Let me read to you what the baby's mother was told nine months before he was born. "He will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33). I wonder what this young woman in Galilee made of that two thousand years ago?
Let's try to unpack the words she was given. Even if we don't get a chance to explain to our family and friends what God is about, the words to Mary will give us a completely different slant on what is actually going on in our world.
Basically she was told three things about her baby. First was the fact that he would not have a human father. "He will be called the Son of the Most High." What we are celebrating at Christmas is not the beginning of the life of Jesus. He has always been the eternal Son of God, That give us a very different picture of what God is like.
God is not a solitary, unapproachable Judge or cosmic computer running our world. God is love, and you cannot love alone. That is why God is more like three Persons in a family relationship. The Father is a loving parent who watches over us from behind the scenes of our life.. The Son is like a friend who comes alongside us, even though he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Holy Spirit is the creative power that can work within us. Mary was told that "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35). That means she was introduced right then to the Trinity. So we experience God in these three ways, above us, beside us, within us. And we can be adopted in that loving family relationship.
Our second important fact about the Christmas baby is that Mary was told "God will give him the throne of his ancestor David." Although David was an imperfect, impetuous person like most of us, he was a man after God's own heart. He loved the Lord, and talked to him. He composed and sang many of the Psalms. After his death, throughout the prophets, you will find references to a future king from the line of David.
Here are some well known prophecies in Isaiah. "A child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders . . . For the throne of David and his kingdom, he will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness" (Isaiah 9:6-7). "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse (David's father) . . . the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding" (Isaiah 11:1-2). "Then a throne shall be established in steadfast love in the tent of David" (Isaiah 16:5). Because of these prophecies the Jews expected the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem (as in Micah 5:2), and you remember how King Herod jealously had all the baby boys killed there.
The way these prophecies were fulfilled in quite unexpected ways is celebrated every Christmas. Joseph accepted Mary as his wife, and he had Jesus recorded as his new-born son in the census records of Bethlehem. You can read Joseph's genealogy set out at the beginning of Matthew's Gospel. Genealogies were well known and carefully kept among Jews, and none of Jesus opponents could ever deny that he had the legal right to the throne of David.
The Son of God was already reigning unseen as King of kings in the Old Testament period. But now we have seen him in person and come to trust him from his life recorded in the Gospels. He is not the impassive ruthless dictator of our world. He is a warm, loving fully human being. And so we know we can trust him to be our King in the Kingdom of heaven.
The third Christmas fact should give us confidence in the terrifying confusions of our world. Mary was told "Of his Kingdom there will be no end." The Old Testament kings all died, as do the human rulers and dictators of our world. But concerning Jesus' kingdom Paul wrote that our world would not end until the Messiah has finished his reign "when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).
What does that mean? Already in our lifetime many diseases have been defeated. The expectation of life has been extended in countries where Jesus' Kingdom is recognized. We do not know how much more needs to be completed before Jesus the Messiah rolls up our old world. But meanwhile we do know that things are not out of hand. Many are afraid that someone will push a button and begin the final atomic war that destroys every trace of human life in our world. But Jesus, the Son of God, is reigning. And faith is believing that he will not allow our world to be destroyed by atomic explosions till he decides to end it in his own way.
And when death comes for us as individuals, whether early or late in life, we also know that Jesus has gone though death, emptied sheol (the abode of the dead) of its contents, and he awaits to welcome us into the home he has prepared for us in the City of God.
Let's be ready to explain these astonishing Christmas facts when so many have their hearts failing them for fear.
A prayer for ourselves and others as we make ready for Christmas