The First Noel 12/12/99

Luke 1:46-55

JESUS CHRIST was the highest form of God and the ultimate form of man. In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, yet He took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in our likeness.

He who spoke the universe into existence humbled Himself and became obedient — even unto death for us.

He was the Light of the World yet He hung in darkness.

He was the Fountain of Life, yet upon the Cross He cried, “I thirst.”

He was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, yet He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.

He was the Ancient of Days, yet one day He became the babe of Bethlehem’s manger.

He did all of this that you might have a MERRY CHRISTMAS — and much more.

We are about to engage in what is becoming in the educational community the stealth celebration of Christ’s birth.

Let me acknowledge the government should not be expected to be the propaganda arm of Christianity or any religion. However, the Supreme Court has let stand a lower courts ruling that schools may recognize religious holidays “if the purpose is to provide secular instruction about religious traditions rather than to promote the particular religion involved.”

No court has ever ruled that singing carols at school is unconstitutional.

I believe in the separation of the institutions of church and state. It is a valid and vital precept. Government is not to establish a religion nor is it to prohibit the free exercise of it.

For fear of the Christ child whose birth 90% of Americans celebrate extremes are practiced. His name for some is the only unmentionable one in schools.

In Fayette County, Kentucky, school bus drivers were warned not to wish the children “Merry Christmas.” “Happy holidays,” or “Merry solstice,” or even “Hail winter” are OK.

In Philadelphia they are allowed to say, “Happy Sparkle Season.”

In West Orange, New Jersey the high school dean reprimanded students for singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on school property. It is alright to sing a rap song about killing cops but not any of this merry stuff.

Schools in Scarsdale, New York forbade “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snow Man.” Is Frosty a threat to separation of church and state? Envision “Saint Frosty.”

Candy canes are also outlawed. They look too much like a shepherds staff. Trees are allowed if called “unity trees” or “giving trees.”

Some schools have put a wrap on Santa Claus because the legend is based on a fourth-century saint. He has about as much to do with a Christian Christmas as Bugs Bunny has with Easter.

In one of our local schools they have banned the use of green and red decorations. What do these colors have to do with separation of church and state? Are they afraid someone will convert to green or become a devotee of red?

Christmas in reality is all about Jesus’ birth. In the person of Jesus Christ, God left a footprint in the sand of the Judean desert. He cast a shadow on the streets of Jerusalem. He stained the grey stones of Calvary with His blood as a demonstration of His love for you. He was a real person who did an actual thing.

Little wonder that the adoring apostle Paul bowed his head and wrote of Him: “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Who is our great God and Savior —- Jesus Christ.

Who is Jesus Christ —- our great God and Savior.

Consider the miracle of His emergence on planet Earth.

A teenage girl was casually involved in her regular routine. Her name was Mary. She was a simple, unsophisticated, unassuming pure young girl. Her humble home was in a little-known village called Nazareth. At that point let’s pick up the story and note:

Six hundred years before this it had been the good fortune of the angel Gabriel to announce the forthcoming birth of Christ. Now he comes back for an encore to herald the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Just as her startled eyes saw the angel sent to greet her, he speaks, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.”

“Rejoice…!” You’ve got to be kidding. It’s terror time. No person, prophet, or priest, had seen an angel for over 400 years. This unique phenomenon would have been a challenge to a mature Bible scholar but even more absorbing and alarming to a youthful girl.

Who was speaking? What did he want? Verse 29. “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you…”

Her open-mouthed puzzlement resulted in her startled silence. Then Gabriel broke the silence: “Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS” (Luke 1:30, 31).

Finding favor with God is life’s greatest blessing. However, it does not result in a pressure-free life of ease. There was a whole generation in the late 60s and early 70s that thought to find God was to find perfect peace. That finding favor with Him consequeted in a laid-back life of sitting around with arms and legs folded, eating lettuce leaves, and contemplating infinity of their navel.

Christians, like non-Christians, have pressures and problems. The difference is that the believer has a resource and reason. The resource is the grace of God and the reason is that we in our difficulties might allow God through us to show His sufficiency.

Knowing the promise of God and holding the hope related to the Messiah, she understood the meaning. However, how could she be a part of all this, she was not even married?

Gabriel anticipating her quizzical nature spoke again: “And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Further realizing Mary’s difficulty in accepting such an impossibility, Gabriel told her of another impossibility already in progress: “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren” (Luke 1:36).

Her aged cousin Elizabeth, already beyond the age of child bearing was expecting. Gabriel assured Mary, this proves nothing is impossible — “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

Mary now believes God’s message to her and responds: “…let it be…” (Luke 1: 38). “Let it be”, let that be the watchword of your life. It is a summary way of saying, “Whatever you want Lord is OK with me. Anything you want me to do, I will gladly do it.” “Let it be.”

Her Son, Jesus Christ, prayed a similar prayer in Gethsamene: “Thy will be done.”

Around the globe today are over 3,000 Southern Baptist missionaries who have in effect said, “Let it be.”

Our missionaries span the globe to share the good news. They teach trades to prevent poverty, practice medicine to relieve suffering, communicate farm skills to alleviate hunger, and all share the gospel to bring souls to Christ.

Years ago a young girl from Cartersville, Georgia, said “Let it be” to the Lord’s call of her to serve Him as a missionary in ancient China. Her faithful service led her colleagues to name a special missions offering taken each year at Christmas after her — Lottie Moon.

When you give money to feed the poor, clothe the orphans, heal the sick, alleviate suffering, educate the backward, and do all this in an effort to seek and to save, you are using money for its loftiest purpose.

When you give to this special seasonal offering, you share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.

As a part of a trip to Brazil to play basketball I visited with one of our missionaries, Mrs. Rosealee Mills Appleby. The day she arrived in Brazil her husband died and her only child was born. When we were about to part company she said, “Tell the folks back home to do three things. Come and help us. Give to support us and pray for us. If they can’t come or give please pray.” That we should do.
Lord, do you want me to go? “Let it be…”
Lord, do you want me to give? “Let it be…”
Lord, do you want me to pray? “Let it be…”

Gabriel shared a compliment with Mary “blessed are you among women!” (Vs. 28b). Unfortunately some have pushed the appropriate compliment too far and have asserted that Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, that she was also virgin born. Follow this closely. If she was, she was divine. If she was divine and Jesus was conceived of the divine Holy Spirit, then He had no human parent; and thus was not human. The true miracle of the person of Jesus is that He was the God/man-man/God. He was God in flesh and blood. As much God as though He were not man and as much man as though He were not God. He had to have both natures in order to reconcile, that is, bring God and man together. He was “made of woman.”

Notice how Mary and Jesus related to each other. Later in life Jesus honored her but played down her role (Luke 11: 27, 28).

“And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!’ But He said, ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” (Luke 11: 27, 28).

She honored Him and played up His role by acknowledging her need for a Savior. Mary called Jesus, “God my Savior” (Vs. 47).

To Mary, Christ not she, was the central character in the Christmas story. We dare not leave Him out.

As few years ago my family and I were walking around New York city on the eve of our first trip to the Bible Land. Christmas was only days away. As we walked, we gawked at the beauty of the “Big Apple” decorated for Christmas.

We paused a few moments in the cold to view a replica of the nativity characters on display in front of America’s richest church. You may have seen it. It is dwarfed by the skyscrapers that surround it on Wall Street. Years ago Queen Ann gave to Trinity Episcopal Church 250 acres of her farm on Manhattan Island. Today Wall Street runs through that tract of land. The church owns 29 of the largest buildings on Wall Street. There in front of the richest church in America was a simple depiction of the first Christmas. We studied each of the figures until at last our gaze focused on the cradle. Something was missing. Someone had taken the figurine depicting the Christ child. Christ was missing from the Christmas scene. Don’t you leave Him out.

Mary was visiting her cousin Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, the high priest. Their joyous conversation resulting in a statement by Mary known as “the Magnificat,” meaning “My soul magnified the Lord.” This was perpetual tense, meaning this was a habitual act. Such a prominent role as Mary was to play might cause some to exalt themselves. She exalted God.

She knew he was the Savior and she knew and acknowledged it.

Mary was in AWE of God. She exclaimed:
“My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1: 46). This means her willful response was to be such as would enlarge the sphere of His faithfulness. She was going to let the Lord demonstrate His faithfulness to all people through her.

“My spirit has rejoiced….” In speaking of being persecuted for His sake Christ said: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! (Luke 6:23).

Mary knowing something of the ridicule sure to follow that her soul did “rejoice.”

A modern transliteration is: “My spirit shall dance like David before the arc, shall leap, shall bound, shall rejoice in God my Savior.”

We don’t have a word to accurately depict what is meant by the word “dance” in this passage. The Irish word for it is “gilliard.” It was very similar to the movements of a ballerina. What ever form it took it was “as unto the Lord” and was an expression of joy found in God.

“My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” she continued. This is aorist tense meaning a specific act related to the birth.

This, though said not sung, might well be considered the First Noel, that is, praise of the Lord regarding Christ’s birth.

She spoke of His:
POWER — “For He who is mighty has done great things for me,” (Luke 1:49).

When Christ was about to vacate planet Earth He said, “All power is given unto me…” Later He said, “You shall receive power…”

Jose’ Ortega y Gasset, one of the greatest Spanish writers noted: “Before long there will be heard throughout the planet a formidable cry rising like the howling of innumerable dogs to the stars asking for someone or something to take command.”

Jesus Christ is the one with such power and He is indeed coming to do exactly that.

HOLINESS — “holy is His name” (Vs. 49b). God is concerned about your holiness. He knows that only by your holiness can you be happy.

MERCY — “And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). Grace is God giving to us all the good things we need. Mercy is God protecting us from all the bad things we deserve.

REAPPRAISED VALUES — “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent
away empty” (Luke 1: 51, 53). Herein, spiritual values are contrasted with physical possessions.

Elvis Presley once said he aspired to threethings: wealth, fame and happiness. Just weeks before his death he confessed he had achieved two of the three: wealth and fame, but happiness had eluded him. Happiness, actually the joy to the world spoken of doesn’t come from wealth or fame, but from knowing and doing God’s will. It comes from obedience like that expressed by Mary: “Let it be unto me according to your will.”