Last Sunday our associate pastor, Dr. Pete Belmain, preached from Luke 2. I know you might be thinking, “Ah, another Christmas Story sermon.” While Brother Pete encouraged the family tradition of reading the Christmas Story in Luke 2:1-19, he said he wanted to help us “move beyond the manger.” That struck a chord in me.
As he was preaching about Jesus’ presentation in the temple from Luke 2:22-35, I also thought of a “different” Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we read in Luke 4 that He went to the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. Apparently Jesus liked to go to church, but I digress.
Jesus was handed the Book of Isaiah, and He read the following verses:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
This might sound strange to you, but this is my favorite Christmas story. This is the reason for the season. Without the cross or the empty tomb, all you have is a nice Charlie Brown Christmas story. Don’t get me wrong, I love that little cartoon.
However, if Jesus’ mission was just to be born in Bethlehem so we could have a joyous and festive holiday to exchange gifts and celebrate with friends and family, then it is time to move beyond the manger.
A Christmas without an Easter is simply a holiday instead of a holy day. A Christmas without the cross on Golgotha is simply a silent night where Christ the baby is born instead of the baby being the Savior of the world. A verse from the Christmas carol Silent Night proclaims “Radiant beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace.”
Look at those last four words: the dawn of redeeming grace. Time for a quick English lesson. The second definition of dawn states: “the beginning or rise of anything; advent.” I’ll overcome my urge to define advent, but when you light your advent candles or give your children advent candy calendars, keep the definition of dawn in mind.
I think as Christians we all understand redeeming grace, so for the sake of time and space, I’ll let you come up with your own definition.
What I want us to remember is that in the third verse of Silent Night (which most people probably have never heard) that baby’s shining face is that of the Savior of the world.
Back to Luke 4…
When Jesus was finished reading those prophetic words, He sat down and all those in attendance had their eyes fixed on Jesus. Then Jesus said something astounding:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21b)
That Scripture can be found in Isaiah 61 and if you read the whole chapter, which is titled The Good News of Salvation, any Jew with any training would know this speaks of the Messiah. Jesus only read from the first two verses because scholars believe the rest of the verses apply to Jesus’ Second Coming.
I love Christmas. In fact today is Christmas Eve 2019. My oldest daughter Tiffany, her husband Ben, and my precious grandson Benjamin (call him Ben) are here. My youngest daughter Becky will be here tomorrow afternoon. My only son Eddie is spending his 13th Christmas with Jesus. That brings great rejoicing to my wife Karen and my heart, to have our family with us and to know our beloved Eddie is with Jesus. We know that one day we will all be with them.
This is what moving beyond the manger means to me. It means celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with an eye on Resurrection Sunday where in a few months we will celebrate the empty tomb.
Christmas is about love and sharing gifts. The greatest act of love and gift given is from God in Heaven:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
If someone in your family thinks you’re ruining Christmas because you want to talk about Jesus, then share the above verse with them and trust God to draw them to Him.
Then tell them you love them with the love of Christ.
Then tell them, “Merry Christmas!”
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Copyright © 2019 David Jeffers