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Call Him By His Name: This Shall Be A Sign

Matthew 1:18-25

A missionary in India had sent his twelve-year-old son back to the United States to attend school. When the Christmas holidays arrived, the boy was invited to the home of friends of his family. The lady of the house came into the boy’s room as he was unpacking. The boy had just placed a framed picture of his father on the dresser. The hostess, eager to make the boy feel at home, said: “Tell me, what would you like for Christmas?” The boy hesitated a moment. Then, instead of listing toys and other things, he picked up the picture of his father and said: “I’d like my father to step out of his frame.”

That’s the longing of many people. They want God “to step out of the frame”—they want God to come alive in a manner they can understand. Well, the wondrous truth of the Gospel is that God does exactly that—He makes Himself known through One born in Bethlehem. Suddenly at this Christmastide, our dreams become flesh and the misty form of our Father God takes on definite features. We see Him face-to-face. We see Him as He is.

To underscore that point, I want to call your attention to two signs God has left for us to see—two signs that direct us to God Himself. However, before I do that, I want to remind you that a sign is never the end of the journey. It only points the way. We do not drive our car to an intersection filled with signs and get out and say: “Now we have arrived.” No, rather we look at the signs and follow their leading to the point of our destination. So, let us look at these two signs to see if they aid us in our journey of faith…

The first sign reads: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…”

There are those in our world today who reject the idea of the Virgin Birth because they feel that this kind of a miracle just cannot happen in the order of nature as we know it. Male and female are both necessary for the birth of a child. But I would say to such people that we have witnessed enough scientific miracles in the past few years to keep us from being too dogmatic about what can and cannot happen. Besides, scientific observation is by definition the description of what normally happens. It does not determine what must always happen—and any respectable scientist knows that to be true. To say categorically then that the Virgin Birth could not have happened is to go far beyond where any human mind has the right or the ability to go. Thus, to reject the Virgin Birth on this ground is not only unjustifiable, it is intellectually dishonest.

Then there are those who claim that the Bible itself is the greatest obstacle to belief in the Virgin Birth. They state that the earliest documents in the New Testament do not mention such a miracle. Paul’s letters do not speak of it, nor does the Book of Acts. The Gospels of Mark and John include no accounts of the Virgin Birth. Maybe, the skeptics claim, the stories in Matthew and Luke were added to the Bible at a later date in order to bolster the Christian affirmation that Jesus was God in the flesh. But I regard that argument as groundless, also. Let me explain. Something as incredible as the Virgin Birth would always demand amazing evidence of support. For example, if today a woman gave birth to a son at the Orange Hospital, all the while claiming that the child had no earthly father, we wouldn’t believe it. Her word would not be sufficient proof. However, if some thirty years from now, that woman’s son began to exercise marvelous power, indicating the unique presence of God in his life, then we might begin to think differently about the mother’s claim.

This is, in fact, how I have come to believe in the Virgin Birth. My first real encounter with Christ did not center on how He was born. Rather, I became convinced of His presence in my life—of the fact that He was nothing less than God coming to us in a form I could understand. I became convinced that when I see Jesus Christ, I am seeing God the Father. And, in light of that conviction, the stories of the Virgin Birth in Matthew and in Luke seem appropriate. And, while these accounts do not completely explain what will always be a sublime mystery, they do correspond to the truth I have found in my life—namely, that in Christ, God is with us. Christ is both completely God and completely human. It seems only natural, then, that He should have God for His Father and Mary for His mother.

And, you know, this may well have been the experience of those who wrote the New Testament. Jesus did not begin His earthly ministry by claiming that He was God. That claim came later, only after He had begun to do the work God had sent Him to do, only after He had begun to display the divine power which He possessed. Then as people saw what He did and heard who He claimed to be, it began to dawn on them that He was, in fact, God in human form. Only after their discovery did it become feasible to speak of how He entered the world. And I like to imagine that Mary said nothing about her secret for many years. It was one of those things that she kept in her heart, pondering it there; and only after many others found God in Jesus Christ did she dare to share the miracle of how it all began.

So I say without hesitation that I believe in the Virgin Birth. And I believe it to be a sign. But what does this sign mean? It means, simply, help has come from the outside. We as human beings are all caught in the same whirlpool of sin and destruction. It would do no good for me to throw you a lifeline from where I am—for I, too, am caught in the swirling currents of sin. But if someone could be born outside of our sinful predicament, then that one could throw us a line from another point. He could bring us the help we need. He could be a saviour to us.

Well, Jesus was not born in the line of Adam. His father was God. And He throws us that desperately needed lifeline. He brings to our lives, if we choose, the possibility of a new power—the power of being re-born in the line of Jesus, leaving behind the sin-swamped heritage of Adam. Jesus is Saviour because His birth was in no way determined by man. He was born “not of the will of the flesh, but of God.” Of every other child in the world we say: “This child was born.” Of Jesus Christ alone we say: “He came.” The words of the poet ring true:

He did not merely come to teach
It was to save He came,
And when we call Him Saviour,
We call Him by His name.

So, if you are hopelessly trapped by your sin as I am by mine, if you have fought and struggled and strained and still you sin—if that is your predicament as it is mine—then here is a sign we need to see: “The Virgin Birth.” This shall be a sign which points the way to Jesus Christ, born of God, who came to save us from our sins.

But, there is a second sign we need to see. It comes from the Gospel of Luke. It reads; “This shall be a sign to you, you shall find a babe lying in a manger.”

How could a newborn babe be a sign? Harry Emerson Fosdick writes: “We have always heard about the decisive battles of history. But in a world obsessed with the fear and clash of Christmas reminds us that a baby can be more decis.vethan a battle. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, any realistic mind would have pointed to the power and vastness of the Roman Empire as the determining element in the world. As for a baby born of a lowly mother in obscure Bethlehem on the far fringes of the Empire, it would have been madness for them to have supposed that two thousand years afterward, the whole world would come to a halt in celebration of that birth. That’s the real miracle of Christmas—that a baby can be so decisive.”

That’s true. That baby is decisive. That baby is the point at which heaven and earth touch. What we need most in life is a Saviour who will meet us where we live. The baby in the manger is just that. We need never again look up to find God. He is not away off out there, somewhere. He is not beyond our reach. He meets us in the very midst of life. Paul Scherer said: “God really did slip into the world when nobody was looking. On that night of nights He did it, coming down the stairs of heaven with a child in His arms, offering His own life.” He meets us where we live. We can never escape Him. He is in our business, in our small talk, our courtship and our play. He is in the beggar at the back door and the bill collector at the front. He confronts us over and over again. He lives in the midst of us meeting us in our own needs and in the needs of others.

But how do we find Him? Like those shepherds did. They followed the sign. They knelt and saw the baby in a manger and they knew that God had come in Jesus Christ. A Scandinavian family had come to the United States, but their first Christmas here was one of sadness. The father, Lars, could find no work, and the distressed family had no money for Christmas gifts for their daughter, Greta. Finally, emotion ran so strong that Greta’s mother cut up her wedding dress to make a doll dress for her daughter. Greta called her doll “Mary.” She then fashioned a creche of sticks and used a small cardboard box for a manger. With happy eyes, Greta took her father’s hand and said: “Come, Papa, come see the Christ child.” The father rather apathetically looked down at the floor where his daughter had been playing. Whereupon Greta cried out: “No, Papa. You’ve got to get down on your knees if you want to see the Christ child.” There it is. If we want to see God in Jesus Christ, we must be on our knees.

A king might miss the guiding star,
A wise man’ s foot might stumble
For Bethlehem is very far
From all except the humble.

But he who gets to Bethlehem
Shall hear the oxen lowing,
And, if he humbly kneels with them,
May catch far trumpets blowing.

Yes, there it is. If we want to see God in Christ, we must be on our knees. We must repent. We must seek God’s forgiveness. We must become His children. Then shall we hear far trumpets blowing. Then shall we confront our Saviour. Then shall we know that just as Jesus was born in a manger, so He can be born in us…

If only we ask…

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