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Christmas Eve

Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy

Advent Message #5 - Christmas Eve 2018

Two thousand years ago, there was hope for a Savior. Hope by the people of God who were and had been suffering. Suffering, at that time, at the hands of the Roman Empire. Suffering also because of sin.

Concerning sin, the Old Testament people of God often tried to be good enough to live positive, pleasing lives. God had even established for them a  system of sacrifices. But on their own - and on our own - they and we cannot by ourselves be worthy of God’s love. So it was there was hope for a Savior. A one-and-for-always Savior. The Savior who would sacrifice Himself so our sins can be forgiven. The Savior who would take care of His people in all ways, including spiritually.

Two thousand years ago, God heard His people’s prayers and songs of hope. In His wise and divine way, He set a plan into motion, first of all sending an angel to a young virgin named Mary and then an angel to a man named Joseph. 

Mary and Joseph agreed to follow their part of God’s plan. They agreed to be part of the fulfillment of the hope needed, not only then, but even now.

Part of God’s plan was Mary becoming pregnant with the Savior while she was still a virgin. That was the fulfillment of an OT prophecy, providing proof her son Jesus is the Savior.

Another Old Testament prophecy was that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, a little town a few miles south of the capital city of Jerusalem, far to the south of where Mary and Joseph lived, which was Nazareth.

Somehow, Mary had to get to Bethlehem in time for her baby to be born there, which would be one more proof that Jesus is the Savior. God worked that out, too, by directing the ruler of the Roman Empire to issue a decree, described in the first part of Luke 2.

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

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Hope for a Savior - hope that had extended for centuries - was about to be fulfilled. That was possible because of the willingness of Mary and Joseph to know and obey God’s plan.

So it was Mary and Joseph, as the birth of Jesus approached, traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. However, when they arrived, there was chaos in Bethlehem because of the many, many others who had traveled to that town to answer Caesar’s decree. Because of the great crowd, all the rooms available to house travelers were taken. 

Imagine the dismay. Mary was tired. Joseph, who wanted to help Mary, found himself unable to secure a room for her.

What dismay must have been felt by Mary and Joseph. What they needed was peace in the midst of the chaos. Calm and tranquility from God, which is a need we have even today in our world. Jesus would grow up to be the giver of peace. We can benefit from that now, but it was needed by Mary and Joseph when they arrived in Bethlehem.

As it is recorded in Luke 2:6-7, “And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that Mary should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." 

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Luke 2:8-16. "And there were in the same country shepherds  abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.

"And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let us now go even  unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." 

How amazing it is that shepherds were the first to hear about the birth of the Savior. Amazing because shepherds were among the most disrespected people of Israel. Disrespected because their difficult work of herding sheep. It was a constant task in dirty fields that kept them from following many Jewish laws about cleanliness and worship. it is believed the sheep those shepherds watched may have been raised to be perfect enough to be sacrifices in Jerusalem, six miles away. If not that, they were an important source of food. Either of those things should have made the shepherds important, but that was not the case. The shepherds were not considered to be of any value.

Of no value - except to God, who loved them. Loved them so much He allowed them, not  the important people of the day - who, of course, would also hear about Jesus - God allowed shepherds that night to be the first to hear about the Savior.

What a wonderful display of God’s love for them, shown in His gift of Jesus. A gift offered to all people, including us. Of course, maybe you are important in the eyes of the world, but whether you are or not, God loved and loves you and me enough to have given Jesus for each of us.

That gift is important, but did we notice the last part of the passage? The shepherds did not hear and then ignore the news of the Savior being born. They went. They left where they were and went to meet the Savior.

That is what we are to do. Meeting Him for the first time to accept Him. Do that now if you have not already done so. Then, after accepting the Savior, continue to meet Him, daily gaining instructions through the Bible and through prayer about how to live and how to have the strength and the discipline to obey Him, thereby continuing to benefit from His love.

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Mary obeyed God’s plan. Joseph obeyed God’s plan. The shepherds were excited to meet the result of God’s plan.

There was another group who also followed God’s plan. A group of Wise Men who traveled from a distant land in the East. Men who traveled so they could meet the hope, love, and peace of God.

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The Wise Men who met Jesus responded to Him by giving Him gifts of gold, incense, and a valuable spice.

Before that, shepherds responded to Jesus by making the effort to meet Him and then excitedly telling others about Him.

Before that, even though God’s plan did not make sense to Joseph or Mary, to their friends or to Mary’s family, Mary and Joseph decided to be obedient.

So it was that all the people we have thought about were part of allowing hope, peace, and love come to the world. As they did that, they each put Jesus first. As they each did what they did, they helped others to also be offered the gift of Jesus. Doing that, they benefitted from having a relationship with Jesus 

Jesus first, Others second, then Yourself. That spells JOY. Joy that is available to us. Joy that is or will be ours as we are obedient to Jesus, including the most basic step of accepting Him as the Savior, as we are kind to His people and others, as we tell others about Jesus, as we give Him the gift of our hearts, our minds, our lives.

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May each of us make sure we are where we need to be spiritually. That we have accepted Jesus as the Savior He is. If not, make that decision now. For those of us who have accepted or do accept Him, let’s grow in our Christian faith.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, thank You for being the giver of hope, peace, love, and joy. Thank You for being the light the world needs. Thank You for allowing us to show Your light. Together, may the world come to know You. With that, we wish You a Happy Birthday - a Merry Christmas. Amen.

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