Sermon Notes for 29 December 2019 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
“The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting.
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter darkness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our Home”
– Wordsworth, Intimations of Mortality
THE PEOPLE WHO WALKED IN DARKNESS
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) There is an important distinction made in this verse that may, at first, escape notice. It involves the grammatical nuance of tense. Those who walked in darkness “HAVE SEEN”. It does not say, saw, or did see, but have seen. This tense can apply to all of faith both living and dead, yesterday and today!
The ancient prophecies foretold the coming of Christ in the place and manner in which He was actually born hundreds of years after the prophets had died. Abraham looked forward, by faith, to his redemption in Christ in the same way we look back to the historical and accomplished fact. His coming was Providential and decided in the Council of Heaven in the remote Eternity Past before the world was made.
You will recall that before the Fall of Adam, there was no death or disease. But, because of Adam’s sin, an innocent animal had to die to cover their sins (nakedness). This innocent animal was most likely a lamb that would perfectly prefigure the Promised Messiah. “21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (Gen 3:21)
Hundreds of years, and millennia passed, and Israel found themselves in bondage in Egypt. After Pharaoh suffered ten devastating curses from God, he agreed to let Israel go. But not before an innocent lamb was sacrificed by the Children of Israel, and its blood smeared above the door and along the lintels of their homes. When God’s angel of Death visited Egypt that night, He passed over every house that had the blood of the innocent lamb applied. This symbolizes that final Passover when we who believe will not see spiritual death when God sees the Blood of the Lamb of God covering our hearts.
The Old Testament is filled with more prophecies of the coming Messiah than time will allow, but it is interesting that the last OT prophet (Malachi) uttered his last prophecy some 400 years before the birth of Christ. During that 400 years, there was absolute silence from Heaven – the prevailing darkness was stifling. In fact, the last word of the OT is the word CURSE for the Law is a curse to us without the Grace and Mercy of God.
If we have not experienced silence, we can never appreciate the voice of angels. If we have not known utter darkness, we can not appreciate the coming Light of Christ. So, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal 4:4-7)
We find a PROVIDENTIAL DECREE that came by the power of God:
(Caesar Augustus issued his decree for the taxing, not as a lucky coincidence that resulted in Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Neither was it a mere inconvenience for the people of Israel. Rather, it was divine providence that caused this imperial decree.)
“1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” (Luke 2:1-6)
The power and authority of mighty Rome and her imperial Caesar was brought into play by God to accomplish the amazing birth at Bethlehem. Why was this amazing? Here is the most striking prophecy of the location of Christ’s birth:
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
God has told us that Jesus would be born in a remote little town scores of miles away from the home of His mother and Joseph in Nazareth. How could Jesus be born in Bethlehem when His parents had no reason to go to Bethlehem – – – – until Christmas? Caesar ordered it!
The prophet said Messiah would come from Bethlehem, but Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth. It probably never entered into their minds top go to Bethlehem. (Ill. Travel was hard and treacherous in those days. An 80 mile trips would have been terribly hard on an expectant mother.)(Ill. Joseph was of the house of David, Luke 1:27, Bethlehem was the city of David. God arranged all these things to ensure that His Son would be born in the right place at the right time.) (Ill. He even used a pagan emperor to do His will)
It is worth noting that Jesus is the Bread of Life for us: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) the name, Bethlehem means, in the Hebrew, House of Bread – so it is quite appropriate that Jesus would be born in the House of Bread. Bethlehem was also a village that raised sacramental lambs for sacrifice at Jerusalem. Jesus was the Lamb of God that was sacrificed at Jerusalem. “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev 13:8)
The Place Of His Birth – The manger, a wooden feeding trough for feeding of beasts. “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
The King of Kings was born in a manger! Why?
1.) The immediate reason: That some old shepherds might find Him.
2.) The eternal reason: That some old sinners might be able to identify with Him and approach Him for salvation! (No room in the Inn – Speaks of the rest of His life – John 1:11 (He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”
Many still have no room for Him in their lives today! Do you? – John 1:12-13 (“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The Picture In His Birth – Swaddling Cloths – Swaddling = “bandage”. These baby wraps prefigure His death and burial. Why did Jesus come? He came to die for you and me!
The Purpose In His Birth – (John 19:37) The purpose in this birth was the salvation of the soul of man. Jesus was a baby born to die. (He had been the expectation of mankind since the fall in the Garden of Eden – Gen. 3:15. Every lamb, ram, goat, bird, etc., that had been sacrificed down through the ages pointed to this special birth.) (He is why: Noah built an Ark, Abraham built an Altar, Moses built a Tabernacle, Solomon built a Temple, God built a hill called Calvary!) (He came down to be our Savior – There was a great purpose – YOU!
What was the Scene? In this remote little town of Bethlehem, all were sleeping soundly this first Christmas Eve – everyone except Joseph and Mary, and their beautiful baby boy! But here were others who were widely awake as well. These were poor shepherds on the hills overlooking Bethlehem – the same hills over which another shepherd named David kept watch over his father’s sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are His Father’s Sheep. Jesus was no born in the palace at Jerusalem, but in a lowly stable. He came to live the life of the poorest that the poorest, and the richest, might KNOW Him.
The Power Of God’s Grace –
“8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)
Imagine the terror of the shepherds when a bright and brilliant angel appeared over the skies of Bethlehem!
Shepherds were outcast by society as vile and filthy; outcast by religion as defiled and unfit to worship. However, they were chosen by Almighty God to hear the first birth announcement. How appropriate that the very men who raised the lambs for the Temple sacrifices were the first to meet the Lamb of God. (The angels did not appear to the rich and powerful, but to poor shepherds. God came there first because of pure grace – Eph. 2:8-9)
The Power Of God’s Glory – “13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14)
Do you know which is the oldest hymn in your hymnals? It is this: “Angels we Have Heard on High” It is number 125 in the Korean Chang-song-ga. “Gloria in excelsis Deo” is taken directly from verse 14 in the Latin. While the kings of the earth slept, the Hosts of Heaven announced the coming of the King of Glory.
Response of the shepherds:
“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (Luke 2:15) They immediately resolve to go and see what the angels have announced! What has been your response to the Good News of Christ?
They ACTED on their spiritual resolution – not slovenly, but with haste! “And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16) Have you hurried to find the Lord of whom the Bible speaks and your pastor preaches?
The shepherds immediately proclaimed the Good News of Christ whom they had found: “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:17) To whom have you proclaimed your discovery of Christ?
RESPONSE OF OTHERS: “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18) ( Have you wondered at the Word of Christ? Imagine, all wondered at the words of poor shepherds. There conversation formerly meant nothing, but now they spoke with the authority of faith!
Mary, even after hearing the news of her Son being born of God still pondered these things in her heart. Her human love for her Child may have blinded her to the heavenly love required of her to reverence her Son. “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Have we allowed our human attractions to blind us to the greater reality of God and His dear Son?
Have you glorified God in the knowledge of your salvation? “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:20)
Have we, too, glorified God for all of those things that we have seen and heard of Him?
Christ came that we might KNOW Him personally, for without knowing Christ, we cannot know the Father. He came that we might become One with us as He is One with the Father. We can only be One with Christ when we have replaced our human self-wills with His divine and perfect will. If we are all One in Christ, we cannot be fighting each other in the Church of Christ.
His coming was proclaimed by Light – the Light of the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of the Angel of the Lord. He is the Light of the World (John 8:12) He is the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) And He tells us that we, too, are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14). Is that a contradiction? Not at all. We have all seen the light of the moon, right? But the moon has no light. It only reflects the light it receives from the sun. So do we have no light in ourselves – only the light of Christ which we reflect in our lives. If anything comes between us and our Sun of Righteousness, then our light is eclipsed and we are in darkness. We dare not allow the world and its cheap allurements to come between us and Christ!