Hope Is Born This Day

Hope Is Born This Day

Luke 2:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

This week I’ve been saving a few headlines from various newspapers. Here are some I’ve collected:

“Debt woes nearing record: filings for bankruptcy protection on the rise” (USA Today 11-26-02 B1).

“‘Draconian’ budget cuts loom, governors group says” (USA Today 11-26-02 A1).

“Female HIV cases on rise” (Dallas Morning News, 11-26-02 1A).

“Identity theft case called a sign of crimes to come” (Dallas Morning News, 11-26-02 1A).

We’re talking about hope today. Some people have lost it.

Woody Allen’s speech to graduates begins, “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Robert Ingersoll was America’s best-known atheist in the 19th century. At his funeral, his brother said: “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of a wailing cry.”

Others know how much we need it.

Gabriel Marcel: “Hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.”

G. K. Chesterton: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.”

Samuel Johnson: “The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.”

Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

How are your dreams today? Do you have hope for your future? Do you believe that tomorrow will be good, even better than today? That our world is going somewhere that matters? That your life is accomplishing something significant? Do you have hope? In whom do you have hope?

Misplaced hope

Our text is among the most familiar in all the Scriptures. I’ve preached eight sermons from it over the years, and read it every Christmas season. But this week, as I studied it again, I was drawn to names I’ve never considered before. “Caesar Augustus,” who “issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” “Quirinius,” the “governor of Syria.” And Herod the Great, the “King Herod” included in Matthew’s version of the Christmas story. I wanted to know more about them. And I was fascinated by what I discovered.

Caesar Augustus was born Gaius Octavius on September 23, 63 B.C. His mother, Atia, was the daughter of Julia, the younger sister of Julius Caesar. And so Caesar was his great-uncle. Octavius was 19 when Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C.

Caesar named him his chief heir. And so the next year he was named Caesar’s adopted son, under the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. On January 1, 43 B.C., Rome recognized Caesar as a god, and Octavian became known as divi filius, the “son of god.”

On November 27, 43 B.C., Octavian became ruler of the Roman world with Mark Anthony and M. Lepidus. By 29 B.C. Octavian had become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and was given the title Imperator. He declined the title “king” or “dictator,” considering them too insignificant for his greatness. So in 27 B.C., the Roman Senate bestowed on him the title of Augustus. The name means “one consecrated and honored by religion.” Our month “August” is named for him.

Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire to his death on August 19, A.D. 14. It has been said of him that he found Rome brick and left it marble. He built roads which would cross the world, and a universal peace known as the Pax Augusta. The Senate built an altar to Pax Augusta which still stands in Rome today.

He was the single most powerful human being the world had ever seen; some consider him the most powerful person in all of human history. Across the empire he was hailed as “savior” and “god.” His birthday was celebrated as the birthday of god. His is the story of power—extreme, ultimate, unrivalled power.

“Quirinius” is not nearly as famous a figure, but he was no less important to the first Christmas.

Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was born in 51 B.C. in the Roman municipality of Lanuvium. He became a soldier, and fought especially well in the war in North Africa. In 12 B.C. he became a consul in Rome and very ambitious politician.

In 7 B.C. he came to Syria, the Roman area which included Galilee and Nazareth. While Varus was governor, Quirinius controlled the armies and directed all foreign policy. Thus he supervised the enrollment which moved Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

This was a periodic census for later purposes of taxation. The Jews kept their family records in the family’s hometown. Thus Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to register, much as we go to our home district to vote in elections.

From Syria, Quirinius moved to Asia as proconsul in 3 B.C. and continue his political ambitions. Six years later he divorced his first wife so he could marry Lepida, the woman who would have married the heir-apparent to the Roman throne had her fiancé not died suddenly. In 6 A.D. he returned to Syria as governor; in 9 A.D. he returned to Rome, where he remained to his death in A.D. 21.

Shortly before his death, Quirinius instituted legal proceedings against Lepida for attempted murder by poison and adultery, but she was acquitted. The Roman historian Tacitus spoke of “the combination of meanness with exorbitant power which had marked his later days.” His is a story of political ambitions unfulfilled.

Matthew 2:1 says, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod.” Herod was the third leading public figure of the first Christmas.

Herod was born in 72 B.C. At the age of 25 he was appointed by his father to be governor of Galilee. In 40 B.C. he was appointed King of Judea by Octavius; in 37 B.C. he captured Jerusalem. From 37 to 4 B.C., Herod was “king of the Jews.”

He immediately executed 45 of the Sadducees for opposing his rule. He drowned the high priest Aristobulus when his popularity threatened Herod’s position. He executed his uncle under suspicion of an affair with his wife Mariamne, and later executed Mariamne and his mother-in-law, Alexandra, also.

By his old age, domestic problems were rampant. Herod had ten wives, each of whom wanted her son to inherit the throne. He lost favor with Caesar Augustus. He strangled two sons when they rivaled his own power. Thus when the Magi came with news of a new “king of the Jews,” it was nothing to Herod to kill all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger (Matthew 2:1-16).

When he realized his own death was near, he executed his son Antipater, who displeased him. He ordered notable Jews from all parts of the nation to come to him in Jericho, where he locked them in the stadium and ordered that they be executed when he died. Thus he would ensure a national mourning rather than a festival. (At his death, they were freed.)

Herod’s lasting legacy was his building programs. He constructed theatres, amphitheaters, and hippodromes. He rebuilt many fortresses and temples. He built for himself a royal palace in Jerusalem, and a beautiful temple for Augustus, later called Caesarea Philippi. His greatest work was the Temple, which he began in 20 B.C. (it was completed in A.D. 63, long after his death). The rabbis said, “He who has not seen the temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building.”

Herod the Great, history ironically calls him. His is the story of possessions—buildings with which he thought he would build his eternal legacy.

Find hope in Christ

Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, King Herod—the trinity of power, political position, and possessions in the world of the first Christmas. In them, and men like them, the world placed its hope, and places it still. If we can achieve enough power, win enough position, or own enough possession, our lives will have hope, meaning, and significance. Or so the world thought. But who of you knew much of what I have told you today? Who of us remembers Augustus, or Quirinius, or Herod? Who of us cares?

Meanwhile, a baby boy born under their authority, unnoticed by their regimes, has changed the world.

Unlike Augustus, this baby was and is the true “Son of God.” He brings true peace to the world. He is the true Savior and God of all mankind. One day Augustus will bow before his throne.

Unlike Quirinius, this baby was and is the true governor of humanity. His position is so high that one day, at the sound of his name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). One day Quirinius will bow before his position.

Unlike Herod, this baby was and is the true possessor of the universe. The Temple he is building will stand for all of eternity. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. One day Herod will bow before his true King.

Would you find your hope in him, and in him alone?

After World War II, the Allied armies gathered up thousands of hungry, homeless children. They were sheltered and fed. But they were afraid to go to sleep. Then they were given a slice of bread, not to eat but to hold. And they slept well, for they knew they would have food for tomorrow.

Do you need such hope? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Put your hope in him.

A writer asked the staff of the Menninger Clinic to pinpoint the single most important ingredient in emotional healing. Their answer: hope that you are not a prisoner of your track record, that you don’t have to be what you have always been, that you can be forgiven.

Do you need such hope? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). When you trust in him, he forgives your sins and brings you to God. Put your hope in him.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who survived the death camps of the Holocaust, studied those who survived as he did. He concluded that the single most significant factor was a sense of future vision—the impelling conviction that they had a mission to perform, some important work left to do, a significant purpose for their lives.

Do you need such hope, such purpose? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Find your hope in him.


Where do you most need hope today? You can look to the power, position, or possessions of this day and time. Or you can look to the baby whose birth we celebrate again in this Advent season. Christmas can be about Augustus, and Quirinius, and Herod. Or it can be about him. The choice is yours.

Abraham Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky. On a plaque marking the spot, this conversation is recorded: “‘Any news down at the village, Ezzy?’ ‘Well, Squire McLain’s gone to Washington to see Madison swore in, and ol’ Spellman tells me this Bonaparte fella has captured most of Spain. What’s new out here, neighbor?’ ‘Nuthin’, nuthin’ a’tall, ‘cept for a new baby born to Tom Lincoln. Nothin’ ever happens out here.'”

Let us pray.

Joy Is Born This Day

Joy Is Born This Day

Luke 2:15-20

Dr. Jim Denison

This is the Advent week of joy. “Joy” is most simply defined as “contentment which transcends circumstances.” “Happiness” is based on “happenings;” joy transcends them.

Would you like real joy today? Where will you go to find it?

Many of us will try possessions, especially at Christmas.

I’ve been keeping a file on unusual products for sale this Christmas season. Do you know someone who needs a new cell phone? Vertu has one for only $19,450. New entertainment? There’s a plethora of new video games, which will help Americans spend a total of $10 billion on video games this year. Help around the house? Consider a mobile robot driven by a palm pilot. New technology? Give some eyeglasses which display e-mail and surf the Web.

Perhaps your wife would like some special clothing. Buy her a jewel-encrusted set of underwear from Victoria’s Secret for only $10 million. Maybe your husband is a James Bond fan. Buy him the same car 007 drives in his new movie, for only $255,000. Unfortunately, unlike the car in the movie, his won’t disappear. But maybe he’ll have joy, at least until next year’s model appears.

Can people give you joy which transcends circumstances? They need joy as much as you do. Position? It won’t be enough for long. Performance? Until your next performance.

Today you can experience joy—true, meaningful contentment transcending your every circumstance, no matter what it is. But only if you’ll make this story your own.

Have you ever noticed that Luke gives twice as much coverage to the shepherds as to their Savior (1-7 vs. 8-20)? Let’s see why.

Seek joy in Bethlehem

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (v. 15).

The shepherds “said”—the word indicates a repeated and continuous action. They began talking to each other, all at once, as excited as the women who attended Janet’s first baby shower.

“Let us go to Bethlehem”—the Greek indicates that they had a distance to travel, but they didn’t care. It also contains a small Greek word untranslatable in English, a word which conveys a tremendous sense of urgency. “Let us right now get up and hurriedly go” would render the idea.

“And see this thing that has happened”—the birth was a fact of history. Something shepherds could see. No one in the first century, not even the worst critics of the Christian faith, thought to deny that Jesus was a real person born in a real place.

“Which the Lord has told us about.” They know this is from God, and of God.

King David, the man for whom Bethlehem was called the “city of David,” once said to the Lord: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). “Joy in your presence,” in the presence of God. These shepherds don’t know it yet, but that’s exactly what they are about to find in the cave, at the feed trough, in the most unlikely place. Joy in the presence of God.

There is nowhere else to find it.

Job 20:4-5: “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.” Joy is found only with God. It is a gift only God can give.

Zig Ziglar writes about seeing a well-known interviewer and commentator on television. The discussion was about the death of comedian Freddie Prinz. Mr. Prinz had taken his own life, and the commentator was asked, “Do you know of any other superstar in athletics, music, entertainment, the television industry, or movies who might also be in danger of either deliberately or accidentally taking his own life?” After a moment’s reflection, she answered, “I don’t know of anyone who is famous in these fields who is not in danger of either deliberately or accidentally taking his own life, because I don’t know a single one who is happy” (Zig Ziglar, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, rev. ed. [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002] 207).

Would you like to find true joy this morning? Then go to Bethlehem. Do as the shepherds did. Travel any distance. Get up and go there now. You say you can’t go there? It’s too far? It’s not safe these days? Here’s the good news: you don’t need to go to the city of David; the Son of David has come to Dallas. To you. He’s waiting for you, with joy for your heart. Seek it from him. And from him alone. And “the joy of the Lord will be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Find the Son of God

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (v. 16).

They “found” him—the original word describes a search in order to find. The went from stable to stable until they found this child lying in a manger, a feed trough. And then they knew they had found the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. They found the Son of God.

Note that they just walked uninvited into the cave which was his birthing room. I never visit a newborn baby without checking first with the nurse, then washing my hands, then knocking at the door. These rough, dirty, smelly field hands just rushed right in. Jesus was born in a place which had no doors, no locks, no nurses, no way to keep people out. He was born there on purpose, for anyone can come into a cave. Anyone can come to the Christ.

And find in him true joy.

The joy of salvation is found only in Jesus: “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).

Jesus told his followers: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Rejoice that he has forgiven your sins and saved your soul, making you the child of God and giving you eternal life: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

How long has it been since you considered your salvation in Christ? Realized that you will live forever in God’s perfect and glorious heaven? Been grateful that you are the child of God, loved unconditionally by the Creator of the universe? Heaven rejoices in your salvation: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15.7).

When you ask Christ into your heart, his Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your life. And what are the results, the “fruit” of the Spirit? “Love, joy….” (Galatians 5:22).

Actress Katherine Hepburn once said, “I don’t know what one means by ‘happy.’ I’m happy spasmodically. If I eat a chocolate Turtle, I’m happy. When the box is empty, I’m unhappy. When I get another box, I’m happy again.”

Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). And he promised, “…no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). Do you want true joy? Seek it from God alone, through Christ. Ask him to forgive your sins and be your Savior, and you’ll have his joy. Remember your salvation with gratitude and wonder, and you’ll have his joy. And “the joy of the Lord will be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Share the word of God

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”

(vs. 17-18). They “spread the word” about Jesus, becoming the first ever to preach the gospel. The first evangelists of the Christian era.

Shepherds who could not worship in the synagogue or Temple, who were unclean spiritually and morally, who inhabited the lowest caste in Jewish society—they were the first to hear of Christmas, and the first to tell it to others. If they could, who can’t?

Joy comes from the word of God. From receiving it: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16). From sharing it: after Philip preached the good news in Samaria, “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8).

Joy comes from bringing others to faith in the Son of God: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). This is the so-called “soul winner’s crown.” And it was worn first in Christian history by peasant field hands, who knew its joy.

Dwight Moody was the greatest evangelist of his generation. Here is his testimony: “I am so thankful that I have a joy that the world cannot rob me of; I have a treasure that the world cannot take from me; I have something that is not in the power of man or devil to deprive me of, and that is the joy of the Lord.”


Do you have true, life-transcending joy this morning? If not, let me ask you: are you seeking it in the possessions, people, position, or performance of your circumstances, or in God alone? Have you given your faith and life to Jesus Christ? Are you sharing that faith through your words, your work, and your witness, through your example and your life?

The shepherds did. And they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (v. 20). If they found joy, so can we. So can you. No matter how hard your circumstances may be today. And “the joy of the Lord will be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

“…Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm126:5).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“…I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4).

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Joy was born when Christ was born. Dirty, rejected field hands found it. Will it be born again in your life today? That’s up to you.

Britain’s King George III wrote in his diary, “July 4, 1776. Nothing happened today.” What will your soul write in its diary this morning?

Love Is Born This Day

Love Is Born This Day

Luke 2:8-14

Dr. Jim Denison

This is the Advent week of love. No subject is a greater mystery to us.

Children try to help. When asked why love happens between two people, Mae, age 9, replied, “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant is so popular.”

On the role of beauty, Brian, age 7: “It isn’t always just how you look. Look at me, I’m handsome as anything and I haven’t got anybody to marry me yet.” And Christine, age 9, replied, “Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a lifetime.” She’s a smart woman.

We adults are no better with the subject.

Have you heard about The Sims Online? Thousands of people are paying $10 per month for the privilege of living in a virtual community on the Internet. They interact with each other via a computerized role-playing program. Over the next five years, people are expected to spend $1.4 billion on subscription fees to such community games.

ABC’s The Bachelor gave Mr. Aaron Buerge 25 women from whom to choose as his fiancé, while America watched. “The Osbournes” is the first family reality sitcom, debuting on MTV last March. Six million people watch each week as they go about their dysfunctional lives.

True love is a true mystery to our culture. Mother Teresa: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”

And now we’re just ten days from Christmas. Are you lonely? Do you need to feel loved? To be loved? To know that you are wanted and important? You’ve come to the right text.

Who does God love?

“And there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (v. 8). Nobody reading these words for the first time in the first century would expect to see them here. You see, people knew about shepherds.

They couldn’t keep the ceremonial laws of Judaism—kosher diet, hand washings before and after meals, and the rest. They couldn’t abstain from work on the Sabbath, since the sheep didn’t very well know what day it was. And so they weren’t allowed to attend worship in the synagogue or at the Temple. They were religiously unclean. But that was only the start of their problem.

Shepherds were unsupervised for months on end. So they were known to steal from the flocks they kept, and to graze them on land which was not theirs. They were known to lie about their crimes, so that they were not permitted to testify in court or hold office. You were not to buy a lamb, wool or milk from a shepherd.

They were classed with tax collectors and prostitutes. It is worth noting that this text is the only occurrence of real shepherds to be found in all the New Testament.

Here’s the shock: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (v. 9). Of all classes in first-century Judaism, they were the least likely to see an angel. And especially to see the “glory of the Lord.”

I learned in study this week that the “glory of the Lord” is a specific biblical phrase, meant to denote the presence of God which was first made visible to humanity with Moses at the burning bush. The “glory of the Lord” was next revealed to the Israelites in the Exodus desert (Exodus 16:10); to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai (24:15-17); in the Tabernacle (40.34-35); and in the Temple when it was dedicated to God (1 Kings 8:11).

The “glory of the Lord” was displayed in Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-32). It was shown to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:6-11). He later described it: “I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions” (Acts 26:13). And in heaven, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23).

No wonder they were “terrified.” They literally “feared a mega fear.”

This “glory of the Lord” was not revealed to Mary with the angelic visitation. It was not revealed to Joseph in his dream. Or earlier to Zechariah in the temple, or Elizabeth his wife. Not to the Magi in their visit. Not to anyone else in the entire Christmas event. But to shepherds. To the lowest caste of ancient Jewish society. If to them, to us.

An Irish priest on a walking tour of a rural parish came upon an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road in prayer. Impressed, the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, smiled, and said, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”

Dr. Fred Craddock was invited to lead a lecture series in Winnipeg, Ontario. He arrived on Saturday night, and a blizzard arrived soon after. The lecture was canceled, and Fred was told to walk down the block from the hotel to a bus depot diner for breakfast.

Fred said, “It was packed with everyone trying to find a warm place.” He found a seat. A moment later, a lady came in. A large man with a greasy apron asked her, “What do you want?”

“May I have some water, please?”

He brought her the water. “Now, what do you want?”

“Water is fine.”

“No, I mean, what do you want?”

“The water will be okay.”

“I mean, what do you want to order, lady? We’ve got paying customers. If you don’t order, you can’t stay.”

“Can’t I stay just long enough to get warm?”

“Listen, lady, order something or leave!”

The woman got up to leave. So did the people on each side of her, then the people on each side of them, then the entire restaurant. The man with the greasy apron said, “Oh, now wait a minute. Everybody sit back down, she can stay.” He even brought her a bowl of soup.

Craddock asked the man next to him, “Who is she?”

He said, “I never saw her before in my life. But if she ain’t welcome, ain’t nobody welcome.”

As Craddock began to eat his own soup, he found it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was almost good. He had the feeling he had tasted it before. Something in the soup reminded him of something. As he walked out the door and looked back upon that group of people, with the woman sitting among them, he remembered. It reminded him of the bread and cup of communion.

Take a look at the shepherds again, dressed in their peasant rags, dirt smeared on their faces. Smell them and their animals. See the angel at their side, and the “glory of the Lord” around them. Look into their bewildered faces. And ask yourself, who does God love?

How does he love?

The angel answers your question: “Do not be afraid.” “Stop being afraid” is a better translation. Why? I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (v. 10). What is this joy?

In the literal language: “There is born to you this day in the city of David, Savior, Messiah, Lord” (v. 11).

“Savior”—the one who saves us from our sins. No one else in human history has ever claimed to be able to do this. Not the emperors, certainly. Not Buddha or Mohammad or Confucius or the Jewish rabbis or the Hindu masters. Who else today can save you from your sins?

Christ—Messiah, God’s anointed agent announcing himself as the bearer of this salvation to mankind. The fulfiller of the promises of God, the one who brings the salvation God has promised us.

Lord—kurios, power, authority, God. The one born this day will save us from our sins; he has come to tell us, with the authority to do what he promises. This is the day Israel has been waiting and praying for since they first heard their prophets promise it would come. For at least 700 years they have been waiting and hoping. And now he has finally arrived.

Who needs such joy?

Atheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “What the world needs, I am ashamed to say, is Christian love.” Do you?

Douglas Coupland, who coined the term “Generation X,” concluded in his book Life After God, “My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone.” Do you need him?

The secular humanist and novelist Marghanita Laski told a television interviewer not long before she died, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.” Do you?

Now shepherds the world over are invited to this celebration.

He has been born “to you” (v. 11). “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (v. 14). And it rests on us all.

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

“Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

“ This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (I John 3:16).

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).


Someone loves you. He was born for you. If you’ll ask him, he’ll be born again in you. He will forgive every sin you’ll confess to him. He will fill your life with purpose and joy. He will be your Savior from sin, your Messiah to bring God to your heart, and your Lord to guard and guide your life. His love is unconditional. And it is all for you.

Where are you a shepherd this morning? What flock are you “keeping watch over?” Where is your field? Where do you feel unloved or unwanted? Where do you need someone to forgive you? Someone to accept you? Someone to want you?

Leave your flocks and fields and fellow shepherds—you’ll not find true love there. Come to the Christ. Receive his love as your Savior. Make him your Messiah and Lord. Tell him where you are hurting today, and ask for his help, his healing, his love. He’s waiting for you.

Raymond Russell Kelley was killed in June of 1944 while fighting in France. His widow Daphne has the poem he was carrying on that day. Its paper is stained with the blood of his mortal wounds. The poem is titled, “When You Come Home”:

When you come home once more to me,

It is unlikely, dear, that I shall be

Articulate; the words I’ve wanted so

To say, I’ll try in vain to speak, I know

I shall reach blindly for you, stricken dumb

With swift and aching joy when you have come,

Or if my tongue find utterance at all,

It will be commonplace and trivial.

But you will understand. And oh, once more

I’ll feel your hand laid lightly on my hand

As was your wont, smoothing it again

And yet again. You’ll lift my face and then

We shall forget all else. You’ll hold me fast

When you come home, come home to me at last!

Jesus is waiting for you to come home. Home to his stable, and one day to his throne room. Home to his love. His promise is stained with the blood of his mortal wounds, blood shed for you. His manger is empty, and his tomb is empty, so he can fill your heart with his love.

He’s waiting for you. Right now.

Peace Is Born This Day

Peace Is Born This Day

Luke 2:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

This is the Advent week of peace. Does the topic appeal to anyone this morning?

“Al Qaeda: Alive and Killing” (Newsweek, 11-25-02).

“Ready to move in: U.S. forces could be primed to start fighting Iraq again in short order” (Time, 12-2-02).

“Ammunition plant fired up” (Dallas Morning News, 11-30-02).

“‘Topping off the tanks:’ The Bush Administration has been quietly pumping as much as 150,000 bbl. of crude oil a day this fall into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve… That ensures that in the event of war, President Bush can order the release of more than 4 million bbl. a day onto the market for at least 20 weeks—more than enough to compensate for Iraq’s average daily exports” (Time, 12-02-02)

“‘Smallpox stashes:’ U.S. officials say Iraq, Korea, Russia, and France probably have secret stashes of the smallpox virus” (U.S. News & World Report, 11-18-02).

“Would a war kill your stocks?” (Fortune, 11-25-02).

We need peace. Do you?

Time magazine recently reported four traits which lead to hypertension: a tendency to get upset when having to wait, a tendency to eat took quickly, a feeling of pressure as the end of the regular workday approaches, and a feeling of time pressure in general. Do you have all four? Then you are twice as likely as others to develop moderate to severe hypertension (Time, 12-2-02).

We need peace. New research suggests that those who live to be 100 are less likely to dwell on problems and have a better ability to handle stress than those who die younger. Says Charlotte Chipman, 100 years old: “Life has a way of mixing grief with joy, evil with good, darkness with light. You have to be good at handling this, and go along with whatever comes your way” (Dallas Morning News, 11-29-02, p.55A).

We need peace. And now it’s Christmas, the busiest season of the entire year.

Fortunately, there’s good news inside the shopping malls. One area mall has created the Spouse House “for those who’d rather watch TV than shop, but still feel obligated to accompany a spouse to the mall. It features football, pizza, soda, snacks, even skating—all for free” (DMN 11-30-02, p.33A). That’s the mall for me.

What does our world need more than it needs peace this morning? What about you?

Do you need peace?

Last week we discovered the people “in the news” during the first Christmas. Today let’s focus on those who made the news, then and for all time. Here’s what we know about their first Christmas.

Mary and Joseph have come from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They must do this because the Empire requires another registration, an enrollment for purposes of census figures and future taxation. Caesar Augustus had issued this decree in 8 B.C.; Herod the Great delayed its enforcement for two years. The Jews kept family records at their ancestral home, which for Joseph’s family, was Bethlehem.

So they traveled together 80 miles (90 if they went around Samaria). He walked, she likely rode on a donkey’s back. The road climbed 734 feet in elevation from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Imagine yourself nine months pregnant, or your wife in that condition, as you set out to walk from here to Waco.

Finally the three arrive, but “there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7).

Tradition says that this was a caravansary, a hotel to our culture, and that when they arrived late after their slow journey, its rooms were already filled. Preachers for twenty centuries have made much of the innkeeper who had no room for the Christ.

Now scholars aren’t so sure. No “innkeeper” is mentioned in the text. And the word for “inn,” kataluma, typically means a “guest room” (cf. Luke 22:11: “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”). The word here was most commonly used for the room allotted to visitors in a private house.

Here’s what may have happened. Joseph returned to Bethlehem, his family’s home. He had relatives all across the area. And so he and Mary stayed with one of them, in the guest room. But this room was tiny, with no privacy at all. And so when “the time came for the baby to be born,” “there was no room for them in the inn.” The guest room was not suitable for a birthing room.

So they moved to a stable, a cave behind the home. Here Jesus was born. Here Mary placed him in a “manger,” the feeding trough for the cattle and sheep which typically were housed in that cave.

Imagine it.

You are Mary. Your marriage to Joseph has been arranged for many years, and you have dreamed of your future with him. But now people would always remember that you were not yet married to him when this pregnancy occurred. Your child would be the “Son of God,” whatever this will mean. Now, far from home, you bear him in a stable and lay him in a feed trough. How much peace would you feel this morning?

Or you are Joseph. You have planned for your marriage and life with Mary. But now she bears a child who is not yours. He is the Messiah, whatever this will mean. How much peace would you feel today?

How much peace do you feel this morning? Where is your heart most in turmoil, your mind most confused, your spirit most troubled? In what ways do you identify with Mary and Joseph? In what ways does the first Christmas feel like this Christmas to you? How can this be the Advent week of peace for you?

Where will you find peace?

King David answers: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

He adds: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Jesus promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). How does Jesus give us peace? The prophet explains: “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). We find peace only when we find it in Jesus.

Billy Graham, in a message titled “How to Find Peace:” “There can be no real peace in the world until we have peace with God. Peace is more than a mere cessation of hostilities, a momentary halt in a war. Rather, it is something positive. It is a specific relationship with God. It is a spiritual reality in a human heart which has come into vital contact with the infinite God.”

To find peace in your world, find it first in God. Mary and Joseph found peace in God in a troubled and terrifying world. Have you?

How do we find peace in God?

Paul explains: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

When we ask Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and become our Master and Lord, he makes us to be “justified” with God. It is “just-if-I’d” never sinned. My record is expunged. My past is forgiven. I am “born again,” as if I’d never lived before. I become the child of God. And I have peace with God.

Have you asked Jesus to do this for you? Have you been “justified through faith”? If you’re not at peace this morning, perhaps this is the reason. Find peace in God, by making peace with God.

Then live by the word of God.

The Bible promises, “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). The Lord spoke through his prophet: “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river” (Isaiah 48:18). And he adds: “There is no peace for the wicked (v. 22).”

Do you live by the word of God? Are you like the man in Psalm 1 who is “blessed” because “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night”? (v. 2). I must meet God every morning in his Word, if I would walk in his will all day. And I must meditate constantly on his Word. I must bring every question, every decision, never problem to the Word. I must stay in it, or I am not at peace. And you’re like me.

If you’re not at peace this morning, perhaps this is the reason. Find peace in God, by making peace with God. And then by living in the word of God.

Next, surrender to the Spirit of God.

The Bible warns us: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The “fruit of the Spirit” is “love, joy, peace….” (Galatians 5:22).

The Bible commands that we “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). This verse means to be controlled by the Spirit, submitted and yielded to his control, every day. If you’re not at peace this morning, perhaps this is the reason. Live in the Word of God, surrendered to the Spirit of God.

And you will have the peace of God.

You will live as did Mary and Joseph, in surrendered obedience to the will, word, and Spirit of God. You will say to God with Isaiah, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). You will experience with Paul: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). You will say with Peter: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

And you will be at peace.


Are you at peace this morning? We celebrate Christmas this day amid circumstances no less challenging than those faced by those who gathered on that first Christmas day. Yet the angel could rejoice then: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Do you know such peace?

Are you at peace with God, through salvation in Christ? Are you living in his word? Surrendered to his Spirit? Do you have his peace? You can.

Frances Ridley Havergal was one of the most gifted people of her day. Reading by age four, she began writing poems by age seven. She learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and memorized the Psalms, the book of Isaiah, and most of the New Testament. She had become a Christian at a young age, but had no peace. Great London crowds loved her singing, but the Holy Spirit kept urging her closer to Jesus.

At the age of 36 she read a booklet titled All for Jesus. It stressed the importance of making Christ King of every corner and cubicle of her life. Frances made a fresh, complete consecration to the Lord. It was Advent Sunday, December 2, 1873. She said later of that experience, “There must be full surrender before there can be full blessedness. God admits you by the one into the other.”

Shortly after, she found herself in a home with ten other people, some Christians and some not, but none fully surrendered to the Lord. “Lord,” she prayed, “give me all in this house.” Before she left, all ten were yielded Christians.

Excited beyond sleep, she wrote her “Consecration Hymn,” the song that became her life’s theme. She prayed over the words earnestly every December 2nd as she resurrendered her life to the Lord Jesus.

I’d like you to make her prayer yours today:

Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;

Take my hands and let them move

At the impulse of Thy love,

At the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet and let them be

Swift and beautiful for Thee;

Take my voice and let me sing,

Always, only, for my King,

Always, only, for my King.

Take my silver and my gold,

Not a mite would I withhold;

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine;

Take my heart, it is Thine own,

It shall be Thy royal throne,

It shall be Thy royal throne.

And then you will have peace. This is the promise of God.