INTRODUCTION...This Christmas we will look at 3 great Christmas Carols for our CHRISTmas messages.
I have given you a copy of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem"...our message will center around it and MICAH 5:1-5.
The words of this beloved Christmas Carol were written by a minister named PHILLIP BROOKS who was pastor of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, PA from 1869 to 1891...he was recognized as one of America’s outstanding preachers and today his messages are required study at most seminaries.
Brooks wrote this hymn in 1868 for the children of the Sunday School at his church after his visit to Bethlehem in 1865 and the music was written by LEWIS DEDNER, the organist at Holy Trinity Episcopal.
This hymn echoes the truth of Scripture concerning the birth of Christ and specifically it speaks of two great things regarding the birth of Jesus.
But before we begin the message I want you to mentally go back many millenniums to before the creation.
“One day the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were sitting around and talking and the Father said that they should to create a universe with worlds...and one of the worlds they would call Earth. He said it would be a lush garden...Eden...and they could go down and walk in it and enjoy the lush beauty of it … but then He realized that it might be lonely so He suggested that they create humans. But at that moment the Father looking further into the future sees a day that would come...He sees Satan...the evil one...tempting mankind...and mankind's fall. And as He sees that he exclaims... “Oh no, I see the evil one slipping in and introducing the humans to sin...tempting them with knowledge of all things...what will we do when they become sinful? There was a short pause and the Son stepped forward and said... “Father...I will go down and become human and give mankind a way to save themselves...yes, Father I will do it.” Then the all-knowing Father ask Him if he really understood what that would mean. The Son replied... “Yes Father, I do...I understand what I must do...BUT I WILL DO IT”.
SO MANY MILLENNIUMS AGO... “THE PLAN … GOD'S PERFECT AND AWESOME PLAN … WAS BEGUN AND IT IS STILL CONTINUING TODAY... LET'S PRAY!
TODAY WE WILL LOOK AT THAT ETERNAL PLAN...THE ONE SET IN MOTION SO LONG AGO...AS WE MOVE TOWARD THE DAY SET ASIDE TO CELEBRATE OUR LORD'S BIRTH...THE DAY HE BECAME LIKE US... A HUMAN BEING...
FIRST...THE CHRIST CHILD’S BIRTH WAS ACCORDING TO A HOLY AND DIVINE PLAN...
MICAH 5:1-3A reveals to us... “1 Mobilize! Marshal your troops! The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem. They will strike Israel’s leader in the face with a rod. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. 3 The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth...”
We are told 2 things in the passage and the Carol about how God carried out His plan to bring Jesus to the world.
FIRST...Our Blessed Savior would be born in an unassuming way – VERSES 1-2a of the song "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" says... “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For Christ is born of Mary...”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as MATTHEW 2:1-6 reveals to us... “1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, 'Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?' 5 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they said, 'for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
In MICAH 5:2 the town is referred to as "small" … “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village...” and yes...Bethlehem was a very, very small town.
And in MICAH 5:1 we read of a call to arms...the city of Jerusalem was being called on the muster armies to meet the enemies of Israel.
But Bethlehem was too little to be called on to muster an army of any kind and that is why Brooks chose the name "O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM" for his hymn.
The point is that even though Bethlehem was small in man's eyes...by God's power and within the plan of God, Bethlehem was going to be part of something very big...a part of the coming of the Messiah!
This is the essence of this Carol...Bethlehem though little...would play a big part in the GOD'S PLAN.
A series of pictures in a popular magazine portrays the story of a one-note musician.
He takes his seat with the other musicians, arranges his score, and waits and on the arrival of the conductor...then the music begins as the leader skillfully brings in the 1st group...then another.
After a long time the moment arrives...it is the time when that one note is to be played...the conductor turns to him and his one note sounds forth clear and brilliant like the star over Bethlehem.
Once more the orchestra plays and the one-note man sits quietly throughout the rest of the concert.
One note only! That was the part that Bethlehem was to play in GOD'S PLAN...and It may be that our part in our spiritual life’s work may be very small too ... but even though small it is so very important.
Yes...Bethlehem had only one note in God’s plan for redemption...but it was one very important note!
Today, God still works in many unassuming ways, often through unassuming people, and PRAISE BE HIS NAME...God's work continues through you and me as we fulfill our part in this...HIS PLAN.
As Theodore Cuyler, a noted theologian once put it... "Often the most useful Christians are those who serve their Master in little things. He never despises the day of small things, or else He would not hide His oaks in the acorns, or the wealth of a wheat field in bags of little seeds."
The problem with too many of us today is as another learned theologian Vance Havner observed... "So many of us are not big enough to become little enough to be used by God."
Are you guilty of as the prophet Zechariah put it... "despising the day of small things?"
Do you think yourself above doing certain things within the work of God’s kingdom?
Are you making the mistake of bypassing "little" opportunities, because you’re looking for some "big" responsibility to fall into your lap?
We would do well to pay heed to the advice of F.B. Meyer, who said... "Do not wait to do a great thing...the opportunity may never come. But since little things are constantly claiming your attention, do them for a great motive … for the glory of God." He then added...
For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost; For the want of a shoe, a horse was lost;
For the want of a horse, a rider was lost; For the want of a rider, a message was lost;
For the want of a message, a battle was lost; For the want of a battle, a kingdom was lost;
All for the want of a nail!
How much of God’s work goes undone today ... because we fail to recognize what great purposes God wants to carry out through the small things He calls us to do? Please... do not be that nail in God's plan!
SECOND...The savior would be born in an unusual way...
VERSES 2b-3b of the song "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" says... “And, gathered all above while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars (Angels) together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the king, and peace to all the earth! How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.”
The prophet speaks about the fact that the coming Messiah would be one whose "origins are from the old, from ancient times."
In other words, he would be one who was before mankind...before creation...yet he would become a man...he would be brought into the world in the same manner as all men are brought into this world.
Certainly Jesus fulfilled this prophecy as JOHN 1:1 & 14 tells us... “1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. … 14 So the Word became human (a man) and made his home among us (mankind). He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”
Many scholars point out the similarity between that prophecy in Micah about Jesus birth and that of Isaiah's prophesy in ISAIAH 7:14 which says... “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
Indeed, the Savior was born in an unusual way...He was born of a virgin. And he was born as a man.
The divine gave up His divine place in Heaven and put on humanity...He lovingly became “GOD WITH US”.
The enormity of what took place that night in Bethlehem escaped the notice of many on earth, but it was something of which the entirety of heaven was aware of as VERSE 2 of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem” says.
Now answer this question... When did the sacrifice of Christ for our sins begin? . . .
Did it begin at Calvary? No, you must go back further than that. Did it begin in Gethsemane as He accepted the Cup of Sin we passed to Him? No, further back still. Did it begin in the upper room with the last supper? No. Did it begin when Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem, knowing He would lose His life there? No...further back than that!
When did the sacrifice of Christ for our sins begin?
In eternity past, when He decided to leave His throne in heaven and come to earth as a man to pay the penalty for our sins....when the PLAN was set into the cornerstone before creation began.
REVELATION 13:8 reveals that to us... “And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made—the Book that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered.” … Yes...it began before the world began.
And 2 CORINTHIANS 8:9 says... “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty He could make you rich.” AMEN!!!
Listen to this parable... “Dogs are man’s best friends, right? So let’s assume that dogs in your town have developed a problem that has them in deep distress and that only you can provide the help they need. If it would help all the dogs to become more like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, family, job, hobbies, and all else and choose...instead of continued intimate communion with your beloved...the poor substitute of looking into your loved ones faces and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak?”
When Christ became a man through the incarnation, he voluntarily limited what to Him was the most precious thing in the world: unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.
JOHN 15:13 says... “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down (give up) one’s life for his friends.
SECOND... THE CHRIST CHILD’S BIRTH MAKES POSSIBLE A NEW PERSON...
MICAH 3-5a says... “3 The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. 4 And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord's strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5 And he will be the source of peace.”
There are two ways in which the birth of Christ makes possible a new person.
FIRST...We can become a new person individually; VERSE 3 of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" speaks to this... “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”
As VERSE 3 of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" so wonderfully puts it, just as Christ was born in Bethlehem, He can be born into our hearts today.
And by virtue of Christ being in us, God declares our standing before Him to be that of being in Christ, which means we are seen by God to be a new person!
The prophet speaks of the benefits that come to the life of one who has received Christ.
He will benefit from GOD’S GUIDANCE – MICAH 5:4a says... “And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord's strength...” mirroring the same thoughts of the 23rd Psalm.
He will benefit from GOD’S GREATNESS – MICAH 5:4b says... “... in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”
He will benefit from GOD’S GOODNESS – MICAH 5:5a says... “And he will be the source of peace.”
He enjoys peace with God as ROMANS 5:1 says... “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”
He enjoys peace with God as PHILIPPIANS 4:6-7 says... “6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
“In a European town there was a cathedral which was chiefly noted for a large and rather beautiful stained-glass window behind its altar. One winter day a great tempest shattered the window into a 1000 pieces and they were put into a large box and placed in the basement. Some time later a stranger asked if he might have the fragments. Since there appeared to be no use for them, the custodians of the cathedral gave him permission to take them. About two years later these same custodians were invited by a famed artisan to come to a showing of his work in a nearby village. They accepted and when the artist unveiled his work in their presence, it was a stained-glass window created from the very pieces of the splintered glass that had composed the original window, but of far greater beauty.”
The minister I heard this story from made a rather obvious and very good application.
If your plans and dreams have been destroyed by outward circumstances, trust God. Perhaps the very best place for those dreams was the rubbish pile, for God may have better plans for you after all.
And God will bring them to pass through His own Son, who gives you, in your entirely new life, dreams and plans fashioned in a much better way than you could do for yourself.
A group of atheists were criticizing the Bible.
One of them spoke about creation and said... "What man with common sense believes that thousands of years ago God stooped down and took a piece of mud, breathed on it, and it changed it into life?"
A Christian man standing by overheard the conversation and responded by saying... "I cannot answer all the questions about creation, but this I know...one night God stooped down and picked up the dirtiest piece of mud in this city, breathed upon it by His Spirit, and changed a gambling, drinking, thieving wretch into a peace loving man of God. I was that man."
Many of us TODAY can say we were that man...I certainly can...my God breathed His life into me.
And for anyone who hears me today, beloved, whoever you may be, what God has done for others, yes...what He did for me...He can and He will do for you!
SECOND...We can become a new people collectively...a new people corporately...
The prophet speaks beyond what the Messiah’s birth will make possible for the individual … to speak of what His coming will mean for all who come by faith to Him. He will make them, collectively, a new people.
Under the reign of the Messiah there will be no distinction between Jew or Gentile, good or wretched, king or serf, rich or poor, CEO or worker … because we will all become one in HIM!
Paul spoke of this in EPHESIANS 2:10-18 when he said... “10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. 11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called 'uncircumcised heathens' by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. 14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit (the narrow gate) because of what Christ has done for us.”
Note how Paul went from speaking about the new person we can be through Christ individually in VERSE 10, to how we can be a new person in Christ collectively and corporately in VERSES 11-18.
Micah makes it clear that this experience of unity among God’s people will not be fully realized until the Lord returns, yet, it is something God calls us to endeavor to experience in our relationships with each other every day beginning with the very TODAY you accept Him as LORD.
Let me tell you this Parable...” Two porcupines found themselves in a blizzard and tried to huddle together for warmth. But because they were pricked by each others quills, they moved apart. Soon they were shivering again and had to lie side by side once more for their own survival. See they needed each other, even though they needled each other! That is a pun yet has application to the body of Christ in this way...”
There are many "porcupine" Christians running around today...they have their good points, but you can’t get near the good points because the bad points prick too hard.
In MATTHEW 18:20 Jesus says He will be with those who determine to gather in His name... “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” AMEN!!!
I believe that is what is being spoken of in VERSE 4 of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem."
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; Oh, come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
May the words of this verse echo in our hearts as members of this congregation.
Lord, help us to so love one another in Christ, that we might know your presence among us!
“A visitor to a mental hospital was astonished to note that there were only three guards watching over a hundred or so dangerous inmates. He asked his guide, 'Don’t you fear that these people will overpower the guards and escape?' 'No,' was the reply. 'Lunatics never unite.'"
The devil never fears a congregation that is not seeking to become the new person collectively that God calls them to be, because they are not and cannot be a threat to his operation!
Let’s put Godly fear into Satan TODAY by committing to a growth in God's unity & love TOGETHER!
THIRD...CONCLUSION...WILL YOU COMMIT TO WORKING FOR GOD IN EITHER SMALL OR LARGE WAYS TODAY...
“The final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was taken to Abraham Lincoln at noon on January 1, 1863... Twice the president picked up his pen to sign it, and twice he laid it down. Turning to Secretary of State William Seward, he said, 'I have been shaking hands since 9:00 this morning, and my right arm is almost paralyzed. If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act, (yet) my whole soul is in (this proclamation). If my hand trembles when I sign the proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say that I hesitated.' The president then took up the pen again and slowly but firmly wrote, 'Abraham Lincoln.' That historic act endeared Lincoln to the world as the Great Emancipator.”
One greater than Lincoln and with even surer resolve brought freedom to the human race through a PLAN...a PLAN put into place long before creation.
Through His willingness to make the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE FOR YOU AND ME we have eternal life TODAY.
Jesus signed our liberty with His blood by dying on the cross to release us from the awful slavery of sin.
Oswald Chambers said..."Never tolerate the idea of martyrdom about the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross was a superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken. Jesus Christ ... made the redemption the basis of human life, that is, He made a way for every son of man to get into communion with God."
And the Holy Spirit within our lives each day incorporates that plan with us...to us...and through us. AMEN!!!
Are you in total communion with God TODAY? Will you join me in making a commitment to that TODAY?
Will you make that commitment TODAY asking God to use you...either in small ways or in large ways.
Having trusted the Savior, we have been set free from sin’s awful condemnation... PRAISE GOD!
Now by His Spirit we have the power to turn from sin and live for Him... AMEN!!!
That’s the only way to honor Christ at this Christmas season — the only way to honor our Great Emancipator.
I an so glad my Savior didn’t hesitate to leave His throne in glory! So glad He stepped forward and told the Father He would go...so glad He did not hesitate to die for me...my prayer TODAY is... “MAY I NOT HESITATE TO LIVE FOR HIM!”
Will you do that very same thing this morning? … AMEN!!! LET'S PRAY!