Christmas: God’s Grace Through the “Insignificant”

20171225_150202One of the reasons that grounds my assurance in God is His deliberateness. All that God does He deliberately does with purpose and intention. There are no accidents or happen-stances with God. Even when our minds can’t fathom how or why God chooses to work in particular ways, what we need to do as finite beings is trust in the wisdom and goodness of the Infinite. This is part of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

One of the reasons why I like Luke’s gospel is his Holy Spirit inspired attention to detail. I often remind myself when I start to wonder why so much seemingly insignificant detail is mentioned, that God has a reason for including the particularities in Scriptures. They are for our good and our worship. God is in the details. In Luke’s account of the birth narrative of Jesus, every detail is important and the detail about Jesus’ earthly parents must not be taken lightly.

In Luke 1:26-38, Luke records the annunciation of Jesus’ conception and birth by the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph. However, verses 26-27 contain a great deal of important information. As I stated earlier, every detail of Scripture is significant, and these first two verses are pregnant with significance that we cannot afford to miss.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

According to this text, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, of the house of David and they were living in Nazareth in Galilee. Nothing seems unusual about these details on the surface, but let’s consider this information more closely.

The “Insignificant” People

Scripture reveals that Mary was merely a pre-teen or teenage Jewish girl who received this angelic annunciation. Except for one questionable lineage account, the Scriptures are silent concerning Mary’s lineage,which doesn’t give us any reason to assume she was a person of significance or importance in society. Mary, very well, was an ordinary Jewish girl of her times.

Verse 27, however, gives us a bit more detail about Joseph. Luke records here that he was of the “house of David”. Two other instances of Joseph’s lineage are mentioned in Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-16, which both tie him to David. In addition to this familial detail, we also know Joseph was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:65, Mark 6:3). As a couple, Joseph and Mary were of meager financial possessions. Luke 2:22-24 records that after Jesus was born, they presented Him at the temple according to the Law and offered two turtle doves or two pigeons as a sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus tells us that in the event people couldn’t offer a lamb or bull as a sacrifice due to economic inability, turtledoves or pigeons were acceptable.

Based on these truths, it is reasonable to conclude that both Joseph and Mary were ordinary working class citizens of Israel. By worldly standards, there was nothing significant about them.

The “Insignificant” Place

In addition to their ordinary statuses, they were residing in Nazareth of Galilee. Archaeological and historical discoveries have revealed that Nazareth was an ancient agricultural village that had between 200-400 residents in the first century. It was situated 65 miles north of Jerusalem and about 71 miles north of Bethlehem. While Jerusalem was the religious center of the Jews and Bethlehem was known for being the birthplace of David and eventually Jesus, Nazareth was not a significant place in the first century. In fact, one of Jesus’ disciples, Nathanael, couldn’t believe that the Messiah would be associated with Nazareth. In utter disbelief, Nathaneal uttered, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?(John 1:43-46). By worldly standards, nothing was significant about Nazareth.

The God of the “Insignificant”

Mary was a young Jewish girl. Joseph was a poor teenage carpenter. Nazareth was small non-respected agricultural village in upper Galilee. Yet, God purposely chose all of these elements to accomplish His redemptive plan in Christ. As Luke records, Joseph and Mary were betrothed and he was from the “house of David”. The significance lies in the fact that centuries before God made a covenant with King David stating that a king from his line would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:8-13). From a worldly perspective, the seemingly insignificant are profoundly significant in God’s redemptive plan. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear the profundity.

May Christmas be a reminder that our God deliberately accomplished His significant plan of redemption in Christ through seemingly insignificant people or circumstances so that He alone will get the glory and praise that He rightly deserves.  Rejoice in the fact that God extends grace through the insignificant and to the insignificant to accomplish His eternally significant purpose. 

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas: God’s Grace to the “Insignificant”

Wca0c354e2f0bcd4674d99a5d8d878a16hat generally comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Frenzied shopping trips, wrapping and unwrapping presents, decorating a Christmas tree, putting up lights, holiday parties, scenic landscapes of snow, aromas of holiday meals and treats, family gatherings, singing Christmas songs and hymns, etc. Those of us who are Christians understand and believe that the Christmas season is a time to remember how our great God sent His Son, Jesus, to ultimately save us from His eternal wrath because of our sins. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is arguably one of the greatest events of human history, but definitely the greatest birth to ever have happened. While only Matthew and Luke records the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke records an account that Matthew doesn’t that has great significance and offers great encouragement. Luke’s inclusion of the angelic announcement to shepherds (Luke 2:8-21) serves to remind us of God’s grace to the seemingly insignificant.

The “Insignificant” Shepherds

Shepherding is very common in the Middle East and parts of Asia. During the time of the biblical patriarchs and after, shepherding was the way of life and commerce for most families. Moses was a shepherd (Exodus 3:1-2), Abraham was a rich shepherd (Genesis 13), Jacob was a shepherd (Genesis 30:25-43), and David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Shepherding was a noble calling as it pictured leadership and care. Think of how David described God as his shepherd in Psalm 23 and in many other Psalms. However, by the first century when the Roman Empire subjected Israel to its rule, shepherding was seen as a very low class calling in Israel and the surrounding areas. To be a shepherd was to be socially inferior and shepherds were often marginalized. Considering that, it ought to make us wonder why the LORD would send an angel to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Why them? Why not a prominent business man or woman? Why not an influential political figure of the day? There is a reason and Luke’s gospel emphasizes it throughout. Let’s look more closely at what Luke records.

10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

After the shepherds were approached by the angel, fear immediately struck them and they were instructed by the angel to not fear. If we casually read these verses, we’ll miss an important point the Holy Spirit is making through Luke’s account. However, if we thoughtfully read keeping the audience, and the social and historic contexts in mind, we’ll notice the gravity of these verses. The angel of the LORD says in verse 10, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you….” and in verse 11, “For unto you…..” . Who is this message of good news for? Who is the Savior born to? This gospel (good news) is “for all the people”, but notice the personal emphasis of the angel’s words… “I bring you” and “Unto you…”. This good news was for them!  This angelic announcement wasn’t an announcement given to Israel at large, but to the shepherds. The fact that God entrusted this news to the shepherds and saying that the Savior was born for them verifies the indiscriminate grace of God toward people.

What the Holy Spirit wants us to understand is that God lavishes His redemptive grace on whomever He will. He is no respecter of persons. This reality runs throughout Scripture. God chooses whom He chooses to lavish His saving grace. Those whom the world would discount or pass over, God chooses for His plans so that He gets the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31)! Jesus was born that the lowly and seemingly insignificant might be saved.

I believe the shepherds were saved shortly after their angelic encounter. Verse 20 tells us that after the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw Jesus, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Their praise was a direct result of the good news brought to them by the angel. These shepherds laid their eyes on their Good Shepherd (Jhn. 10:1-18), the Shepherd of their souls, their Savior!

So how should we think about Christmas? We should be reminded that Jesus saves those whom the world would otherwise look over. Jesus saves the ‘insignificant’. We should be overjoyed that our socio-economic standings, education levels, gender, or ethnicities are not barriers to God’s grace. For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and for that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to be our everlasting hope.

Merry Christmas! 

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Why Christmas Matters

Luke 2:11I confess – I love Christmas! I love the sights and the sounds that are characteristic of this holiday season. I love gathering with family, eating well (probably eating too much), and shopping for that ‘perfect gift’ for loved ones.  Since we’ve been married, my wife and I have started new traditions such as driving around the city looking at Christmas lights, enjoying peppermint mochas, taking the train to center city with good friends and enjoying dinner together, and hosting a Christmas gathering. Most recently we started what I expect to become a lasting tradition – we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. I must admit that I was quite surprised to know that my wife had never seen it, but she really enjoyed it. I heartily recommend it to you.

At the heart of this cartoon lies Charlie Brown’s dire desire to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Disgusted with the trappings of materialism and capitalism, Charlie Brown yells out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”  I suspect Charlie Brown wasn’t the first and will not be the last one to ask this significant question.  Also immediately, the hero of the story emerges. Charlie Brown’s faithful friend, Linus Van Pelt, steps in and consoles Charlie Brown’s conscience by explaining the meaning of Christmas from Luke 2:9-14.

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them (shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”

Think deeply about these five observations:

(1)  An angel appears and announces the birth of Christ to shepherds (v9-10).

(2) The angel calls the birth of Christ good news of great joy for all people (v10).

(3) Christ’s birth was a historical event in a historical city (v11).

(4) The angel says Christ is the Savior and Lord (v11).

(5) A multitude of angels join the angel and burst out in praise to God for this significant event (v14).

Now, let’s consider another angelic announcement concerning the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel (1:18-23).

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Think deeply about these observations:

(1) An angel appears to Joseph to inform him of the unique conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (v20).

(2) The angel confirms to Joseph what the baby’s name will be and what that child’s mission will be – He will save His people from their sins (v21).

(3) Matthew records that Jesus’ birth was a fulfillment of prophecy preordained by God foretold by Isaiah (v23).

(4) Jesus is God (v23).

What’s fascinating about these two announcements is that Christ’s ultimate identity and work was conveyed. He is the Savior and Lord (Luke 2:11) who has come to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), something only God can do (Matthew 1:23). This is not a matter of coincidence, but rather of utmost significance.  These two truths need to be proclaimed again and again and Christmas is one of the most opportune times to proclaim them.

The incarnation of Christ, or Christmas, is a reminder that God keeps His promises.  The promise of the coming of Christ was God’s promise to redeem creation, rescue a people from His wrath and bring them into everlasting fellowship with Him.  The only way that this could happen was by Christ living a life of complete obedience to the Father and then taking on the Father’s wrath for our sin.  Christ was born to live the life God requires of mankind and die the death mankind deserves for breaking God’s law.  Christ came to deliver us from God’s wrath and deliver us to God’s kingdom of everlasting joy and peace.  This is why the angels pronounced the birth of Christ as good news of great joy and this has always been God’s plan. From before the foundation of the world, God purposed to save a people from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9) for Himself and redeem all of creation through the atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the ultimate meaning of Christmas and why Christmas matters!

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