Greg Laurie — Christmas: The Big Announcement
I have an important announcement to make. Christmas has been hijacked. Don't be alarmed. I still think we can get it back. My point is Christmas has been emptied of its meaning, drug through the gutter, and given back to us minus its power. I am not just talking about the so-called war on Christmas where there are merchants that no longer say, "Merry Christmas" but instead say, "Happy holidays". I am not just talking about in our schools today where kids are no longer able to sing Christmas Carols. I am not talking even so much about nativity sets no longer being able to be placed on government property and so forth.
I am talking about the biblical version of Christmas being hijacked as well. We have this sort of romanticized version of it that is in many ways quite inaccurate starting with the manger scene. We all have our nativity sets. I actually have one that lights up. I put it out in front of my house. I have had many people stop and just stare at it. I don't think they have ever seen anything like it before. How many people have nativity sets on their front lawns anymore? This is something that is so unusual to people. Who are these people? Who is this little baby? What does this mean? I think we have so romanticized it of course. We always have Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. They usually have halos. Of course our Lord has a smaller baby sized halo. The animals are bowing in reverence. The three wise men are standing by in color coordinated outfits. I love the fact that they are color coordinated. One is bowing. One is standing. There is a camel not far off.
This is actually not the way it was at all. As I have told you before the Bible never tells us there are three wise men. Did you know that? Because of songs today we have even given them names. The Bible doesn't even tell us there were three. We just assume there were three because there were three gifts. How do you know there were not nine of them that went in on gifts together? They are pretty nice gifts. Gold especially. We don't know how many men there were. I guarantee they didn't ride camels. Sorry to break that to you. I have told you before the word wise men actually comes the word magi. The root word for magician. They were astrologer/astronomers. Almost like wizards. It is entirely possible they wore coned hats and rode arabian stallions.
Then to make matters even more challenging they weren't even there at the manger. They came later. Perhaps up to a year later after Jesus was born. When we read the account of the wise men coming they come not to a manger but to a house. If this messes your nativity set up I don't know what to say. You say, "Greg? Nine of them? I just bought this nativity set". Here is another thing I would add to this. I think that we have taken Christmas and so romanticized it even as Christians with our snowy country sides and our little cards and our horse-drawn sleighs and our frosty windows and our red candles. In some ways I think we have over sanitized it and it is not real or gritty enough.
I think we have actually made Christmas too beautiful. Does that make sense? It is too beautiful. By making it too beautiful you strip it of its true beauty. By making it so romantic you strip of its true power. When we get back to the biblical account and peel away all of these layers of tradition and try to see the story as it happened in real time it is far more powerful in my opinion. After all this was the night that forever divided time. The night when God himself came to this earth. The night that God came near and indeed the night that can change your life today. It has been said, "The hinge of history hangs on the door of a Bethlehem stable". What happened on the first Christmas was God stepped out of heaven and entered human history. Also in this message I want to talk about one of the unsung heroes of the Christmas story.
Luke 1:26. "Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the Angel said to her, 'hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.' But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the Angel said to her, 'do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end'. Then Mary said to the Angel, 'how can this be, since I do not know a man?' And the Angel answered and said to her, 'the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you: therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. for with God nothing will be impossible.' Then Mary said, 'behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.' And the Angel departed from her".
Let's see if we can unpack this amazing story in all of its original glory. Where was Mary living when this message came? Verse 26 says, "The Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth". What significance does this have for us today? 1. Mary lived a godly life in an ungodly place. Nazareth could be called sin city. It was a place that was overrun by roman soldiers. It was one of those places that you went through on the way to another place. It was sort of the Barstow of the Bible. Interestingly it had about the same population. The population of Barstow, I looked this up, is around 22,000 people. The population of Nazareth was around 20,000 people. Barstow is not known for sin. I think it is known more for outlet shops and maybe a place to get gas. Nazareth was known for sin. One commentator described it as a hotbed of corruption. This is why when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he responded by saying, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth"?
Here in this wicked city lived a young woman of royal blood. Living in an impure world she was pure. Mary shows it is possible to live a holy life in an unholy place. Mary was a good Jewish girl. She would know the scripture. She would have been taught it from her youth. Do you think that she ever in her wildest dreams read that verse and said, "That is me? I am going to be the virgin Isaiah prophesied of. I am going to be the mother of the Messiah. I am going to carry God incarnate in my womb". I seriously doubt it. I think she was blown away. I think this is shown by her reaction to Gabriel. Look again at Luke 1:28. "The Angel came in to her, and said, 'hail, there highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.'" By the way this phrase came in implies Mary was in her house apparently alone. She was probably doing the normal domestic chores of a 12 to a 13 year old Jewish girl.
Gabriel says to her, "Hail". That is just king James for hello, hi, or how are you. Don't read more into it than you need to. Howzit. Yo. Good day. How are things going? That is what Gabriel said. This is what makes it so powerful. This is Gabriel standing in her house. "Hey Mary". Not, "Hail Mary". "Hey Mary". God has had special grace on you. This was not a prayer to Mary. It was simply a greeting from Gabriel. "Girl. Listen God has extended his hand of grace to you," which she was going to need. "You are going to be very privileged". She is a little freaked out. Like why would God select me for this great privilege?
Point 2. She was honestly surprised God had selected her and not someone else. Though Mary was a virtuous woman, though she was a godly woman, she was not a sinless woman. Mary was a sinner just like us. Privileged yes. Called by God yes. Sinful. Again yes. Later in what has been described as Mary's magnificat or her song in Luke 1:47 she says, "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior". Even Mary needed a Savior. God called her. She was honestly surprised that the Lord would select someone like her to be used so mightily.
Mary asks a valid question in verse 34. "How shall this be"? Mary asked the Angel, "Since I am a virgin". This is different than Zacharias talking to Gabriel who says, "Your wife is going to conceive". He is like, "No. I am old. She is old. Not going to happen". Mary is not disbelieving. She is just more interested in how are you going to pull this off technically. I am a virgin. I have never known a man. Listen to his answer. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of The Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God".
We don't know how it actually happened. We don't know how long it took for this amazing event to transpire. But we can simply sum it up by saying Mary's womb became the Holy of Holies for the Son of God. We guys can't understand this at all. You ladies who have had children can. You know what it is like to carry a child in your womb. There is a connection between mother and child that a father can never fully know. But imagine not only carrying this child in your womb but knowing this was God incarnate. It is kind of incomprehensible.
3. Mary was completely obedient. Verse 38. "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word". I love that. Let me ask you a question. Have you ever said that to God? "Lord let it be to me according to your word". She did not fully understand but she obeyed just the same. This is the kind of attitude God looks for in his servants. A childlike faith and obedience. Her head must have been swimming. "How am I going to explain this to Joseph"? The fact is God had put it all together. She is thinking, he is not going to buy this when I tell him, 'Joseph you know how I live in Nazareth and it is really a wicked city and known for immorality. Anyway I am pregnant. I know that sounds bad but Joseph check it out. I am the virgin spoken of in Isaiah 7:14. I am the exception to the rule. I have not been unfaithful to you. I have been chosen.'" She thought, "He will never believe it". You know what? He didn't at first.
I want to talk about the unsung hero of the Christmas story that I alluded to earlier. It is Joseph. Joseph does not get the credit he deserves. Matthew 1:19 says he was a righteous man. He was deeply in love with Mary. No doubt jolted by the news she was pregnant. They were engaged, which in this culture was like being married. They had already been espoused by their parents at this point. It was in this period that Mary became pregnant. It was the equivalent of being unfaithful after she was already married. Even more than engagement. Yet Joseph loved this girl. He didn't know what to do. He thought, "I am going to have to put her away". He didn't want her put to death. In other words, "I am going to say I can't marry you now but I am certainly not going to publicly shame you either".
There are no Christmas songs for the most part about Joseph. The Christmas song is Mary did you know that this baby boy. It doesn't say Joseph did you know. Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant tender and mild. Wait a second? Joseph was there too. In our nativity sets if Joseph was misplaced we wouldn't even miss him. But listen to this. God chose Joseph just as surely as he chose Mary. God the Father in Heaven chose Joseph to be a step-father or father figure on earth for Jesus. That is significant. Just as God selected Mary. This is the girl that will be the mother of the Messiah. He said this will be the step-father. The earthly father figure. Joseph.
You would have thought that God would have chosen a priest. No. He chose a blue collar worker. He chose a salt of the earth kind of man. He chose a hardworking man. He chose a carpenter. It is not a mistake that Jesus grew up in a carpenter's home. Carpenters create new things and they fix broken things. Jesus grew up like any other child. No doubt Joseph taught Jesus how to put his back into a task. How to put in a hard day's work. How to be responsible. He stood with Mary. He didn't know what he was going to do here. But now the Angel comes to him while he is pondering it. Matthew 1:20. "But while he thought about these things, behold, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.' That is all Joseph needed to hear.
Now he was on-board as well. By the way he could have walked away even after he knew the truth. Why would Joseph have walked away? Let me ask you this question. Do you think the boys at the worksite are going to buy this virgin birth story? When Joseph shows up with his little lunchbox for the house that they are framing together. "Hey guys. How is it going"? "Hey we heard Mary is pregnant". "Yeah. It is not what you think. She is the virgin spoken of in Isaiah 7:14. She is going to be the mother of the Messiah". "Right. Sure Joe. Just like you say". He knew that he would be laughed at. He knew he would be mocked. "She could say whatever she wants Joseph. We all know the truth of the story".
The truth of the story was that God had touched her. Mary also had to go through life with a scarlet A. She was thought of as an adulteress. Here is the irony. Mary this pure woman had to go through life with the reputation of a loose woman. Don't forget later on in the Lord's ministry the pharisees said to him, "Well at least we weren't born of fornication". Do you know what that means? "At least we weren't conceived out of wedlock like you". Jesus wasn't conceived out of wedlock. Jesus wasn't born of fornication. Jesus was supernaturally conceived in the virgin's womb. Here is my point. Joseph and Mary had to go through life with this shame. It was part of the price they paid for the great privilege.
When God blesses a person there is a price to pay. When God uses a person there is a sacrifice to make. When you say, "Let it be to me according to your word" don't think that is going to be an easy path. It won't be. Let me also say it will be a fruitful path. You will look back later in life and you will be glad you took it. Really in defense of Mary and Joseph they went with this program both of them saying, "We are onboard. We will do this. We are thankful that God chose us".
Now kind of to take the story forward in the narrative Mary now pregnant goes and visits her cousin Elizabeth who bears John in her womb. Mary is not sure if people are going to believe this. "I am going to go tell my cousin Elizabeth who is a lot older than me that I am the mother of the Messiah. Is she going to think that I am trying to one up her? She is older. She has this child. It is not a supernatural conception like it is with Joseph and I. That was a normal conception between her and her husband, though highly improbable because of their age. Now I am going to come along. You are the mother of the prophet. I am the mother of the Messiah. She is never going to believe this".
As Mary walks into the room where Elizabeth is. The baby in Elizabeth's womb leaps. She says, "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me"? It is nice to know that others can see God's hand is on you. You take a step of faith. Sometimes you wonder is this really the Lord that is leading me. God gives you what we call confirmation. That certainly happened. That would also happen in many other ways. Let's wrap this up now. Why was Jesus supernaturally conceived in that womb? We know he was born to come and live a perfect life. He is the only one who ever did that. Then to die a perfect death and then to rise again from the dead. As hard as it is for us to wrap our minds around this, Jesus was born to die. The shadow of the cross hung over him even at the cradle. Jesus was coming on a rescue operation from heaven to save us from our sins.
Hey everyone thanks for watching our program today. Let me just say to you if you have not asked Jesus Christ to come into your life, to be your personal Savior and Lord you can do it right now. I would consider it a privilege to lead you in a prayer where you would be asking the Lord to forgive you of your sins so you could know that when you die you will go to heaven. So you can find the meaning and purpose of life that you have been searching for. If you would please, if you want Christ to come into your life, if you want your sin forgiven, if you want to know that when you die you will go to heaven, pray this prayer after me. You might even pray it out loud. Let's pray. Lord Jesus I know that I am a sinner. But you died on the cross for my sin and shed your blood for all the wrongs I have done. I am sorry for my sin. I turn from it now. I ask you to come into my life and be my Savior and my Lord. Be my God and be my friend. Thank you for loving me and accepting me and forgiving me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.