Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor for the Reformed Witness Hour, on which this message was aired.
Never did the grace of God shine so brightly on this earth as it did in the dark night when the virgin Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.
God gave His own Son in our human body, loaded on Him our sins, so that He might take them all away, for there was no other way to the Father. There is no other hope; there is no other way of salvation. Only in the way of Immanuel, God with us, the gift entirely of God’s grace.
Has that grace of God’s gift of the Savior dawned upon your heart? Do you possess the deep and abiding salvation with Christ in your heart, the true and indestructible joy? If all that we have is the sentiment of what the world calls “Christmas,” then we have nothing. If the message of the birth of Christ is only a story intended to produce a few tears, we have nothing. If we are not awed by, and if we do not wonder at the grace of God to those who are wretched sinners, we have nothing. Then it will go very badly for us in the day of judgment when we must stand before the Babe of Bethlehem, for this Babe has been caught up unto God and now rules from His throne. He reigns as Lord of lords and King of kings. And He is coming soon.
Do you belong to this Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior from sin?
May we never lose in our hearts the wonder of the love of God displayed in the gift of His Son. And may our joy be that true, abiding, and conquering joy of which the angels spoke to the shepherds—a message of great joy.
The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is often heard. May we not become accustomed to it; but may we, rather, ponder it in our hearts and hear the gospel of eternal joy in His birth—Bethlehem’s blessed gospel.
We read in Luke 2:10 and 11 the angel’s explanation of what happened when Jesus was born: “And the angel said unto them (that is, unto the shepherds), Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
One of the members of the heavenly host, a shining angel, was sent to the fields near Bethlehem to shepherds to give the interpretation of what had just happened in a stable, something unseen by all except two (Joseph and Mary); something that will never happen again and had never happened before; something that means that the oceans of God’s love to His people had just been revealed. And that was this: the virgin gave birth to God’s Son. God had fulfilled His promise and had sent His Son into time and history to redeem His people with His own blood.
God had moved in the upper levels of government. Caesar Augustus, one of history’s greatest leaders and statesmen, one of the mightiest men who ever lived, had been moved by the providence of God to decree a taxing. Necessary for this taxation was a census. So Mary, great with child, and Joseph had made their way down to Bethlehem, the city of father David, to report for this taxation.
In Bethlehem they had found no room, no place where they could be housed for the evening. The only alternative to them was a stable, where animals were housed and where there was dirt and stench. It was there, according to the will of God, that the days were accomplished that Mary should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son and laid Him in a manger.
Do you know who that child was? He was the One who created the worlds and holds them in His hands. He was the One who had parted the Red Sea and led Israel through on dry ground. He was, and is, Almighty God. Now He is united to our flesh, wrapped in rags, in a place where beasts eat their food: in a manger.
An angel is dispatched to a group of shepherds watching their sheep in the nearby fields. God, in sending His messenger, passes by the temple and the courts of the temple, for these are filled with men, Pharisees, who think they do not need a Savior from sin. God passes by the courtyards of the great leaders of this world who were busy securing their own honor and glory. God comes to a group of humble and despised shepherds.
The angel brings to them good news, glad tidings of great joy, designed to remove all dread of God and to dispel all fears. For when the angel suddenly came upon the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord was revealed round about them, the shepherds became greatly afraid, gripped with a paralyzing fear.
To these shepherds the gospel is proclaimed: “For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” For you, you who are gripped with fear, is the glad tidings of the Savior’s birth. The Savior has come, the One who will offer a sacrifice for sin and will bring His children righteous before God.
Beloved, the answer to all of our fears is to be found in the incarnate Christ. It is to be found in God now in our flesh, come by the grace of God to redeem us from our sins. That was the good news of the angels. The angel proclaimed that a unique person had been born in a specific place to accomplish a glorious task. The unique person who had been born was Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed One, the One who had been promised to shoulder the entire work of salvation, the One who was called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” He has now been born in our flesh. No mere ordinary man among men, but God with us. Sinless Son of God, born in our flesh in order to bring us to God.
Not a Savior after man’s mold, not another man simply to muddle around in the mass of humanity, to feel our pain and to try to do something about it. But the One who is able to bring us to God without spot or blemish and to present us before His presence in exceeding joy. He has been born in the city of David, in Bethlehem. The Lord keeps His Word, and not one jot or tittle of it ever falls to the ground. In the very place that God had designated, His Son has been born. And His Son has been born for a glorious task. He has been born to be a Savior. A savior is one who rescues another from danger and places him in a secure position. Christ was born to save us from our true enemy, which is our sin. He has come to save His people from their sins; their offense before God; their trespass against the law of God; their guilt before the holy and the living God. The Lord did not come in order to adjust your attitude. He did not come to teach you an alternate pattern of behavior. He did not come to get you in touch with your inner self. He did not come to make you all that you can be. But He came to wash away the dirty stain of sin from the souls of God’s children.
Let us not forget that the birth of Jesus Christ proclaims the truth about ourselves. It proclaims that we are sinners. There are many who would say, “Now, let’s not spoil Christmas by talking about sin.” Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no significance in the birth of Jesus Christ apart from understanding the reality of sin and death. If one does not know his sin, then one cannot understand the wonder of the birth of God’s Son in the manger. For God has sent Him to accomplish one task, a mighty and glorious task. He has come to stand in the place of God’s chosen, who have broken the law of God. He has come to conquer the death that held them in its arms. He has come to destroy the flames of God’s wrath that our sins have kindled. He has come to give to us eternal life. He has come as the Savior.
And that is joy. The joy that was proclaimed by the angels and that is proclaimed to us today is the joy that our sins are forgiven. God has cast away our sins into the depths of the sea in the cross of Jesus Christ. He will remember those sins no more. Why? Because of a Savior, because of Christ, the Lord, the Messiah, the sin-bearer, who came to pay for those sins in His blood. Who came in order that all of God’s children might now stand before God in eternal delight. That is joy! That is a joy that never fades away.
Has this joy of Bethlehem come home to your heart with power? Have all of these realities of the record of the birth of the Son of God, who was born to remove sin, come upon your heart with power?
There are so many who speak of the “spirit of Christmas” but know nothing of the joy of belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ. This joy is to all the people of God. It is personal. It is unto each one of them personally.
The angel proclaimed that it was a joy that would be universal. It would extend to all nations and to all people of the earth. For God will bring His children out of every people, out of every nation, tribe, and kindred of the earth. The gospel will break down the boundaries of Palestine. It will go from sea to sea and from pole to pole, the elect of God out of every nation, yet one in Christ.
But the joy is also a personal joy. Unto you is born a Savior. That is the beauty of the gospel. Yes, that wonderful joy extends to every child of God born and chosen of God throughout all the world, every one. But also to me. It is made personal. Unto you, each child of God, to you. The Lord says, “Fear not. Great joy is yours in the display of the grace of God, in the birth of Christ.” God has given His Son for you.
Is this good news to you? Do you possess this joy, this heartfelt, this personal understanding of the grace of God in His mercy and His love to you? God is not going to send an angel to declare this to you. God has revealed all of this in His holy word. You have no right to expect an angel to appear at your doorstep to announce this gospel to you. Nor do you need to go to Bethlehem and see a re-enactment of what men imagine took place that night—and then, suddenly, you will feel it! No, you do not need that. This joy, this gospel, is proclaimed to you through His word. And it is something that is given to be possessed in the heart.
Do you understand that the true shame and the true squalor in which Jesus was born was not a manger, but was your sin? He was born to take your sin upon Himself. Do you see that? That is the true wonder of the love of God.
The gospel today is: Unto you is born a Savior. Unto you who, by the grace of God, pine under your sin and ask the question: How can that sin ever be removed from the presence of God? Unto you is born a Savior. Joy unquenchable, invincible. Joy in the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
When the angels saw this grace of God shown to sinners in the giving of God’s Son in the human flesh, they broke forth into praise. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sounded from Bethlehem’s hills. They were filled with exceeding joy.
Now this Child has redeemed His children to God. God’s grace has dawned upon our hearts. This Savior is ours.
Let us, then, respond in joy, everlasting joy, before God. And let us repeat the words of Scripture today and always: Unto Him who has loved us and washed us in His blood be praise in the church, world without end.