Christmas homily: the birth of Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy

This is a near-transcript of a short talk I gave just before Christmas last year. You may, if you wish, read about the occasion and listen to the audio.

Our text is Matthew 1:18–25:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

With all the myths of the Christmas season – Father Christmas, Rudolf, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge – it is tempting to think of the birth of Jesus as just one more made-up story among many. The nativity as an incidental artefact of a busy midwinter festival. A diverting scene to amuse the children.

But the birth in Bethlehem of a baby boy called Jesus really happened.

Not a myth, but an actual event in history.

No chance occurrence, but the beginning of the fulfilment of dozens of Biblical prophecies.

700 years before the birth of Christ, God spoke through His prophet Isaiah, further unwrapping the divine plan for salvation. Moved by God, Isaiah prophesied that ‘a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’. (2 Pet. 1:21; Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23)

St. Matthew explains that ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God With Us’. Of this ‘Immanuel’, Isaiah further spoke:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given,
And the government shall be upon His shoulder,
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6)

No ordinary child, then – this Christ, this Messiah, this anointed one.

No, here in the grubby nativity manger lies the Mighty God Himself.

The Creator of the universe in helpless human flesh.

Here is Immanuel, ‘God With Us’. Christ Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. Two natures, human and divine, united in one perfect person.

This child in a manger is the Jesus whose ancestral line we follow throughout the Old Testament.

This is the promised seed of Eve, who has bruised Satan’s head. (Gen. 3:15)

This is the long awaited Messiah, spoken of by Moses. (Deut. 18:15; John 5:46)

This is the offspring of Abraham, to whom God promised ‘In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’. (Gen. 22:18)

This is the ‘Righteous Branch of King David’, who shall ‘execute judgment and righteousness in the earth’. (Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5)

This is the one ‘Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting’, whom Micah prophesied would come out of Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2)

This babe, then, this Righteous King and Judge, is the one of whom all the Scriptures speak. (Luke 24:27)

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In times past, God spoke by the prophets. In these last days, God has stooped and spoken to us by His own Son. (Heb. 1:1)

Dare we not listen to Him?

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The angel commanded that Mary’s son be named Jesus, reasoning that ‘He shall save His people from their sins.’ ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves’, and this Jesus, the Man who is God, shall indeed save His people from their sins.

And how great is our need of salvation from our sins! For the Lord of Heaven and Earth gives us life. He created us to seek, worship, honour and obey Him. He gave us commandments, showing us how to live so that we might bring Him glory. (James 1:17; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 10:31).

But we have all turned away from God, rejecting Him and His Law. (Is. 53:6)

Jesus tells us that the greatest of all His laws is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind and all our strength. (Mar. 12:30)

But we do not.

I do not.

You do not.

I do not fear, love and trust in God with my whole being. I neglect His holy Word. I reject His commandments and substitute my own ideas about how I should live. I worship and serve my own desires, rather than the one true God who made me. Like the Apostle Paul, I do the things I hate – things God hates. (Rom. 7:13–25; 1 John 1:8)

The deeper we gaze into the mirror of God’s holy Law, the more of our sin we see reflected there. We have grievously offended the infinite Mighty God who is perfectly Holy, Righteous and Just. We ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Rom. 3:16; cf. 1 John 1:8)

John the Baptist speaks of the ‘wrath which is to come’; Jesus speaks of the day of judgment when He Himself shall separate His sheep from the goats, casting the unrighteous into the everlasting fire of hell, prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matt. 3:7; Matt. 25:41; Heb. 9:27)

That is what I deserve. What you deserve. (Rom. 6:23)

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But consider again the babe in the manager. The child of God’s eternal decree, foretold by the prophets. God incarnate, born into the world to save sinners such as you and me.

Where we could earn only God’s wrath, this child grew and earned the Father’s good pleasure by his life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.

Where we could die for nothing but our own sin, this Jesus, the spotless, sinless, sacrifice Lamb of God, went willingly to a Roman execution cross. (John 1:29, 10:15, 17, 18; Matt. 3:17)

There, He suffered, shed His blood and died, bearing in His body the punishment for all the sin of all those who trust in Him and call on His name. He paid the penalty in full, satisfying God’s offended holiness and righteousness. The Father showed that He accepted this perfect sacrifice, declaring Jesus to be His Son by raising Him from the dead. (Ps. 22:11-18; Is. 53:5; Acts 2:22–33; Rom. 1:4, 4:23–25, 7:4)

Through the cross, this Prince of Peace thus made peace between a wrathful, holy God and sinful men and women. (Col. 1:20, 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:10; Rev. 6:17; 2 Cor. 5:19)

This is the Good News: Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead, in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15)

The great exchange for those who trust in Christ is this: He takes our sin, and accounts to us His righteousness.

Jesus says of Himself:

‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but He that believeth not is condemned already, because He hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.’

(John 3:16-18, KJV)

This Christmas, hear the voice of God in human flesh. Obey the command Jesus now gives you: ‘Repent, and believe in the Good News.’ (Matt. 9:13; Mark 1:13).

Trust in Him alone, His death for you, His righteous life put to your account. This Christmas, receive from Him the free gift of your sins forgiven. (Rom. 5:15–16, 18)

And if you are already trusting in Christ? Be joyful! Your sins are forgiven! May the Lord grant that we daily renew our repentance and remember that we have an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)