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The following is taken from Take Heart: Advent Devotional Series published by the EFCA. This advent season, the EFCA is focusing on the stories of taking heart and giving back with charitable giving. You may make an online gift here.
A Birth, Glory and Peace: Redemption Experienced (Luke 2)
The tension between the reality of the fall evidenced in sin and punishment, and the promise of redemption is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. It was evident in God’s curse after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:14-19), with the promise of the offspring, the protevangelium, stated in the midst of the curses (Gen. 3:15). Isaiah informed us of this truth, and affirmed the promise of a son, whose name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This son would be the king whose reign would be forever and over all, and his kingdom would be marked by peace, justice and righteousness (Isa. 9:1-6).
Israel and all nations were waiting for this son who would establish a kingdom and rule on the throne of David. King after king failed. At the closing of the Old Testament canon, God again promises He will send Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5-6; this text picked up by Luke [1:17] as a reference to John the Baptist). And then it appeared God became silent. (And even though God was silent, He was not absent or removed. His sovereign and providential plan was moving toward fulfillment.) For 400 years there was no word from the Lord. Finally, when “the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). The Messiah’s forerunner was John the Baptist. When he came on the scene, the silence was broken. At this time in redemptive history, not only did God speak again, this time through John the Baptist, but He also spoke finally and definitively in the Son (Heb. 1:1-2).
Let’s situate ourselves before proceeding. Jesus states that in this world we will have tribulation, but in Him we have peace because He has overcome the world. In order to understand Jesus’ statement, His person and work, we need to understand the story of the Bible. In our study of Jesus’ statement in the context of the whole Bible, we have moved from creation and the Fall now to the major section referred to as redemption. Noted previously, this is promised immediately after the Fall, and moves toward fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All the details in redemption culminate in the greatest turning point in salvation history, consisting of Jesus the Messiah’s birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension.
Today we look at the beginning of this culmination, the birth of Jesus. This is the reality of Christmas that we celebrate, and there is, indeed, much to celebrate.
Mary, Angels and Shepherds
The angel Gabriel appears to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (cf. Lk. 1:5-24, 39-45, 57-80). He informed her she will conceive and bear a son and call his name Jesus (1:31). Joseph, the righteous man to whom she was engaged, was from the house of David (1:27), and the “Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (1:32-33). This echoes Isaiah’s words. The promise is coming closer to being fulfilled. However, Mary was young and unmarried, a virgin. How could she conceive and bear a child (1:34). Gabriel answered her question and concluded, “nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37). (Zechariah also asked a question, but, in contrast, his question arose from doubt and he suffered because of it.) Mary responds, “I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). She responds in a word of praise, known as the Magnificat (1:46-55).
We also see the angels announcing the birth of Jesus:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)
This is the fulfillment of the promise of redemption. The offspring that had been promised is now here. This birth is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news is the term for gospel. This gospel brings great joy and its message is not limited to Jews but for all people. There is a universal scope with exclusive claims. Jesus is the good news for all, and the only good news for all. He is the Savior, Christ the Lord. Through the Son, the Father is glorified and in the Son, those who affirm this gospel will experience peace.
In this context and looking ahead to Jesus’ later ministry, it is helpful and important to remember our text from John 16:33, the fact that we experience tribulation, and the concurrent truth that we experience peace in Christ through it. We often forget that this peaceful, serene birth reflected in our plays and pageants, is more staged than real. When Christ was born, not only did the angels sing, but the demons were also threatened because they knew their time was short (cf. Rev. 12:10-12). Jesus came to destroy them and their works (1 Jn. 3:8; Heb. 2:14-15). Matthew notes this ploy of Satan to kill, steal and destroy (Jn. 10:10) through the schemes of Herod (Matt. 2:3, 16). When Jesus was born Herod was threatened since this would be a rival king. In an attempt to control this, he had all babies two years old or younger killed.
Returning to the birth of Jesus, we note the shepherds determined to assess the truthfulness of the good news announced by the angels. They found it just as the angels had said, which they told Mary and Joseph. After hearing this good news, “the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (2:20).
Simeon and Anna
Finally, we observe the response of Simeon and Anna to Jesus as He was brought to the temple. Simeon was known as “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Lk. 2:25). When he saw Jesus, he took Him and held Him in his arms and exclaimed (Lk. 2:29-32): “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
With the coming of Jesus, Simeon was ready to “depart in peace” (the Nunc Dimittis). Through Christ, God’s promises had been fulfilled and salvation had come for all. That brings one peace and prepares one to depart, to die, and only those who live in this state are truly able to live.
We hear something similar from Anna. She had given her life to serve in the temple, which is explained as “worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Lk. 2:27). When she saw the baby Jesus “she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:38).
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
1. What do we learn from these events, people and responses around the birth of Jesus? What are some of those implications in your life?
2. Mary is told, “nothing is impossible with God.” Although Mary plays a unique, non-repeatable role, she serves as a model of humble, dependent faith in God. What situations or circumstances in your life do you need to be reminded of this truth about God and His promises?
3. Regarding the angels’ message, do you believe the birth of Jesus, His incarnation, the good news of great joy that will be for all the people? What keeps you from announcing this good news, the gospel, which is for all people, i.e., its universal and exclusive claims? What are your joy robbers?
4. With the shepherds, how will you glorify and praise God this Christmas season and beyond?
5. With Simeon, have you truly experienced peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ so you are not only prepared to depart, but to truly live?
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the incarnation of your Son, Jesus our Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Forgive us when this story becomes too familiar and is treated like a play or pageant rather than the life-transforming truth it is. We confess that although we affirm Jesus Christ is Lord, we often live as if we are lord. Forgive us. In this season of Christmas may we be and live the fullness of peace with God, and from this fullness of joy might we glorify and praise you in word and deed. We pray this through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.