Second Reformed Church

Friday, December 30, 2016

"The Savior is Born" Sermon: Luke 2:1-20



“The Savior is Born”
[Luke 2:1-20]
December 25, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            The Savior is born.
            After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God made this promise against the serpent:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).  This verse is considered the first promise of the coming of the Savior; there will be hatred between the woman and the forces of Satan, and the day would come when the wicked will hurt her Son, the Savior, but her Son will be victorious over the forces of darkness.
            We celebrate the birth of the Son of Eve, the Son of Mary, today, on Christmas.  Some two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem of Judea, Jesus was born.  And we see:
            First, the birth of the Savior is historical.
            “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
            We might ask, “who cares?” about the historical figures Luke mentions at the beginning of his history.  But that is the point:  Luke wrote his Gospel with specific reference to historical people and events to show that the birth of Jesus, the Savior, is not a mythology – it is a true story that happened in history and can be pinned down by eyewitness testimony and historical events.
            Christianity is the only religion that stands or falls on its historicity.  If Jesus was not born – God in the flesh – and did not live under God’s Law sinlessly, die for our sins, and physically rise from the dead – in reality, in history – not as a myth – not as wishful thinking – not as a metaphor that we can be inspired by – but honest-to-God, real live history, then Christianity is a ridiculous waste of time.
            Paul writes: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20, ESV).
In other words, if the history of Jesus – Who He is and what He did – is just a moral tale that we hold to in this life and affects nothing about the life to come – then we are the most pitiable people who ever lived.
But, the fact is that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived, died, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.  Amen!
            So Luke guides us to the truth of the history of the birth Jesus by placing it in time:  During the reign of Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great.  Their overlapping years were 27 B.C. to 4 A.D.  During the governorship of Quirinius, when the first census was called, which seems to have occurred about 5 B. C. – which is in the period that Augustus and Herod rule, so Jesus was born about 5 B. C. on our modern time line.  Thus, we have a reasonably sure year of Jesus’ birth and we can look at historical records around that time and see what they tell us.
            Luke tells us that at this time in history, there was a man named Joseph and a woman named Mary, who lived in Nazareth of Galilee, and they were betrothed – remember, we talk about betrothal and how it is a legal engagement that lasted about a year and required a divorce to get out of.  And Mary was with child – as we know – by God the Holy Spirit.
            Joseph had been met by the angel who explained this to him and told him to name the child, “Jesus,” because He would save His people.  Joseph adopted Jesus as his son so Jesus would be of the line of David – as Joseph was, so He would fulfill the prophecy of Jesus being of the line of David.
            But by the time they got to Bethlehem, there was no room in the inn, so they had to stay in the area where the animals were kept, and while they were there for the census, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son (which indicates that she had more children – which we do find in the Gospels), wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and lay him in a manger – in a feeding troth.
            This is not just a story – it is real history.  At the point when two kings, a governor, and a census meet in time, Mary and Joseph, who were betrothed, went to Bethlehem, which was mobbed for the census, took lodging in the place for the animals, and while they were there, she gave birth to her first Child, the Son of God, Whom Joseph adopted.
            With these historical markers, we increase the believability of the story, right?  If someone tells you a story and can name the dates and times, and people and places to confirm the story, it becomes all the more believable, does it not?  If this is not true, we have believed a tragic tale.
            And as we saw recently, it is of absolute necessity that Jesus be born of the Virgin:  He had to be born sinless – without a sin nature – a real human being – and God Himself, to live a life of holiness to merit our salvation and pay our debt for sin.  If this is not true, return your Christmas presents, we have nothing to celebrate.
            But it is true.  The historical evidence is before us.  The Savior is born.
            Second, the message of the Savior’s birth was given to common people.
            “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”
            In the same region where Joseph and Mary were staying for the census, there were shepherds in the field at night.  The sheep would likely have been in the sheepfold – that structure we have talked about which would have been higher than the sheep could climb to get out and would have only one entrance/exit that the shepherd would open to let the sheep in and out.
            While the shepherds were making sure none of the sheep got out and no predator or thief came into the sheepfold, the Light of the Glory of God shone – brighter than you can imagine – and the shepherds were terrified.  Added to that, there was an angel in the midst of the Glory.
            And the angel told them not to be afraid, because the angel was giving them the news that the Savior – the Christ – had been born in the city of David – Bethlehem, just as the prophets foretold.
            And we would probably shrug at the angel telling the shepherds this news – expecting the shepherds to follow up on it and spread it, but we need to understand the status of shepherds in first century Israel: “In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers” (http://www.epm.org/resources/2008/Mar/11/shepherds-status/). They were considered almost as unreliable as women!
            If we put it in today’s terms…what?...used car salesmen?
            If you had a message of the greatest importance, who would you give it to to make sure it gets spread to the whole world?  Perhaps the President, so he could break through all the radio and TV programs and get the word out?
            Why was this earth-shattering announcement given to the shepherds – people who we outcasts – who were looked down upon and not believed?
            Because Jesus fulfilled this prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;       he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,” (Isaiah 61:1-2a, ESV).
            Jesus came for those who need Him and know they need Him.  It is easier for the poor and the rejected – those who have suffered – to have a realistic look at themselves and admit that they need to be saved – they need to be saved.
            As Paul writes, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).
            As Steve Taylor sings, “Jesus is for losers.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q023gA5IeV8)
            Jesus is for those who know they are sick, lost, unable, unworthy…
            The shepherds understood – and they were filled with excitement!  The angels told them the newborn Savior was the Child in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
            And the sky exploded with angels – from east to west and south and north – an angel choir – before the shepherds – proclaiming:
            Glory to God in the highest!  God is worthy to be magnified and known for all His Attributes – the One True God Who keeps His promises and brings His Savior to God’s people.  In the highest way possible – tell how great this God is!
            And peace among those with whom He is well-pleased.  God is no longer bearing down His Wrath on all those Who believe savingly in His Savior.  We are forgiven!  God has sent the Savior to take our punishment – and He brings peace between us and God.  Jesus ends the war between God and all those who believe in Him by His Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
            John Lennon sings, “A very Merry Christmas, And a happy new year, Let's hope it's a good one, Without any fear, War is over, if you want it, War is over now” (http://www.metrolyrics.com/happy-christmas-war-is-over-lyrics-john-lennon.html).
            He didn’t mean it this way, but what he sings is true – it is the message of the angels to the shepherds to all us common folk:  through Jesus Christ, our war with God is over – if you believe – war is over now.
            Third, the birth of the Savior causes us to glorify and praise God and tell others.
            “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
            When the angels went back into Heaven, the shepherds looked at each other and said, “Let’s go!  Let’s go see this historical event.  Let’s go see this historical event of good news for all kinds of people that God revealed to us common people.”
            And they ran as fast as they could and got to the town of Bethlehem and went from house to house, looking for the Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger, and they found Mary and joseph, and told them and everyone else who was there what the angels had said.
            Did you notice that?  Our crèches are too small!  The shepherds told all the people who were there – it wouldn’t say all the people, if it was just Mary and Joseph, a cat, a dog, a cow, and a donkey!  Other people had been drawn to the birthplace of the Son of God.  (And it wasn’t the Magi – they came later.)
            And all the people wondered at it.  They didn’t wonder if it was true or not, they were in a state of wonder, that this good news had come – that after all these long centuries, the Savior had finally come, that everything was about to change for the better as far as salvation is concerned.  What a wonder – that God would come to earth as a human Baby to pay the debt owed to God.
            But Mary treasured up and pondered what the shepherds told them.  As Mary had been told by an angel about the Child she bore: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to 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” (Luke 1:31-33, ESV).  Mary deeply reflected on all these things.
            But the shepherds went back to their sheepfolds, praising and glorifying God that they were able to see the historical truth of the birth of the promised Savior.  They went back to their sheepfolds, praising and glorifying God that they were chosen to receive the Good News of great joy from the angels – and has made ambassadors of God with the message.
            And as they went back – they told everyone.  They couldn’t help it.  They had to tell everyone.  The greatest news that will ever be told had been given to them, and they couldn’t keep it in: “It’s historical, and we saw Him.  It’s for all peoples – through us – the ones everyone else ignores and looks down on.”
            You and I have been called as well.  We are to be a people who naturally praise and glorify God as we hear what God has said – especially about His saving us by Himself through the birth and history of this Baby.
            It’s time, beloved, the Savior is born.  There is a historical record that this is all real.  We have a message to share with the world.  And Jesus has told us to go – go to your family, and your neighbors, and those weird people you usually try to avoid, and different ones of us – throughout the Creation.
            The Savior is born.  God has saved everyone who will ever believe.
            Merry Christmas.  The Savior is born.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, who are we that You would sent Your Son to earth as a human Baby to save us?  Oh, Lord, all we can do is rejoice and glorify You and tell other people the Good News.  Lord, unloose our tongues, free us from our inhibitions, give us goofy smiles, and joyful hearts that we would tell someone and then tell again:  The Savior is born.  And we pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

"Sing. Be Glad. Rejoice." Sermon: Psalm 96



“Sing. Be Glad. Rejoice.”
[Psalm 96:1-13]
December 24, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            As we break into the celebration of Christmas, we consider these words of the Psalmist in Psalm 96.  Here we see that all that exists is called to praise and magnify God, the Lord.
            First, Israel is to sing a new song to the Lord, because the Lord is the Creator.
            “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
            “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”
            The Psalmist begins by telling Israel to sing.  Israel are those believers of the historical, ancient nation of Israel.  Yet, we rightly explain this to all believers, first, as Paul writes, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” (Romans 9:6, ESV).  In other words, the true Israel is not biological Jews, but all those who believe in Jesus savingly.
            The Psalmist tells us to sing a new song to greatly praise YHWH, the Lord.
            Have you ever written a poem for someone, or a song, or sang a song to someone you cared about?  Have you ever written or said something to someone to express your love of someone?  The Psalmist tells us this is a way in which we are to respond to God; we are to respond in creative passion to God – to effusively break forth – to think of God and Who He is and what He has done and not be able to hold back, but with our own words to burst forth in song to Him and about Him.
            We who have been saved have reason to carry on about our Savior, do we not?  As we come into the presence of God, we are energized and held captive by Him – not put to sleep, right?  If we truly believe that God has saved us from unimaginable horror, we must naturally burst forth telling God how great He is and thanking Him for that salvation He has given us, right?
            No other god is like our God.  All the other gods are nothing – they are nonsense.  Isaiah explains this:
            “The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’
            “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:12-20, ESV).
            Isaiah says, “Don’t you see the insanity of every other god but the true God.  If the crops go bad, you cut down a tree, you use part of the tree for firewood, and part of the tree you carve into an idol, and once you have made your idol, you set it before the fire and worship it.  That’s insanity.”
            In our culture, we don’t worship idols like they did in Isaiah’s days, but we worship, money and power and sex – and all of these things are fleeting – all of them can be lost.
            But our God, the Lord, the True God, is the Creator of everything than exists.  He is our One and Only Savior, He has no beginning and no end.  He always was and always will be.  He alone is truly worthy of worship and raising our voices in song.
            Second, all the peoples of the world are to ascribe glory to the Lord, because He is a just Judge.
            “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
            “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’”
            In the Psalmist’s day. The world was divided, by-and-large, into Israel and Gentiles – the families of the peoples – everybody else.  There were two groups of people, though we understand that is not quite accurate, because not everyone in national Israel was a believer, and there were some believers among the nations – the Gentiles.
            But here we have the fact that the number of believers coming from outside of national Israel will explode – the number of believers from every other people and nation in the world will grow.
            And so the Psalmist calls on all those believers, from all the nations of the world to ascribe to the Lord – to be ambassadors to the Lord – to announce the truth of Who the Lord is and what He has done telling all the rest of the peoples that the Lord is the Great God – magnifying Him – telling everything they have come to know about Who He is and what He has done – especially in salvation – explaining that He is Holy, Holy, Holy – the God against Whose measure we all will be placed.
            And the Psalmist tells them to bring an offering – and lest we get confused – if we remember – there were many blood sacrifices in Israel – but that is not what the Psalmist is saying God wants from them; the offering mentioned here is specifically a thank offering.  Giving true, heartfelt thanks to God for Who He is and what He has done.
            God made it clear that He does not desire blood – and the sacrifices themselves were not the point: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11, ESV).
            “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV).
            The offering God has always wanted is faith and obedience and thanksgiving.
            And so God calls on the believers among the nations to come to worship – to know God intimately, to tremble before His Holiness in a joyful fear – if you have ever met someone you truly respected – magnify that infinitely – and deliver His message to the world.
            And the message the nations are to give is that the Lord God is the Sovereign King over all of Creation, and He reigns and will reign and the world will never end.  This planet will not be destroyed by nuclear holocaust, by global warming, by Donald Trump, or by aliens.  God will change this world when He comes to earth with the fullness of His Kingdom, but this earth will not end, it is our eternal home with our God and Savior.
            Third, all nature is to rejoice, because the faithful Lord will restore the Creation.
            “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”
            God calls on the created order to respond to Him – to be what each one is to its fullest perfection – the heavens to perfectly be the heavens, the sea the sea, the creatures in it, the fields, the trees – all of Creation.
            We understand that trees don’t really have mouths to sing with, and the fields are not going to proclaim God’s Glory with their mouths, but the Creation – by acting perfectly according to its creation – praises God.
            Even now, in its marred state, the Creation makes God’s existence and attributes absolutely obvious – as Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV).
            What the Psalmist is getting at is the perfect revelation of God through the Creation when the Creation is freed from its fallen state and made perfect again, as Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18-23, ESV).
            As the Psalmist write, “the earth is fixed; it shall never be moved,” but it will be restored, and that is what he is getting at when he rejoices in the Lord God judging the earth and all peoples.
            When we talk about judgement, we tend to focus on those who are judged to condemnation, but that is not the better part:  God will judge the Creation and free it to holy restoration, and God will judge all we who believe – and for the sake of the work of His Son, Jesus – He will free us to eternal holiness in the Kingdom.
            What does this have to do with Christmas?
            Who is the Lord God who saves believers from Israel and from the Gentiles?  Who is the Lord God Who judges and restores the Creation and all believers at the end of days?  Who is it that will be praised and glorified by all people and nations and all of Creation for Who He is and all that He has done, with special reference to salvation?
            Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV).
            It is Jesus.  Jesus is the Lord God Almighty, the Savior, that all of the prophets pointed to.  He is the One in Whom all Creation shall rejoice and be restored.  He is the One Who – in order to satisfy the justice of God under the Law – came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ – this little Baby Whom we worship and adore.
            And so, now, today, and every day, God has called all people and all of Creation to rejoice and glorify His Son, our Savior.  And on that final day, we will all do so perfectly, eternally, and in great joy.
            As we wait for that day in hope, let us be thankful, and never cease to open our mouths to tell of the Glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, as we come to celebrate the birth of Your Son, our Savior, let us not get lost in the holiday, but reveal Jesus for Who He is and tell all the world what He has done.  Help us to tell others that we celebrate Christmas because Jesus is worthy as our Savior.  And may we offer up our thanks to You, forever and ever.  Amen.