We’ve taken some time to sit a while in struggles and stories of the people of Israel. And we’ve seen over and over again this plan that God has had from the time Adam and Eve took of that fruit and broke fellowship between man and God.
This plan to restore that fellowship and redeem a broken and fallen people.
We have the benefit of hindsight. We can look back and see not only God’s faithfulness to an often faithless people, but also His relentless pursuit of them. But as we approach Christmas, we can so easily take for granted this incredible gift we have been given!
So easily take for granted the majesty of the manger.
Imagine, though, the condition of hearts and minds by the time the angels came to announce the coming birth of the Savior. Not only had thousands of years passed since the first promises of a redeemer, but it had been over 400 years since anyone had heard from God.
The Old Testament closes, and there’s 400 years of silence.
And then, the angel Gabriel appears to a man named Zechariah. Zechariah and his wife were advanced in age, and had desired children but never had any. He was a priest, and would have been very familiar with the prophecies surrounding the coming Messiah. But I’m not sure even that could have prepared him for the news Gabriel brought him.
Luke 1:13-17 “The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
I wonder if Zechariah and Elizabeth realized then that their son, John, would be the fulfillment of prophecies like the one in Isaiah saying that a voice would cry out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord? John would quote this Old Testament passage as he carried out his own ministry, proclaiming to the people, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”.
6 months after his visit to Zechariah, the angel Gabriel would come again. Another promise…another prophecy being fulfilled. Isaiah 7:14 says “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”
Luke 1:26-38 “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Imagine the Old Testament Scriptures that would have been springing to life in Mary’s mind as the angel spoke… We’ve looked at just a handful of them with our Jesse Tree.
The promise of a deliverer for the house of Jacob, the branch that would grow out of the roots of Jesse, the never-ending kingdom established through King David, which had certainly appeared to have ended…it was all coming together.
All of the waiting, all of the longing, all of the hoping…God was about to literally birth the promise that had been conceived back at the Fall.
Mary’s faith in God surpassed her ability to believe he could allow her to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She also had to believe that He would make a way for her and this baby in spite of a culture that would have her stoned. That He would protect them and provide for them.
As a wife, I can’t help but wonder what her prayers and thoughts were regarding Joseph. Would God prepare his heart for the news as well? Would she be required to walk this out alone?
Her heart was settled in obedience regardless, but as we see in Matthew, God would in fact prepare Joseph to walk alongside her.
Matthew 1:18-25 “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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
After years of silence, an angel would come to Zechariah and announce the coming of John the Baptist…6 months later an angel would come to Mary and Joseph and prepare them for the coming of Christ…and once Jesus was born, an angel would appear to shepherds and announce the advent of this long awaited Messiah.
The birth of Jesus Christ
God with us.
Luke 2:6-20 “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
I hope this season of advent has been one of wonder and awe for you. It’s too easy to set out our Nativity scenes for Christmas and forget that that baby in the manger is not just a small part of a big scene.
He is the realization of what the Old Testament whispered.
Where Noah’s ark was a vessel that would provide rescue from the floodwaters, Jesus was the vessel God would use to provide rescue from sin and death. Where God provided the ram in the thicket as a substitute sacrifice for Abraham, Jesus would become our substitute sacrifice, taking on the full punishment for our sins. Where Boaz acted as a Kinsman Redeemer for Ruth, Jesus would be the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer for those who put their trust in Him.
You see, the customs and rituals and laws of the Old Testament saw their fulfillment in Jesus. The Tabernacle of the Israelites, the place where God’s glory dwelt, where God met with man, where man offered sacrifice to atone for his sins…it was just a hint of this baby we celebrate at Christmas. John the Baptist says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”…that word “dwelt” literally means “tabernacled”.
God’s glory was no longer contained in a Tabernacle or a Temple.
The glory of God wrapped itself in our flesh and walked our sod.
God with us.