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Merry Christmas

December 24, 2006

We’ve been told since we were kids that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, but the truth is the Bible does not tell us the day of Jesus’ birth.  The reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th is that in the time of the Roman empire there was a mystery cult religion called Mithraism, and their holy day was December 25th.  So while the pagans were doing their thing, the early Christians decided they would have an alternative celebration on the same day.  But Mithraism has since been forgotten, while Christianity has spread to the ends of the earth.  So besides the birth of Christ, another thing that we can celebrate on December 25th is the triumph of the gospel.

 

Nevertheless, December 25th is a fitting day to celebrate Jesus birth.   On Christmas we remember that a light has dawned and has pierced the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.   It is fitting to celebrate this round about the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year.   In the words of one Christmas carol, we celebrate Jesus’ birth “In the Bleak Midwinter”.   Winter is the season of death, and in the midst of it we celebrate new life. 

 

 

Now if you’ll turn to our text this morning, Isaiah 9, you’ll see that the well known Christmas promise, “unto us a child is born” is presented as I have described it, as a light piercing the darkness. 

Isaiah 9:1-2   Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan–  2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

 

Here is the point of this word nevertheless.  In spite of all our gloom, distress, darkness, and sin.  Nevertheless, the promise comes.  Nevertheless, Jesus comes.  We need to focus on this at Christmas because the sad reality is that for a great many of us Christmas comes with a backdrop of gloom and darkness.  For some Christmas is a reminder of separation from loved ones who have either died or are estranged from the family and Christmas makes us painfully aware of their absence. 

 

 

Others might say, “I cope with that kind of pain, but my pain is self-inflicted.  I am experiencing the devastating consequences of sin in my life, what hope do I have?”  Well, it’s to you that the promise of Christmas comes.  The gloom and distress that Israel was in was self-inflicted, and yet they received these great promises.   You may not feel ready for Christmas, but it’s here, it comes.  And the grace of God toward us is just as inevitable, just as unrelenting as the calendar.  It comes!  Just humble yourself before it and prepare to receive it. 

 

 

I think that Christmas has a tinge of disappointment for all of us because there are these tremendous expectations upon it for it to be a warm, fuzzy time where the family gets together around the fire and the tree and we sip hot cocoa and reminisce and the kids are all well behaved and peaceably take their turns opening presents and exhibit heartfelt thankfulness toward one another and it’s not that perfect for anyone!  In fact most of our families are considerably more dysfunctional than that!  But nevertheless, the promise comes and is good news for you.   Christmas is not a time for parading our pretended perfection.  Christmas is a time when sinners like us receive good news of great joy.  It’s not a time to exalt our own imaginary intrinsic goodness.  Christmas is not about our good will to men.  It’s about God’s good will to men upon whom his favor rests!  Let’s not waste this Christmas shallowly celebrating the fictional and disappointing dreams of a humanistic peace on earth, but let’s exalt God’s gracious favor resting upon sinners like us.   I encourage you to take all your disappointment, all your gloom, all your mourning, all your darkness, even all your sin and write underneath it all “Nevertheless! Jesus comes!”

 

Now let’s move past the word “nevertheless” and go on into verse 1 where we read of Zebulun and Naphtali,  Galilee of the Gentiles.   Zebulun and Naphtali are northern border regions of Israel, corrupted by the sin and idolatry of the surrounding nations from clear back in the time of the judges.  Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for them. 

 

 

This verse is quoted in Matthew 4 referring to the location in Galilee where Jesus began his teaching ministry.  He began it here on the northern borders of Israel for two reasons.  First he began here because he went first to the chief of sinners.  As I’ve been saying, the promise is for sinners like us.  But the second reason is that he did not want to begin in Judah or Jerusalem, is because the self-righteous religious establishment was either too corrupt to receive him or else they might want to claim him as one of their own and try to use him for their own agendas.  But Jesus insisted on coming in from outside
Jerusalem, wandering in from the fringes, coming as an outsider.  Because the grace of God comes from the outside in.  It’s not found by looking within you to recover you inner childlike Christmas wonder.  The grace of God comes from outside, from above, and pierces the darkness of our hearts and leads us out of bondage to ourselves.    

 

 

So let us sing some more of this promised Christ who has pierced our darkness.  Let us sing,

“Behold a Branch is growing of loveliest form and grace

As prophets sung, foreknowing; it springs from Jesse’s race

And bears one little flower, in midst of coldest winter, at deepest midnight hour.”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    December 26, 2006 6:54 pm

    Mike,

    Happy Belated Birthday! It appears that you and Eddie are in communication on subject matter. This week he taught on “Unto us a child is given” and “Peace on earth” making very similar points. Although I have countless examples of the Lord weaving similar teaching from multiple sources, I am still amazed by it. He is so good to keep repaeting things to me. Now if I’ll just apply all of these things…

  2. Egana permalink
    December 28, 2006 3:27 am

    ahhhhhh….. sweet colll spirit-water on my parched adn dusty soul…

    thanks again for running the blog and filling it with such blessingful stuff….

    yum yum yummy

  3. egana permalink
    December 28, 2006 3:33 am

    forgot to login… that was me up there…

  4. martian koolaid permalink
    December 28, 2006 12:54 pm

    I once heard the argument that the likely birth of Christ was in the summer because of the timing of the sheep hearding, or somethinganother. So regardless of when it was, you could make the argument for Christ being the light of the world during winter or summer solstice. Anyway, this is all trivial and I don’t really care what date Christmas is on. I don’t want to be a scrooge.

    One interesting thing I noticed about the Christmas story as presented in the Bible is that Christ is only referred to as a “baby” by Herod and his goons and “king” or “savior” by Joseph, Mary, et al.

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