“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”
This week, I heard an ad on the radio for a cosmetic surgery spa. The woman speaking said that a provider at the spa was her “savior” and she went on to describe the treatments and improvements in her life since meeting this “savior.”
I thought it was a bit unusual to view someone working at a cosmetic medical spa as a “savior.” Whatever the provider was saving was merely transient and temporary – lifting sagging skin, plumping up under eye circles, erasing wrinkles or boosting the skin’s texture and appearance.
While the treatment may improve things in the short-term, the reality is that these treatments generally aren’t permanent and things quickly return to that charming look of having lived on this planet for a few decades or more.
But maybe that’s really what everyone is looking for, whether they know it or not – to be saved.
God’s Word certainly teaches us that He has written on our hearts His laws, His presence, His glory and His love.
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
God knew we would need saving. He knew we would need a Savior – not someone to preserve our flesh from aging but One to preserve our soul, protect our spirit and ransom our lives from the consequences of sin – eternity in hell.
And so, before He ever created the earth or man, His Son and His Holy Spirit were with Him, part of His plan for eternity. His Son to save our lives and be our Friend and His Spirit to guide us in our lives and be our Helper.
Oh, how we need a Savior. Now as much as ever.
Imagine Israel, in the fading years of the first century before Christ’s birth. They had rebelled, they no longer had a king to call their own but lived under the harsh and fierce rule of other nations.
While they had survived exile and diaspora and even returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt walls, the days of yesterday’s glory and strength were but a faded memory for the Israelites.
Their glorious traditions and history had been attacked, their temple desecrated by the Seleucids, their worship mocked and lives upended.
And then – between the time that the prophet Malachi uttered his last words and the voice of John the Baptist called out in the wilderness, beseeching the people to repent and return to God – there were more than four hundred years of silence from God.
The people of Israel waited. They listened. Some rebelled, though many walked with God.
And still, silence.
They knew they had been promised a Savior, a Messiah. They knew the Christ would come. They didn’t know exactly how or precisely when, but they knew that God had promised and they knew God keeps His promises.
The prophet Isaiah had told the people of Israel some 700 years prior that God would come to them in the form of a child and that His name would be Immanuel, God With Us.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”
They waited on God, but still He was silent. Their world was small, their prospects dim and discouraging. As they had fallen, others had risen – cruel, violent and calculating empires.
Perhaps some of them looked to the skies, seeking God’s plan and purpose in all of this silence. Maybe in prayer, on holy days, on the Sabbath, on the way to Jerusalem as they uttered the Psalms of Ascent at festivals. While they offered sacrifices, as they wed, when they saw their newborn babes and as they mourned at the graveside of loved ones who had gone to be with the Lord.
Were they looking for a King? It does seem that was the case – that they wanted a heavenly Ruler to rescue them from the brutal hands of their oppressors.
And yet, the Messiah arrived discreetly and quietly, the sweet infant’s gentle cry echoing across the Bethlehem sky that holy night when the inns were full and the Israelites had returned to their hometowns for the census of Caesar Augustus.
Only a handful of people knew that God had come down from heaven to rescue them – to be their Savior. Mary, Joseph, Martha and Zacharias. Some shepherds watching their flocks. Later, a group of wise men in the east, noticing a promised star shining brilliantly in the night sky.
The news would spread, as news often does. This being the Good News of the first century of our Lord, it traveled slower than today – but still, people began to talk about the possibility of a coming Savior and the hope of being rescued, particularly after a quirky and reclusive prophet came to town, wearing camel’s hair and dining on locusts and wild honey, calling people to repentance while offering to baptize them in the Jordan, the same river that had been crossed by hopeful Israelites en route to the Promised Land.
And now, more than two thousand years later, we too consider the notion of a Savior, especially this time of year. We ponder the possibility that we might have been ransomed, rescued and redeemed by a baby – a baby Who was literally Emmanuel, God With Us. Our brains try to wrap around the idea of God the Son leaving His throne to come save a sinful lot like us. Of why the Creator of heaven and earth would even want to save us, if He only knew who we really are.
But, praise God, He does know who we really are and He loves us in spite of all our sins and weaknesses and flaws.
He knew Eve would eat that fruit and that she and Adam would seek to hide from Him in shame, that virtually everyone would refuse to board Noah’s ark and would perish in their foolishness, that Esau would trade his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, that Joseph’s brothers would sell him and lie about their actions to their grieving and distraught father Jacob, that they would eventually be reunited and relocate to Egypt where Joseph was serving as second-in-command to Pharaoh, that they would remain in Egypt 400 years and grow exponentially as they served the Egyptians under harsh and cruel conditions, including the threat of infanticide at the hands of the Egyptians.
That a baby would be born to a Jewish family, found in the river amongst reeds and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter to be raised as royalty, that this baby Moses would grow into a man who felt sympathy for his people and would later strike an Egyptian who was a brutal taskmaster and that Moses would then flee to Midian where God would speak to him in a burning bush and call him to return to Egypt to free his people, that the Israelites would grumble their way through the wilderness for 40 years, that Moses would get frustrated with them and disobey God’s instructions in his anger and forfeit leading them into the Promised Land.
That the Israelites would go through the sin cycle over and over again through judge after judge until they demanded a king like the other nations, that their first king, King Saul, would prove to be a great disappointment and would repeatedly defy and disobey God, that Saul would try to kill David, the young shepherd boy who had defeated the Philistine giant Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones.
That David – a man after God’s own heart – would sin against God and man but would repent and return to God, that the kingdom of Israel would be divided after Solomon’s death, that there would be years of good kings and bad kings, that prophets would be ignored, mocked and killed, that Israel and Judah would suffer for their sins, defiance and disobedience and experience invasion, dispersion and exile by foreign enemies – and ultimately that no king would sit on the throne of David and there would come an Intertestemental period of silence and submission to foreign powers.
Oh, but He also knew that His Son would come down and take His rightful place as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That the promise of a Savior that was prophesied in Genesis 3 would be realized in God’s majestic and mysterious way to redeem His people from hell and the curse and control of Satan.
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.””
Maybe today you need a Redeemer. Perhaps you are longing to be saved from sin’s suffering, from the pain of your circumstances.
It may be that you already know Christ but have wandered from Him.
Or that you have not even considered your need for the Messiah, preoccupied with the never-ending demands of your time in this life that you haven’t spent much time reflecting on the next.
Maybe you are looking for a Savior, not to erase your wrinkles and under-eye circles but to wash away your sins and cleanse you from the mistakes and hurts of so many painful years. Perhaps Satan has whispered his lies into your ear, as he has to so many before you, that you have sinned too much, made too many mistakes, blown it too many times, gone too far – that God could never and would never forgive you after all you’ve messed up.
Please know – Satan is a liar and he always has been. These are lies from the pit of hell. You are not too far gone. God is with you and He always will be. He has not left your side and He never will. He is holding you in the palm of His hand. Remember that and cling to that promise through the darkest of nights. God will forgive you and He will redeem and cleanse you. He is just waiting for you to ask Him to come into your life – and you will find that He has always been with you.
It may be that you know Christ and have walked with Him for years – but you have found yourself longing for a return to simpler, more peaceful times of greater joy, kindness, hope and gentleness.
Perhaps you feel stuck, alone, discouraged – maybe you too hear nothing but the silence of God when you try to make sense of this world and its anger, violence, strife and animus.
Today, for the first time or for the infinite time, hear the Good News of God from the prophet Micah:
““But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.””
Together, let us journey to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
We’ll look through the pages of the beautiful baby book of our Savior, the people God used in amazing and marvelous ways, and we’ll enjoy the Advent season in quiet yet joyful reflection, anticipating anew the birth of Christ, proclaiming with the heavenly host as they praised God,
““Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.””
God came down to earth to rescue you. He would have sent His Son Jesus to earth just to save your life – that is how great His love for you is. Before He created this world, He knew you would be you with all your wonderful and unique ways. And even before the beginning of time, He knew He would send His Son to save you for time eternal because He loves you so very much.
You are loved by God and you always will be.
No matter what you do, you can’t change His great love for you. You can neither add to it nor take away from it. He loves you completely, wholly and unconditionally. Praise God!
Who is God to you and who is Jesus to you?
There are 24 chapters in the book of Luke.
Luke, along with Matthew, includes exquisite details about the Nativity of Christ. It will take you from the days of prophecy of Jesus through His birth, life, His teachings, His death and His resurrection.
There are 24 days until Christmas. Consider reading one chapter from the book of Luke each day through Christmas Day.
Like Linus, you too may declare “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!”
Heavenly Father, Lord we thank you for this season of joy and wonder. We pray you would refresh our spirits, encourage our hearts and calm our human tendencies to plan, organize and overdo this time of year.
Lord, help us to see You in this Advent season. When the world beckons us to purchase, decorate, indulge and be distracted, help us to enjoy the season wisely and in moderation as we celebrate our Savior’s birth gratefully.
Father, please help us to remember the lost, the suffering, the lonely, the hurting and the ill among us. Help us not to become so focused on our own traditions and priorities that we forget those You have called us to love and care for in our midst. We pray You would draw us close to You, that You would show us how to celebrate Your Son’s birth as the miracle and majesty that it is.
And Lord, when the world offers to solve our problems with temporary and superficial fixes, please give us the wisdom to seek You and Your perfect plans, knowing that these are merely earthly bodies – and that You have an eternal home waiting for us in heaven. Lord, please set our eyes on heaven and eternity so that the choices we make today in how we live, speak and act would be with heaven in mind, that we might be Your hands and feet on earth, gently and lovingly guiding all those we encounter in our days here to You, our Redeemer, our Rock and to Your Son, Emmanuel, God With Us.
In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”