2008-12-24 (pm) Christmas Eve Sermon
It is Christmas Eve. If you haven’t opened gifts yet, you’re probably looking forward to getting home, you’re probably looking forward to getting your gifts, seeing what your family has given you.
Are you excited? Are you ready? Do you have great expectations?
Zechariah and Elizabeth had great expectations. But they lived with bitter disappointment. They longed to have a child, but Elizabeth was barren. They poured out their prayers to God, seeking an answer. But they grew older. The viability for conception became less and less. Then they simply were too old. They no longer held out hope.
Throughout their sorrow and disappointment, Zechariah and Elizabeth kept their faith in God. They were righteous. They continued about their daily activities even though they had a very real hole in their lives. And yet in spite of that bitterness, they found delight in serving, loving and trusting in the Lord.
God was not punishing them. God was preparing them for something they never would have dreamed. Instead of receiving the amazing, incredible, powerful blessing of an ordinary child, they were invited by God to participate in the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Their son, John, notice that God, through the angel Gabriel, told them their baby’s gender even before conception! No ultrasound can do that!
Their son would be no ordinary child. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit even in the womb! When Mary came to visit, he recognised the voice of the Lord’s mother! This was a gifted child, set apart as a Nazarite (like Samson) he was not permitted to cut his hair, drink alcoholic beverages. He would bring many people to repentance and recommitment to the Lord! He would prepare the way for Jesus.
Then there’s Mary. She had great expectations as well. She was engaged to be married to Joseph. She’s planning her wedding, looking forward to getting together and celebrating with friends and family. But the angel comes to her and says, “You are highly favoured. The Lord is with you. The Holy Spirit will be upon you and you will conceive and give birth to a son who will be the saviour of the world.
Whatever expectations she’d had were dashed by this news. Mary said yes, but that willingness to do God’s will meant that she’d face uncertain days. How would Joseph react? Would he divorce her? Would he believe the truth? How would her family react? What about the people in town? Won’t they just think that she’s been sleeping around? Won’t they try to stone her to death?
Well, that and much worse could have happened, but God is sovereign, nothing, not one little detail was left out. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for the child in her is from the Holy Spirit.
And of course, we know that Mary gave birth to Jesus who is the Christ, who is the anointed one, the one who came to take away the sins of the world. But for all the people involved in this short period of history, it was quite intense, they didn’t have our perspective.
Let us consider what the Lord required of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary.
Elizabeth and Zechariah had to live with the pain, and in those days, the humiliation of being childless. Some people thought they were cursed by God, and yet, they lived their lives as holy as they could. Though their desire for a child did not diminish over time, they learned to live with their lot in life. They remained faithful and trusting in God. And in their case, God rewarded their faithfulness with the privilege of participating in the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Joseph and Mary also had to live with pain. We can be sure that they did not have an easy time of it at first.
I’m mindful of a letter we received recently from the West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre in Hinton. The letter describes a girl who got pregnant, came for counselling, decided to keep her baby and waited to tell her parents the truth until it was too late for an abortion. Her parents were very upset as she knew full well they would be.
She had the baby, and her parents have accepted her and her child and are delighted to have a grandchild, even if their grandchild did not come in the way they expected.
Mary and Joseph had a rough go of it. Their expectations were dashed. Their parent’s expectations were dashed. They dealt with resentment and rejections. Then, just before the baby was to be born, Caesar Augustus issues the decree mandating that everyone go to his home town to register. Well, it wasn’t so much Caesar as it was God. Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem to fulfil the prophecies. So, rather than just tell Joseph to go there in a dream, God demonstrated His sovereign power by making Caesar issue the decree.
Not one detail was left out.
Well, just one. It’s our turn. What are your expectations?
Are you content with what you have, with what you’ll get for Christmas?
Do you have what Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph had?
Do you have a deep, though not perfect, faith in God? Are you willing to say ‘yes’ to Him, even if you might not get what you deeply desire? Are you willing to say ‘yes’ to him even if might have to face uncertain and even difficult days?
If you are willing, you can invite Jesus Christ into your life. All you have to do is confess your sin, trust in Christ’s righteousness and his payment for your sin, accept His forgiveness, and you will receive a gift that is far beyond your greatest expectations.
There are probably some people here who have never truly experienced Christmas. You’ve never received Christ. Don’t wait one more minute. Don’t risk being silent and deaf. Respond as Mary did. Give yourself to God.
This Christmas, receive the greatest gift of all. “To all who receive him, to all to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. This Christmas, don’t just celebrate Christ’s birth. Celebrate that His birth translates into your spiritual re-birth! Trust in God, and expect great expectations. Amen.