Friday 31 December 2010

It is not the end (Philippians 3:12)

It is not the end

I used to be a teacher in a school called ITE – The Institute of Technical Education. Sounds fancy. The students had a different name for it.

They called it, “It’s The End.” ITE.

That’s because you went to this school if you couldn’t get into any other school. If you had failed all your exams, if you got into serious trouble with the law; you went to ITE. “It’s The End”.

Every week, I spent 30 hours with 30 students, teaching them computing skills. By the end of the term I was lucky if two-thirds were still in class.

One guy was always late because he had to report each week to an officer in the local police station. Another guy would be late because he would be up all night working in a pub as a bartender.

I particularly remember two young men. One was R. R was actually older than me, his teacher. He left school as a teenager to join the army. After ten years, he was now an instructor – he trained soldiers to operate armoured tanks. He was a model student - hard-working, disciplined, well-behaved. R was focussed - his plan was to graduate, go on to study part-time for a diploma and save up money for a flat to get married to his girlfriend.

The other guy’s name was J. J had a punk hair-style, wore black leather wrist straps with metal studs. I remember one day after school, we had lunch together and as he left he said, “Bye, sir. I’m off. I am going to bible study!” As far as I could tell, this short-tempered, chain-smoking, 17 year-old with a Gothic-fashion sense, was the only Christian in the class.

Half the class smoked. Most were poor and many saw school as a luxury. Their families pressured them to drop out, to find a job and to bring home some money. Many of them did. Sadly, it was always the ones with the most potential who never got a chance to realise that potential.

Today I am going to tell you what I told them. I am going to tell you - postgraduates, academics – future leaders and businessmen and professionals – graduating from the most prestigious university in the world – I am going to tell you the same thing I told those 30 teenagers in ITE every day.

“It is not the End. It is not The End. You have everything still to live for.”

Not perfect...yet

Let me read you these words from a man named Paul in the bible. He writes:

But whatever was to my profit,
I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ –
the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I want to know Christ and power of his resurrection
and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death,
and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11)

And here the words I wanted to look at this afternoon:

Not that I have already obtained all this
or have already been made perfect,
but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
(Philippians 3:12)

What Paul is saying is this. If you want to see the value of what I have achieved, look at what I have lost.

Don’t just look at the trophies. Don’t just ask me about my accomplishments. Let me tell you about sacrifices I have made; about the risks I have taken.

He says, whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Paul is saying, you can’t tell if someone is a Christian - You can’t tell if someone is a Christian by looking at his CV. A person’s background, his education, how many extra-curricular activities he took in school, how much money he got paid at his last job, what kind of car he drives – all this does not impress God.

If we are honest, it doesn’t impress us that much either. Everyone expects you to succeed – to move up in life. Your college will write to you asking for success stories – that new discovery you made, or that great contribution to society. Your friends will keep tabs on your Facebook page – checking to see who your new employer is, how good-looking is your wife, how many kids you have.

What if you didn’t take up that well-paying job? What if, instead of moving back home, or to a big city like New York or Sydney – you packed your things and went to Thailand, Burma, to Pakistan – to teach English, to run the Sunday School programme, to work in an orphanage?

What if you lived your life so radically different, what if you were willing to risk the expectations of your friends, your parents – and (like Paul) to consider everything a loss compared to surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?

People would say how foolish you are. What a waste!

But... they will notice that you are different, that your life is different. And they might just start to notice that there is something different about Jesus.

Pressing on

Paul says:
Not that I have already obtained all this,
or have already been made perfect,
But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

This isn’t just for some people – type-A personalities, those who live life on the edge,
You know… Singaporeans:)

Paul says, I’m not perfect. Far from it, I’m struggling and it is hard. It’s hard.

But the reason I press on; the reason I keep on going; the reason I hold on to Jesus, is because Jesus is holding on to me.

Paul isn’t trying to be macho. He isn’t trying to prove something to God. That somehow he is more serious compared to everyone else, more sincere, or more sacrificial than everybody else.

The only reason Paul has the strength to struggle, the confidence to press on and the grace to take one more step living for Jesus alone – is because he isn’t trying to die for Jesus; Jesus died for him.

And that’s the question I really want to ask you today:

Not what great things will you do for God?
But what has God done for you?

If the only God you know, is the one whose job is to bless - To make the sun shine in the sky, especially on graduation day, to keep you healthy. I’m not talking about a rich, extravagant life.

No, I’m talking about thanking God for a good marriage, a middle-class life, nothing too fancy – just a safe environment for your kids to grow up in.

Then life would be about making this world a better place. Keeping things moving along. Being a good neighbour.

But if you have come to know Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped – the word means exploited – he didn’t take advantage of his situation.

But made himself nothing. Taking the very nature of a slave. Humbling himself to death.

If God paid a price for your life – was Jesus’ death.

Then maybe the right decision in life is not the most convenient but the most costly. Maybe opportunities are given you by God not to maximise your comfort, but to maximise your sacrifice.

God's will for your life in Jesus

Paul says:
I have not yet been made perfect

That word “perfect” is the Greek word “telos”. It can mean “mature”. It can mean “complete” or “finished” God is not yet finished with me, Paul is saying.
I am still work in progress.

But that word can also mean “The End”. “Telos” is where we get the word “telomere” – the end of a DNA sequence. Paul is saying, I have not yet reached the end – of this life; of suffering in this life.

Now depending on where you are coming from, that can sound cruel. To my students back in ITE, it sounds a lot like “Things are going to get worse!” You think this is tough, wait till you get to the real world.

I know a lot of people who think it’s the right thing to say – Put some backbone into their spines!

But that is not what Paul means, and that is not what the bible means.

Paul is not looking forward to an end,
He is looking backward

To a man dying on a cross,
He is looking to Jesus who gathers up all his energy, strains with his dying breath, to say one last word

Tetelesthai – Your English versions have “It is finished.”
But you could also translate that word: “It is the end.”

So when Paul says, I am not yet at the end, I am still pressing on
He is saying that God is changing me to be more and more like Jesus – That’s the End.

If you are a Christian – that’s the endthat’s the basis of deciding what to do next.

You know, We ask questions like “What’s God’s will for me?” “How do I know?” I wish he would give me a sign.

God’s will for your life is to make you look more and more like Jesus. It’s not hard to understand. It’s hard to do, but it is not hard to understand.

God’s will is to make you more like Jesus.

How has he done that?
o These last few years in Cambridge.
o Through your friends
o Through his word.

And how will God continue to do that for you, in this next stage of life?

Jesus says, “He who stands firm to the end – will be saved”
Paul says, “I am struggling to get to that end, to take hold of Jesus, because Jesus took hold of me.”

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best,
You're my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You Lord.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

The sadness of sin and the goodness of God (Titus 3:1-8)

1. The sadness of sin

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us...
Titus 3:3-5a

Sin is bad. At least, that’s how sin is commonly thought of as portrayed in the bible.

So when we read passages which list out various sinful tendencies and practices, our defences go up. We picture the primary school teacher scolding the kid at the back of the class for misbehaving; the judge pronouncing sentence on the repeat offender; the employer ticking off the lazy worker always coming in late for work.

Our eyes gloss over such passages because... because no-one wants to hear how bad they’ve been; to be reminded of their mistakes in life; to be made to feel like dirt.

And yet, these words were not written to remind us of the badness of sin. They are there to show us the sadness of sin.

Paul writes these words not to make us feel guilty. Far from it. He writes these words to fill our hearts with gladness and gratitude towards the grace of God.

Firstly, notice that these words are not addressed to non-believers. Instead, Paul is writing to Christians. In verse 1, he is reminding us why we - as Christians; as those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins - ought to be patient, submissive and loving.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.
Titus 3:1-2

Paul says to Titus, “Remind the people” - remind them - he is saying that Christians ought to know this. To obey our leaders, to watch our words and our conduct. We know that this is how we should live in this world.

Notice how each item on the list is relational. Submitting to rulers. Slandering no one. Peace and consideration. Showing humility to all men.

Now compare the list with verse 3 onwards. Foolish and disobedient, enslaved by our passions. Basically, living as if all that mattered were my own needs, my own ambitions, my own wants. And then it goes on to describe life as full of envy, malice and hatred. The ESV renders this as “passing our days in malice, envy... hated by others and hating one another”. We spend our days alienating ourselves from one another.

We used to live our lives separate from one another. But now that we have been reconciled to God - we should be reconciled to one another.

So when he says that Christians should submit to authorities - he isn’t ruling out oppressive governments. When he says slander no-one - he is referring to people who may be slandering you, insulting you and hating your guts. And when he says to show true humility to all men - it’s really talking about all men. Even proud men, boastful men, evil men.

2. The goodness of grace

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour
Titus 3:4-6

Now some of you reading this might be nervous about the way I have just described salvation - as God saving us from our previous way of life - a life of rebellion, of discord, of hatred and self-absorption. Salvation is more than that, of course. We are saved from God’s righteous anger towards our sinful rebellion. On the cross, Jesus took all the punishment we rightfully deserved and from the cross we received the full blessing and righteousness He rightfully earned through his death and resurrection.

But the repeated emphasis of the “appearing” of this salvation; in 2:11 (“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”); in 2:13 (“the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ”); and now here in 3:4-5 “When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us...”) - leads to the call for godliness and and eagerness to seek the “good” of others.

So in 2:11, “the grace of God... has appeared” forms the basis of 2:12 - “It teaches us to live... godly lives in this present age”.

Also in 2:13, as Christians wait for “the glorious appearing ... if Jesus Christ”.... who in verse 14 “gave himself ... to purify for himself ... a people ... eager to do what is good.”

So also in this chapter (which the NIV heading reads “Doing what is good”), Paul wants Titus to “stress these things so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (3:8). So important is this injunction that Paul feels the need to repeat it in his closing words; “our people ... learn to devote themselves to doing what is good” (3:14).

Paul makes a very important connection between salvation; the gospel that brings salvation (this is what the “appearing” in reference to - the event of the cross which displays the ultimate glory of God’s grace through Jesus); but also the “good” that is evident in the lives of those who have been saved through this gospel.

To be clear, we are not saved through good works. Paul dispels any such notion in 3:5 (“he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy”).

And yet, here the bible is talking about more than just good works. There is not a hint of piety. Not a single mention in the whole letter about giving to charity (3:14’s “provide for daily necessities” is framed in the context of not being unproductive), helping the oppressed or seeking justice.

So what does Paul mean by “doing what is good”?

3. The kindness of God

I think he is describing an attitude and not simply an action. A resolution, not simply a result. Christ redeems a people who are eager (literally: zealous) for good (verse 14). We say no to ungodliness and wordly passions (verse 12) while we wait eagerly, expectantly, longingly for the appearing of Jesus (verse 13). In other words, we are driven towards good works by a renewed zeal for a gracious God.

So here in chapter 3, salvation is described in terms of kindness, love and mercy (verses 4 & 5). We are justified by grace (verse 7). Paul stresses these things so that Christians will devote themselves to doing what is good (verse 8). It is only the goodness and grace of God shown to redeemed sinners which transforms them (the rebirth by the Holy Spirit - verse 5), and propels them towards similar good works in their own lives.

Three conclusions then on the goodness of God and good works in the believer’s life:

Firstly, doing good isn’t easy. The list of instructions in chapter 2 involved temperance, self-control, patience and endurance. We still live in a sinful world. We still struggle with our own sinful passions.

Secondly, doing good is a sign of humility. It is interesting that Paul’s instruction for Christians to submit to authorities in 3:1 is framed in terms of readiness “to do whatever is good”. We know elsewhere (Romans 13:1-7) that governments are set in place by God to ensure justice. But here in Titus 3, the motivation is slightly different. Our submission is part of our eagerness for good. Meaning: our goodness is measured not simply by the results of doing good (better education, more giving, equitable justice), but even in the means by which these ends are achieved. We are to be peaceable, considerate and humble.

Finally, doing good is a response to grace. Now, Paul is very specific about what this grace actually is. It is the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Yet, again and again he refers to this one act of salvation as God’s grace. In part this stresses that God doesn’t owe us anything. But the point is actually bigger than that. It’s answering the question: What is the biggest display of God’s generosity and goodness? Answer: It’s the cross.

Unless you know the cross, you don’t truly know the goodness of God. Doesn’t matter how sincere you are or how much effort you put into doing good. The cross says: we are sinful and slaves to our sinful passions.

Yet Christians trust in the cross to redeem them, to justify them by grace and to transform their lives by the Holy Spirit (verses 6 & 7). And any effort to live upright and godly lives is but a response to the grace shown them by God through Jesus Christ.

The sadness of sin is its blindness to the grace of God -  That God offers us salvation as a supreme display of his kindness, generosity and love.

But the goodness of God is this: that he redeems the sinful even at the cost of his dear Son, and transforms them by his Spirit to become more and more like him - eager to do good and longing for his appearing.

Nobody (Luke 2:8-20)

Who do you think you are?
Who do you think you are? What do you think about yourself?

Do you have a Facebook page… Where you post photos, comments, videos? I guess you can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their Facebook profile. Their likes, their dislikes; where they’ve been; what they have done.

Yet Facebook is really about what others think about you. Or what you want other people to think about you. “Look at me! Look at what I’ve done!”

But what happens when there’s no one looking? When it’s just you; and your thoughts; you’re lying on your bed before you sleep: What do you really think about yourself?

I’m awesome! Oh, things are not perfect – but I’m doing OK!”
Some of us might think that way.

Others might say, “Nothing ever seems to work out. I feel like such a loser!
Some people think that way too.

Today we’re going to meet three different people in this story about Christmas. It’s taken from Luke’s gospel, who records the historical event of the birth of Jesus Christ. And we’re going to ask each of them the same question, “Who do you think you are?”

1. The shepherds

And the first group we meet are the shepherds.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Verse 8)

Luke, the storyteller tells us – five times – these men are shepherds. The shepherds did this. The shepherds said that. The shepherds went here and there. He keeps reminding us of their job. These men are shepherds.

In fact, this whole account of the birth of Jesus Christ focuses not so much on Jesus, but on these few humble shepherds hearing the news and discovering the baby.

Which is unusual: when you consider we never hear a word about them ever again after this. They appear. Then they disappear. What is so special about these shepherds?

Two things we need to know about shepherds in the bible.

Firstly, shepherds were weirdos.

When you meet someone new, you might introduce your name; you’ll say where you are from. Then eventually you’ll tell them what you do. “I’m a student.” “I’m a doctor.”

So much of who we are is defined by what we do. Our job. The thing we spent years training at university to do. The profession that pays the bills.

Which is great if you have a respectable job. Doctor. Architect. Computer programmer. OK, maybe not programmer. But you get what I mean.

If you met shepherds 2000 years ago, they wouldn’t have wanted you to know what they did for a living. You see, some of us are kinda embarrassed about our jobs. Some jobs aren’t as respected as others.

It doesn’t mean they aren’t as important. Often times, those are the jobs that really matter and are harder to get done.

Shepherding was a dirty, smelly job that involved looking after dirty, smelly sheep. But what made it worse was this: shepherds were unclean. There were rules in their religion which said, if you touched a dead animal, you can’t come to church. You can’t join the whole community to worship God. And every day these shepherds would have to handle dead animals. They had to slaughter the sheep for meat. It means when they turned up in church, their friends would have said, “Yucks! It’s that shepherd. Let’s stay away from him.”

Some of the bible experts say that ironically, since these shepherds were living so close to Jerusalem, they were raising the sheep to be used in the sacrifices at the temple. And yet, these shepherds, themselves, wouldn’t have been welcome at that same temple.

The same experts tell us that shepherds often lived out by themselves. They slept under the stars with the sheep and kept away from town. People didn’t trust you if you were a shepherd. In fact, your testimony wasn’t even admissible in a court of law.

So these shepherds were weird. At least that’s what people thought of them. Outcasts, they were considered unclean and untrustworthy.

And yet secondly, shepherds have always played an important role in the history of Israel.

Moses was a shepherd. So was great King David. These leaders spent significant years in their lives working as humble shepherds and God used those years to mould them into individuals he would use for his purposes.

If you remember back to Genesis: Jacob and his sons were introduced as shepherds to Pharoah. That characterized the entire nation of Israel for generations to come. The people of God was a community of shepherds: wandering in the wilderness, living nomadic lives and tending to their flocks.

So much so, that its leaders would be called shepherds with responsibility over the nation as sheep.
Whenever their leaders led them astray, God would rebuke them as bad shepherds. In Jeremiah 23, the LORD, the God of Israel promises he will gather the remnant of his scattered flock and place them under the care of good shepherds.

It is no wonder that Jesus is called the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5, and elders or pastors in the church are serving as under-shepherds.

But let’s get back to the shepherds in the Christmas story because something amazing happens to them in verse 9 onwards:

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

An angel appears to them and says, “There is this great big important news – news that will bring happiness to everyone everywhere! And you know what? God has sent me to you!” The angel says that to the shepherds.

Now get this. God is sending this important message to the entire world. And who does God call? BBC News? Nope. The Prime Minister – “David Cameron, God is on line 1 – he says he’s got important information for the country.” Nope.

God doesn’t even send this angel to the pastor in your local church. (Though it’s curious to note that that “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd”. Cool, huh!)

But what God does is look down on the entire planet. And he sees these few shepherds, working the night shift. Everyone else is at home, cuddled up in warm blankets; they’re watching TV; surfing the internet. These guys are still working.

And God tells the angel – “Go over there. Tell them the news.”

Notice again the emphasis of who the angel speaks to in verse 10:

“I bring you…  good news of great joy”
“Today … a Saviour has been born to
And then he says in verse 12:
“This will be a sign to you…. you will find a baby… in a manger”

Out of everyone in the world, the angels is sent to these few humble shepherds! He says to them, “God has sent me to you!”

Now, imagine I had these shepherds right here with me today. I’m interviewing them, and I ask them this one simple question.
“Who do you think you are?”

I think they would have said, “We’re nobody!”

“There’s nothing special about us. We’re just shepherds. No-one respects us, no one really likes us even!”

But then I think they would also have said, “But God… God did something amazing in our lives. He spoke to us and told us this amazing good news!”

Now where do I get that from the text? I know this because of verse 15. The angels have left, and these curious shepherds say to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing… which the Lord told us about.”

Then drop your eyes down to verse 17. After they make that journey to Bethlehem, and they meet Mary, Joseph and the baby, then see how Luke describes their response in verse 17. “They spread the word concerning what had been told them… about this child”.

And finally look at verse 20. They’ve seen the angels and they’ve seen the baby. But they are finally rejoicing in verse 20. Why are they rejoicing? “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were … just as they had been told.”

Is it because of the vision from heaven? Was it even because they saw Jesus with their own eyes. Not exactly. Instead, the reason Luke gives us for their excitement, and their joy and their praise towards God was simply this – it was the good news!

Seeing the baby confirmed that the good news, the message they had heard from God was true. That was what transformed their fear to joy. It was the good news!

These shepherds are nobodies, but they have been transformed by God who has chosen them, out of everybody else in the world, to receive this special good news about Christmas.

But what is this message?

2. The angels

To answer that, we need hear what the angel says.

Verse 9:
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

People today are often confused why these shepherds would be terrified of seeing an angel. That’s because they have friends named Angel, and it’s usually a girl who sweet, petite and flash cute two-finger peace-signs whenever their photos are taken.

So it’s hard to understand why in verse 9, these shepherds are afraid, terrified – if what they saw was essentially Tinkerbell floating in front of them.

Get this: In the Old Testament, when an angel made an appearance – it was more like the opening scene from Terminator. Think: Chaos, destruction, End of the world scenario. Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing on-scene; all muscles and attitude and grunting in an Austrian accent, “I’m awn Awwngewll!”

I say this because in verse 13 – Verse 13, where it says “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel.” And that term “heavenly host” is used in the bible to describe armies, battalions of military men.

This is God’s A-Team – God’s Angelic Team. (BA Baracus: “I pity the fool… who says there is no God”).

And the picture is of God releasing his armies of war, filling the skies, descending upon these few humble shepherds. No wonder it says they were terrified. They were scared out of their wits. They must be thinking it’s the final day of judgement!

Only what they hear next is… singing. Singing!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth? Peace to men.(Verse 14)

These angels are singing about peace! (Granted some might find the image of Arnie singing Christmas carols even scarier!)

Now imagine I had with me, one of these angels, and I asked the angel this question, “Who do you think you are?”

The angel might answer, “I’m a servant of God! I stand in his holy presence!”

He might say that. Indeed we find similar responses in Luke Chapter 1.

But actually we know from Luke Chapter 2 that what the angel would probably say is: “I serve God, but I’ve now come to serve you.”

Verse 10: Do not be afraid. (Why?) I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Now notice that. This important news. This great news is not good news for angels. It is good news for people. It’s news for us.

Verse 14: Glory to God in the highest. And on earth? Peace to men…. On whom his favour rests.
God has chosen to make peace with men! He has chosen to show us his favour. To show us his love!

In fact, I wonder if this angel might even say: I’m a nobody!
… Compared to you shepherds. Because God has sent me to you… tell you just how special you are.

I hope you’re amazed, because this is frankly amazing news. But it should make us wonder still: what is this good news?
This good news:
  • That humbles the mighty angel
  • And exalts the humble shepherd

OK, OK, I’ll get to that soon. But finally, we need to look at one other person. And her name is Mary.

3. Mary

Verse 19:
But Mary treasured up all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Mary has a totally different response. Compared to the angels; compared to the shepherds.

You see the shepherds, they were excited and joyful. And they were saying, “I’ve got to tell you these amazing things that God is going to do. And the angels… wow, those angels, they said we would find a baby. And here you are!!”

And Mary’s going, “Yeah, I know there’s a baby. I was there.”

Now, I’m not saying that Mary wasn’t joyful. But compared to the shepherds, she’s had a whole different evening. She and Joseph were poor and on top of being pregnant, they had just been travelling a long distance from Nazareth.

Then suddenly the baby decides to come, and there’s no place in the hotel to have the baby. So instead, Mary gives birth behind the rubbish bins. They have to use a manger. A manger is where they keep animals – horses, goats, sheep. It’s smelly, it’s dirty. It’s dangerous.

So, when it says that Mary “pondered these things in her heart”, what she’s doing is: she’s thinking. She thinking about those words back in verse 11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

And she’s looking at this baby, whom they’ve had to wrap in cloths… just whatever they could rip apart from their clothing to clean off the blood and fluids. She’s looking at Jesus as saying to herself,
“This is the Christ”. The Christ was God’s chosen King they had been waiting hundreds and hundreds of years for.

This is the Lord. Lord was a way the bible referred to the God of the bible. We’ve seen it a couple of times in today’s passage: the glory of the Lord, the angel of the Lord. It’s talking about this God who created the universe, this God of Israel, this God of holiness and righteousness. And now Mary hears the news: this baby – He is Lord!

It’s overwhelming news! So she ponders it in her heart, she thinks about what it all means in the quietness of her soul.

Some people are like Mary. They need time to process. The shepherds, they get it immediately, and that’s fantastic. They’re joyful; they’re excited and they’re genuinely so.

But others hear the Christmas message – maybe that’s you today – you hear these words and you know there’s so much there you need to go away think about. Let me just say, that’s a good thing, friends.

Friends, when this party is all over and you go back home – that’s when it really matters what you think. Not right now, when you have turkey and friends and presents and lights, when I’m speaking at you, and we’re listening to Christmas carols beautifully sung – not right now, but later: when it’s all over.

And you’re all alone with your thoughts – that is when it really matters. Not when the shepherds are around, but have left and it’s just you and Jesus. That’s when you need to ask yourself: Who is this baby in the manger? Could this really be God? And if so, what does it mean for God to be born as a man? To become a baby – in such a state of helplessness and weakness.

Is this the King? What kind of King is born as a poor man?

These were the questions Mary was pondering about. This baby is a Saviour? What is he a saviour of? Mary might even be wondering: how will he save me?

Now imagine I had Mary with me here today, and I asked her the exact same question: “Mary, who do you think you are.”

I think she would have said this. “I’m nobody. But you know what? I know that this baby – he’s somebody. He is somebody very special indeed!”

That is one way of defining a Christian. Christians are nobodies who have come to know Somebody. They have come to know Jesus as their King, their Saviour and their God.

For Christians, Jesus came to save us from our sins and God’s judgement over our sins. That is the reason he shared in our humanity; so that by his death he might free those held in slavery to death. We are saved not by trusting in Jesus’ birth, but by trusting in his death and resurrection on the cross.

That is why even though Christians are nobodies, we are so eager to tell everybody about this Somebody. This is the good news of Christmas: that Jesus has come into this world to be the Christ, the Saviour and the Lord. And we worship him as our God, our King and our Redeemer.

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"