What is your picture of what Christmas means? It is probably about the tableau shown on Christmas cards and nativity scenes, shepherds and animals around the parents of the new-born, rejoicing and giving thanks for Him.
Without taking anything away from that, this week’s story is about God reaching out to us — but also our capacity to both believe and put our trust in Him.
People of Isaiah’s time were challenged to believe the word he brought and to trust God to fulfil it.
• See also the Living Word Bible Study for Dec 18-25 which explores these Bible readings in detail
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Joseph and Mary both had to trust God for the extraordinary and potentially shameful thing God was doing in their lives. Both received revelation of what would happen through angels, who helped them to believe, but they had to trust God in how it was worked out.
And shepherds, terrified by the sight of angels lighting up the night sky suddenly appearing to these first hearers of this breaking news. In such dramatic and unexpected circumstances, the most sceptical of us would believe an angelic messenger, but they had to do more than believe the truth of the message. They had to trust and act on what they had been told by searching through the sleeping village as they had been instructed.
We have to both believe and trust Jesus as our Lord in belonging to Him.
This means living for someone else, not just ourselves, and it is a day by day challenge — but one that we are helped day by day to succeed in.
Our headline verse this week is from Psalm 80 and it is a prayer for revival. It is a supplication for God to save, revive and restore and it has a clear prophetic leaning.
Awaken Your might; come and save us… revive us, and we will call on Your name. Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
From Psalm 80
This brings us to some of the best remembered prophecies of Isaiah, where he foretells the Virgin birth, the unique role of Emmanuel, God with us, his human ancestry going back to King David, and the boundless and endless extent of his rule of peace.
There is also a clear allusion to the bondage of sin and guilt being graciously removed from us.
It was the prophet Micah who spoke of the smallness of Bethlehem and how a ruler “from of old would come forth” from an ancient settlement where the future King David grew up and faced down the giant Goliath.
Isaiah draws attention to this new rule of peace and justice that would shatter the yoke, the rod of the oppressor, reminding us that the coming of the Lord would spell a breaking of Satan’s opportunity to accuse and spoil on the basis of our sin.
Let’s hear Isaiah’s words and notice the four titles he gives for the Son of God.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them…
For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 7:10-16, Isaiah 9:2-7
Our story now moves on several hundred years and the next scene is a very small settlement south of Jerusalem, which despite its smallness has a rich history as the birthplace of King
It wasn’t even considered worth listing with the other clans of Judah, according to Micah, yet God chose the name of this place to be known by billions of people worldwide who especially remember it at this time when we share in celebrating Christ’s birth.
Heaven met earth here, both on a hillside and in a humble dwelling where ordinary people witnessed God and extraordinary events and were challenged to take God at His word and trust Him in what He was
We take up the story now from Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel accounts.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, 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.”
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.
[When] Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…. while Quirinius was governor of Syria… everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph… went… from…Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea… because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
…Shepherds living out with their flocks in the fields nearby [were terrified when] An angel of the Lord appeared to them in the darkness , and the glory of the Lord shone around them.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly [the angel was joined by] a great company of the heavenly host… praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-14
As believers, we live by anticipating and trusting in Jesus Christ’s return.
The Christmas scene around the crib is our reminder of how Jesus Christ entered the world in humble circumstances. It is a challenge to us to fully believe who He is — Son of God, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, able to relate to our humanness but at the same time imparting heavenly wisdom, love and forgiveness.
But as we look BACK and believe, we are also called to look FORWARD, and trust God for what He is doing now in our lives and communities. And, in these last days, trusting God and living in constant readiness for Jesus Christ to break into our world again.
And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
…For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age… while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ… who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
Romans 1:1-7, Titus 2:11-14
We are those called to belong to Jesus Christ. That is our choice. It may heighten the spiritual conflict in us, or if we have chosen to believe and trust Jesus we’ll be hearing this as those already living in the peace of that personal, day by day relationship that comes from inviting Jesus into our hearts, and trusting Him as Lord of our lives and Saviour.
Trusting Him means being broken to self. Our ego needs to recognise who is now Lord of our lives, step down, and stop holding us back!
And that puts us right back in the tableau scene, where we started – among a group of diverse people, awed by what God has done, impacted by the fulfilment of his Word handed down by faithful people — and learning to trust God, as we follow His leading today.
Believing in God is something we can do fairly easily as a mental level.
Trust in God – essentially, giving our lives back to him – requires more of us. This is the stretch of real faith. Those shepherds, together with Mary and Joseph, could coach us and help us to understand what this means in life from their experience of faith being stretched and tested at that very first celebration of Jesus’ birth. We are privileged to have the opportunity of joining them, having our spiritual eyes opened — and being able to share with others what we have experienced.
Father God, we are deeply thankful for the undeserved favour of being able to know Jesus and belong to Him – a thanks redoubled at this time of year.
We pray for a move of Your Spirit that will take families and whole communities from a Christmas card romantic faith, to a realisation that Jesus is present, personal and welcoming to all who turn to Him.
May we learn to trust You more fully, and hear You speaking to us more readily.
And may faith rise around us, as You enable us to play our part in sharing the Good News — the Good News of new life in Jesus our Saviour, in whose name we pray. Amen.
A blessing from Isaiah 9:2 and Matthew 5:14:
May you, having the light of Jesus, be His light to others!