Comfort and Joy…
Several weeks ago, I subscribed to the Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) Christmas devotional that provides twenty five messages starting December 1 and going through Christmas Day. It is written by the various staff and professors of that wonderful institution and it arrived by email several days ago. It centers on the Psalms, a highly unlikely place to go and learn about Jesus and the Christmas story. Having read the first two entries, I am intrigued about where this is going – I was expecting something very different. But I love the devotional offerings from DTS and can hardly wait to see how they arrive at Christmas.
And then there is the church series we started this week that is entitled “Comfort and Joy.” It is centered on the entrance of Jesus into the world in the beginning – the ex nihilo (something from nothing) beginning of John 1:1. Of the four Gospels, John’s is the most theological but doesn’t really discuss the elements of the Christmas story that we find in the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – that were written to different various audiences. But these three books have messages that mesh rather well together to tell the story of Jesus. For generations, it is the traditional way that we have learned the story of the birth and life of Jesus. But the Gospel of John as as a starting place for the Christmas story is quite unusual.
In other words, the Christmas season is off to something of an odd start when it comes to the stories we have come to know and love during this season. And that isn’t all bad. After all, our entire lives we have come to expect the story of the birth of Jesus in the manger, the arrival of the shepherds, the angels, the Wise Men and all the other elements of the birth of Jesus.
In fact, it has become something so expected that we can forget to celebrate certain parts of the story because we glance right over them. The birth of Jesus can be hidden in plain sight. While it is true that the season is about Jesus and we look for comfort and joy, most of us have never really studied parts of the story that aren’t readily apparent.
For example, there is mounting evidence that the stable where Jesus was born in Bethlehem was a very special stable. Traditionally, we think of the stable as a last resort for Jesus and Mary because there “was no room at the inn.” But there was a special stable that was used to house the “perfect” lambs – the lambs that were to be sacrificed as part of the ritual of the times.
The scripture is very clear that the sacrifice called for animals that were without blemish and these “perfect” lambs were given to God as an offering. It would have been inconceivable to think that lambs to be offered to God would be damaged or injured by being kept with the rest of the flock – and who knows what could happen to them if a wolf attacked the flock. In other words, these “firstfruit” animals were very important to separate out so they could be kept in pristine condition until they were sacrificed to God.
It is now believed that Jesus was born in the stable where the “perfect” lambs were kept. Isn’t that something? Jesus, the lamb of God, the perfect one, the one who was sinless, was the greatest sacrifice that could ever happen. And His eventual death on the cross was the atoning sacrifice, once and for all time – for all the sins of the world – forever!
So when we study the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we can’t overlook the importance of the birth of Jesus – and where God chose for Jesus to make his human, earthly entrance. And yes, because of that Godly decision, along with many others, we do celebrate this season of comfort and joy in the Lord.
Our verse for this evening is the foundational verse for the traditional anticipation of the birth of Jesus. Caesar Augustus had requested a census and Luke, the author of the Gospel bearing his name, tells us, in Luke 2:4-5, “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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”
My encouragement tonight is that God has always had a plan to draw us nearer to Him through His Son, Jesus. And the birth of Jesus is the beginning of the greatest story ever told about life. My prayer is that this Christmas season, your life will be filled with comfort and joy – as a result of the celebration of the birth of Jesus and all that it represents to us as Christians. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…