What’s Right about Christmas

People talk about the commercialization of Christmas, They protest the secularization of “the holidays.” It is not difficult to see problems associated with the season: materialism, overindulgence and busyness. So let’s pause for a moment and think about what is right about Christmas. Christ is born! (Some of these points are not original with me, but they bear repeating.) This is very good news.

Christ was born at the right time — chronologically. “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).

At the time of his birth, the Greek language was the universal trade language of the empire. The Romans had built thousands of miles of roads making trade and travel more efficient for everyone. The Jews were everywhere and had built synagogues for the preservation and teaching of the Hebrew scriptures. There was relative peace throughout the world, enforced by the iron rule of the Roman government. It was at this opportune time in history that Jesus was born and would die and rise again. The news of his gospel spread rapidly.

Christ was born to the right family — genealogically. When Jesus was born it was as a direct descendant of King David, as scripture had promised. Jesus’ family history (genealogy) was recorded in the gospel of Matthew to establish his legal right to the throne of David as King of the Jews. This genealogy traces his ancestry through Joseph, his adoptive father on earth.

The genealogy in Luke’s gospel most likely traces our Lord’s human family history through his physical mother, the virgin Mary. She was also a descendant of King David through her father Heli (Eli, Joseph’s father-in-law). Mary is not named because it was not the usual practice to name the mothers in a genealogy. Luke emphasized Jesus’ physical or natural right to the throne of David.

Because he is the son of David, the Lord Jesus will inherit a kingdom that will endure forever (2 Samuel 7: 8, 16). When the angel told Mary that she would be the mother of Messiah, he told her, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David … his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). He was born to the right family.

Christ was born in the right place — geographically. What difference does it make where he was born?  He was not born in Jerusalem or Athens or Rome because the scriptures had foretold he would be born in “David’s town,” Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 is a prophecy that the people of Israel took very seriously: “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.”

Ancient prophecies said that the Messiah (God’s anointed king) would arise out of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). The insignificant village of Bethlehem, because it was the birthplace of David, was to be the birthplace of David’s greater Son who was to come to rule. This was written to be an unmistakable sign to the great men of the earth (Matthew 2:3-6).

Christ was born in the right manner — biologically. There are those who teach that the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of a virgin maiden is a made -up story. But this is not like the fanciful legends surrounding Santa Claus. When the angel made his announcement about the Christ child to Joseph, it was understood to be a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means God with us)” (Matthew 1:22).

This means that “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19) and “He (Jesus) is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20) and “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3) and “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). 

Our Lord’s miraculous conception and birth means that the virgin Mary was enveloped by the Holy Spirit and her holy child was God in human flesh. He became human so that he could die for sinners as a human. He rose again from the dead to break the power of sin and death and open the way to eternal life for all who believe in him.

Christ was born for the right reason — theologically. The angel said to Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). God never does anything without purpose. His purpose in sending his Son into the world was “to save the world through him” (John 3:17). In another place John wrote, “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).

The world’s powerful people use extravagant language to lavish honors upon their own: emperor, king, benefactor, potentate, premier. But no powerful person in history has ever dared to call himself Savior except the One who had the right to appropriate these words for himself: “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). Only Jesus has the right to that title and every book in the New Testament bears that out.

Speaking of himself Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came at the right time, to the right place in the right manner and for the right reason, that we might believe in him and receive the gift of salvation. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Advent: Fear Not, Shepherds!

During the weeks of this season of preparation I have been writing about occasions in the Christmas story where ordinary people were told not to be afraid. Zechariah, Mary and Joseph received messages from heavenly visitors which caused them to be afraid. But the coming of Christ is no time to be afraid.

Fear does strange things to us. The heart rate goes up, blood pressure is elevated, and the body, sensing danger, produces a blast of hormones, inducing a fight or flight response. Other effects of fear might be hyperventilation, sweating, goosebumps or sleep disturbance.

Some other people were told not to be afraid. They are not identified by name in the Christmas story. Rather, we know them by their occupation. Like 7.4% of people in our population, they were night workers. These men took care of sheep.

If they were like David, the shepherd boy of Bethlehem, they must have been rugged, brave, and resourceful. You may recall how David protected his father’s sheep from predators, killing a lion and a bear. If the men we read about in Luke 2 were like David, we would not attribute fear to them. Yet when an angel appeared, it was a shock to the system. They were terrified.

Angels are all over the place in the story of our Lord’s birth. They appear unexpectedly with good news for the participants in the unfolding events. They are powerful beings who are sent to people as representatives from God. As these nocturnal field workers watched over their flocks, all of a sudden a brightness lit the night with the appearance of a mighty and awesome creature who spoke to them and said, “Do not be afraid.”

They may have been humble, anonymous working men, but they were not stupid. They knew a supernatural manifestation when they saw it! The angel might have surprised and scared them, but he didn’t paralyze them. They overcame fear by realizing this was a message for them and they had better believe it.

They made the message personal: “The Lord has told us.” What did the Lord tell them in the angel’s message? “Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). This is the good news of Christmas. God did not send his Son as a political reformer, educator or philosopher. He sent him to be our Savior, to deliver us from the penalty and power of sin. Like those simple shepherds, we need to make this message personal.

A friend of mine told me how she had done this. She attended a Christmas eve service at a church and heard the pastor bring a simple message on John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” She told me that during the singing of the Christmas carol that followed, she bowed her head in prayer and opened her heart to the Lord Jesus, receiving the promised gift of eternal life. That is the point of Christmas. She made it personal and so can you.

The story continues. They acted on the message: “Let’s go!” We are not told much about their feelings, but we do read about their direct and decisive actions. They were men of action. By obeying the message, they stepped out of obscurity and became internationally famous for what they did. They encouraged each other in obedience: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Luke 2:15).

They did that. “They hurried off” (they were quick to obey the Lord) “and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16). The angel had told them to look for an unusual sign (v. 12), a feeding trough! The baby he was speaking about, the Messiah, will be lying in a feeding trough for animals. Sure enough, they found him there, as the angel had said.

I believe their fear faded when they determined to make the message personal and act upon it. When the shepherds acted in obedience to God, they found his word to be true. It was “good news that will cause great joy for all the people,” as the angel had said. For us too, if we will believe it and act on it.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Advent: Do Not Be Afraid

“Do not fear” (Isaiah 41:10) has been the most searched, read and bookmarked verse on the You Version Bible app in 2020, according to Christianity Today. The topic of fear was the term searched most often in the early months. It spiked in frequency as the year unfolded with every anxiety-producing news report.

There is a reason “do not fear” is the command repeated most often in the Bible. We humans are prone to anxiety. This is especially obvious during the holidays when busyness, economic worries, and shorter daylight hours contribute to higher levels of stress. Domestic violence and alcohol abuse usually increase during this season. ‘Tis the season to be anxious!

Joseph was afraid. His world had been turned upside-down. He was reeling emotionally, off-center, unsteady. He had received word that his beloved Mary, to whom he was betrothed, was expecting a baby. He knew for certain that he was not the child’s father!

Perhaps he was afraid of the unknown. Who was responsible? He was afraid for Mary’s future. Should he divorce her? (Betrothal, according to Jewish custom at the time, was as binding as marriage. They were bound legally but not yet living together as husband and wife.) He must have been afraid of scandal and public disgrace. We may read about this in Matthew 1:18-25.

The impression I have of Joseph is of a strong man, skilled in his work as a craftsman, reliable, trustworthy, with a reputation for integrity. He was a man of few words, preferring to let his actions speak for him. He was devoted to God, a righteous Jew who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year for Passover (Luke 2:41). Now suddenly he was faced with the most fearful situation of his life.

As he contemplated this predicament, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream,” and told him what to do. He was to take Mary as his wife, recognizing that the child she was carrying was “from the Holy Spirit.” He was to name the baby “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The angel began by saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.”

God gave Joseph several reasons not to be afraid. He was speaking: through the dream, through the angel, and also through the scripture. What was happening in Mary was a direct fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew’s gospel is telling us that’s who Jesus is: God with us.

God was near, on the scene, close by, another reason not to be afraid. Paul would say, “He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27), and “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). If we only remembered that, we would surely have less anxiety. Joseph was being told not to fear because God has shown up! He has come to us in Jesus Christ to share our humanity. He has come to us as Savior to die on the cross to save his people from their sins.

Joseph responded with instant obedience and long-term strategic action. As the story unfolds, we see how he recognized how God was guiding him as he cared for the mother of our Lord and the holy child himself. He took Mary as his wife, and in doing so, exposed himself to slander and misunderstanding (see John 8:47).

By order of the Roman government, the couple travelled to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-4), where the child was born in accordance with another Old Testament prophecy (Micah 5:2). Who helped Mary with the delivery? Was it Joseph? Joseph obeyed the command of God to name the child Jesus which means “Yahweh is salvation” or “the Lord saves.” This is another of the prophecies about God which is fulfilled in Jesus, and another evidence of his deity (Psalm 130:8).

Later, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph received more guidance from heaven. He was instructed in another dream to take the family to Egypt for the protection of the child (Matthew 2:13). Then in yet another dream he was told when it was safe to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). A fourth dream gave specific instructions to return home to Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23).

I imagine Joseph’s fears dissipated and his confidence grew with every step of obedience. All his life was preparation for this — his purpose. The guidance of God confirmed the truth of the original revelation. Mary had not been unfaithful to him! This baby boy was the Son of God and the Savior. Joseph’s calling in life was now clear: he was to provide for and protect the child and his mother.

What about our fears and uncertainties? Perhaps during this Advent season we can take time to pause and recognize that God still speaks to his people. He is near to those who call upon him in truth (Psalm 145:18). He still guides his people who are willing to follow him, as Joseph did.

A friend of mine sent me a note that put a smile on my face. In her own hand she wrote: “Good morning! This is God. I will be handling all your problems today. I will not need your help, so have a great day.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Advent: From Fear to Faith

C. S. Lewis wrote that one way we know we are living by faith is that what we are doing for God scares us. He said if it doesn’t, there is no faith involved. The Advent message “do not be afraid” can move us from fear to faith.

Mary was scared! An angel appeared unexpectedly (don’t they always?) and told her that God was calling her for a special assignment. She was going to become a living miracle. She, a virgin, would become the mother of the Son of God.

The appearance of the angel must have been frightening enough. Luke 1:19 says that the angel Gabriel stands “in the presence of God.” The name Gabriel means literally “God’s strong man.” He was surely a mighty and imposing presence. He was God’s spokesman. Mary was a simple village maiden from Nazareth.

His message must have been even more unsettling than his appearance.  He told her that she had found favor with God. The Holy Spirit would envelop her and the power of the Most high would overshadow her. But she should not be afraid. “The Lord is with you,” he said (Luke 1:28).

Mary’s fear is understandable. How would you feel if you went one-on-one with a powerful angel from heaven? What if he told you things that would upend your life forever? What would it mean for your plans, your future, your dreams and desires, to be replaced with a whole new agenda? If that thought makes you want to run and hide, then learn from the blessed mother of our Lord.

Mary accepted God’s intervention in her life. Can you do the same? The angel called Mary by name. God knows your name too, and all about your personal circumstances. So do not be afraid. In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples three times not to be afraid because the heavenly Father valued them and cared for them (Matthew 10:26-31).

The first word the angel spoke to Mary, “Greetings” (v. 28) means “rejoice!” She could rejoice because the Lord was with her. The Lord Jesus has promised he will be with us, too. So like Mary, we do not have to give in to fear if we welcome the Lord’s intervention in our lives.

Mary listened to God’s message and believed it. “Do not be afraid” is one of the most frequently-repeated commands in scripture. These commands are given to people facing real crises. Mary was altogether human and her mind was troubled by the crisis posed by the angel.

Gabriel explained: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33).

Mary accepted the word of God through the angel. “I am the Lord’s servant…. May your word to me be fulfilled” (v. 38). Mary shows us the way to replace fear with faith.

Mary accepted what could only be described as a miracle. If the supernatural elements in the Bible trouble you, you are not alone. But the message of Advent is precisely that: the story of a great miracle. It is the miracle of the Incarnation: The Holy One to be born of Mary would be called the Son of God.

Yes, his coming would be by a  natural human birth. But Mary’s baby boy would be the Son of God; his conception would be supernatural. “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (v.35).

Luke, who wrote this, was a careful historian. He was a physician, a man of science. He did not try to offer a medical explanation for the birth of Jesus. He knew that he was describing something that was beyond the purview of science. Mary lived the miracle and Luke reported it as a supernatural break-in to our natural world.

Mary and Luke remind us that it is not superstitious and gullible to believe in an invisible God of love who would send his Son to save us from our sins. The miraculous elements in the story cannot be side-stepped. They are essential. They remind us that this life is not the only life. There is a heavenly place being prepared  for those who trust in the Lord Jesus. He is indeed the One whom the angel said he is.

We live in a scary time. It is a good time to welcome God’s intervention, God’s message, God’s miracles. So do not be afraid. Rejoice!

Pastor Randy Faulkner