Here are the words from Luke 2, 1 through 20.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
So the prequel to the lovely reading of Luke's gospel that Genny shared with us is found in Matthew's gospel, the first chapter, beginning with the 18th verse.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God
Will you pray with me? Gracious God, Open our minds to these words and open our hearts to the living word of Christ, that we may be changed today and forever. Amen.
It was March 1, 1791.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, now 88 years old, was lying in bed near death, at his home on City Road in London. He told a companion, a miss Richie, that he wanted to write something to share.
She said, “I brought him pen and ink and on putting the pen into his hand and holding the paper before him, he said I cannot. I replied let me write for you, sir. Tell me what you would say. Nothing returned he, but that God is with us.”
At Connection, they close every worship service with those words Charlie and I are going to show you how it's done. Come on up here, Charlie, then we'll ask you how to do it with us. So Charlie's going to say best of all and I'll say God is with us, and then he'll say that and we'll all respond. So there you go.
Best of all, God is with us.
Best of all, God is with us!
Thank you, you can sit down now. Thanks for participating.
One of the first things you learn in any theology class are the attributes of God, things like that God is omniscient. He knows everything, all knowledge. God is omnipotent, he's all-powerful, he is mighty and strong, and on and on and on with these attributes of the Almighty. That became the primary focus of many leaders during what we call the Enlightenment, to the point where they formulated a theology around that known as deism. They saw God as the great architect, an architect who designed creation but never set foot in the building. He set the universe in motion and then he walked off and let it run by itself.
Well, the Bible tells us a different story, a more complete story.
From Genesis to Revelation, we find out that Emmanuel is involved. We see many times when God walked with his people, when God intervened on behalf of his people in the human story. Yes, God is indeed transcendent. God is beyond, but God is also imminent. He is close at hand. Nowhere is that more true, No time is that more true than at Christmas.
That is, in fact, the message of the season.
Jesus arrived so that we could walk with God once more. The angel declared his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.
The full meaning of Christmas can often be found in the names given to Jesus, particularly this one, Emmanuel, but he would be known by many other names wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, the prince of peace, and of course we know him as Jesus.
But all depends on that first description, the one we know as Emmanuel.
It's really a title, not really a name. It's a statement of Jesus' identity. It's a combination of two Hebrew words Emanua, which means with us, and El, which means God: Emanuel, God with us.
Now Matthew uses a quote here from the seventh chapter of Isaiah, as we heard earlier that it drives home the point that this is no ordinary child. The baby of Bethlehem is not an ordinary baby. He is the one foretold by the prophets, he is the Messiah, he is the Christ, he is the Savior. But who is he Really? Jesus is God in the flesh, he said himself. He has seen me, has seen the Father.
The truth we affirmed earlier when the Burton family shared part of the Apostles Creed during the lighting of the Advent wreath. Sort of an explanation of who Jesus is: Son of God, fully divine, son of man, fully human. That is the essence of Jesus.
Around this time of year you can usually find various polls which are taken, which divide and analyze different responses about how people understand Jesus, who they think Jesus is, what about their beliefs.
Well, in one poll I read recently, over 70% said that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary without a human father. Over 60% say they believe the whole story, the entire thing the virgin birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the star of Bethlehem and the magi from the east. They believe all of it is historical and accurate.
Now I've got enough graduate school training in statistics and enough experience working with those numbers and research to know that statistics can say a lot of things. But I gotta tell you I was pretty encouraged by those figures because most people seem to get it Intuitively. They get it, they know the deep truth in their hearts.
The question is what do we do with that truth? Is that merely an academic exercise for us, or are we able to apply it to our lives?
See, over the centuries, God had sent His prophets to communicate His message of love to His people. The results were, at best, disappointing. Then God sent the written word, through the Holy Scriptures, to call His people back to Himself. Nothing, nadda, zip. Finally, God came Himself and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God entered into our lives, faced our temptations, carried our sorrows, bore our sins on a cross. God could have left us to our own devices, our own fate, but he didn't do that.
God, directly and personally, entered human history. He came among us to share our joys and our sorrows. He takes part in our ups and our downs, our successes and our failures.
Jesus brings healing and hope. He brings love and light in a world that seems often depressing and filled with darkness. Christ is here with us tonight, historically, yes, but present right now.
We just have to open our spiritual eyes in order to see Him. Maybe you will hear Him in the music that brings our hearts to the Lord on this holy night. Perhaps we will see Christ in the flicker of the candlelight and see that reflection. You might capture a glimpse of Jesus in the faces of your family and your friends who sit around you tonight.
That is certainly what Holy Communion is all about reminding us that when we share together, we share in the very presence of God, and that Jesus Christ is in our midst.
Christmas tells us that we are worth something in the eyes of God, not just that the world is worth something, but that you individually, personally, are worth God coming to live among us. You are so special to the Lord that he is willing to live your life and to die your death.
The Son came to us so that we could go to be with Him, God with us. No longer is that just a hope, but with the coming of the Christ child it is a reality, not just in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, but right here, right now, tonight.
John Wesley lived on into the next day; part of the time delirious part of the time, summoning His little remaining strength to speak. And then, right at the end, he declared loudly for all to hear, “the best of all is God is with us.” Let's try that again. Best of all, God is with us. Best of all, God is with us!
God is with us. That is the promise of the hope fulfilled in Emmanuel, that is the promise fulfilled in the coming of Christmas, and it is my joy to share that good news with you, because that good news is the gospel In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Glory to God in the highest, hallelujah and amen.