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Good News This Christmas, Too

With Christmas just a dozen days from now, for many this is the strangest Christmas in memory.

The classic question, “What do you want for Christmas?” has been turned on its head. We want normalcy and good health for all and peace in our minds and workplaces. And that’s why we are in a 4-week series titled “The Weary World Rejoices.” This is a time when a lot of people are weary. And so it’s a good time to revisit the wonder of Christmas, in keeping with the Christmas hymn O Holy Night, that sings this truth about the coming of Jesus: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he (Jesus) appeared and the soul felt its worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”

That’s our aim for these four weeks surrounding Christmas—that by revisiting the Christmas narratives, God will uplift and encourage you, renew your hope, and bring you joy from facing these days with Jesus, not on your own.

Open your Bible or Bible app, please, to Luke chapter one, beginning in verse 46. We’re going to listen in on a prayer from someone who was facing a life-altering situation, and in it found reasons to rejoice.

In Luke 1:46-55, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth. And filled with the Holy Spirit, she prays a prayer that showcases three awesome things that Jesus’ coming proves, three things that bring the thrill of hope to a weary world. Let’s read her prayer and then unpack the three reasons for rejoicing even as the world is as it presently is. Beginning in verse 46 we read…

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

This prayer is traditionally known as the Magnificat, from the Latin term for magnifying, showcasing, declaring three awesome things that Jesus’ coming proves. If you could use a soul pick-me-up right about now, I recommend you jot these down.

Praise God that he comes to us personally!

Mary’s prayer voices her thrill of hope in this as she praises God, saying:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.”

Luke 1:46-49

She came to know that God is not an impersonal force. He comes to us personally. Mary came to know her Savior. This is one of the greatest distinctives of the revelation that Jesus brings: you can know God personally. That was unimaginable to her peers.

You have to remember that before Jesus came on the scene, there had been 400 years of silence from God. From the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, to God coming to Mary, God had seemed aloof, distant, and impersonal. Jesus’ coming forever changed that.

Some have compared it to the Apollo 13 incident in the early days of space travel. At a moment in that mission when the crew was 200,000 miles from Earth and closing in on the moon, a low-pressure warning signal on a hydrogen tank lit up at mission control. Oxygen pressure quickly fell, and then the power went out. Imagine being in that capsule!

The crew notified Mission Control, with, simply, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” For re-entry to earth’s atmosphere, they had to go through a period during which radio communication would be impossible; complete silence. Throughout that space of radio silence, Mission Control constantly petitioned, “Apollo 13, this is Houston, do you read me? Apollo 13, this is Houston, do you read me?”

Apollo 13’s blackout lasted just a matter of minutes on their life and death mission. Imagine 400 years of silence. Then the silence is broken. At the right time, Galatians says, God brought forth his Son, to personally make God known; to personally bring heaven’s hope. This is who Jesus is: he is heaven’s personal revelation of God. Because of Jesus, you can know God personally. Along with Mary, we can praise God for that!

The second awesome thing that Jesus’ coming proves is…

Praise God that he’s breaking in with justice!

“His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.”

Luke 1:50-53

An unknown teenager from small town Israel received the revelation that in the coming of Jesus, justice was finally going to begin breaking in on this fallen earth. The kingdom of God had come personally in Jesus, and would continue personally through those who walk in his ways, seeking first His kingdom and righteousness.

The Christian faith rightly understood has always been perceived as a threat to those in power, because Jesus claims to be in authority over whoever happens to have the wealth or land or office at the moment. They will pass; Jesus will remain as Lord. That’s what Mary began to grasp—that on the one hand, Jesus’ coming means the uplifting of those who are downtrodden and neglected. And on the other hand, Jesus’ coming is a sobering heads up to the powerful and wealthy, that they are not the end-all and be-all.

Herod the Great, for example, who we looked at last week, is nothing more than a historical footnote today, while Mary’s son is admired and followed by people from around the world for the past 2,000 years. The Lord Jesus has indeed ‘scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.’

The good news reality that Christ’s kingdom ushers in justice is why, for example, when I met with a pastor in Macau in the early 90s, he had organized the church he pastored into small groups so that if the Chinese government cracked down against churches once Macau was returned to Chinese rule, they were ready to continue underground, without having to all come together on Sundays. And until then, they busied themselves with good news work in their island nation.

This revelation given Mary, that Jesus’ coming breaks into the world’s kingdoms with justice, is why this prayer was banned from being read publicly in Guatemala in the 1980s. The governing powers at that time rightly understood Jesus to be a threat to their continued injustice.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tally the good news of justice that Jesus’ coming has accomplished. We tend to get so caught up in the news cycle of a day or year that we miss the big sweep panorama of what Christ is accomplishing over the long haul. This is going to strengthen the faith of some of you who wonder what difference is there since Jesus has come? Let me give you seven great macro examples of how Jesus’ birth changed the world.

Children.

In the ancient world, undesired infants were routinely left outside to die of exposure, particularly if they were girls. Today, children are thought of differently because of Jesus’ teachings and example. Historian O. M. Bakke wrote a study called When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity, in which he noted that in the ancient world, children usually didn’t get named until the eighth day or so. That was because until then, parents could decide whether or not that child would be allowed to live. That unjust custom changed because of a group of people who remembered that they were followers of a man who corrected popular thinking, urging instead, “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus’ treatment of and teachings about children led to the formation of orphanages to care for abandoned children, and adoption.

Women

Jesus never married. But the way he honored and included women led to the formation of a community that was so congenial to women that they would join it in record numbers. William Booth cofounded the Salvation Army back with his wife back in 1865. The Salvation Army adopted ranks like that of the military, with women given access as much as men. As Booth himself famously noted, “Some of my best men are women!” Some of the greatest heroes in cross-cultural ministry are women who were courageous enough to go where men would not or could not—for example, Amy Carmichael rescuing young girls from human trafficking in South India for 55 years without a break. Like Jesus, Amy entered into the culture of those she was trying to reach with the good news of Jesus. She dressed in Indian clothes, she dyed her skin dark with coffee, and she often travelled long distances on India’s dusty roads to save even one child from suffering. When children were asked what drew them to Amy despite strong societal pressure to go along with human trafficking, they simply explained, “It was love. Amma (meaning mother, the term by which they called Amy) loved us.” Because Jesus has come, women have a greater shot at justice, a work that is still in progress around the world.

Education.

Jesus’ coming changed the world—and continues to—in the realm of better education. The ancient world loved education but tended to reserve it for the elite; the distinctly Christian notion that every child bears God’s image helps fuel the move for universal literacy.

Jesus never wrote a book. Yet his call to love God with all one’s mind would lead to a community with such a reverence for learning that when the classical world was destroyed in the Dark Ages, that little Christian community preserved what was left of its learning. In time, the movement he started would give rise to libraries and then guilds of learning … Love of learning led to monasteries. Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard all began as Jesus-inspired efforts to love God with all ones’ mind.

Compassion.

Jesus’ compassion for the poor and the sick led to the creation of caring places for outcast lepers, the beginning of modern-day hospitals. That’s why even today, hospitals have names like “Good Samaritan,” “Good Shepherd,” “Saint Francis” and “Saint Vincent.” Christian-prompted hospitals were the world’s first voluntary, charitable institutions apart from local churches.

Humility.

Because of Jesus, humility, which was scorned in the ancient world, became recognized and appreciated, and eventually championed as a virtue. We need to get back to this. According to Jesus, enemies, who otherwise are thought to be worthy of vengeance, must be seen as worthy of love. Jesus’ example of washing his disciples’ feet, refusing to use his power abusively, and willingly going to the cross eventually marinated into us the ability to see the power of humility.

Forgiveness

In the ancient world, virtue meant rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. An alternative idea came from Jesus: what is best is to love your enemies, and as much as possible as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with everyone. Because of Jesus, we can see forgiveness not as a weakness but rather as the strongest thing you can do.

Judicial reform.

God only knows how many people have had a better life because of Jesus’ influence on Christians in positions of being able to change things from unjust to just treatment of people because we’re all made in God’s image. Jesus ignited something when he announced that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”

And Jesus practiced what he preached. He consistently championed those whom others excluded. His inclusion of women led to a community to which women flocked in disproportionate numbers. Slaves—up to a third of ancient populations—might wander into a church fellowship and have a slave-owner wash their feet rather than beat them. One ancient text instructed church leaders to not interrupt worship to greet a wealthy attender, but to sit on the floor to welcome the poor. That wasn’t about optics. It’s about following Jesus’ example.

Jesus never held an office or led an army … And yet the movement he started would eventually mean the end of emperor worship, be cited in documents like the Magna Carta, and would begin to undermine the power of the state, rather than reinforce it as other religions in the empire had done. It is because of Jesus that language such as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” entered history.

Sources: John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? (Zondervan, 2012), pp. 14-16 & John Ortberg, “Six Surprising Ways Jesus Changed the World,” The Huffington Post (8-13-12)

From where we stand in history, it’s easy to lose sight of the progress that has come about because of the coming of Jesus. There’s still work to done for sure. We do it in the manner of Jesus, according to the teaching of Jesus. Praise God that through Jesus, and now through those who follow Jesus, God is continuing to break in to this weary world with justice.

And finally, the third awesome thing that Jesus’ coming proves is that…

Praise God that he keeps his promises!

Mary praises God that…

“He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:54-55

What promise is she alluding to? She’s thinking all the way back to the early chapters of Genesis, chapter 12, where the Lord calls a guy names Abram out of a pagan family background, amidst a pagan society, and initiates a covenant with him, a promise. God’s promise is that he will build that man’s lineage into a great nation—Israel—and all nations on earth would be blessed through that man’s descendants. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Through faith in Jesus, the far-down-the-line unique descendant of Abram, anyone can be blessed. They can come to know God personally, just as Abram did and just as Mary did.

How many people around you and me know that Christmas is about Jesus being born, but really have no idea the blessings that are waiting to be experienced from him?

It makes me think of the company named Squaremouth that placed instructions for winning $10,000 in every travel insurance policy they sold. It was a contest they planned to run for a year. They imagined no one would read the section titled “pays to read” on page seven of their nearly 4,000-word document.

But they didn’t count on high school teacher Donelan Andrews. The self-described “nerd” always reads the terms, whether it’s a digital software user agreement, or a travel insurance policy. She printed out her policy and sat down to read it right away. Soon she came across a section that said, “(This is) a contest that rewards the individual who reads their policy information from start to finish. If you are … the first to contact us, you may be awarded the Pays to Read contest Grand Prize of ten thousand dollars.”

Andrews wrote to the company immediately. She got a call back the next day to let her know she’d won the $10,000. The contest had been running for just 23 hours. God’s promises aren’t hidden in the fine print. In Jesus, all of God’s promises are printed in bold. As 1 Corinthians 1:20 celebrates…

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.

And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”

1 Corinthians 1:20

Everything that God has promised gets stamped with the “YES!” of Jesus.

Source: Christopher Spata “She read the fine print on her insurance policy. It won her $10,000 in a contest,” Tampa Bay Time (3-5-19)

What promise of God do you most need to believe right now?

  • Is it the promise of forgiveness of sin for all who confess and believe in Jesus as Savior? Hold to that promise proven by Jesus.
  • Perhaps it’s his promise never to leave or forsake us. You can cling to that promise from Jesus who conquered death.
  • Maybe it’s the promise of eternal life. During a pandemic more than ever before in our lifetime, Jesus is the proof that for the believer, death is not the end. His grave was emptied, and so will be those of all who die trusting in the Risen One. Hold firmly to that promise so decisively proven by Jesus.

Whatever promises God has made, Jesus’ coming proves. He has not abandoned us. This is why Mary broke out in such a prayer of praise:

  • We can praise God that in Jesus, he comes to us personally.
  • We can praise God that because of Jesus, God’s kingdom is breaking in with greater justice for those who have been suffering.
  • We can praise God that in Jesus, we can see that God keeps his promises.

So sing! Praise God! Magnify him that while the world is weary these days, Jesus came for such days. Now as then, may your soul feel its worth because Jesus has come, because Jesus is Lord, and because Jesus will return. Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, you see how weary people are around the world this Christmas season. O Come, o come, Emmanuel, we pray. Refix our gaze on Mary’s prayer of praise. Take us back to the thrill of hope that your birth brought in that first generation, and the thrill of hope that you have continued to bless people with over the past 2,000 years. We want your blessing too, Lord. So even as you drew near to Mary, I ask you to draw near to each one listening today. Transform this Christmas into a more meaningful time than ever of seeking you, trusting you, and receiving from you. Would you be so kind, Lord?

For our family and friends who are stressed or scared, we ask your blessing of supernatural peace. We ask your hand of protection. And we ask for an abundance of love to mark our family and friendships. Hear our prayer, Jesus our Savior. Amen!