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Christmas Day

The King…and Robins


Christmas Day Message 2016



There is a story about a man who worked very hard just to keep food on the table for his family. One year, a few days before Christmas, the man became upset with his five-year-old daughter because she had taken all the family's expensive gold wrapping paper.


Money was tight, so the father became even more upset when, on Christmas Eve, he saw that the girl had used all the expensive gold paper to decorate one shoe box she had put under the Christmas tree. He was also concerned about where she had got the money to buy what was in the shoebox.


Nevertheless, the next morning the little girl, filled with excitement, took the gift box to her father. “This is for you, Daddy.”


As he began to open the box, the father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction. But when the shoe box was open, he found it empty, which rekindled his frustration. “Don’t you know,” he asked, “that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside the package?”


“Oh, there is something in the box, Daddy. It’s not empty. I blew kisses into it until it was all full.”


That Christmas morning, the father got on his knees and put his arms around his precious daughter. After that, he placed the gold-wrapped box by his bed, where it stayed for the rest of his life. Whenever he was discouraged or faced difficult problems, he would open the box, take out an imaginary kiss, and remember the love of the beautiful child who had put it there.


This Christmas morning, we are celebrating the fact that we have also received a wonderful gift. A gift, as we will discuss, that looked, like the empty shoe box, very plain at the beginning, but was something very, very special. Even more special than gold wrapping paper. Something that communicated the love of God.


The gift was Jesus, and as the father in the story took kisses out of the box for the rest of his life, so the gift of Jesus keeps on giving and giving and giving. Which, for those of us who accept Jesus,will continue, far beyond our earthly lives. We who believe will continue to enjoy the gift of Jesus for all eternity in Heaven.


Jesus. Let’s think about that wonderful gift. A gift foretold centuries earlier by Old Testament prophets. The gift foretold as the Savior - the one we know as Jesus.


How do we know Jesus is the Savior foretold in the Old Testament? We know because, even at His birth, Jesus fulfilled so many of the prophecies about the Savior.


For instance, an Old Testament prophet, speaking the words of God, told that the Savior would be born of a virgin. Jesus was born of a virgin. A virgin named Mary.


For instance, an Old Testament prophet told that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem.


Both those things had to be the work of God.


A virgin cannot conceive naturally. Mary, a virgin, becoming pregnant was an act of God.


And the conceiving happened in Nazareth, 75 miles north of Bethlehem. There was no reason for Mary to travel to Bethlehem, especially right before Jesus was to be born. But God led the Roman Emperor to announce that all the people in the empire had to go to their ancestral hometowns to be registered in a census. The hometown of Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed, was Bethlehem. He therefore had to make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary went with him. In that way, Jesus was born where an Old Testament prophecy had predicted He, the Savior, would be born.


There would be many other fulfillments of Old Testament prophesies about the Savior that Jesus would accomplish, including where He would go a couple years after His birth, which was to Egypt, and where He would spend the rest of His childhood, which was Nazareth. 


Later, how He would die, which was by crucifixion, and even what He would say as He hung on the cross of crucifixion were fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies about the Savior.

 

Before that, throughout His ministry, Jesus proved He fulfilled a prophecy about what the Savior would be called - Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. All His miracles and all His teachings proved He was every one of those things.


One other prophecy about the Savior is found in today’s Bible verses, which are Jeremiah 23:5-6. Say it with me please. “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely, and this is the name by which He will be called - the LORD is our righteousness.”


To put those verses into Old Testament context, the house of David - the part of the Jewish people from whom the Savior was to come - had fallen on very hard times. The same was true for all the people of God, but hard times had fallen.


It needs to be mentioned that many of the problems the Jewish people faced were caused by the people not clinging to God. Disobedience to God had caused many of the problems His people had. But things were difficult as the people had often been defeated in battles, many people of God being killed, many others taken as captives to foreign lands. 


Conditions were not good at the time of Jeremiah. Guess what. Six hundred years later, when the time came for Jesus to be born, things still were not good for the people of God. The Jewish homeland at that time was under the authority of the Roman Empire. The Romans ruled with cruelty. The Roman Empire levied many taxes on all the population, including on the people of God. That was hurtful economically. In addition, it forced people who worshiped God to pay money to a foreign, non-Jewish occupier.

Plus, the rulers of the Jewish faith were not making life easy for the people of God. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the leaders had developed thousands and thousands of rules and regulations the people were to follow. The leaders thought they were doing good work, the rules and regulations intended to help the people to know what God meant by His Old Testament laws, but there were so many rules and regulations, the people had trouble learning them, let alone obeying them. The result was spiritual discouragement added to the political discouragement felt by the people of God.


Things were bad at the time of Jesus’ birth. They were bad at the time of Jeremiah. But, wrote Jeremiah, there was hope. The hope was that a Savior would emerge. The time for the coming of the Savior was not predicted. However, one day, a Savior would emerge. 


But think of the word “branch” in what we read a moment ago. To me, one meaning of that prophecy is that the Savior was to come, not as something big and powerful like a tree, but as a branch. That was an unusual concept at the time of Jeremiah. It would continue to be an unusual concept. It was thought that someone destined to save people would be big and strong, fully-armed, fully prepared for war. But that was not the case. The prediction was that the Savior would come in a very humble way.


Six hundred years later, guess how Jesus arrived. He arrived very humbly. He arrived, not as an adult, but as a baby. A baby born, not in luxury, but in a barn. Not in a big city, but in the little town of Bethlehem. A baby, not with important parents, but with humble parents. His parents were from the little town of Nazareth. His mother was young. His father was not His biological father. Jesus had been conceived supernaturally by the Holy Spirit and God.


As already mentioned, the early life of Jesus was humble. At one point, His family was forced to move to Egypt, where they stayed for a while before moving to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up amidst at least some poverty.


Jeremiah predicted a Savior who would have humble beginnings. Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. But remember from what we read. The Savior would not stay unimportant. The Savior would grow up to be righteous. He would grow up to reign as king. A king, not like the kings at the time of Jeremiah - cruel, oppressive kings. Instead, a good king - a king interested in the welfare of His people, who would deal wisely and show justice. 


Six hundred years later, Jesus began the fulfillment of each of those prophecies. 


He did grow up. The Bible reports Jesus did a good job of that. He was obedient to His parents. He was well-liked by others who lived in Nazareth.


And He studied well, the results of that seen when He was 12 and visited Jerusalem. While there, Jesus was able to carry on a conversation with the Jewish religious leaders. He did such a good job of that, the leaders were impressed by His knowledge.


Jesus was righteous. Being righteous means treating God and others the way they should be treated. Jesus treated God well by doing the will of God in His teachings and His miracles. Jesus loved others enough to teach them how to live. He was smart enough to know when to be gentle and when to be forceful in His teachings.

Following His death and resurrection, Jesus began His rule from Heaven. It is a rule that continues to be righteous as He is still willing to intervene for our good. He still does intervene with all who will allow Him to do so.

Then, listen to a promise written in Jeremiah. With the Savior who would one day come, Judah - the people of God - will be saved. With the Savior, Israel - the people of God - will dwell securely.


Think what that meant for the Old Testament people of God. Again, their lives were a turmoil, caused by foreigners so often having governmental authority over them and by their religious leaders so often not preaching the word of God, either because they had been killed or silenced politically, and even by the normal problems of life they did not seem to be able to overcome.


Think what that meant for the people of God at the time of Jesus’ birth. Their lives were a turmoil, caused by the Roman Empire occupying their land, and by their own religious leaders overloading them with rules and regulations they were supposed to learn and obey, and by the normal problems they faced day by day.


Think what that means for us since we, too, have many problems we face. It means being delivered from Satan’s power. It means being raised above sin and the guilt sin causes. It means being saved from being fearful of evil.


*       *       *       *       *


What a wonderful prophecy is written in Jeremiah 23. 


For the people of his time, a Savior was going to come. Six hundred years later, the Savior did come. His name was and is Jesus. Even now, 2000 years after He was born, Jesus, having fulfilled what needed to happen for Him to be the Savior, which was His death and resurrection, still is the Savior.


And this. Not only was and is Jesus - born as a branch who became a king who would and does rule with justice - not only is He righteous. Do we remember the last part of the passage? For all who accept Him as the Savior He was predicted to be, we, too, will be called righteous, for the LORD - God, who came to earth as a human in the form of Jesus - is our righteousness. Not might be our righteousness. Not could be our righteousness. The LORD is our righteousness. He will make His people righteous so that all who accept Him will also know how and be able to treat God and others in ways that are proper.


*       *       *       *       *


From His conception through His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy about the Savior. That includes what is recorded in Jeremiah 23 about the Savior coming humbly, but growing into a king who ruled and still does rule with justice and righteousness. A king who was and still is willing to share His righteousness with us.


What is your decision about that? If you have not yet decided, what will be your decision? 


On this Christmas Day, may we all make sure we have decided to accept the Savior. May we then, this day and this next week and all through the coming new year, be determined to serve the Savior, no matter what He wants us to do.


Which leads to one more thing. Something that takes us back to the barn where Jesus was born and the consideration of a legend about a robin. 


In the legend, it is said that on the first Christmas, there was a bitter chill. The small fire in the barn where the Holy Family was staying was nearly out. Mary worried her baby would be cold.


With her concern, Mary turned to the animals around her and asked them for help. 


“Could you blow on the embers,” she asked the ox, “so the fire might continue to keep my son warm?” But the ox lay sound asleep on the stable floor and did not hear her.


Mary asked the donkey to breathe life back into the fire, but the sleeping donkey did not hear Mary either.


Neither did the horse nor the sheep hear Mary.


Mary wondered what to do. As she wondered, she heard a fluttering of little wings. Looking up, she saw that a plain, brown-colored little robin had flown into the barn. The robin had heard Mary calling to the animals. He had come to help her. The robin had gone to the dying fire and had begun flapping his wings, doing so very fast.


The robin’s wings were like little bellows, huffing and puffing air onto the embers. He kept flapping until the embers glowed bright red again. He continued to fan the fire, singing all the while, until the embers began to kindle.


Then, with his beak, the robin picked up dry sticks and tossed them into the fire. As he did, a flame suddenly burst forth, which singed the little bird's breast, causing it to turn an orange color, but the robin continued to fan the fire until it crackled brightly and warmed the entire barn. The baby Jesus slept happily.


Mary thanked the robin for all he had done. She looked tenderly at his orange breast, burned by the flame, and said, “From now on, let your orange breast be a blessed reminder of your noble deed.” To this day, the robin's orange breast covers his humble heart.


What service will you give? It may be something spectacular, but it may be a humble act, like that of the robin. Again, that is just a legend, but it represents humble service for Jesus. 


Whatever your service is, make sure it comes from a heart that accepts Jesus as the Savior He proved to be over and over again. The Savior He is now and will be forever. 


If your heart is not one with Jesus, please change that, even now. Right now you can accept Him as your Savior. Please do that.


Then, day by day, let’s serve Him in whatever ways we have opportunities to do so, including keeping the flames of His message going and going and going so that more and more people can know His spiritual warmth.


The closing carol for this Christmas Day is Good Christian Men, Rejoice.


Good Christian men, rejoice

With heart and soul and voice;

Give ye heed to what we say:

Jesus Christ is born today!

Man and beast before Him bow,

And He is in the manger now.

Christ is born today!

Christ is born today!


Good Christian men, rejoice

With heart and soul and voice;

Now ye hear of endless bliss:

Jesus Christ was born for this!

He hath opened Heaven’s door,

And man is blessed forevermore.

Christ was born for this!

Christ was born for this!


Good Christian men, rejoice

With heart and soul and voice;

Now ye need not fear the grave,

Jesus Christ was born to save!

Calls you one and calls you all

To gain His everlasting hall.

Christ was born to save!

Christ was born to save!


Lord, You, who had such humble earthly beginnings, did grow up to a righteous ministry. A righteousness that affected and still does affect Your reign as the spiritual king we need. A righteous rule that can make us righteous.


Thank You for the invitation to accept You. Thank You for the blessings You give to all of us who do accept You. Thank You for being our king now and forever.


Thank You. Thank You. Merry Christmas, Lord. Amen.