Sermon Text – Christmas Eve Message
The Three C’s
Good evening, and thank you for joining us as we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Please join with me as I pray:
Father, we are together, virtually, to celebrate something so astounding that it is beyond our ability to fully understand. You sent Your Son into the world to reveal our need and then to provide what we need. You told us, long ago, that you would do this. Isaiah 9:2 ~
2 The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
And then you did what you said you would do; John 1:6-13 ~
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
It is because of your love and mercy that we now gather to honor you; in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Light the Christ-Candle ~
Now, as we light the Christ candle, we realize that lighting a candle is a simple, yet profound, act. It stands as a testimony to the power of light over darkness. This is something we’ll share together later in the service as each of us, in our own homes, light their candle. Although physically separate, collectively we share in spreading the light together.
Light the first candle.
Four weeks ago we began our journey toward Christmas, and although we missed lighting the candle that first Sunday of Advent, we did, ultimately lite the first candle, the candle of hope. With that candle we are reminded that God’s mercy grants us hope, both in this life and in the next.
Light the second candle.
Three weeks ago we then lit the second candle of Advent, the candle of faith. With that candle we are reminded of our need for a Savior who saves us from our sins as we respond to His offer of salvation by faith.
Light the third candle.
Two weeks ago we lit the candle of joy, the pink candle. Through this candle we’re reminded that, because of what God has done for us, we may experience joy even in the midst of the most difficult situations.
Light the fourth candle.
Last Sunday we lit the candle of peace. This candle reminds us of the peace we may have in this world as we gain peace with our God.
These candles each serve to remind us that Jesus Christ is the true reason that we may experience hope, faith, joy, and peace, both during this season, and forever.
Light the Christ candle.
Now, on Christmas Eve, we light the Christ candle. With this final candle we are reminded of Christ’s purity and holiness. We are reminded that our Savior came into the world as a lowly baby. We are reminded that He came so that the world, through Him, might be saved. More than that, it also reminds us that He will return one day, and that coming will be in both glory and power.
Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Jesus said this to His followers; John 8:12 ~
12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
No matter how dark the world may appear to be, the reality is that Jesus grants His children the light they need. He grants us power to walk in His presence. He grants us the power to walk in newness of life through Him. As difficult as that walk may be we know that, at the end of our journey, Jesus Himself waiting to great us.
This is the real Christmas message, it is an annual reminder that God entered directly into human history. Through this astounding act, if we have ears to hear, we will learn that He is the answer to all the questions that plagues humanity. He is relevant; He is revolutionary, and He is reassuring right now.
The Cradle ~
First, we’ll remember the cradle, the birth of Jesus Christ. The record of Jesus’ birth is recorded by Matthew as a display of fulfilled prophesy. Luke, on the other hand, simply handles it as a historic fact. In either case, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, broke into human history, and in doing so He would change everything. His coming is recorded, in part, in Luke 2:6-12 ~
Reading: Luke 2:6-12
6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Carol: Away in a Manger
Away in the manger… a simple song… simply fraught with challenges. The birth of Jesus Christ, born to Mary as the only sinless One, cannot be explained in any other way than how the Scriptures describe it. John puts it this way, in John 1:14 ~
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Maintaining a balance between Jesus’ complete humanity and His full divinity is challenging. From a human perspective, Mary conceived a child according to the laws of nature, although granted, it was accomplished by miraculous agency. It’s through Mary that Jesus participated in the common human nature we all share. Romans 1:3 puts it this way ~
3 … concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,…
Interestingly, the consistent message of Scripture is that Jesus was physically descended from David. But… even in this there are challenges. We find that the genealogy provided by Luke differs from the one provided by Matthew. Some see this as a fatal flaw in the defense of the infallibility of the Scriptures. I would argue just the opposite; this difference reflects the fulfillment of prophecy.
The reason for this is that many biblical scholars believe that Luke’s record of Jesus’ ancestry differs from Matthews because Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry through the line of Mary while Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through the line of Joseph. Note the differences:
Matthew 1:16 says ~
16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
Luke 3:23 says ~
23 Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli,…
In the original Greek Luke simply says Joseph was "of Heli" (τοῦ Ἠλὶ). In the NKJV “the son” is italicized, and you need to go to the introduction of the NKJV translation to find out what that means. The translators of the NKJV use italicizing to indicate where the translators had to add words to make the sentence make sense in English. There’s nothing wrong with that, it is simply the reality of translating from one language to another. So we need to know something about the practices of biblical translators as we seek to interpret Scripture.
But we also need to know something about ancient biblical practices. According to Jewish practice, Mary's ancestry would be listed using her husband's name. You will notice in Matthew that Joseph is descended from Jacob, while in Luke Joseph is literally listed as “Joseph of Heli”. Since Joseph's father is specifically stated to be Jacob, Heli is most probably Mary's father.
The result of this is that Jesus is legally descended from David through Joseph, and physically descended from David through Mary. Here we find the perfect fulfillment of many prophesies that the Messiah/King would be descended from David; one example of this is found in Jeremiah 23:5 ~
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
But Jesus was more than a man born according to the flesh. He was more than simply the legal and physical descendent of David. Romans 1:3 continues in verse 4 ~
4… and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
The biblical account affirms that the second Person of the Trinity, the divine Son, took on a human body and a human nature, perfectly and indivisibly uniting the divine and human natures in one person.
The birth of Jesus was not simply the production of a new individual, it was the pre-existent Creator of humankind entering into the race of men. He was, and is, what theologians refer to as a Theo-anthropic person. He is the unique joining of God and man. Since AD 451 and the Council of Chalcedon the universal belief of the orthodox Christian Church is that Jesus is truly God and truly man perfectly and inseparably joined together in the man Christ Jesus.
This joining of two natures in one man was accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures say the Spirit of God “overshadowed” Mary, the word in the Greek, is [epskiazo] (ἐπισκιάζω). The same word is used to describe how the cloud overshadowed the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.
This is something radically new; the Holy Spirit supernaturally fertilized a human egg in God’s chosen servant, the human called Mary. The result of this is that Jesus was not the Son of God by adoption, or by achievement, but by nature. Because of this, the Child was holy.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians 4:4 ~
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born dof a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
If you struggle with the factuality of the virgin birth, all you need to do is look at the life of Jesus. No simple human could do the things Jesus did, or say the things Jesus said, and not be God incarnate. Again, it is the resurrection that affirms the truth of all that is claimed about Jesus. Remember what Romans 1:4 says ~
4… and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
The fact of the virgin birth is the affirmation of the mystery described by the word “incarnation.” The virgin birth made possible the uniting of divinity with humanity. It made it possible for the Son to continue as the One in whom the eternal essence of the Godhead remained. It made the true humanity of Jesus possible, yet without inheriting the sin nature that infects all of humanity.
God came to man in human form, miraculously making possible what should not have been possible. That is the reconciliation of God with man.
The reason this was possible is described in Hebrews 4:15 ~
15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
If Christ had not come, this world and all who have lived on it, all who do live on it, and all who will live on it would be unavoidably lost for all eternally. Let’s be clear about what that means, it means that every single person who has ever lived would be eternally separated from God. What’s more, separation from God is nothing less than hell itself, unending punishment.
There would be no hope of reprieve, there would be no access to a holy God. There would be no atonement for sin, and therefore no forgiveness of sin. In short, the Savior we so desperately need would not have been there to save us. It is this tragedy that the Messiah became incarnate in the Baby Jesus to prevent.
The Cross ~
It is comforting to think on the innocent Baby Jesus lying so peacefully in the manger. He’s not threatening, He doesn’t demand sacrifice, He’s simply a cute little harmless baby. Except, He’s not! That was not who He was, nor why Jesus came. Reading: Isaiah 53:3-5
3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Carol: Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Fundamentally, Jesus came to put an end to the sin problem. This One, who was both eternal and temporal, perfectly obeyed the Father’s will in all things. He humbled Himself in obedience, which is particularly emphasized by His death on the cross.
Philippians 2:8 ~
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
He perfectly met the demands of the Law, He perfectly obeyed the Father in all things, and He submitted His will to the Father’s, even in the manner of His death. Personally, I think the victory at the cross really took place the night before; Luke 22:41-42 ~
41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
If Jesus were to accomplish the mission that the Father set for Him, it was not possible for Him to avoid death on a Roman Cross. This was not an accident, and Jesus willingly chose this… for our sakes. Jesus came to save, and that required a sacrifice for sin. For Jesus, the cross was nothing less than the altar on which He would offer the sacrifice for our sin. In this Jesus also perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father;
Hebrews 10:8-10 ~
8 Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Our redemptions required not just a sacrifice, it required a perfect sacrifice, which is why the incarnation was required. Jesus, the sacrifice, had to be perfect, free from all sin, free from all rebellion, perfect in keeping the Law of Moses. This was what was required. This is what Jesus offered on our behalf, in our place, so that the merit of His life could be imputed to us.
The accomplishment of His mission required atonement, this is fundamentally an act which is capable of making satisfactory reparations for an offence; in this case the offense was against God Himself. Our rebellion with God created a wide and deep separation between ourselves and the God on whom we depend. This is a problem humanity cannot correct, and so out of love, God did it for us; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 ~
18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
In order for the story of Christmas to move beyond its association with Santa Claus and the reindeer, it cannot be separated from the message of the cross. Although we speak of the Babe in the manger, the central message of Christmas is much more than that; it is the message that God was incarnate as a man in order to, through His death and resurrection, transform both individuals and society.
The cross, the death of Jesus Christ, was necessary in order to satisfy the just requirements of a holy God. But this holy God also loves us, and so He was willing to do whatever it took to allow us to be forgiven for our sins. It is famously put this way, in
John 3:16-17 ~
16 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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
It was because Jesus died on the cross that God is able to forgive us. Jesus took on our sin, and in exchange we’re offered His righteousness; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ~
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
It was the suffering of Christ on that Roman cross that met the full measure of the wrath of a righteous God. But we’re not only forgiven for our sins, we are cleansed of them;
1 John 2:1-2 ~
2 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
Although the NJKV translates the Greek word (ἱλασμός) as “propitiation,” that’s an unfortunate choice. The word is more literally “expiation.” Propitiation references a divinely appointed sacrifice that turns aside wrath, while expiation references the cleansing we receive through Jesus’ shed blood. The simple fact of Christ’s work on the cross is that our guilt isn’t only forgiven, it is removed.
But something else is required. God has laid out the terms under which the benefits of Jesus’ work on the cross may be applied to ourselves. We must respond in faith, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge our need, we must admit that we are sinners. We must set aside any alternatives, any idea that we bring some personal merit into the equation.
It is Jesus and only Jesus, our you stand before God in your own merit. That will not go well for you. This is the only way that our greatest need may be met. God has done all that is needed, but we must receive it by faith.
The Crown ~
Lastly, we find that there is a crown. There is more to this little baby lying so sweetly on a bed of straw in that manger. He is also the ultimate and final ruler of everything.
Reading: Ezekiel 21:27
27 Overthrown, overthrown,
I will make it overthrown!
It shall be no longer,
Until He comes whose right it is,
And I will give it to Him.” ’
Reading: Isaiah 9:6-7
6 For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Carol: Holy Night
There is more to Christmas than the cradle and the cross, there is also the crown, the sovereign rule of the only One truly worthy to rule. Ultimately, the day is coming when He who entered human history as a helpless Baby will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. Although the Scriptures do not give us all the details, they tell us enough to give us hope. The Christian faith affirms that all of history is moving toward a definite end-goal.
That end-goal is the consummation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. At His resurrection in His glorified body Jesus is eternally both fully God and fully man. This One’s ministry will continue as our High Priest and King;
Hebrews 5:5-10 ~
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: “You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
6 As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”;
7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,”…
Jesus formally assumed His Kingship at the time of His ascension. His Kingdom is, even now, spreading across the face of the earth. Even as His ascension was supernaturally powered, so also is His reign. The final establishment of that Kingdom will not be derived from the powers of this world, it will be supernaturally accomplished.
Now, it is true that Jesus’ Kingdom has already been established as Christ rules in the hearts of His people, but there is more coming;
Matthew 25:34 ~
34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:…
Regardless on the varied views regarding the details, and regarding the order of things, and regarding the timing of things, this one fact is clear; Jesus will return, and those who follow Him will be rewarded while those who reject Him will face the consequences. King Jesus will ultimate act as the Judge of the living and the dead.
2 Corinthians 5:9-10 ~
9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus’ claim on people’s lives was absolute. This reflected the reality, hidden though it was, of His right to rule as both God and King. Until we come to terms with this aspect of who He is, we can never understand the Babe in the Manger.
The birth of Jesus says, “I love you.” The death of Jesus says, “I can forgive you.” In His return Jesus says, “I am in control.” There is a coming end to human managed history, and when it seems we’ve finally destroyed ourselves, Jesus will intervene. He will bring the peace we so desperately seek, and yet so completely sabotage.
On that day all war will end, nation shall not threaten nation, this is the promise that Christmas ushered in. This is a time of renewed hope as we set our eyes on what Jesus has done, and yet promises to do. Jesus will reign forever, exercising His power for the benefit of the redeemed and for the glory of the Father.
Micah 4:3 ~
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
And rebuke strong nations afar off;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
This does not mean we can just sit back and wait, singing hymns and playing at church. Jesus said this to each of us; Matthew 24:46 ~
46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.
We who claim the name of Jesus have been forgiven, and we have been given a purpose that defines why we are here. All of us, at every stage in life, have a role to play.
Jesus came as a baby in a cradle, he died on the cross, and He is crowned in glory. With that, we can now transition to the final elements of our service this evening.
Candle Lighting Ceremony ~
Reading: Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Song: The King is Coming
If each of you would please light your candles at home now. As we use the flame of the Christ candle we acknowledge the One who came as Savior, King, and God. As we acknowledge this, we also acknowledge that while we wait we also have tasks to perform. The Lord Jesus has sent us into the world to spread His light. We are called upon to make disciples of Jesus; that takes all of us.
It requires that some go to tell the world about the Savior, it requires that some stay. Those that stay have a duty to support those that go, it also requires that we are actively discipling each other to be disciples. The teacher is also the student under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. It requires that we serve each other, it requires that we have and maintain a place dedicated to the service of Jesus.
None of us like to be told what we have to do, but the reality is, this commission isn’t a burden. Obeying the call that Jesus has on each of our lives grants us the greatest joy we can experience this side of Jesus’ coming Kingdom. Paul puts it this way, in
Ephesians 2:10 ~
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Closing Prayer ~
Father, as we conclude this evening, we stand in awe of your love and mercy. We stand in awe of what Jesus did so that we might be saved. Your love is beyond our ability to comprehend.
And yet, we see it clearly demonstrated through what You do. Jesus came into the world as a humble human to show us what You are like. He died to pay for our sins, so that You may accept us. He comes again to bring peace and joy to a broken world. In all of this, we stand in awe as we praise You.
Join with us as we conclude in song to our Lord.
Carol: Joy to the World
You are dismissed, Merry Christmas!