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The untold story of Christmas

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Luke 2:8-14

Over the years that I have been a preacher, I have presented many messages as monologues. I have been Joseph, Mary’s husband; a shepherd at Christmas; I’ve been the thief on the cross; Samuel of the Old Testament; the innkeeper in Bethlehem; even a Wise Man. But I’ve never strained the borders of incredulity more than today, for this day I wish to speak to you as an angel. Not a fallen angel (more appropriate type casting, many would say), but one of God’s heavenly host.

I’d like us to view Christmas through the eyes of an angel who first announced the birth of the Messiah. I want us to see this event, its history, and its significance as one of those heavenly messengers might have seen it all. Let’s listen to his story, and see what it says to ours.

The ministry of angels

Good morning. My name is Malkiah. I am one of God’s angels, sent today as his messenger to you. I can see that you are surprised. Don’t be. This is what we angels do, more often than you might imagine. I’m sure you’ve met some of my colleagues before—you just didn’t know it at the time. But more of that in a moment.

For those of you who are not familiar with angels, perhaps a little introduction is in order.

“Angel” means “messenger,” for this is our ministry. The Holy God created us to worship him and to lead others to worship him. To proclaim his love, justice, and grace to his creation, across all time and eternity.

We are much more common than you might think—we’re mentioned 108 times in your Old Testament, and 165 in your New Testament. David wrote in your Psalm 68 that we number “tens of thousands” (v. 17); John’s Revelation numbered us as 10,000 times 10,000; our Creator said that we are as many as the stars in his heavens (Job 38:7).

We were present at the creation of the universe (Job 38:7). We talked with Abraham, and delivered Lot and his family from Sodom (Genesis 18-19); we appeared to Jacob (Genesis 28:12); we called Moses to deliver the Jews from Egypt (Exodux 3:2,10) and led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 14:19; 23:20). We led judges such as Gideon and Manoah, protected Daniel from the lions, and appeared often to the prophets.

In your New Testament we freed the apostles from prison (Acts 5:19), directed Philip to Samaria (8:26) and Cornelius to Peter (10:1-7), delivered Peter from prison (12:5-11), and encouraged Paul at sea (27:23-25). We are present all through John’s Revelation, in worship and proclamation.

And most important of all, we worked with the Lord Jesus all through his ministry on earth. We announced his birth to Mary, and led Joseph to make her his wife and raise Jesus as his son. We led Joseph to save Mary from Herod, and to settle in Galilee.

We ministered to the Lord in his temptations by the enemy, and protected and empowered him all through his ministry. We strengthened him in Gethsemane. We rolled away the stone at his resurrection, and announced his return to life. We were present at his ascension back to the Father, and promised his Second Coming to your planet.

And we will come back with him when he returns (Matthew 25:31); we will gather together his people and judge all mankind (Matthew 13:41-42); we will defeat Satan once and for all (Revelation 12:7-9); and we will spend eternity in the worship of Jehovah God.

The grace of angels

All through eternity, our purpose has been one of grace. We exist to help you do what you cannot do without us. To guide you, guard you, empower you, lead you to God and to the abundant life he wants for you. God created us to bring you his grace.

And the single greatest mistake I have watched you humans make all through your history is to reject that grace. To live your lives as though there were no God; to be independent, self-reliant, self-determined. To do life in your own way, and expect God to bless it. To choose works, while God chooses grace.

It was so in the beginning, with Adam and Eve. They knew God’s will, but chose to ignore it. They chose their own power, their own ambitions, their own desires. They chose to become their own gods, rejecting the grace of their Creator. And our God had to send us to drive them from Eden and bar their way to the tree of life. Even this was an act of grace—to keep them from living forever in their fallen state. They chose works, but God chose grace.

Abraham chose to sire a son by Hagar rather than waiting on God’s grace through Sarah. We were sent to offer grace to Hagar, comforting her and saving the life of her son Ishmael. To this day there is conflict in that region of the world between the two sons of Abraham. All because they chose works, while God chose grace.

In your New Testament the Sadducees arrested the apostles for preaching the truth, making themselves to be their judges and gods, choosing the works of legalism. We freed those preachers and sent them back into the temple courts to preach the grace of God (Acts 5:17-21). The religious leaders chose works, while God chose grace.

Still later King Herod jailed Peter, intending to execute that servant of God to please the religious authorities. But we freed Peter to preach his message of forgiveness and grace to the world, and brought just condemnation upon the King who refused the grace of God (Acts 12:1-19, 23). The king chose works, while God chose grace.

The grace of Christmas

But we never brought the message of God’s grace more powerfully to earth than on that night 2006 years ago in Bethlehem. Our Lord had been planning since the creation of the world for this great day.

We watched in amazement as he announced in the Garden of Eden that the “woman’s seed” would destroy Satan (Genesis 3:15); as he predicted that the Savior would be born from Abraham through the lines of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David; as he promised that the virgin would bear a son (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Our excitement grew as we watched him prepare the world through the Roman Empire: a universal language for the gospel, universal roads and peace for the first missionaries, a universal hunger for truth and salvation.

Then the day finally came when he summoned us and sent us to tell the world that his Son had come. To whom would we go? The High Priest and his court? The religious leaders and spiritual authorities? The Caesar? The king? No—to shepherds. Unbelievably, to shepherds.

Understand our shock.

The Jewish rabbis listed several despised occupations, and shepherds were at the top of their list of sinners. They led their flocks for months on end without supervision, giving them both temptation and opportunity to steal from their masters and graze on lands which were not theirs. Ancient people could not buy wool, milk, or lambs from shepherds, for they were assumed to be stolen. Shepherds could not testify in court as witnesses, for they were assumed to be liars. They could not worship in the Temple or synagogue, for they were spiritually unclean.

Imagine that you read in today’s newspaper that a group of thieves had broken into your houses and cars last night, stolen from you, gotten together to count up all they had taken, and suddenly one of us appeared to them and said, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy!” How shocked would you be?

We were that surprised, and more.

But this was the Father’s will. And so we traveled from heaven to earth, from the throne room of glory to the camp of despised field hands. We revealed to them the glory of the Lord. No wonder they “feared a great fear,” as Luke’s Greek says (2:9).

But I announced to them a “great joy” to replace their great fear: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” “Great joy,” “mega joy,” for “all the people.” No matter their sins, their failures, their mistakes and problems. No matter how far they have been from God—God now comes near to them. Great joy for all people, including you here today.

For at Christmas “a Savior has been born to you” (v. 10). Not just born—born “to you.” For you. He has come for you.

And with him comes “peace to men on whom his favor rests” (v. 14). To all who will receive this grace, his favor rests today. And with it, his peace.

Grace to you

Now I have come to bring you the same offer of grace I extended to those shepherds on that first Christmas night. If Jesus would come for shepherds, he has come for you. If he would forgive their sins and receive their worship, he will forgive your sins and receive your worship today. But you must do what those shepherds did. You must leave your flocks, your possessions and abilities, your self-sufficiency, and go to Bethlehem. You must leave behind your works, and choose his grace.

We angels see Christians today trapped by a kind of dualism: working as hard as you can to get ahead in this fallen, materialistic world, all the while trying to follow Jesus as well.

We watch you live your lives: 40 to 80 hour work weeks, congested time schedules, running your children to more events and practices and parties than you ever dreamed of when you were their ages; trying to make more money so you can have more success and happiness.

All the while, you want to follow Jesus as best you can. For most of you, this means a few minutes in the morning and an hour or two at church. Truth be told, some of you want God to bless you, to meet your needs, to help you out, more than you want to be with him because you love him. A kind of spiritual resource to help you be successful, happy, and fulfilled.

Getting ahead with your jobs, with your economic security, with your children’s lives and success, and Jesus, too. Choosing your works instead of his grace.

Do you have a friendship with Jesus? Did you know that he wants to be your friend? that he loves you as you are, and accepts you as you are, right now?

Jesus knows your worst sin and shame. He knows the stories you’ve hidden from everyone but yourself. He knows your every failure and mistake—and he loves you anyway. He likes you anyway. Think of it—the God of the universe likes you. He will forgive every sin you’ll confess to him, every sin of which you’ll repent. He loves you and likes you. Christmas proves it.

If Jesus would choose peasants for parents, and a feed trough for a crib, and sheep herders for worshippers, he chooses you to be his friend and follower. He chooses you because he loves you.

Would you leave behind your flocks and herds and come to Christmas? Would you base your self-esteem, your personal worth on his grace, not your works? Would you work hard out of gratitude for God’s love, not to earn it? Would you put your family’s spiritual health ahead of their material wealth? Would you spend time every day with Jesus because you love him, not to earn his favor and blessing? Would you accept the fact that God has forgiven every sin you’ve confessed to him? Would you accept the new life, the fresh start, the “great joy” he offers you today?

Conclusion

I have come today to announce what I first told the shepherds: you are loved. God is real, and he loves you. He proved his love at Christmas, when he came for shepherds and every other sinner as well. He has come for you, now. Would you come to him?

Your Father has sent me with this message for you: You are his beloved, on whom his favor rests. He has called you by name from the very beginning. You are his, and he is yours. He molded and crafted you in your mother’s womb, and formed you in the hollow of his hand. He shelters you in the shadow of his embrace. He looks upon you with infinite love, and cares for you with a compassion greater than even a mother’s intimate love. He has numbered every hair on your head, with joy.

Wherever you go, he goes; when you rest, he keeps watch. He will give you food to satisfy all your hunger, and drink to quench all your thirst. He will not hide his face from you, for you are his beloved, in whom he is well pleased (adapted from Henri Nouwen’s poem, I Am the Beloved).

Will you live by his grace? Will you make every day your Christmas day?