Describing the Christmas Child

Title: Describing the Christmas Child

Text: Luke 1:31-33

Time: December 12th, 2010

It’s Christmas time and the Christmas season is in full swing now. I’m hearing Christian Christmas Carols and Hymns in the stores now, and I think it’s great that they are playing our songs out in the wider public. I especially think it’s great that they are playing songs that actually describe the identity of Jesus and the theology behind the meaning of the holiday season. For example, I heard the song, “God rest ye merry gentlemen,” the other day with words that go, “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” That’s good biblical theology – something you don’t often hear in modern churches today. Too bad for that, but it’s nice to hear the message of Christianity broadcasted in the malls and shopping centers anyway. If there is anything people need today it’s understanding – basic understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Christmas holiday. It’s incredible the amount of biblical ignorance or biblical misunderstanding there is in society today. The most basic concepts and ideas of Christianity are almost totally unknown in the wider public, but not only that, they are often unknown in the church too, among Christians. What does the Savior Jesus mean? What is the Messiah? What did Jesus come to do, primarily, on earth? Why was Jesus born? Why did Jesus die? Simple questions that in years past would be answered quickly by most people, today draw a blank stare from most people. So with that in mind, I’d like to look at a passage from the Book of Luke that describes who the baby Jesus was and what his purpose was while on earth. It comes from the announcement of the angel to Mary in Luke 1:31-33, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Now in that short passage is a whole study, a whole course in the identity of the Messiah. We don’t have time to go through all these descriptions in detail because that would take a whole college course to cover, and we’d still have more material than we could handle, but let me cover these descriptions briefly here this morning. Christmas isn’t just a time for celebrating, it’s a time for understanding – the baby Jesus and his identity and the meaning of his mission on earth. Why study the meaning and mission of the baby Jesus? Because to properly celebrate Christmas we have to understand it’s point and purpose. Without knowing the “why” we really can’t appreciate the “what.” Or in other words, without knowing why we celebrate Christmas we really can’t celebrate it properly. O yes, there are many people, maybe most people, who just celebrate the celebration. They enjoy the party aspect of Christmas. They are like people who crash a wedding party who don’t know the bride nor the groom nor any of the guests, but they are just there for the food and drinks and the celebrating, but they really don’t know anything about the meaning and the purpose of the wedding celebration, nor do they care. Well, that’s like a lot of people in respect to Christmas – they just celebrate for the good feelings and social aspects and all the rest that goes along with Christmas, but they lack any real understanding of what Christmas is all about. Let none of us be guilty of that in respect to Christmas. As Christians we have to keep in mind the meaning above all of Christmas, and the meaning is all about the baby Jesus. Let’s now turn to the descriptions of Jesus given by the angel to Mary.

First, He will be a son and his name will be Jesus. Luke 1:31, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” So we first of all learn a few simple things about the baby to be born – he would be a boy child and his name will be Jesus. Now to fully grasp the significance of this announcement, you have to understand that in the Hebrew language the name Jesus is a form of the name Joshua, or as pronounced in Hebrew “y’shua,” or “yeshua,” which literally means “God saves,” or “The Lord is salvation.” So within the very name of Jesus is his destiny – the Savior. The angel isn’t just giving the baby a name as just a sound or word. No. The angel is giving the baby a name that actually gives his identity and destiny with it – the baby is born to be the Savior. Now some of you already knew that – you already knew that the name Jesus means salvation or Savior. But for those of you who didn’t know it, now you know and now you can appreciate Christmas a little more because you know that the baby Jesus’ name actually means the Savior. It’s also interesting that this same angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says the same thing to him. For example in Matthew 1:20-21, “But after he (Joseph) considered all these things, 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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” Why the name Jesus? Because he will save his people from their sins, because the name “Jesus” or in Hebrew, “Yeshua” literally means “God saves.” So the meaning and mission of the baby Jesus is found in his very name – salvation. This helps us understand more fully the point and purpose of the Christmas celebration. It’s a little like the definition of the word “Christmas,” which is literally “Christ mass,” a reference to the old church ceremony of the mass, a celebration of the birth of Christ during the mass or church service. We don’t usually refer to the church service as “the mass” because that’s using terminology that brings to mind a different kind of church service than we celebrate today, here – or in other words, a different style of church service. But the meaning still comes through in the word “Christmas” – a church service in celebrating the birth of Christ. But most people just ignore the meaning of the word Christmas and use it in more secular way, like “Christmas sale,” or “Christmas vacation.” But the meaning is in the word if we take the time to unpack it. It’s the same with the word “holiday.” If you unpack this simple word it literally means “holy day.” Again, it’s full meaning is in connection with the celebration of some important spiritual or Christian event. People say, “Happy Holiday,” but don’t often think what they are literally saying, “Happy Holy Day.” But if we stop and think about what we are actually saying, the meaning and purpose of the special day makes more sense. Some unbelievers resent the fact that so much of Christmas is connected to the Christian faith, or that even the holiday has spiritual connotations. But that can’t be avoided because so much of our culture, our civilization has come from Christianity. Praise God for that, it’s still a sign and symbol of God’s presence today, even as our modern world tries to act as if it doesn’t need God. He’s still present, if not merely in the vocabulary we use. But let’s appreciate the full meaning of Christmas this year by remembering the meaning of the vocabulary we use – Jesus means salvation, Christmas means Christ mass or Christ church service, and holiday means holy day.

Second, he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. Luke 1:32, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Now every mother wants to think of her children as great, like, “He’s a great son or daughter.” But in this context, the angel is saying that the baby would be great – well known, influential, a difference-maker, of significance, someone who matters. It’s not always easy to judge greatness because sometimes the great people are not the most well known people. I’ve often thought of how many people there are in history that made a big difference but for some reason or another historical records don’t mention them. The nameless or faceless people of the past who made a big difference but who didn’t happen to get recorded as such; they didn’t get credit. Or worse, there are probably incidences in history where the wrong person gets credit for doing something when in fact it was somebody else. I know there are some scholars who think that Shakespeare really didn’t write all of the plays he is credited as having written. Well then who did write them? According to some scholars there are a number of candidates, possible authors, who may be the real Shakespeare, but they can’t prove it. So then it may be the case that some unknown person, some brilliant writer, is unknown and never given credit, while Shakespeare is given all the credit, even for things he didn’t write. How can this be? Because history is not infallible. Mistakes can be made. So there might actually be great people who aren’t known as great, or who aren’t even known at all. Greatness isn’t always recognized or appreciated. But in respect to the baby born in Bethlehem, according to the angel, he would indeed be great and seen as great. I think it’s safe to say that’s what the angel meant. But he said more. The baby would also come to be called the Son of the Most High. Mary could probably grasp the meaning of the message that her baby would be great, but did she fully understand what the angel meant that her son would be called the Son of the Most High? Probably not. After all, theologians and Christian thinkers are still trying to understand what the title “Son of God” really means. According to Jewish teaching, there were many sons of God, because all true believers are sons and daughters of God in one sense. And then there was the possibility that angels could be called “sons of God,” but that doesn’t seem to fit this context because certainly the angel wasn’t saying that Mary’s baby would be an angel born! No. That doesn’t fit. But in this context, it seems to refer to a unique individual, not a general sense or general usage as “we are all sons of God,” but instead to a distinct person, a unique “son of God.” In another sense, the angel might have been trying to communicate that the baby would be a son “from God” since the phrase “of God” could also refer to the child’s origins, “from” God. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son from God. In any case, the baby would be unique and distinct, set apart from all other ever born. He would have a unique birth, a unique life, and a unique death – and as we also know, a unique resurrection from the dead. All this we can gather just from the announcement of the angel to Mary. So when you celebrate Christmas this year, don’t just skip over all the important symbolism our faith teaches us, reflect on these symbols of significance. It will add depth and meaning to Christmas as we do.

Third, he will have David’s throne and reign forever. Luke 1:32-33, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Here again you have to know a little bit of Jewish history because without it you’ll be left in the dark about what the angel is telling Mary. There are Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, that he will be from the line of David. In the New Testament, there are genealogies in the Gospels that help show that Jesus’ mother and father come from the house of David. So the Jews knew that the coming Messiah would be from the line of David. To a Jew, the kingdom of David was the standard, the gold standard if you will, for all kings and kingdoms. Even though when David was actually king it was far from perfect – all you have to do is simply read the accounts in the Old Testament during the period of David’s kingdom to show that it wasn’t heaven on earth. For example, read the sad story of David sinning with Bathsheba and then trying to cover it up and with murder – I don’t want to get into all that now. But it wasn’t perfect, but for the Jews it represented the ideal social condition in which to live, mostly because the Jews were free of any outside rule – they were a kingdom unto themselves, and they all dreamed of getting back to that place again. By the way, the Jews are ruling themselves today in fulfillment of prophecy, although again, it’s far from perfect. So Jesus would be a king among the Jews, but then the angel’s announcement turns really strange – “And he will reign forever, his kingdom will never end. No earthly king could ever say that his reign never ends, because after all, kings die and the reign is passed on to others, who die themselves and pass on their kingdoms to others, and so forth. So how could this part of the announcement be fulfilled? That was a mystery to Mary, but we known now that the baby Jesus became the eternal Savior and Lord who reigns forever spiritually and in eternity in the next life. How much of this message Mary understood is hard to know. Probably she understood a little but didn’t understand most of it. It’s just too hard for the average person to take in, and all at once. That’s a lot like all of us. The Christian faith is hard to take in all at once, that’s why the process of discipleship is a lifelong process. But when we give our hearts to Jesus for the first time we enter into a journey that will take us from ignorance to knowledge, from immaturity to adulthood spiritually. Everyone is on the journey if they are truly a Christian. Some people get stuck and don’t advance very far for years and years, while others grow fast and steady and show remarkable maturity after just a few years. Like Mary sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the message of God to us, at other times we may feel discouraged because we are so ignorant and immature. That’s natural. It’s humbling to be a Christian and realize how far we have to go in our knowledge and maturity. While other times we see God bring about rapid growth in us in just a short period of time. Where are you in your maturity with God? Do you understand the true meaning of Christmas? Are you able to celebrate Jesus this Christmas yet, or are you still on the lower level of merely celebrating the celebration of Christmas? Let’s ask God to work knowledge and maturity in all over us this year so that when we celebrate Christmas we celebrate it for what it truly is, not just as a party or fun time. Let’s learn to appreciate Jesus, for who he is and what he’s done – our Savior, our Lord.

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