Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
November 30, 2014
Christmas is all about a new beginning
The Bible contains two main sections – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first book of the New Testament is the Gospel of Matthew. It is a book of extraordinary significance that helps us grasp the real meaning of Christmas. Let me explain.
Matthew begins his gospel by offering a genealogy of Jesus. He names 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. He makes his case with conviction. No reader could surmise that this is some “once upon a time” fairy tale. Matthew offers no conjecture, no maybe this or maybe that. With absolute certainty Matthew presents Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Though it was probably not the first book of the New Testament to be written, Matthew was placed first because it serves as a bridge linking the promise of the Messiah to the birth of Jesus. This gospel has been called the most important single document of the Christian faith. It was used to teach new converts (Jews and Gentiles) about the life and message of Jesus.
Quoting the Old Testament 50 times, Matthew leaves no room for doubt; Jesus is the Shepherd promised by the prophets. He is the Son of Abraham. He is the Son of David. And he is the Son of God.
Matthew assures us that Jesus was more than a baby born to a woman named Mary; he was actually the eternal God coming to earth. Thus the name Emmanuel which means “God with us.” God had acted. Jesus was God in the flesh. His birth marked a new beginning for the world. God took the initiative to create a new family, a new community with new values and fresh hope for the world. Jesus explained that by saying that the kingdom of God was “at hand.”
No longer was God invisible and “out there” somewhere. God had come to earth as a helpless baby. Jesus was a real baby, born in a cow’s stall. Mary and Joseph were real people, an ordinary couple in a real world where poor people rode on donkeys and choked on the dust of dirt roads. It was a world in which people feared violent rulers like Herod the Great, the ruthless ruler of Palestine. Fearing that Jesus was a new king who would displace him, Herod ordered the slaughter of male children up to two years of age.
Matthew saw God’s coming to earth as good news. It was good news for the poor who would now have a kind Shepherd to take care of them. It was good news for the imprisoned; they now had a King who would give them freedom.
It was good news for the sick; they now had a Messiah who could cure their diseases and cause the blind to see and the lame to walk. It was good news for the oppressed; they now had a Deliverer who could set them free. It was good news for everyone who longed for forgiveness of their sins and peace with God. It was a new day! God had come to share our humanity.
Matthew’s story shows us God’s desire to be involved in the lives of those who trust him. God met the needs of Mary and Joseph. He guided them. He protected them. He told them when to take the baby Jesus to Egypt. He told them when it was safe for them to leave Egypt and return to Israel.
Back in Nazareth Jesus was nurtured in the simple life of Joseph the carpenter. The influence of Mary and Joseph helped prepare Jesus to answer his Father’s call to die on the cross for the sins of the world.
The story of Jesus’ birth gives us the assurance that God wants to live with us. He wants us to trust him for guidance and protection. He wants to get down in the trenches with us and give us the power to overcome our problems. He wants to be our Emmanuel in the struggles of life. He wants us to be able to say, “I was not alone; God was with me and his presence made all the difference.”
God came when Jesus was born and there was a new community of faith, hope and love. When Jesus comes to us, when he is “born” in us and manifests his presence in our families, then we experience a new community of faith, hope and love.
When Jesus was born God did a new thing. When Jesus is born in our hearts God does a new thing. We have new values, new hopes, new dreams and new energy to fulfill God’s mission for our lives. Emmanuel, God with us, guides us just as he guided Mary and Joseph.
This gives a whole new meaning to Christmas! It explains why we sing with gusto “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” + + +