In his book, Living with Eternity in Your Heart, Mark Buchanan writes about what I call the “Christmas Paper Blues.” It’s what happens on Christmas morning. Mark says that he even saw it in his children when they reached the age that Christmas morning became the “Day of Getting.” There were mounds of gifts beneath the tree, and his son led the way in that favorite childhood (and, more subtly, adult) game, How Many Are for Me? But the telling moment came Christmas morning when the gifts were handed out. The children ripped through them, shredding and scattering the wrappings like jungle plants before a well-wielded machete. Each gift was beautiful: an intricately laced dress Grandma Christie had sewn, an exquisitely detailed model car Uncle Bob had found at a specialty store on Robson Street in Vancouver, a finely bound and gorgeously illustrated collection of children's classics Aunt Leslie had sent. The children looked at each gift briefly, their interest quickly fading, and then put it aside to move on to the Next Thing. When the ransacking was finished, his son, standing amid a sea of boxes and bright crumpled paper and exotic trappings, asked plaintively, "Is this all there is?"
That’s it! The Christmas Paper Blues. We adults still experience it too. We get to the end of the unwrapping and ask, “Is this all there is?” Now we might not way that out loud, but the chances are good that we feel that way. In a very real way, that question is more than the avaricious cry of an unsatisfied, pampered pouter. It is the longing cry of every human heart. At the end of desire lies a vast desert of unsatisfied longing which will always feel empty at the end of our frenzied gift - opening, and want to ask, “Is this all there is?”
And in a strange kind of way, that question really is what Christmas is all about. For centuries the Jewish people, 5, “Is this all there is?” Yet, it was never asked completely in despair. In the back of every Jewish heart was a hope. They had a promise from God: A “soul-satisfier” would be born; a deliverer would appear; the Messiah would come.
Many of the prophets talked about that day when the question would be answered. Isaiah told us that a virgin would conceive and bring forth a son who would be named, “Emmanuel, God with us;” David, the Psalmist alluded to his own offspring who would “be blessed and come in the name of the Lord,” and the prophet, Micah, even specifically noted the town in which this hope would be born when he wrote:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the Lord, In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace.
Now the immediate context of this scripture was the oppression of the Jewish people by the Assyrians. The prophet Micah is prophesying that a deliverer would come to put down the Assyrian threat, but his prophecy must be contemplated beyond his immediate time. God intended this to also apply to the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. I know this because the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to quote this passage of scripture in Matthew 2:6 in reference to the Messiah. He condenses it a bit writing: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
Wow! Quite a leap isn’t it? To believe that the great omnipotent God would stoop to such a humble birth in such a humble place, and do it all to deliver people who, for the most part, care so little for Him. It is a pretty incredible proposition, yet it is exactly what the Bible teaches. A humble infant King can deliver you from whatever hopelessness you face and give you a reason to really celebrate Christmas. This little infant King can deliver you!
And I know that, when we hear this, we receive it in different ways. Some of us doubt. We find this “God becoming man” thing too much to swallow. Or, even if we claim to believe it, we leave it on the level of theory and don’t allow it to get down into our lives where it can bring to us the miraculous life of faith God intends. Listen! God meant for you and I not just to live a meaningful life; He intended for us, because of this infant King, to live a miraculous life. He wants to bring a delivered life. I know you think that you’ve been so often defeated by that sin that besets you that there is no hope; I know you believe that God must have given up on you and you may even doubt that you are saved. You are wrestling with doubt, and I want you to pay attention. I want to tell you why you can fully trust that this King can deliver you, even if you doubt.
And then there are those, not who doubt, but who pout. They’re not questioning whether God can deliver, they are angry that He hasn’t delivered in the way they expected. They know He promised to provide, but they struggle with the fact that they are still, well . . . struggling. The sickness they thought would be healed is still there; The financial need they hoped would be handled is greater than ever; the job they had expected to arrive is nowhere to be found and their experience has left them bitter. They’re expecting a disappointing Christmas because how do you celebrate this baby as your provider when He doesn’t seem to be providing. Listen! God does provide, but you must see how His provision is meant to work.
You see, you can trust this infant King to deliver you for at least three reasons:
DIV 1: BECAUSE OF THE POWER HE HAS
Todd Agnew writes:
In the first light of a new day no one knew he had arrived
Things continued as they had been while a newborn softly cried
But the heavens wrapped in wonder knew the meaning of his birth
In the weakness of a baby they knew God had come to earth
It’s beyond our imagination to think of it, but the idea that God came wrapped in flesh is so true. This infant King possesses all power, and yet His arrival is so quiet. How like God that is. In fact, His humble beginning accentuates His power. Micah writes, But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel. Jesus wasn’t just born poor, he was born in obscurity. He was born in the “little town of Bethlehem.” Micah says that “though you are little among the thousands, yet out of you shall come forth to Me “The One.” This in itself is an example of the merciful grace of God! He allows the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem because He is making a statement. In the time when Micah wrote this, the nation of Israel was on its heels. The grand power of Solomon was gone. Through compromise after compromise, the people of Judah had given away their standing and had finally been reduced to abject captivity. They were the smallest of the small and the weakest of the weak. But God’s prophet has a message for them! Great things happen through the small things that God uses. Bethlehem, the smallest of the small would give rise to the greatest of the great. God, Himself, wrapped in humanity would come out of this humble town. The sheer audacity of such an event only makes God’s power more awesome and the Messiah’s coming more blessed. His humble beginning accentuates His power.
And, then, His Heavenly origin validates His power. Micah says that this Ruler coming out of Bethlehem was to be extraordinary. In fact, he makes a curious statement. He says that this Ruler is One “Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” Literally, it can be interpreted, “Whose goings out are from of old, from days of eternity.” Micah tells us here that this Messiah did not originate from earth. He has been around “from the days of eternity.” John, the Apostle would later write, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. His heavenly origin validates His power.
But that is not all. Not only does his humble beginning accentuate His power and His heavenly origin validate His power, His delivering promise focuses His power. You really have to understand the situation of Micah’s audience. They were scattered and defeated. Many of their brothers and sisters were still away in captivity. Micah says, in 5:3, Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel. These captives would return in the divine timing and providence of God. His power would be revealed in deliverance. What seemed like God’s abandoning of Israel would prove temporary. The Messiah would come; She who was “in labor” would give birth and that birth would signal the end of the nation’s oppression.
When you take it all together, the humble beginnings, the heavenly origin, and the delivering promise of this Messiah show us that He isn’t just a special baby, No! He is the God-man. He is the unique, one and only Son of God and He has complete power! That’s why I say He can deliver you.
Which, of course, leads to the obvious question: If this Messiah can so deliver us, why doesn’t he then? Why is it that our babies are sick? Why is it that our health fails? Why is it that those we love so much, even though we pray earnestly for them, still die. If God has such power, why does He allow us to suffer so much. We, if we aren’t careful come to the agnostic’s conclusion. Either God is not all powerful, or God is not all good, for if He is all powerful and He allows evil, He must not be all good and if He is all good and He allows evil, then He must not be all powerful. Which is why God often gets blamed when things go wrong.
In fact, it is quite common to shake their puny fists at God in the middle of tragedy and suffering. Nebraska State Senator, Ernie Chambers took his complaints to court.In October 2007, Sen. Chambers sued God for "causing untold death and horror" in the form of "fearsome floods…horrendous hurricanes, [and] terrifying tornadoes." Furthermore, says the senator, God has wrought "widespread death [and] destruction" and terrorized "millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants."
Chambers filed the suit to make a statement about the American court system. Outraged by a recent lawsuit he considered frivolous, the senator intends to demonstrate that "anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody." His motion against God, then, is tongue in cheek; Chambers, who has a history of antagonism against Christians, has no vested interest in his suit against the Almighty.
Nevertheless, the case raises important questions about God's activity in this broken world. Is God to blame for poverty, warfare, and natural disaster? Chambers seems to think so. To him the facts are clear: there is suffering everywhere, and God is everywhere.
But his reasoning makes one giant presumptive leap: He assumes that God plays by his rules; that He sees things from our perspective and, therefore, should reach our conclusions. He does not! God does not move in the ways that we anticipate. It has been that way from the beginning. Abraham, tired of waiting for the promise and nagged by Sarah, his wife, had a son with Sarah’s servant, Hagar, and lived to regret his intrusion into the prerogative of the Almighty. The Pharisees of Jesus days expected a conquering King, not a humble servant, and so they crucified the very Messiah that God had sent. God does not play by our rules. His power will not be harnessed by our desire.
So as you try to discern how God might be moving in your life, remember at least three things: First, God cannot be stopped! He is not anxiously wondering what the outcome of His efforts will be. He Knows, and nothing can thwart His perfect will. He can and will act in your life!
“Well, you might say, that’s great, but I don’t really see Him working in me! I have prayed and nothing is happening. You say God cannot be stopped, but He is not doing what I think He should be doing in my life. How can you say He cannot be stopped?”
Well, you must also understand that while God cannot be stopped, He can also not be programmed. You see, He is absolutely in control, and He will not give up that control to another. He will not be your genie in the bottle. You know, rub three times and out He pops to grate your latest wish. He is God and you (and I) are not. He cannot be programmed.
O, but here’s the most important principle. While God cannot be stopped and he cannot be programmed, I also tell you that HE CAN BE LIMITED (when it comes to His work in YOUR life. Yes that’s right. James told us as much when he said of prayer that “We have not because we do not ask for it. We are limited by what we do not ask.
But, the opposite is also true: We are limited by what we do ask. For one thing, we often think TOO SMALL. We ask God for what we consider to be safe, and do you know how we usually define safe? What we could have done anyway! That’s right! We ask for something we can do afraid that, somehow, our Messiah just can’t pull it off. We limit God.
And we also limit God because we ask for what is out of His will. Part of the whole mission of prayer is not for us to dream up stuff to ask God for, but to come into His presence and experience Him to the point that we begin to think as He thinks and will what He wills, and when we begin to think as He thinks and will as He wills, we find that His power is released in our lives.
So let me ask you: Are you angry with God because you He is not doing as you think He should? Remember: He cannot be programmed. Are you asking God for the impossible, or are you asking only for what you know that you can achieve anyway? Remember: He can be limited when it comes to His work in your life. Let Him loose. And are you using your times of prayer to just throw requests upward, or are you truly seeking to discern God’s will and line yourself up with Him so that He may release His power in you? Remember: He is the Messiah; He is the infant King. You can trust Him to deliver you because of the power He has. But you can also trust Him to deliver you
DIV 2: BECAUSE OF THE PROVISION THAT HE MAKES
This Messiah comes not to be served, but to serve. He has come to provide for His people. That provision is manifested in at least four ways. For one thing, this Infant King provides by delivering us from lack. Micah 5:4 says, And He shall stand and feed his flock. That sounds like Psalm 23 where David says, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (or lack). Jesus began to fulfill this during His earthly ministry. He went about healing the sick, cleansing demoniacs, and providing the physical needs of people. In fact on a couple of occasions, he fed several thousand people. He literally “stood” and “fed His flock.”
And, as our Messiah, he still delivers us from lack. Now I know that when I say that, you may have some real questions. You’ve been struggling to pay the bills. I know that there are some of you listening today who have struggled for the past several years now just to hold onto your house or your job. There have been many times when you’ve felt as if you have “lacked.”
Well, to say that our Messiah delivers us from lack does not mean to say that we will have a comfortable life. That was disproved in the first century. All but one of Jesus’ very own Apostles died violent deaths for their faith. Deliverance from lack certainly does not mean comfort! What, then does it mean.
What it means is what Jesus promised in His parting words to the disciples. When He ascended into Heaven, do you remember what He told the crowds gathered there. He told them to go into the all the world and bring others into the same relationship with Him that they had enjoyed and then He concluded by saying, And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. You see, His promise to supply our need and deliver us from lack is always within the context of doing His will. As I am “going” to make disciples; as I am seeking and accomplishing His will for my life, I will always find that He is there to supply the need. If I need to be healed from cancer in order to accomplish His will in my life, and if I will trust Him and ask Him, He will heal me. If I need a million dollars to accomplish what He wants for me, and if I trust Him and ask Him, He will supply the need. I will be delivered from lack as I follow Him in obedience. His provision means he delivers me from lack.
He delivers you from bondage. This was literally true for the Jewish people. Micah, their prophet tells them that this Messiah is going to return those who were in bondage to their homeland. Micah 5:3 says that the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And v4 takes it further. After telling them that this Messiah will . . . stand and feed His flock, it says that He will do so in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; The word “majesty” come from the root of the word which means “to rise up.” It is used after the Red Sea has swallowed up the Egyptians and the Isrealites are praising God, they say He “triumphed gloriously.” That’s the same root word as majesty and says, in effect, that God has risen up over His enemies like a wave and “triumphed gloriously” over His enemies. You could render this phrase, then, like this. And He will stand and feed His flock, rising up in the name that will be recognized for it’s power and authority because of the Lord His God. And you can trust this Infant King because He provides for you by delivering you from bondage.
And what does that mean for you and me personally? What does it mean to say that we are delivered from bondage? Well, obviously, we are not in political bondage as some of these Jews were, but all of us are born in bondage to sin. The bondages from which we must be delivered, then, are two: The eternal condemnation for our sin actions and the practical domination of our sinful nature. In the first place, Christ’s death paid our penalty for sin and we are delivered. In the second, Christ’s resurrection frees us from our bondage to our sinful nature and we receive the power to live a life that pleases God.
What does that look like in our lives? Well, if does not mean that you live a completely sin-free life at all times. Perfection is something we find when we cross over into eternity. But while it does not mean a sin-free life, it does mean that you can live a sin-conquering life. This infant king guarantees that you can be set free from the domination of sin.
One missionary told of their experience on the field that illustrates this so well. One day they said that an enormous snake—much longer than a man—slithered its way right through their front door and into the kitchen of their simple home. Of course, they were terrified and ran outside looking for one of the natives who might know what to do. Before long a neighbor with a machete showed up, calmly marched into their house and decapitated the snake with one clean chop.
The neighbor reemerged triumphant and assured the missionaries that the reptile was dead. But there was a catch. He warned them that it was going to take a while for the snake to realize it was dead.
A snake's neurology and blood flow are such that it can take considerable time for it to stop moving even when its head has been removed. For the next several hours, the missionaries were forced to wait outside while the snake thrashed about, smashing furniture and flailing against walls and windows, wreaking havoc until its body finally understood that it no longer had a head.
Sweating in the heat, they had felt frustrated and a little sickened but also grateful that the snake's rampage wouldn't last forever. And at some point in their waiting, the missionaries realized the spiritual meaning of what was going on. They realized that Satan is a lot like that big old snake. He's already been defeated. He just doesn't know it yet. And Satan is defeated because this Infant King has defeated him. Jesus provides. He delivers us from lack and delivers us from bondage. But then,
He delivers you from fear. Micah says of this Infant King, And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace. If you had been one of the captives returning to Israel after your time in Babylon or Assyria, I am sure that you would have had the same question on your mind that many of these returnees had: Will this last? Will some other power rise up and take me away again.
Micah answers this question in 5:4b. He says And they shall abide. Literally, they will “live securely.” No one is going to come in upon them again. This infant king will assure their safety for, as the 5:4 goes on to say, He shall be great to the ends of the earth. No one will rise up to challenge His authority throughout the ends of the earth, and for this reason Micah says that that this one shall be peace. The word “peace” is shalom in Hebrew and means security, prosperity, general well-being, and even internal spiritual peace.
This Messiah, this Infant King is going to bring about outward and inward security and peace. He will take away fear, for He will remove all legitimate threat. Having defeated Satan, all remaining threats are just the temporary thrashings of a beheaded snake, just waiting to die. You can trust this Infant King because He provides for you. He delivers you from fear.
And what does that mean for us in our lives? Well, it does not mean that you will never have any confusion nor doubt. There will be times when you’ll have questions. There will be those times when the phone rings and your relative says, “I’ve got bad news;” There will be those times when the grim-faced doctors says, “You need to sit down for a minute. I got your test results;” There will be those moments when your child walks out the door and you have no idea what they’re into. They’ve told you one thing but you don’t really believe them, and yet you don’t know exactly what to do. Saying that this Infant King delivers you from fear does not mean that there will not be times of confusion and even doubt.
But I will tell you what it does mean. It does not mean a doubt-free life, but it can mean a faith-filled life. It does mean that no matter how bad things get around us, we can always refocus our faith on the one who promised to never leave us nor forsake us. And it does mean that we can always remember that the same one who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and died a substitutionary death also came forth in a victorious resurrection. It does mean that we can say, along with the Apostle Paul, O death, where is your sting; O grave where is your victory. The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the Law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Because this Infant King conquers death and hell and the grave, surely He can conquer our fear. You can trust Him because He provides for you: He delivers you from lack; He delivers you from bondage; and He delivers you from fear.
Listening to Atheist Richard Dawkins convinced him. He had been a Mormon, but as Richard Morgan read Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, his faith was shattered. He became convinced that all he had been looking for through his faith was social acceptance. The book made it clear that there really was nothing “out there” to look for, so he should stop looking and get on with his life.
So he did. He said he didn’t feel like he became an atheist, he just realized that’s what he had always been. He began to communicate with other atheists on Dawkins’ website. But while he was on that website, he encountered David Robertson. Robertson was a Scottish pastor who went on the website and began to answer, chapter by chapter, Dawkins’ book called The God Delusion.
While that surprised Morgan, what surprised him even more were the responses to Robertson. They were filled with much anger, derision, and hate, even though Robertson always answered with respect . Morgan was so impressed that he began to post to the pastor’s site, telling him that, he was not an atheist because he wanted to be, but just because he could not believe in God.
The pastor responded with 2 questions that changed his life; 1)Why don’t you believe in God and 2) What would make you believe in God? Morgan dismissed the first question as dumb, but responded to the second by saying, “certainly not proof and evidence.”
At that moment, Morgan's instinctive response conjured up to his memory, probably from his previous Mormon days, the verse, “We love because he first loved us.” And in that instant, Morgan understood the expression “amazing grace.”
“I was certain without having any rational explanation that God existed, that he loved me without waiting for me to love him, that he loved me unconditionally without waiting for me to deserve it.”
“Science and philosophy are wonderful manifestations of the enormous capacities of the human mind, but the Word of God is truth, and truth is what it took to set me free,” Morgan stated. “Only a personal relationship with God can bring us to any kind of meaningful, personal, transcendental truth.”
In his renewed experience with God, he went back on the Dawkins site and posted about his newfound faith to which many replied with vile insults and commented, “You need counseling” and “This is a temporary brain infraction.”
But now, three years later, the “temporary brain infraction” Morgan was affected with continues to persist. Morgan is still amazed and feels the love of God even more now every day, being plugged into a church, which Robertson referred him to.
“I didn’t cease to know everything I knew before and I didn’t forget everything I learned about evolution or all of a sudden lose interest. I was [just] aware of how limited it was, how it could not answer man’s deepest needs.
“There’s a famous French quotation that says, ‘In every person’s heart there is a God-shaped hole.’ I am aware of the presence of this God-shaped hole and that only the love of God can fill it.”
That’s the meaning of Christmas: God didn’t send us an answer. He came Himself to be the answer and He says to you, “I can deliver you. Behold I stand at the door and knock if any man will hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and will dine with him and he with Me.”
I love that second verse of our song:
As His mother held Him closely It was hard to understand
That Her baby, not yet speaking, Was the Word of God to man