Summary of sermon by Erlo Stegen, 25 Dec 2014
In the ancient language the fir referred to fire, an ancient symbol for the spirit. The tree also points upwards. Overseas most trees lose their leaves in winter. There are songs about this fir tree in winter and that it is green even in winter. When I first went to Germany to preach I was struck at how brown the trees look, they looked burnt but the fir tree remains evergreen. Evergreens symbolized the everlasting fire in us. We Christians should also always be green. A Christian should always be beautiful. You can read about the beauty of the faith in Gal 5 like love, patience etc. Also go and read the works of the flesh. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in Gal 5:22 speaks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control – these fruit decorate the Christian far more beautifully than the Christmas tree.
The Lord said, “If they do this to me a green branch how much more to those who are dry branches.” The works of the dry tree are evident: immorality, defilement, witchcraft, enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, divisions, orgies and things like this. Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. This tree speaks of the attractiveness of the Christian.
There are Christians who are being beheaded in Iraq and Syria by ISIS. A recent example is one where 4 boys were beheaded, all of them being younger than 15. ISIS tried to make them reject the Lord Jesus. They tried to force them to become Muslims. But each one of them said, “No, we love Jesus. They said, “We follow Him. He has been with us always.” We should feel a connection to them. These suffering Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These beheaded children are our children. Christians in those countries wonder what other believers are doing about their suffering. Those who are martyred are under the altar of God. However, if we should meet such circumstances, will we stand or fall? Let us pray for them.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this manner: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost”.
Let’s have a closer look at what happened at the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Child, the Christ, was found among the animals in the cowshed. Consider who Jesus is. Jesus is God Himself and fully man as well. There is no-one greater than Him – He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. Yet we find Him in a manger with animals all around. No-one has ever been made as little as He was. He was the lowest of the low. How is it possible that the Most High God should be made low like this? He who made the heavens and earth, we see him in the manger. Historians estimated that Mary just a teenager when she was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It was a Jewish custom that girls got married young at 16 or 17 (even today they marry very young). Words cannot explain the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. His birth was during a dark era. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Both were poor. The lineage of David, though he had been king, had now become very low and they were poor. Joseph should have received the scepter but he was now poor and unknown. There are poor people that live better lives than the rich. It was a dark time. It was not allowed that a girl be pregnant outside of wedlock. Today it is a lost value. When a Jewish family got engaged, they would go to the house of the girl and at the betrothal ceremony the girl and man would be given a cup and they would drink from the same cup and it was then the symbol of them being joined together as betrothed. When Jesus was in the garden He prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.” as he sweated drops of blood. He got “engaged” to you – joined to you – by drinking of the cup of all your filthy sins. It made Him to sweat as He drank this cup.
After the Jewish ceremony, the young man would go home. There was no flirting around between the betrothed. Mary went to visit Elisabeth in the hills.
Mary did not consult Joseph and ask for his permission. They were not yet married. In this modern era couples are very close before marriage and estranged after marriage. Things are upside down.
When the bridegroom went home, he would start to build a house. He would wait upon his father who would tell him when to fetch his bride. In the gospel it says, “I go now to prepare a home for you” (John 14:2). Mary and Joseph were not visiting each other. Then the angel told her she would be with child. She said, “How can this be? I am a virgin.” The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and you will be pregnant with a son.” It was not allowed to be pregnant before marriage. But Mary said, “May it be to me as you have said.” She was willing to bear this disgrace. She didn’t say, “What will Joseph think of me?” Pregnancy can be hidden but later it becomes evident. Joseph got to hear that she was pregnant and this was the dark circumstance the Lord Jesus was born into. Both Mary and Joseph lived a life of purity. Joseph never dreamed that the girl he got betrothed to would fall into this disgrace. He was a man among men – upright and just. He had rather “put her away quietly” instead of exposing her to disgrace and possible death. It was pitch dark for Joseph. But right there God sent an angel and said, “Don’t be afraid to marry her because this is of the Holy Spirit.” She was a pure virgin but nothing is impossible for God because He can create the child in her.
Then the darkness changed. She could share with him how she would bear the Messiah. They were happy and joyful.
Joseph had no intimate relations with her till she bore him a son. He honoured the Child in her, the King of kings. The emperor in Rome then held a census with the command that each one be counted in his town of birth. Why? Mary was far in pregnancy and they had to go far away to Bethlehem. A person might say this is typical of a king with such unjust laws. But God was sovereign even over this. He engineered circumstances. Do you see how God’s ways are? Jesus came at a “wrong time” But God’s timing is always right. The Messiah had to be born in the city of David, in Bethlehem. When they got there, He didn’t arrive with the scepter of a king, he came as a nothing and every one saw Mary and Joseph in this state. There was no hotel for them. Man is selfish at heart. They were put in the stable. There was no bed, only animals. We don’t hear Mary and Joseph complaining. God was arranging the perfect set of circumstances.
We might say that things were going wrong. God doesn’t make a mistake. In the stable there were no electricity or facilities. Joseph took hay and made a bed. How amazing is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ! They gazed on the baby in awe. Immanuel. God with us. It didn’t take long and the shepherds arrived. Mary and Joseph were continually in awe. There is no greater present than this – Jesus, He who is the Alpha and the Omega. Have you come to that point where Jesus is in your heart where you can say, “Emmanuel God is with me.” This matter can’t be properly explained in a short sermon. Have you opened your heart to this Child? Wise men even came from the Far East! This birth of Jesus Christ, has it moved you? Or are you like Herod and all Jerusalem who were troubled and refused to go and worship the Christ Child? Are you like the shepherds or are you like Herod?