As a pastor, I always found preaching at Christmas more difficult than I perhaps should have. Most of the preachable material comes from just four chapters: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Even then, Matthew begins with 17 verses of a genealogy, and Luke has a fair amount on Zechariah and Elizabeth, which is significant to the history but not as easy to deal with for a service where we hope some unbelievers would attend. In addition, there is the old Puritan qualm about a festival that the Word of God has not directly ratified, and the fact that the emphasis in the New Testament is clearly more on the death and the resurrection of the Messiah rather than His birth. Finally, there is the present reality that for a great many Australians, Christmas seems to rank with Halloween and Valentine’s Day and other excuses to spend up big.
Yet there is gold in the mud, as Jerome said of some of the apocryphal Gospels. In the mud of the modern spending spree that passes for exalting Him who became poor that we might become rich (2 Cor.8:9), the true light who gives light to everyone still manages to enter into the lives of His people. Let us go over familiar territory of the angels who appeared to the shepherds who were in the field, keeping watch over their flock at night.
Confining ourselves to Luke 2:10-11, what is said of baby Jesus?
- He is a Saviour. The angel declared to the shepherds: ‘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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’ A Saviour saves. A lifeguard saves swimmers – or non-swimmers – from drowning. Jesus’ name means ‘He saves’ (Matt.1:21), and He saves His people from their sins, and so from death. Ultimately, He is not ‘a Saviour’, but the Saviour, the only one as Peter so emphatically point out (Acts 4:12). If you and I wish to be saved from sin and death, we cannot save ourselves; there is only one to whom we can turn – Jesus the Saviour.
- He is the Christ, which is not a name but a title: ‘the anointed One’. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil. Jesus would be anointed with the Holy Spirit. He is the prophet who brings God’s Word – in fact, He is God’s Word (John 1:14). Jesus is also the priest who offers the perfect sacrifice of Himself to pay for sin. Other priests offered sacrifices of bulls, goats, and the like, which were ineffective in themselves and then the priest died. Jesus is the high priest who lives forever and whose sacrifice is perfect and so is once for all. And Jesus is the king. Like king David, He was born in Bethlehem, and so was of the line of David. But unlike David, He is without sin, and His kingdom is not from this world and is forever (John 18:36-37).
- He is Lord. The angel was not simply being respectful. The Lord Mayor of Sydney is a title of respect, for some anyway. For Jesus, however, ‘Lord’ signifies His dominion over everything. It is the angel ‘of the Lord’ who spoke of Jesus as Lord. Jesus is king of kings and Lord of lords.
This was an occasion which announced glory to God and peace and joy to the shepherds, and all the people.
In the din and distortion of a modern Christmas, it can be easy to miss the claim that the Child in the manger is the Saviour, the Messiah, and the Lord. I suppose it always was. It is the Holy Spirit who gives sinners eyes to see. Even as believers, this is beyond us, but we must cling to its truth. Let me finish with some words from J. I. Packer:
‘The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.’
The world may trivialize Christmas but let us see in Jesus the visible image of the invisible God. Even as a baby in a manger, that was revealed.
A happy and blessed Christmas to all.
With warm regards in Christ,
Rev. Dr Peter Barnes, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia