Sermon title:

Preparations for Christmas

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, November 29, 2020

 

 

This is the first Sunday of Advent,

and many people have already begun

their preparations for the Christmas holiday.

 

There are decorations to put up,

both inside and outside the home.

 

Cars can be seen with Christmas trees on their roof racks.

 

People are placing lights in their windows

and stringing lights outdoors.

 

Those who are planning to travel to visit loved ones

have already purchased tickets,

or are finalizing their plans, even now.

 

And many are agonizing over

how to adjust their plans due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Shopping for gifts has already begun,

as well as shopping for fruitcakes and ribbon candy

and all the ingredients needed

for holiday baking and cooking.

 

Yes, there are many things involved

in preparing to make Christmas

a time of blessing for family and friends.

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But, what about that first Christmas, over 2,000 years ago?

 

Was it just a spontaneous event?

 

Or, were there a lot of preparations in advance?

 

Did God’s holy angels in heaven have preparations to make

in advance of Christ’s birth?

 

All the events surrounding Christ and our salvation

were fascinating to the angels.

1 Peter 1:12 tells us,

It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

 

But some of the angels did more than just ‘eagerly watch.’

 

Some of them had active roles to play

in that very first Christmas.

 

How long ahead of time were the angels selected

who would miraculously light up the night sky

when they appeared

to the shepherds outside Bethlehem?

 

And what did they have to do to prepare?

 

We read, beginning at Luke 2:9,

9 Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. 11 For there is born to you today, in David’s city, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” 13 Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

on earth peace, good will toward men.”

 

How far in advance was that lead angel selected?—

—the one who made the announcement

of our Lord’s birth.

 

 

And how did the others qualify

to be part of the multitude singing praise to God?

 

Did they have to rehearse ahead of time

for that grand performance?

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And, what about the angel Gabriel?—

one of the very few angels actually named in the Bible.

 

He was chosen ahead of time to visit Zacharias,

the Jewish priest who would become

the father of John the Baptist—

announcing that miraculous birth

to such an elderly couple.

 

Gabriel had to visit John’s father

more than a year before that first Christmas,

so that John could be born

6 months ahead of Jesus.

 

How far in advance did God prepare Gabriel?—

—so that Gabriel would know what to do

when Zacharias would question the validity

of his announcement?

 

The elderly Jewish priest showed his skepticism

when he remarked at Luke 1:18,

“How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

 

Gabriel knew just what to do,

striking Zacharias dumb,

and leaving him unable to speak

until after his wife Elizabeth gave birth.

 

So, the angel must have been

prepared ahead of time

to deal with the old man’s skepticism.

 

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Around six months after visiting Zacharias,

Gabriel also helped prepare for the first Christmas

by visiting the young virgin Mary,

a relative of Zacharias’s wife Elizabeth.

 

We know the timing of the visit,

but we can only guess, as to how far ahead of time

Gabriel may have begun to formulate the words

that he would speak

to make that momentous announcement,

telling Mary of the role she would play.

 

Luke 1:28 tells us he greeted her with the words,

“Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!”

 

And then he explained,

30 ...“Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”

 

When Mary innocently asked

how a virgin could give birth to a son,

Gabriel continued,

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36 Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible.”

 

Old Testament prophecy foretold

hundreds of years ahead of time

that the Christ child would be born in Bethlehem.

 

But, aside from inspiring the O.T. prophet to write that,

God also made preparations in advance

to make it happen that way.

 

Mary and Joseph didn’t live in Bethlehem,

so how would God arrange for them to be there

when it came time for Mary to give birth?

 

He could have arranged their personal circumstances

to accomplish that.

 

But, in this case, God did something much grander:

 

He put it on the heart of the Roman Caesar

to order a census throughout the Roman world

that would require every man to return

to the city he came from—his ancestral home.

 

Perhaps hundreds of thousands of people

had to get packing, and hit the road,

to comply with Caesar’s orders

and go back to their home towns.

—all so that the Christ child

would be born in the right place.

 

So, Luke 2:1 tells us,

1 Now in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; 5 to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant.

 

Luke pins down the time, historically,

when Augustus ruled as Caesar

and Quirinius was governor.

 

But it was God’s invisible hand that was behind

the timing of that census,

because it was timed just right

for Mary to arrive at Bethlehem

just as she was about to give birth.

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And how were the angels in heaven involved

when Christ was preparing to leave his throne

to become flesh and dwell among men?

 

Years later, at the end of his ministry on earth,

the disciples were gathered together

to hear Jesus’ parting words

as he left them and rose into the sky

before their very eyes.

 

But what happened 9 months before that first Christmas,

when the Son of God was preparing to leave heaven,

to become an unborn child in Mary’s womb?

 

Did the angels gather together to see him off?

 

Did the Son of God speak parting words

to the holy angels, as he left them,

to take on flesh, as a fetus in Mary’s womb?

 

We don’t know.

 

Most of what goes on in heaven is hidden from us.

 

John 1:14 tells us

The Word became flesh

and made His dwelling among us.

 

But it was not on Christmas morning

that the Word became flesh.

 

No, it was 9 months earlier

when he became an unborn fetus in Mary’s womb.

 

It’s mind-boggling to think of that—

that the eternal Son of God

could become a tiny little baby

developing in a woman’s womb.

 

But we know that Jesus and John the Baptist

were themselves, even while their mothers

were pregnant with them.

 

Unborn babies are precious human beings

real people—

who should never be assaulted

by the cruel instruments abortionists use

to kill and dismember them.

 

Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy with John

when the angel Gabriel visited Mary.

 

Remember that, when the angel visited Mary,

he told her at Luke 1:36,

36 “Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible.”

So, Mary’s relative Elizabeth was 6-months pregnant

with John the Baptist,

and Mary herself was just newly pregnant

with our Lord Jesus in her belly.

 

Something amazing happened

when Mary arrived to visit Elizabeth.

 

Notice what it teaches us about unborn babies.

 

Luke 1:39 says,

39 Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, 40 and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy!”

 

Clearly something miraculous took place there.

 

Elizabeth was approaching the end

of her second trimester of pregnancy.

 

And medical researchers have confirmed

that babies in the womb react to sounds outside

and even recognize voices

around that point in their development.

 

But for the unborn baby John to react with joy

to the voice of Mary

which he had never heard before—

that part was truly miraculous.

 

But, for an unborn baby to react emotionally

to a voice he hears—

—that has been scientifically documented.

 

The Healthline Parenthood website mentions

that an unborn baby’s heart starts to beat faster

when he hears his mother’s voice.

 

That’s an indication of joy,

like the joy that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb felt

when Mary lifted her voice in greeting.

 

So, if unborn babies can hear and react with joy,

just think of how they react

when assaulted by the abortionist’s

cruel instruments of death.

 

What a shame it is that the Massachusetts legislature

this month passed another measure

further expanding abortion rights in this state!

 

Coming shortly before Christmas,

it calls to mind King Herod

who ordered his soldiers to kill

all the male babies of Bethlehem

in order to kill the Christ child.

 

Is it just a coincidence that Satan the devil

has used political leaders to order

the killing of babies in the decades leading up to

God’s great moves to rescue his people?

 

Satan the devil used Egypt’s ruler Pharaoh to have

babies thrown into the Nile River to drown

before God liberated the Jews from slavery.

 

Satan the devil used King Herod

to kill the babies of Bethlehem

before Christ set us free from sin and death.

 

And now, today, Satan the devil uses political leaders

to legalize the killing of millions of unborn babies

before Christ Raptures the Church.

 

King Herod put up the money

for rebuilding Jerusalem’s Temple,

but he obviously didn’t really believe

in the true God worshipped at that Temple.

 

But God saw all of this ahead of time,

and God’s advance preparations for Christmas

included making provision

to keep baby Jesus safe

from those seeking to kill him.

 

Before the murdering soldiers could reach them,

we read at Matthew 2:13,

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”

 

Without a moment’s hesitation,

Joseph obeyed these angelic instructions.

 

He woke Mary in the middle of the night,

and they got up and fled to Egypt

with the baby Herod wanted to kill.

 

That saved baby Jesus from Herod’s soldiers,

but what would save him from death by starvation

in that foreign land they fled to?

 

Egypt didn’t have any refugee resettlement program.

 

A young family fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night

would not be greeted by social workers

who would find them housing

and give them food stamps

until Joseph could find a job.

How would Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus survive

in that strange and hostile land

where they didn’t even speak the language?

 

Again, God’s early preparations for the first Christmas

included making provision

for the Holy Family’s financial security there.

 

Months earlier, God laid it on the hearts

of Magi in the East

to take some of their treasure and set out

on a long journey, following a Star.

 

Matthew 2:1 tells us,

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.”

 

And when they continued following the Star

to where baby Jesus was,

Verse 11 says,

11 They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

The valuable gold, frankincense and myrrh

they brought as gifts for the Christ child

would not have been of any use to a little baby.

 

But those treasures were exactly what Joseph and Mary

 would need to buy food and shelter

when they arrived in Egypt

with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

 

They could sell valuable gold, frankincense and myrrh

in order to obtain temporary housing and supplies—

and perhaps even the tools Joseph would need

to set up a carpentry shop.

 

And, again, God had to make preparations

long ahead of time

for this part of the Christmas story to take place,

and for those gifts to be there when needed.

 

The Wise Men from the East

came most likely from Babylon,

so, how long ahead of time

did they need to leave home

in order to deliver their treasures in time?

 

How long was the trip for a caravan of camels

travelling from Babylon to Judea?

 

In the Old Testament at Ezra 7:9,

we read of Ezra leading a caravan

on the same journey.

It says,

on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem,

 

So, it was a 4-month journey.

 

The heavenly preparations for the first Christmas

involved placing a special star in the sky

and putting it on the hearts of Babylonian astrologers

to interpret that Star as a herald

of a newborn King of the Jews.

 

And then they had to set out on that long journey

to deliver the gold, frankincense and myrrh

in time to finance the Holy Family’s

flight to Egypt.

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So, all sorts of preparations had to be made

in heaven and on earth

for everything to come together

at just the right time

when prophecy was due to be fulfilled

for Christ to be born.

 

It makes our own preparations for the holiday

look insignificant, relatively speaking.

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We have entered the Advent season—

the month or so before Christmas.

And our word “Advent” simply means “coming.”

 

Throughout Advent, we remember Christ’s coming.

 

But we should also remember

that Christ’s Advent was, in itself,

preparation for his Second Advent—

his Second Coming.

 

So, the story of Christmas isn’t over.

 

The real story of Christmas

points to the end of the story

when Christ will Return.

 

As we enter the season

where we celebrate Christ’s Advent,

we look forward eagerly to his Second Advent.