Jesus is born there. Why? Because in Luke’s account it says that there was a Roman census conducted throughout the land requiring that everyone return to their ancestral original hometown – and for Joseph, that was Bethlehem – which also coordinated to the Old Testament prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah in Micah 5:2. God’s providence at work. Also, because the wise men had brought expensive gifts, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were able to flee Herod to Egypt and use these valuables to exchange for living expenses in a foreign land. It doesn’t say that they cashed in the gold, but we can guess they did. This would be another example of God’s providential activity, timing, and provision. Prophecy was also providentially fulfilled in Herod’s evil massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem, and also prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus living and returning from Egypt. These are all examples of God’s sovereign providence working behind-the-scenes. Now the question for us today is – does God still work in these two basic ways: through providence and through miracles? And the answer we find from both the Bible and from experience is “Yes” although in different proportions and different ways. So let me revisit the biblical accounts of both God’s providential activity and God’s miraculous activity during the first Christmas, and then afterwards, talk more about how God uses these two ways today to work his will in our lives and world.

First, there’s God’s supernatural activity at Christmas. Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” The greatest supernatural miracle of the Christmas season was the birth of Jesus, God-in-human-flesh, from the virgin Mary. In fact, this is such a supernatural miracle that many people throughout the ages and today doubt that it even occurred. It’s just too miraculous, they claim. Too miraculous? A miracle is a miracle. Something either conforms to the predictable laws of nature or it doesn’t. Something either makes sense naturally or it doesn’t. Once it doesn’t make sense through reasonable explanation, it’s in the category of miracle. Once it’s in the category of miracle, then how can there be any talk of it being too miraculous or too supernatural? Miracles are things that defy natural explanation, that seemingly contradict scientific laws. For example, as in the case of the virgin birth, universal human experience teaches that virgins don’t have babies. Without the contribution of the male to the female there can be no baby – that’s common knowledge even before modern science studied it formally. But the Bible describes God as disrupting our common knowledge of science and doing whatever suites his own will whether that something conforms or contradicts our scientific knowledge of nature. The Bible is full of God intervening in the world of people and doing the supernatural miraculous. The Old Testament is full of such accounts, as is the New Testament. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is perhaps the biggest New Testament miracle, the supernatural creation of the universe and the earth by the Word of God is perhaps the biggest Old Testament miracle, but there are all kinds of miracles of many shapes, sizes, and forms throughout the whole Bible. God is willing and able to contradict any scientific law in order to accomplish his will on earth. The Christmas account begins with the supernatural angelic announcement to Mary. Then an angel supernaturally enters Joseph’s dream and assures him that he is to marry his fiancée Mary. Then there is the miracle of the actual birth of the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus the Son of God the Father. In the Gospel of Luke, angels appear to shepherds supernaturally and reveal to them the birth of Jesus. A supernatural star guides the wise men to Bethlehem. Also, Joseph receives more supernatural angelic dreams to leave for Egypt, stay, and then return to Israel. So we see Christmas is a season of miracles, a time of the great supernatural activity of God. God puts on a display of public and visible miracles to accomplish his will on earth and inspire people throughout the ages in the pages of the accounts in the Bible. But this is just one way God works; there’s another equally important way – providence.

Second, there’s God’s providential activity at Christmas. Luke 2:1-7, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register. . . .” Matthew 2:1-6, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod. . . .” Now in respect to the providential working of God, no direct contradiction to the law’s of nature need occur, it’s just the timing of natural events that make the hand of God evident. For example, in the case of the birth of Jesus, the Old Testament prophecy of Micah 5:2 was that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. In order for this to be fulfilled in Jesus he had to be born there, so God worked it out that the secular authority of Rome decreed that a census take place whereby everyone in Israel should return to his town of origin to register. That necessitated Joseph to return to Bethlehem because that was his town of family origins, and because Mary was his fiancée carrying Jesus, they too would be in Bethlehem and the birth would take place there. No miracles other than timing need occur for providence to work. It’s interesting that the founding fathers of the United States spoke often about God’s Providence, or simply about Divine Providence or just Providence. By Providence, they meant the behind-the-scenes activity of God in the formation of the first truly democratic government. I read a book by an author named Michael Novak who outlined many providential acts of God that directly contributed to the success of the Americans in winning the Revolutionary War and the formation of the United States. It was almost unanimously understand by all the founding fathers that God’s hand of providence was helping them birth a new nation. For example, there are many instances where the ill-equipped colonial army defeated the mighty British forces, when the weather changed to favor the Americans, when military mistakes and blunders by English commanders opened the way for victory for the colonists, and many, many other instances where there seemed to be an invisible force or power working on the side of the Americans and opposing the Brits. The founding fathers saw this as evidence of providential care and assistance. In fact, there are many prayers recorded in official congressional records that thank Divine Providence for the many blessings given. In the same way, there were many providential evidences during the first Christmas. I already mentioned the fulfillment of the Bethlehem prophecy. I also already mentioned the providential gifts of the Magi that worked perfectly in favor of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus traveling to Egypt to escape Herod. In other words, things that needed to happen did happen, and at the perfect time to accomplish God’s purposes. That’s divine providence.

Third, both God’s providence and God’s supernatural miracles still occur today. Because God is the same God yesterday, today and forever, his providence and miracles are still available for us today. It is true that the supernatural activity of God is more intense at certain times than at other times and that God’s providential activity is easier to recognize at specific times and harder to see at other times, but in some proportion both are available at all times, including our own. If I look back at my own life as a Christian for over 30 years I can see both God’s hand of providence working and also God’s supernatural miracles in my life. Now the miracles are usually more dramatic and inspiring, but providential circumstances are just as significant. In fact, and I think this is the case in most Christians’ life, God’s providence plays a bigger role than God’s direct supernatural miracles in most of my life. God answers most of my prayers more through providential circumstances than by direct miraculous activity. I can certainly give testimony to miracles, things that contradict the law of nature and defy explanation. But I can also give testimony, even more so, to God’s behind-the-scene workings in my life through his perfect timing and circumstantial guidance and working. For example, there is the instance where after I had finished my college undergraduate courses at Wheaton College and I was wondering if I should go directly to seminary or begin work to pay off my college loan. During the time I was trying to decide I received a letter, actually a Christmas card from the seminary that said in the message, “We’ve missed you (since I last contacted the school and arranged for a tour of the seminary), and would love for you to be a part of our educational community in the near future.” It was the timing of that Christmas card and its message that convinced me to directly enroll and attend seminary without any delay. That was God’s providential working behind-the-scenes to lead and guide me in the path I needed to take. And that’s just one example in my life; there are too many to even recount. Then there are the miraculous events that I’ve experienced in my life; these too are evidence of God’s power and presence in my life. One of the most recent miracles in my life occurred a few winters ago as I was driving along I-90 expressway between Erie, PA and Jamestown, NY. I was returning from a study break I took there at Borders and Barns & Noble bookstores, and it was dark out and the roads were covered with ice and snow. I was driving along in really bad weather and my front passenger side tire went off the road a little, so I pulled the steering wheel to the opposite direction to get the tire back on the road and I started to skid and suddenly found myself sliding sideways on the expressway in heavy traffic going 50-60 mph. I immediately started praying, “Help me God, Help me Jesus, Help me God, Help me Jesus.” I repeated that over and over. I found myself on the other side of the expressway, on the other side of the road, so I turned my wheel all the way the opposite direction and hit the brakes and supernaturally and miraculously the car straightened out and was moving along the other side of the road parallel to all the traffic. I had escaped without a crash or without injury. I couldn’t believe it. I had cut across an entire 2 lanes of traffic without hitting anyone or without a scratch to the car. My heart was beating like crazy, but I was alive and well, and my car was ok too. That was a miracle. I know God saved me on that snowy expressway that day. There is no other way to explain how in heavy traffic I avoided a crash. It defied all odds. That was a miracle. So let’s watch for the different ways God moves in our lives this Christmas season and beyond, whether through direct miracles, or through indirect providential activities. Let’s pray.


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