Hope of Christmas
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A simple verse, so familiar, especially during this Christmas season, but so much is communicated about the dilemma faced by a young couple more than 2,000 years ago. What is the significance of this story, often illustrated in children’s Christmas pageants? You know the ones, with cute kids dressed up as Joseph and Mary, shepherds, angels, and sometimes an inn keeper (though the Bible doesn’t even speak of him). Though familiar, it’s worth pondering again, the hope found in this simple story.
Joseph and Mary had a problem. Mary was due to deliver a baby at any moment, and no hospital was available. None existed. In fact, the couple couldn’t even secure a room in the bustling village of Bethlehem, packed with travelers in town for the government-required census. One might wonder why Joseph had brought his young wife on such an arduous journey in her condition. The trip would have required her to walk or ride a donkey for 70 miles. But how could he leave her home, worried about her giving birth alone? Though her pregnancy was a miracle of God as the angels had told them, one imagines few in their hometown believed such a story. The rumors and scorn directed toward them was no doubt challenging. He wanted to protect her physically and emotionally because he loved her.
So, nestling down in the hay of a shed or cave where animals were kept, they prepared for the birth of their child. What was Mary thinking? Was she uncomfortable? Did she wonder about the unsanitary conditions of a stable and whether her newborn would be safe from disease?
The young couple faced a problem that they did not create and could not control. Maybe you can identify as you face your own difficulties. The world around you is full of happiness, cheerful commercials, sappy movies, and excited children, but you’re not feeling it. Circumstances have left you anxious, sad, even depressed. You could use some hope.
Though Joseph and Mary faced a dilemma, they actually had a much bigger issue: an obstacle that those living in Bethlehem carried and that we all share today. Humanity’s biggest problem is sin.
God created the first human without sin and set him in paradise. God gave Adam, the first man, one rule to keep, but Adam disobeyed God, and invoked the curse of sin. His disobedience brought God’s wrath and condemnation upon himself and every person born after. We have a sinful nature that is inclined against God.
One little boy wrote his letter to Santa Claus with all of his desires and then added a postscript reading, “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you come a little early this year. You see, I’ve been being very good, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up.”
We can identify with the child. Though we try to be good, something happens or someone irritates us and we respond rudely. Try as we might, we can’t be good all the time and we wonder, “How good do I need to be, anyway?”
God’s standard is perfection. Only those who have never sinned will be able to enter his presence. So, obviously, none of us gets in on his own. We’ve all disobeyed God and fallen short of His standard. We have a sin problem that separates us from Him. God’s justice demands a punishment for our sins and that sentence is death. We are by nature children of wrath, in other words, people on a collision course with His judgment. We have a problem that we can’t fix. We need someone to intervene on our behalf.
Thankfully, God has a plan to cure our sin problem. The opening words of Luke 2 seem like irrelevant details about government policies, but they actually reveal God’s sovereign plan to meet humanity’s greatest need. Our sin didn’t surprise Him. Before He created the world, He already knew everything that would happen, that humans would sin and need salvation. The apostle Paul says that God chose us before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
Following Adam’s sin in the garden, God meted out His judgement, including to the serpent (Satan) who had deceived Adam and Eve. God tells the deceiver that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15). That is to say, one day, a child would be born who would conquer him. Old Testament saints looked for the day their Messiah would come. Their prophets spoke of the coming child:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6)
“But you, Bethlehem…out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,” (Micah 5:2).
God used the most powerful rulers of Joseph’s day, placing in their minds the idea to take a census. And, this action led to a chain of events that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at the right moment so that the Messiah could enter the world in a humble stable, in fulfillment of the prophecies.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
God knows what He’s doing and He is able to act however is needed to fulfill His word and help His children. Joseph and Mary may have thought they were in a crisis, but they were actually in the center of God’s will. They were part of His plan to change the eternity of millions who would follow them.
I am grateful God loves us enough to do whatever is needed to intervene on our behalf. Our biggest problem was sin and God answers that matter personally. There are no accidents. No matter where we find ourselves this Christmas, God is sovereignly working to fulfill His plans and purposes, even in our pain. He hasn’t forgotten us. He loves us and is working all things for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).
Thankfully, God had planned for our greatest problem. He provided a Savior in the person of His own son, Jesus. Prior to the child’s birth, an angel appeared to Joseph, telling him the baby would save people from their sins. After Christ’s birth, angels appeared to shepherds to share the “good news” of a Savior born in Bethlehem.
The story of Christmas is captured in the familiar words of John 3:16: God loved us so much that He saw us in our sin and refused to leave us there. He gave his own Son on our behalf so that we could spend eternity with Him.
This is why we make such a big deal about Christmas and mangers and the story of this child in Bethlehem. This is our salvation and hope.
The ironic thing about this baby is He was destined for a cross. He was born so he could die. There’s nothing we can do to get into heaven. Our situation is hopeless. However, God in His mercy provided a Savior in the form of His own son. The good news is that Jesus came and took on human flesh and walked among us. He lived the sinless life we couldn’t. He died on a cross in our place. And, then He arose from the dead on the third day. Because He lives we can live.
To quote one of my favorite theologians, Linus, the Peanuts character, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
So, the only question that remains is what will you do with this child? Have you trusted Him alone for your salvation? Have you asked Him to forgive your sins and be the Lord of your life? If not, I urge you to believe Him for your salvation today. He is the only solution God has provided for you.
I hope you’re enjoying all the wonders of Christmas with its accompanying lights, sounds, and food. But, if you’re facing situations that are overwhelming you this year that cause fear and uncertainty, remember this simple story in Luke 2. This is God’s message of hope for every one of us. Ponder again the wonder that God loved us enough to provide a Savior. Jesus is the reason we can experience true joy this Christmas.