A Christmas Without Miracles

December 7, 2014

Have you ever heard the phrase “The Magic of
Christmas”?  Probably, if you google that
phrase you get almost 29,000,000 hits. 
Everything ranging from albums of Christmas music to campaigns to
provide toys to underprivileged children, to children’s books, to more
inspirational plaques than you can count. 
It was Norman Vincent Peale who wrote “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold,
everything is softer and more beautiful.”
What people are talking about isn’t the hocus pocus, Harry
Potter type of magic, instead it is the soft fuzzy emotional type of magic that
is a feeling.
This morning we aren’t talking about magic, but we are
talking about miracles. And there are some folks who would like to take the
miracles out of Christmas, they would do away with the miraculous and instead
hand us an event that could happen without the hand of God being evident
throughout it.  And if that is the case
then Christmas is just an event, hardly worth remembering let alone celebrating
2000 years later. 
So this morning I’m not trying to convince you of the
realities of miracles, after all it was Nancy Gibbs is
an editor and writer for Time magazine who summed it up when she wrote “For the truly faithful, no miracle is necessary. For those
who doubt, no miracle is sufficient.”
Instead, this morning I simply want to tell you what we
would lose if we had a Christmas without miracles. 
So, this morning let’s not
start at the beginning, but six months before the beginning where we read the
story of a couple named Zacharias and Elizabeth.  What we know about this couple is that
Elizabeth was related to Mary the Mother of Christ and that Zacharias was a
priest and his wife was from a family of priests.   And we
know that they were childless, not by choice but by chance, a tragedy for most
folks who it happened to but for a priest it was a double tragedy in that there
would be no son to carry on his priestly responsibilities. 
And we know that they were
older, again how old?  We don’t know, old
enough to be mentioned, but perhaps because it was in relation to their child
bearing years maybe it was just relative, maybe they were old in their late
forties or early fifties.  Not sure.
The story happens on a day while Zacharias was performing
his priestly functions.  By this time in
history there were more priests than there were jobs for priests, so they took
turns working in the temple, good work if you can find it.  And Zechariah’s turn came up and he was
chosen to enter into the temple and offer the sacrifices and while he was in
there the strangest thing happened. 
He’s doing the things he supposed to be doing, preparing the
sacrifice, getting it ready to be offered, preparing his prayers and the
scriptures he would read as part of the ceremony and God interrupts him, with
an angel. 
And Zechariah was a little spooked; actually he was a lot
spooked.  After all he was supposed to be
alone in the altar area, there were no windows just lit by flickering torches,
maybe he’s whistling as he worked.  And
all of a sudden he’s no longer alone.  I
don’t think he was spooked because there was an angel there, I think he was
spooked because there was anyone there.
And if we read through the conversation the Angel, who
identifies himself as Gabriel, I know don’t get me started, tells Zechariah
that his and his wife’s prayers are going to be answered that they will be
parents and that their son will do great things for God. 
And after the angel drops this
bombshell, I mean good news, on Zechariah he gets this response; “What?”  Actually that was a rough translation his
actually words were Luke 1:18 Zechariah said to the
angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is
also well along in years.”
My wife is well along in years,
that charitable, love how it is put in the King James Version  Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I
am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.   Guys just a hint, not sure that “well
stricken in years” is the most appropriate way to describe your wife’s age.
You got to love this, for years
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son, They had been praying so long it
had become rote and I don’t think they really expected it would be answered and
had never stopped to consider what would happen if it was answered, there would
be diapers to buy, a house to be baby proofed and they’d have to get a baby
seat for the camel.
Presumably they knew what
caused babies and presumably they had been trying that particular technique
without success so the assumption would have to be that there would have to be
something miraculous about this.
And to be fair, it may not have
been disbelief as much as curiosity that caused his reaction, he knew the other
way wasn’t working so what was going to change?
If you don’t know the rest of
the story it would appear that Gabriel was a little sensitive about not being
believed because he responds by saying in Luke 1:19-20 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of
God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you
didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the
child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Boy, do you know where I’d be
if folks who don’t always believe the promises of God lost their voice?  Yeah, preaching to a very quiet church.
And you know the rest of the
story, Elizabeth conceives and they have a son they named John who we know as
John the Baptist.  It was John who
preached repentance first and it was John who announced the ministry of Jesus.
And his birth was a miraculous
birth, so if there were no miracles in the story of Jesus There Would Be No John to Announce Him But John’s wasn’t the only
miraculous conception in the Christmas Story. 
The main event revolves around a miraculous conception.  You know the story.  Mary a young woman in a small town is engaged
to be married and before that happens an angel appears and tells her that she
is going to have a baby.  Her first
response was probably “That’s cool, I’ve always wanted to be a mother.”  And then he drops the bombshell and tells her
the time line, and her response is found in Luke
1:34-35
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this
happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will
be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
We call it the “Virgin Birth” and it has become such an
ingrained part of the Christmas story that it’s the only time little children
can use the word “Virgin” and not raise eyebrows.  We sing about it, put in on Christmas Cards,
read it in the Christmas story do we actually believe it? 
Do you know there are churches
and preachers who don’t believe in the virgin birth?  Seriously. 
I’m not sure what they believe, we do know that Mary and Joseph were
engaged to be married and if that was the extent of the story then we’d have to
assume that perhaps they were engaged in a little more than wedding
preparation. They wouldn’t be the first couple or the last who’s first born was
a little premature.  Or as my Daddy used
to tell me “The first one can come at any time the
next one takes nine months.”

But that wasn’t all of the story, when Mary breaks the news to Joseph he was
upset, because he knew that he wasn’t the father.  So where does that leave us?  Either Mary was a virgin, as she claimed, and
who should know better, or God’s son was conceived as the result of a betrayal.  You see two thousand years ago in Jewish
culture the one year period before the marriage vows were actually taken was
called the betrothal and it was considered as binding as a marriage.  Which is why when Joseph heard the news the
bible tells us in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and
did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement
quietly.  The NIV is closer to the
meaning of the original when it says Matthew
1:19
Because Joseph her husband was a
righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind
to divorce her quietly.

So if we were to take the
miracles out of Christmas There Would be
No Extraordinary Birth
And you might be thinking: so what?  Well the prophecies concerning the coming
messiah stated that he would be born of a virgin.  But more than that we are talking God coming
to earth.  How should he come?  The same way that you and me and Genghis Khan
and Adolph Hitler were conceived and born?
The prophet said that God would
chose a sign, and he did, he stepped outside the boundary of natural laws
that say that in the act of conception a male and a female would each
contribute a cell which would become a new person.  Instead God did what had never happened
before and has not happened since and that is he produced a child with only one
cell.  You read in the papers about same
sex parents, don’t believe it can’t
happen.  It takes ingredients from a boy
and a girl to make a baby.
But the miracles didn’t end at
conception.
The next
part of the story involves the world’s second oldest profession, It wasn’t the
world’s oldest profession but it was close! 
I mean you know what the world’s oldest profession is right?  That’s right, farming.  Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain the oldest
was a farmer, thus making that the world’s oldest profession.  What were you thinking? 
And Abel
the younger brother was a shepherd making that the world’s second oldest
profession. 
We all know
the story, the shepherds are in the field watching their sheep when suddenly an
angel appears with a message. “The Messiah is here!” and then that angel is
joined by a whole flock of angels who are proclaiming the goodness of God.
In its most literal sense the word “angel” as used in the
original language simply meant messenger now that doesn’t negate who appeared
to the Shepherds that first Christmas. 
These weren’t just messengers, these were Heavenly messengers. Luke
tells us in Luke 2:13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies
of heaven—praising God. . .   
Now most of us don’t get Angels in the traditional sense to
tell us about Jesus, and if you did, cool. 
But the majority of us do get a messenger with news about Jesus. 
We see a great example of this in John 1:40-41 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was
one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went
to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which
means “Christ”).   Andrew heard
about Jesus from John and then Simon heard about Jesus from Andrew.
 
Who was it that told you about Jesus for the first
time?  Who was your angel?  My angel’s name was Reg, which is kind of a
strange name for an angel when you think about it, but it is what it is.
For most of us, we don’t just stumble into
Christianity.  I mean it does happen
sometimes, and when it does it makes a great story.  For example, Billy Sunday was a professional
baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings and one Sunday afternoon in
1886 he and some of his fellow players had a few beers and were wandering
through the streets of Chicago where Sunday heard a street preaching team from
the Pacific Garden Mission. 
And the rest as they say is history.  Billy Sunday became a Christ follower and
went on to become the Billy Graham of his time, or more correctly Billy Graham
became the Billy Sunday of his time. 
Over the course of his ministry Sunday preached to a 100 million people
and recorded over a million converts, and that was without television or the
interwebby thing.
But most of us have someone,
friend, family or a co-worker who brings the message to us and invites us to
come. Paul spells it out for us in Romans
10:14
But how can they call on him to save them
unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never
heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
And so it was on a lonely hillside outside of Bethlehem that
the Angels came and told the shepherds about Jesus.  It takes a miracle to provide angels in a
field mesmerizing a group of shepherds You understand that without angels, the
shepherds would never have heard the story of the Messiah.  Without Miracles There Would be no Shepherds to Welcome Him
And the story continues. Actually this miracle goes back
probably even further than the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah.  And it began in a country that was called
Persia then but now we call it Iran. 
What symbolizes Christmas more than the picture of the Magi
kneeling in adoration before the new born messiah.  Across the desert sand they had come, mile
after mile and they weren’t a part of a flash mob, they didn’t hear about Jesus
via Facebook or Twitter they were following the promise of a distant star. 
And the Magi of the East made their pilgrimage across the
sea of sand to the little town of Bethlehem to worship at the cradle of Christ.
  
We call them the Three Kings, but we were
never told they were kings or that there were three of them.  In the original language they are referred to
as Magi, and tradition tells us that they probably came from Persia.
And in the scriptures we are told that they brought 3 gifts,
which is probably why we always think there were three of them. 
You’ve probably all heard what
would have happened if it had of been three wise women instead right?
They
Would Have Asked Directions
They
Would Have Arrived On Time
They
Would Have Helped Deliver the Baby
They
Would Have Cleaned the Stable
They
Would Have Made a Casserole
They Would Have Brought Practical
Gifts.
The story is told in Matthew 2:9-11 . . .And the star they (the Wise Men) had seen
in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over
the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with
joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they
bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave
him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And we still create tradition, if you go to many churches
this time of year you will hear that the Magi never saw the new born Christ,
instead we are told that they arrived two years after Jesus was born.  The rational? 
They refer to where the Bible says that they went to the house where the
baby was so maybe a room opened in the inn the day after Jesus was born, the
scripture tell us that Jesus was born in a stable, they don’t tell us how long
he stayed in the stable.  Imagine what
happened when the innkeeper’s wife discovered that he had put a pregnant woman
in the barn. 
They talk about how it would have taken the magi two years
to make the trip, but if God could put a star in the sky to guide the wise men
he could have put it there so they arrived on time, that’s why we call them miracles. 
And finally the proponents of this new tradition point to
the fact that Herod ordered the death of all male children under the age of
2.  So what? The man was a kook.  When he was on his death bed he ordered that
some of the most distinguished people in Jerusalem be arrested and killed at
the moment of his death so some tears would be shed.   I want to know why Mary and Joseph and Jesus
would have hung around Bethlehem for two years after the census was finished,
inquiring minds want to know.  Didn’t
Joseph have a carpenter shop to get back to?
Regardless of when the Magi arrived it was a miraculous journey
and if we take the Miracles out of Christmas Then There Would be no Magi to Worship Him 
The first Christmas was a Miraculous Christmas, and that’s
the way it should have been.
The greatest event in human history has to be when God came
to dwell amongst us. And how should that have happened?  Should it have been an everyday event that no
one noticed? Or should there have been some element of wonder attached to
it? 
I know that there are people who deny the events of the
first Christmas because they can’t believe that things like that could happen
and perhaps that’s why the Bible says 1 Corinthians 1:18 I know
very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the
road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the
very power of God.  Perhaps we
could change that just a bit to read 1 Corinthians 1:18 I know
very well how foolish the message of Christmas sounds to those who are on the
road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the
very power of God.