The Bible text that we will focus on today is Luke 2:1-20.
The Bible talks about the four comings of Christ.
1. The Coming of the Baby in Bethlehem
We have read about this in Luke 2.
While there is a simplicity of the telling of the story in the gospels we never can escape from the shattering implications, the mind boggling implications:
The God who dwells in unapproachable light and who is Spirit to take upon himself not only the form of human nature but human nature itself.
The National Geographic magazine had an article on the size of the universe.
A black page, with small swirls of light which represented the millions of galaxies which are in existence in the observable universe from man’s observation point.
Somewhere in the middle of this whole thing there was an arrow pointing in the photo to an extremely small speck of light.
The small speck was identified as Earth.
Somehow the God who is outside of time and space.
That is the edge of the observable universe which is ten billion light years.
But the God who exists outside of all of that has chosen to identify with this small speck in this universe called Earth.
To identify with it by giving creative life on this earth the possibility of choice.
When the choice is marred sending Himself in the person of his Son to be a part of our existence.
It is staggering to think and to imagine that the God who is Spirit, who exists outside the dimension of time and space has at Christmas, 2012 years ago, entered our world.
His first coming was greeted with responses with which His coming is still being greeted today.
RESPONSES TO THE COMING OF CHRIST:
– Hostility by Herod
That response is marked of course by the person Herod, Herod the Great.
The first of the four Herods of the New Testament.
Herod is near the end of his life at this point.
In fact, after the birth of Christ, Herod only lives two or three more years and then he passes from the scene.
His life had been checkered by violence, by cruel manipulation, by the ability to maintain his delicate position as ruler over the area through political ties with Rome.
And in fact, this Herod whom we encounter in the gospel of Matthew is a person who is so suspicious of revolts within his own family that the one wife which he loved, Miriam, among the many which he had, he was responsible for executing her and the two sons born to him, whom he thought were plotting against him.
The death of his wife, the death of his two sons, occurred before the birth of the Christ child.
Therefore it’s not surprising when one reads the narrative in Matthew to find that this Herod being suspicious of any king would order the slaughter of the innocents.
Augustus Caesar who was emperor of Rome at the time of the birth of Christ remarked after the execution by Herod of Herod’s wife and children “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”
But the world is like that.
There is hostility there are persons who carry out violent orders.
And Herod when he seeks in his hostility to bring an act against the Christ child he’s only acting consistently with his whole life pattern.
There is another response to the coming of the baby in Bethlehem.
– Response of indifference
The indifference is seen most noticeably in the narrative of Christ’s birth in Matthew 2 where the wise men come from the east and they inquire “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?”
Herod did not know so he summoned/called the theological and biblical experts of the day, the chief priests and the scribes.
He asked them, where would he be born?
They responded: ‘In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written’, quoting Micah 5:2.
The wise men take this piece of information and act upon it to go to Bethlehem to seek to worship the Christ child.
However, the chief priests and the scribes who know intellectually where the place is never act upon their knowledge.
They are simply indifferent let the wise men go.
Their action is so indicative of their life pattern.
For in their lives religion was a game.
It was a position.
It was a profession.
It was something to be argued about.
It was something to be protected.
It was something to be carried out.
But the personal reality and the presence of God, obedience and loyalty and love and worship, were absent.
How like the chief priests and the scribes we are tempted to become who in the Christian life are the custodians of the document, the written word.
We who know the truth of Jesus Christ!
How careful we must be least we become indifferent to the reality of his presence in the world.
The coming of Christ is not only greeted by hostility and indifference but his first coming is also greeted with the response of worship.
– Response of worship
We see such beautiful examples of lives unfold before us in the birth narratives of our Lord.
Persons like for example, Zechariah and Elizabeth.
And Mary and Joseph, once the initial difficulties are understood respond to the advent of our Lord with worship and joy.
Mary sings the great song of blessing to the Lord.
The shepherds are surprised by joy.
They have not been looking for anything special to happen.
But when it is revealed to them by the angels they immediately respond with haste and with worship.
And Simeon and Anna, I think two of the most delightful people in all of the Scripture.
Those two delightful senior citizens who every day came to the temple to worship.
Whose lives in growing old had never lost hope.
They expected the Christ to come.
When he came they recognized him and they worshiped him and they responded.
Then of course there is the wise men.
These who came from the East in seeing His star acted upon what knowledge they had and responded with gifts of thoughtfulness and cost, and they worshiped Him.
His first coming is marked with these responses.
But there is a Second Coming of the Lord, which we should think of at this season of the year.
When I use the term second coming in this context it is not the Second Coming when he splits the clouds.
We will talk of that shortly.
2. The Coming of Christ in us
It is the Holy Spirit’s task in the birth narrative of the gospel of Luke to indicate that the virgin Mary had conceived in her by the Holy Spirit the Christ child.
What the Holy Spirit did on the physical level He seeks to do on the spiritual level in our lives by bringing Christ into us and by causing him to be born in us.
In the first coming, Christ comes into the world and he comes into human experience.
He becomes a man.
But in his Second Coming when he comes into our hearts, He comes into us personally.
As he comes in us and is born in us then he begins to grow and to develop.
Even as in his physical life the Christ grew and increased. So in the spiritual dimension, Christ seeks to grow in us.
How easy it is at Christmas time for us to approach the Christ child.
There is such a simplicity to the story of the wise men and the shepherds and the coming of our Lord.
But as Christ grows in Bethlehem and in our lives he does the unexpected.
He begins doing things and going places we do not always understand.
He begins leading us in direction where we would have him called back and say, “Lord, not that way; here’s the way – go here.”
Christ wants to grow in us.
The Apostles Paul and Peter have much to say on this subject.
I think of the Scripture that the Lord speaks, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.”
What we do in the New Birth is we say, Lord come into my house and when we invite him he does come in.
He may come into the hall.
He may even come into the living room.
He’s in the house.
If we were to die, we have been Born Again, we’d spend eternity with him. No question about that. He has come into our life.
But there are yet perhaps other areas where the doors are closed and what is needed is what I might call deeper layers of conversion.
Deeper layers of being born again.
Deeper layers and rooms within our life in which the Christ needs to enter.
I think some of these may include our thought life, our sex life, our relationship to family, our friends, our will, sometimes our stubbornness, our opinions, our fears.
It is so possible for these rooms in our life to get so untidy that we close the door surely not wanting the Lord to come in and look at that room.
But you know why the Lord wants to come into that room?
He doesn’t want to come in to inspect it.
He knows what’s in the room without having to open the door.
The reason why he wants to come into the room is to help us clean it up.
And he’ll give us a hand if we’ll open the door.
3. The Coming of the Lord at Death
In his first two comings, the coming of the Christ into this world and in the coming of Christ into our hearts, it is Christ who comes into our dimension.
But in His third coming it is we who enter into His dimension.
In the first two he crosses into our world.
And in the last two, we cross into his world.
He meets us in death.
We must always remember that we are creatures of time and death is real!
Simeon has that concept when he holds the Christchild in his arms and he says Luke 2:29-35
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary,
his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Simeon sees in the moment that he holds the Christ child that death is also a reality to be dealt with.
So when we look at the blessing of Christmas we need to recognize that it’s true intent is not simply to place Christ into the world and more to place Christ into our hearts.
But it’s further fulfilled in allowing us to be placed in his world and his dimension.
The first death of a Christian in the New Testament is found in Acts 7, with Stephen.
(I’m excluding for a moment without discussion on it the death of Ananias and Sapphira and 7 Judas.)
Stephen has faced the counsel and he is not experiencing the rage in the eyes of the men who are surrounding him.
So intense is the rage that Luke uses the term that they gnashed their teeth at him.
Stephen looks somehow beyond the immediate things in that room, beyond the faces in that room.
All of a sudden the realm of another dimension, opens to him.
And he’s full of the Spirit, Luke says, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God. And Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
He saw that when he went from his world into God’s world that Jesus was there coming to meet him.
I love that phrase “He saw the Lord standing.”
I may be making too much of a verb here for a moment but it does strike me that in the narrative of Christ’s ascension it notes that when the Lord ascended into heaven he sat down.
But when Stephen sees him as his life is going to be taken from him, he sees the Lord standing.
I kind of like to imagine that when the Lord saw Stephen coming he stood up.
Jesus stood up to meet him.
I have been thinking in respect to life as I have faced difficult situations and just think daily as all of you that life indeed has an extremely short span and is held by a very think thread.
One does never know when the moment might be when the Lord does come for us in death.
I’m struck by what one Christian writer, author John Gosset has said about this coming of Christ in death where he notes.
“When we are young heaven is a vague and nebulous and shadowy place. But as our friends gather there more and more it gains body and vividness and hominess. And when our dearest have past yonder, how real and evident it grows. How near it is. How often we steal yonder. For as the master put it, where our treasure is there will our heart be also. Never again will I give out that stupid line, here is a happy land far, far away. It is not far. They are quite near. And the communion of the saints is a tremendous and most blessed fact.” (John Gosset)
Christ meets us in death.
Do you realize that in these three comings – his coming into the world as a baby, his coming into our hearts, his coming to meet us in death.
That all of these are areas of His coming that are received totally by faith.
4. The Coming of our Lord When He Physically and Personally Comes Again.
He will be seen by all the world and recognized as sovereign and king.
This coming which we know as the second coming, but which for the sake of this sermon I am calling the fourth coming is witnessed to by the angels when after the Lord’s being taken up into heaven, they tell the disciples,
“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into Heaven, will come back in the same way
you have seen Him go into Heaven.”
I think that what we need to get used to at Christmas time that whether it is this life or the life to come Christmas is going to be celebrated forever.
Eternity is going to be one continuous celebration of all aspects related to the Lord’s work.
When Christ shall return He will make it possible for us then to enter His dimension for ever where there will always be Christmas.
Get used to Christmas.
It’s going to be around for Eternity.
If we have contact now with the Lord by what is called the means of grace through worship, through singing, through communion, through preaching, through the word.
We have contact with the Lord, but we have never yet seen him in a physical realm.
We have not yet established the physical level of relationship where every eye shall see and every knee shall bow.
Thus we are in this Christmas season the Lord is with us, ‘THE EMMANUEL’ but not physically , but through the Holy Spirit.
We must work hard at never overcoming the wonder of Christmas or the wonder of expecting the coming of our Lord.
And what a tremendous thing at Christmas to see the Lord revive in our hearts the words of the Apostle John: ‘…so come Lord Jesus.’
Those who eagerly wait for Him, who long for His coming, Christ will appear a second time.
There is a wonder in what Christ does in all of His comings.
A wonder when He comes into the world a wonder when He comes into our hearts, a wonder when He meets us in death, a wonder when He comes again.
How blessed we are to belong to Him at Christmas or any time in the year.