Why Christmas is good news (Luke 1: 26-38; Matthew 1:18-25)

What’s the problem? 

It’s not you …it’s me” is one of those classic break up lines. If we are honest, the phrase is code for the exact opposite. You really mean “It’s not me….it really is you.”

What’s wrong with our world? It’s not in a great shape is it.  The daily news feed is all about war, racism, violence, the refugee crisis etc.

Whose fault is it? Again, I think if we are honest then we will admit that we often find ourselves saying:

“It’s not me it’s you.”

Or rather,

“It’s not me…it’s them…it’s governments …bankers, terrorists, criminals …”

How do we really know what the problem is? Well let’s run with another example. If I go to the doctor and I’m a bit overwhelmed, not listening properly, not taking it in, I might leave not really knowing what’s wrong with me. However, if he gives me a prescription, then we’ve got a couple of doctors in the church and they’ll know exactly what the diagnosis was based on the treatment I’ve been prescribed.

If we want to know what is wrong with our world, then we need to look at the solution God prescribed. This brings us back to an age-old question:  Who was Jesus?

Was he a great teacher, moral example, loving healer, powerful leader or something more?

Let me give you a third illustration. Have you ever walked in on a conversation half way through. Or have you tried to get into a film when you’ve missed the first half hour? It’s dangerous isn’t it? We end up second guessing what is happening, missing clues and getting completely the wrong impression. Later on in the film we find out that we’d completely missed what the problem was and had mixed up the heroes with the villains.

Well, at Christmas, we often come in on the story halfway through. Delve back into the history of the old Testament and you get some of the back story.  A good place to head is Isaiah. He was a prophet living 700 years before Jesus. The land was under threat. Already most of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and Judah was under threat. The image is of a land under great darkness. Isaiah promises that light will come and the light will come in the person of a boy born to be King, a coming ruler who will be the prince of peace.

9 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness     will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness,[c]     a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel,     and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you     as people rejoice at the harvest     and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery     and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod,     just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior     and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.     They will be fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us,     a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders.     And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor,[d] Mighty God,     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace     will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David     for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies     will make this happen!”[1]

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus. Mind you, as we’ll see shortly, we’ve still not gone far enough back in the story. You see the Jews looked back to Isaiah’s prophecy and looked around them at their own situation under the rule of Rome and so expected a warrior king who would overthrow foreign rule

But that’s not what was needed. Let’s look again at what the angels announced when they visited Mary and Joseph.

The solution is a Saviour

When the angel speaks to Mary and Joseph he tells them they are going to have a baby.  He will be called “Jesus.  The name means “God saves”

So, this baby saves from what or from who? Remember, if you are living at the time, your instinctive answer is “from the Romans.”  That’s what you are expecting. There’s only one problem. You’ve still only got part of the story. And if you only get part of the story, you’ll miss that. If you sing some of the carols, then you’ll end up thinking Jesus is just there as a moral example or a symbol of hope. If you listen to some preachers, you might think that he is there to wave a wand and set you free from sickness or financial difficulty. Just like those people waiting and watching at the time of his birth, we risk settling for something far less than he offers.

So, listen again to what the, the angel tells Joseph:

“You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

You see, the story goes further back still, right back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The saviour born at Bethlehem wasn’t just there to save one group of people from human oppression. He was there to deal with the problem we all face, that we are sinners.

What? Sin? Me…. A sinner?

We don’t like it do we? The idea that we are sinners is offensive. I think there are two reasons why we don’t like to talk about sin if we can help it

  1. We think sin is someone else’s problem

The  first reason is that it means that the problem really is “me” not “them.” You see I think about that word “sin” and its link to the idea of “evil.” Then I link it with “monsters.” Sin and evil is about others it’s about murderers, rapists, paedophiles, drug lords, war criminals, racists, thieves etc.  It’s not about me.

The problem is that I try to put myself on a scale and work out where I fit in. I may not be as holy as Pope Francis but I’m not as bad as Jimmy Saville or ISIL or …(insert your chosen name).

But deep down I know two things about myself

–          That I know there are things that I should not think or do – but I do them

–          That I end up hurting those I love the most

These truths point to a bigger problem. The issue is not just that I let myself down or fail others, the issue is my relationship with God not loving him as  I should, not worshipping him as I ought.

Even my religion, the rules and rituals I keep is my ate- mpt to do things my way not His.

  1. We think sin equals pleasure and we will lose out on joy and happiness when we give it up

If I think that this is the case, then either

–           I will not want to give up those things

Or

–           I will enjoy myself and then I do confession or penance

Or

–          I will spend all my life trying my best to be good by being very miserable and feeling very guilty.  And I will never ever know if I’ve been good enough to get into heaven.

The solution is good news. You see, if the solution is that Jesus has stepped into history to save me, then my salvation isn’t dependent upon what I do or say. I never could keep God’s Law perfectly. I never could please Him.  God chooses not to punish me for my sin but to accept Christ’s sacrifice in my place.

Now, one important word of warning here. Every time I say that I can be good enough, I’m sayin that Jesus’s death wasn’t necessary. The solution tells me what the problem was and how bad it was.

But I think the reason we often try to convince ourselves and others that we have been good, are doing okay is that we live with so much uncertainty. Deep down we are often insecure. When I tell others that I think I’m good, I want them to agree with me to re-assure me.  When I say I’m not good and fail I can also be hoping that they’ll say “N, you are good enough.” Often this comes out of fear that I won’t make the grade. That’s what happens when it’s all about what I have to do to please God.

Here’s the great news. If Jesus is the one who paid the price then the cheque isn’t going to bounce, the debt isn’t going to get called in one day, he isn’t going to change his min. This gives me assurance that I really am forgiven and really have eternal life.

Here’s the other great bit of news. Jesus saves us from sin but he saves us to be part of God’s familu and to have eternal life.  Again, it’s all about that little word “grace.” Eternal life is God’s free gift.

Now what do you do with gifts? How much do you pay for them? How hard do you work to get them? What do you do when you get a gift? When you get a gift, you receive it freely without any payment and you enjoy it.

So, there’s no payments, no monthly instalments to pay in order to keep benefiting from the forgiveness God has given you through Jesus. You are simply to enjoy it. That means that the Christian life is not meant to be miserable, it’s meant to be enjoyable. Trusting Jesus means great happiness. It means we’ll have fun this Christmas.  It means we’ll take pleasure in seeing the happiness and joy that others have.  It means we look forward with great hope to “future grace” when Jesus comes back and takes us to be with him then it’s going to be even better.

Conclusion

If you are a Christian and If you are trying to pay God back and are trapped in legalism, you’ve got it all wrong. There’s nothing to pay back because you never can. His grace to you is infinite. Our calling is to enjoy God and his goodness. We glorify him when we take joy and delight in sharing this good news with others.

If you are not yet a believer and are weighing things up, I want to encourage you to thin k seriously.  The Gospel tells us that sin is serious, it took Jesus coming and dying for you. The Gospel tells us about a God whose love for you is great enough to send his son. How will you respond to such great love?

[1] Isaiah 9:1-7

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