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Call Him By His Name: Savior: Take Heart The Lord May Come Today

Luke 2:1-14

Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

Back before the first Christmas, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth. The angel said to Joseph, “Mary will give birth to a son. You shall call His name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.”

Tonight, on this Christmas Eve, I wish to take you with me on a brief journey. And perhaps, by the grace of God, in the course of this journey, we may catch a glimpse of the one we call Jesus, the one we call Savior.

Our journey begins in the sleepy little town of Bethlehem. Not much of a place. Certainly, one would not refer to Bethlehem as one of the power centers of the world. Just an ordinary little place. The inn at Bethlehem, ordinary as well, nothing pretentious about it. It was what I suppose we might call a tavern, together with several rooms, usually built adjacent to a small cave where animals could be sheltered. No food was provided there. Fodder for the animals, yes. But no food. There was a fire. You could cook your own meal, provided you brought your own food. Not exactly what we would call a royal palace. The manger, just an animal’s feeding trough, quite literally carved out of the rock wall of the cave. Not what we might call a cradle fit for a king. The swaddling clothes, just a square of cloth with a long, diagonal band off from one corner. The child would be placed in the center of the cloth; the cloth, folded over; the band, then, wound round and round and round and round, in order to secure the cloth. It was, I suppose we could say, a first-century Pampers, although not nearly so convenient. And certainly, we would never refer to it as a royal robe.

And yet, this is the way the great God of the universe chose to come to this Earth: as a baby, a helpless child, born to a peasant mother, sleeping in an animal’s feeding trough in a little out-of-the-way place called Bethlehem. And what’s more, the child was actually given a rather ordinary name in that day and time. You see, the name Jesus was simply the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua or Yeshua, and it was a name not at all uncommon in that time, a name which gave no hint of a royal lineage. And so, God chose to take on an ordinary human name, and thus, an ordinary human life. Divinity was being squeezed down into the form of a tiny baby, born as all of us are born into the human experience: no fanfare, no trumpet, no cataclysmic celebrations, just a baby’s low cry. It seems so hard for us to understand how this Great Creator, God, with all the power of eternity at His fingertips, would choose to come to this Earth as a stable-born child.

Ah, but you see, God doesn’t ask us to understand. God asks us simply to accept it. All it takes—and Jesus, Himself, said this. All it takes is the simple, trusting faith of a child. And so, you don’t have to be a PhD. You don’t have to be an intellectual powerhouse. You don’t have to be one of the captains of industry. You don’t have to have a fat bank account in order to see God in Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem.

Ah, but, when we do see God in Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, everything changes. Suddenly, we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are of infinite value to God, that we are the objects of His love, that we are made in His image, and that we are His, and He is ours forever all because a child was born on Christmas in a little town called Bethlehem.

Ah, but our journey continues, as we make our way six miles to the north to the city of Jerusalem, to a small, rugged hill located just outside the city walls. That hill is called Calvary. And there, on that hill, on the cross, is where this one we call Jesus laid down His life for us all. Understand, please, that the terrible purging of Calvary was absolutely necessary. Just as salve cannot cure cancer, just as aspirin cannot heal Ebola, just so nothing less than the brutal murder of God’s only Son could cleanse sin and lift God’s people into saving redemption. There, on the cross, on Calvary’s hill, Jesus stamped out the worst in us, in order to bring out the best in us.

There is a famous chapel in a little European village where there hangs a magnificent painting of the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s much celebrated, and it’s much celebrated primarily because the artist, in creating this masterpiece, chose to write, down at the bottom of the painting, some words; and the words are these. It’s as if they were spoken by Jesus, Himself. The words are these, “All this, I did for thee; what hast thou done for Me?”

One day, a young German nobleman named Count Zinzendorf wandered into that chapel, caught sight of the painting, was captivated by it, saw love in the pierced hands, love in the bleeding brow, love in the wounded side. And then he read the words, “All this, I did for thee; what hast thou done for Me?” Those words struck home, and he walked out of the chapel a man changed forever. And he wound up giving himself over to his great life’s work. He wound up creating a society of women and men redeemed by Jesus Christ, which encircled the whole globe, women and men giving themselves away in the service of Jesus Christ all because he saw Jesus on the cross.

Dear friends, if you are looking for a Savior in your life, look at the cross on Calvary. The one we call Jesus is dying there for you and for me.

Just a short walk from that hill, we enter a garden which encircles the tomb. Dear friends, let me tell you. This is the greatest story the world has ever known. It’s the story of one who lived the only perfect life ever lived and who was then condemned to death, executed like a common criminal, nailed to a cross, left to die, buried in a borrowed tomb sealed with an enormous stone, guarded by the soldiers of the Roman legion. It’s the story of how this one, on the third day after His death, sometime between sunset and dawn, rose up from the cold stone slab where they’d laid His dead body, and, standing on wounded feet, cast aside the grave clothes, and walked out into that garden alive forevermore. It’s the story of how this one then appeared to His startled disciples and, in signs which proved and convinced even the most unbelieving of them, declared Himself to be the one, the first, the great conqueror of death, the Living Son of the Living God. It’s the story of how all who put their faith and belief in this one gain for themselves the forgiveness of their sins. It’s the story of how all who claim Him to be the Lord of all life gain for themselves not only a life beyond death but also a peace of mind and a powerful living in this life, which nothing can ever, ever destroy. Here, here is the greatest story ever told. Here is the greatest story the world has ever known. The tomb is empty. Our Savior lives.

Ah, but we cannot conclude our journey without taking a quick tour around the world in which you and I now are living. It is a frightening place these days. The images from the television screen are seared into our brains. We know dazed, hurting, bleeding people who are caught up in the aftermath and the prosecution of war. We know gaunt-faced, hollow-eyed human scarecrows starving to death in various parts of the world. We know hellish prejudice and terror rising up and resulting in the massacre of the innocent and the not so innocent. You look at the world around us, and it seems to me at least that all creation is groaning in agony. I tell you, it’s enough to lead even the most devout of Christians to surrender to despair. Oh, but my dear people, not on this Christmas Eve, no, because the great Good News is that our God has declared that the day will come when the heavens are split by the sound of trumpets, and Jesus Christ will come again. Absolutely.

At Christmastime, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus into the world, yes. But also at Christmas, we anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Are you aware of the fact that the early Christians, whenever they encountered one another, they extended to one another a greeting, not a casual greeting like we do, “Hello. How are you?” No. They said to one another the Aramaic word, Maranatha, which means take heart; the Lord may come today. What an incredibly thrilling greeting. And in the midst of a world like ours, what a word for us to hear. Maranatha. Take heart; the Lord may come today. Oh, He has not yet come back, at least as far as I know, but He will. I do not know exactly when, but that’s not important anyway. The only thing that matters is that you and I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that, yes, He will return. And when He returns, then you and I will behold our Savior, face to face. What an incredible moment that will be.

So at Christmas, oh yes, we do indeed celebrate His first coming into the world. But we also anticipate His second coming into the world. And therefore, my beloved people, on this Christmas Eve, I leave you with these magnificent words. Merry Christmas. Christ the Savior is born. Maranatha. Take heart. Take heart; the Lord may come today.

Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.

 

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