First Christmas

Angels, 25 December 2016

Series: First Christmas
Luke 2:1-14

Series Big Idea:
Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

Big Idea: We need not fear angels…or anything but God.

Merry CHRISTmas! My name is Kirk and I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with you!

Throughout Advent—this season of waiting—we’ve been looking at the Christmas story through the eyes of various characters present at the First Christmas. We looked at the Wise Men, Elizabeth, the Innkeeper, Joseph, and today it’s the angels.

Have you ever met or seen an angel? Our minds picture a person dressed in white with wings and a halo, but angels are real creatures. In fact, they’re mentioned nearly three hundred times in the Bible! Unless they suddenly became an endangered species, they are just as real and important today.

We don’t have time to do a thorough study of angels today, but I want to look at two words they spoke: fear not.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (
Luke 2:4-7)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (
Luke 2:8-9)


Why were they terrified? They saw and angel. They saw the glory of the Lord.

It seems like often when angels appear, people are afraid. That makes sense, right?

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. (Matthew 28:5)

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. (Luke 1:13)

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

Sometimes people are already afraid and angels are sent to bring comfort and peace.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. (Genesis 21:17)

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)

And we have the example in today’s text.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have loved Charlie Brown for as long as I can remember. Being a musician, I should’ve identified most with Schroeder, but whenever I would read the Peanuts comics or watch the television specials I always connected with Charlie Brown.

Charles Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown, told so many wonderful stories, but the best story he ever told was not his, but taken from the Bible.

Perhaps you’ve seen the Facebook post by Jason Soroski. I’m so grateful to Crystal who sent it to me. I nearly cried reading it…and I want to share it with you today.

Last year, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on national prime time television for the 50th time. In a world where the latest greatest technology is outdated in a matter of months, and social media trends come and go in a matter of days, 50 years of anything becomes quite meaningful.

I am a fan of all things nostalgic and all things Christmas, and so when the two are combined I am hooked, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special falls squarely into that category.

I was in the first grade back when they still performed Christmas pageants in schools (less than 50 years, but still a very long time ago), and our class performed a version of the Charlie Brown Christmas. Since I was kind of a bookworm and already had a blue blanket, I was chosen to play the part of Linus. As Linus, I memorized
Luke 2:8-14, and that Scripture has been hidden in my heart ever since.

But while working so diligently to learn those lines, there is one important thing I didn’t notice then, and didn’t notice until now.

Right in the middle of speaking, Linus drops the blanket.

Charlie Brown is best known for his uniquely striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up.

Until this moment. When he simply drops it.

In that climactic scene when Linus shares “what Christmas is all about,” he drops his security blanket, and I am now convinced that this is intentional. Most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, “fear not.”

Looking at it now, it is pretty clear what Charles Schultz was saying, and it’s so simple it’s brilliant.

The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears.

The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves.

The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.

The world of 2016 can be a scary place, and most of us find ourselves grasping to something temporal for security, whatever that thing may be. Essentially, 2016 is a world in which it is very difficult for us to “fear not.”

But in the midst of fear and insecurity, this simple cartoon image from 1965 continues to live on as an inspiration for us to seek true peace and true security in the one place it has always been and can always still be found.

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

What are you afraid of? I know that’s an odd question to ask on Christmas Day, but what are you afraid of?

The dark?
Your credit card bill next month after Christmas shopping?
Your health?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1John 4:16-18)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Fear not!

The angels said it.

It’s the most common command in the Bible.

If we recognize the love and presence and power and wisdom and wonder and mystery of God, our other fears will diminish.

Technically, the Bible doesn’t say the angels sang. It says they praised God.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (
Luke 2:13-14)

We can praise with words, but music has a special way of enhancing the worship.

“Angels We Have Heard On High” has possibly the longest word in any piece of music! The 18-syllable word is "Gloria." Gloria, in excelsis Deo means simply, “Glory to God in the highest.”

Fear Not

The message of Christmas is Immanuel, God is with us.

Fear not…God is with us.
Fear not…the Prince of Peace is here.
Fear not…you are not alone.
Fear not…the baby will return soon as King Jesus.

Happy birthday, Jesus! Merry CHRISTmas! God bless you!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Joseph, 18 December 2016

    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 1:18-25

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

    The thing I can't figure out is why He chose me. Have you ever thought that? Why did He choose for you to live here? To work here? To serve here?

    I had a great phone conversation with one of our church’s outstanding leaders. She was feeling out of her comfort zone, inadequate, and unqualified. I reminded her God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

    Why did He choose Mary?
    Why did He choose Joseph?
    Why did He choose you?

    Scariest, most difficult, confusing, puzzling, mystifying, amazing, glorious, inexplicable, exciting, gripping, intoxicating, powerful, petrifying, terrifying, most wonderful day.

    Parents, does that describe your child’s birthday? No day changed my life more than May 21, 1992. That was the day our first child, Kailey, was born. I’ve never been the same since.


    There are two important biblical characters named Joseph. The first was Jacob’s son, the boy given the coat of many colors who became the second most powerful person in Egypt under Pharaoh. The other is Jesus’ step dad, Mary’s husband. A humble carpenter.

    We don’t know much about Joseph. Mary is quoted, present throughout the life of her son, and a prominent figure. But Joseph…he almost looks like one of the shepherds in many nativity scenes!

    Does he complain? Hardly. Well, actually, we don’t know, but let’s assume the drama was accurate. It’s a privilege to be the stepfather of the Messiah. In fact, it is a tremendous gift and responsibility.

    What’s the greatest thing that has ever been entrusted to your care? For many kids it’s a dog. I know of at least one child who wants a dog for Christmas. But dogs require care—well, live dogs require care. I’m not talking about a stuffed animal. Dogs need food, water, treats, trips to the vet, and everyone’s favorite chore…cleaning up the back yard!

    Several years ago a friend of mine at our church was loaned a yellow Lambourghini, a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! He was so nervous knowing he possessed—at least temporarily—a treasure. He drove it so carefully, not wanting to risk even a small scratch on it.

    Parents, you certainly remember the first time you held your child in your arms, aware of the tremendous blessings—and responsibility—you were holding.

    Birth parents have a role in the gift they produce. I won’t get into a detailed explanation of that today (!), but in Joseph’s case he not only became a dad, he was chosen—by God—to raise the promised Messiah. It’s hard for us, sometimes, to understand just how significant this child was to the Jewish people. There were prophecies for hundreds (thousands?) of years concerning the Messiah…and then silence. There were about four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, between the prophecies and the arrival of Jesus. Four hundred years—of silence. Imagine silence since 1616! And then God announces you’ll parent God’s son!

    This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19)

    These two verses tell us quite a bit about Joseph. He was faithful to the law. This means he was a righteous man. He obeyed God, which involved loving others. In this case, he wanted to protect the girl/woman he loved. Quietly divorcing (calling off the wedding) Mary would’ve been far less shameful for a teen mom than exposing her for “sleeping around.” Joseph was a good man. We know Mary was righteous, and she would surely not be engaged to a loser!

    Yet on the surface, Joseph must’ve surely thought he made a mistake by proposing to this teenage girl with bun-in-the-oven. Imagine how he felt. His love is pregnant…and he’s a virgin. He cannot be the father of this child, which means…who is it? Sure, Mary, the Holy Spirit. Who’s the Holy Spirit? I know people who think they’re holy, but Spirit is a strange last night for a guy, don’t you think?!

    As is so often the case with Bible passages, we know the rest of the story. We know what’s going to happen. We’ve seen the end of the movie! But Joseph had no clue. I can’t imagine the disappointment, the heartbreak, and the embarrassment. Make no mistake, people knew about his pregnant fiancée…or they would. It’s not like you could fly to another state or country and take on a new identity. Unwed mothers were not the norm as they tragically are today in so many communities. Joseph’s bride-to-be was a disgrace. Even associating with her would affect his reputation…and it did.

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (
    Matthew 1:20-21)

    I wonder how long it took Joseph to fall asleep. You don’t just get life-changing news, call off a wedding, and snooze when your head hits the pillow. He may have laid in bed for hours before finally drifting off into la-la land. And then he has a dream!

    The dream confirms what Mary said. Wait, is this a dream or a hallucination? Am I just making this up? So Mary is carrying the Messiah? The Savior?

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (
    Matthew 1:22-23)

    Even though all of this news was surely shocking to Joseph, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. He knew the ancient scriptures. He was faithful to the law. As a Jew, he knew about the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

    Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:13-14)

    The book of Matthew quotes the Old Testament at least 47 times, most of them Messianic, dealing with Jesus. Matthew begins his gospel—good news—with a genealogy of Jesus. He wrote,

    This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

    Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, …Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

    David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam…and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

    After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

    Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-17)

    Joseph knew the prophecy of the Messiah, but couldn’t have imagined he would play a part in the most important—and famous—birth in human history.

    Immanuel: God with us. God will be with Mary. God will be with Joseph. God will be with us. What a dream!

    When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (
    Matthew 1:24-25)

    He did not divorce her. He did not abandon her. He chose to travel this remarkable—and often painful—journey with her. He married her. I have to add, contrary to some traditions, Mary and Joseph
    did consummate their marriage…after the birth of Christ. They had other children, too (so much for the “perpetual virgin” notion!).


    Although we don’t know much about Joseph, we know he was righteous, obedient, and faithful. I’m sure he felt unworthy of the gift and responsibility placed into his care, but he said, “Yes.”

    God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

    What is God calling you to do? Sure, you won’t be entrusted to raise God’s son, but He’s calling you. Maybe He’s calling you to quit playing religion and truly surrender your life to Him. Quit playing games and let God truly be LORD in your life.

    Maybe God is calling you to step out in faith, to take a big risk. Perhaps it’s to write a ridiculously generous check, trusting Him to provide for your needs.

    I believe God is calling some of you to step into new positions of leadership. It may begin with apprenticing under a small group leader, eventually leading to caring for your own group. Leading a small group is a tremendous gift and responsibility. The eternities of men, women, and children are at stake.

    Some of you have been resisting an investment in the next generation. Our children, our youth need you. God might want you to disciple students. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, only that you obey God’s call.

    If you feel inadequate, join the club!

    I was recently talking with Thomas George, our District Superintendent. He asked how things were in Toledo and I said, “Fantastic! I love First Alliance Church. I’m so grateful God called us to Toledo, though I feel unworthy of serving such a great congregation.” He looked me in the eye and said, “If you ever feel worthy, call me and I will remove you.” He was serious. I was appreciative. When we feel like we can do it, we no longer need God.

    God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. When we ask, “Why,” He often responds, “Why not?”

    “We all have to embrace the fact that God wants to use us. He’s given us talents, passions, gifts; He’s given us a community of people to do life with. If we focus and have intentionality, He will absolutely use us to make a difference in the world.” – Chris Marlow

    It’s my desire for God to call many of you into new opportunities, new challenges. You can make excuses, but some of you know it’s time. It’s time to get out of the boat and experience the thrill of being used by God to accomplish great things. And when you are faithful in small things, He will entrust even greater things to your care. And remember, you are never alone. We are here…and so is He. The message of Immanuel is “God is with us.”

    • Credits
    Some ideas from

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Innkeeper, 11 December 2016

    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 1:18-25

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: Advent is about making room for Jesus.


    You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Or do you? Do you?

    Today we’re talking about space. I don’t mean Mars and Jupiter. I mean room, capacity. It’s been said no matter how much space you have, you always fill it.

    This is true of memory on your cell phone or computer.
    It’s true of your closet.
    It’s true of your garage.
    It’s true of your calendar.
    It’s true of your heart.

    My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. We’ve looked at the Wise Men and Elizabeth. Today we turn to the Innkeeper.

    Before we discuss the innkeeper, we need to set a few things straight. Our understanding of Christmas has been plagued by many myths.

    For example, we noted two weeks ago how we don’t know how many magi visited Jesus. Maybe three. Maybe twelve. We have no idea. The Bible never says anything about them being kings. Even though they came with our nativity scene, they likely arrived on the scene a year or two after Jesus was born.

    Now about the inn. As a kid watching Christmas pageants I was led to believe Mary and Joseph journeyed on a donkey to an ancient version of a Holiday Inn, all of the rooms were booked, and they hung out in a nearby barn filled with hay, animals, and a wooden manger where Jesus laid comfortably…no crying he made (“Away in a Manger”).

    Actually, there was no space (room) in the "upper room" of a private house because other family members had arrived there first. This was not a motel or public dwelling. Look at the text of Luke chapter two:

    So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (Luke 2:4)

    You may recall Caesar Augustus called for a census. In our nation, we have a census every ten years, a form every citizen is required to complete in order to know about the people in our country.

    Two thousand years ago they didn’t have the Internet, FedEx, or even the Post Office to deliver mail, so people had to travel to their own register. Joseph’s ancestral home was Bethlehem. He was a descendant of King David, and David was born in Bethlehem.

    He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:5-7)

    In case you were wondering, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. Of course Mary and Joseph were not crows, so they probably walked more than 90 miles—likely four or five days on foot. Maybe they had a donkey…maybe not. There’s no donkey mentioned in the biblical account.

    What’s the longest you’ve ever walked in a day? How many steps, FitBit owners?!

    Moms, can you imagine walking to The Palace of Auburn Hills, north of Detroit…nine months pregnant?

    One of the challenges with the Christmas story is it’s too familiar. We’ve sanitized its harsh realities into cute figurines we put near the fireplace or kids dressed in bathrobes performing Christmas pageants.

    The “holy night when Christ was born” was not the only night of the journey. It simply represented what was likely their first night in Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthday. What did they do the other days?

    Good Jews were expected to offer hospitality to travelers. It was common for people to have a guest room in their home for such occasions. Animals would live on the ground level and people would live upstairs. Perhaps Joseph and Mary camped during their journey. They may have traveled with others in a group for safety from lions, bears, or bandits. This was not an uncommon journey. In fact, later in Luke chapter two we are told

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

    But let’s return to our text.

    While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:6-7)

    She gave birth to her firstborn. There would be other children.

    There was no guest room available for them. Most ancient Jewish homes had a common area on the main level, including a manger where animals ate and slept at night, and an upper room where everyone slept. The upstairs was full. It’s possible there was a separate barn, but this would often be attached to the house directly. They were unable to find private quarters for the birth since no guest room was available in a home. Tradition says Jesus was actually born not in a barn, but rather in a cave nearby.

    Here’s a photo of the traditional place in Bethlehem where Jesus may have been born. Heather took this last month when she was in Israel. It hardly looks like our nativity set!

    We assume there was an innkeeper…more accurately a homeowner—likely a relative— who had no room in his guest room for Joseph and Mary. At least they found shelter in a cave.

    Sometimes the innkeeper gets a bad rap, but imagine you have a packed house and a friend calls last-minute and asks to crash on your couch. What do you do? If there’s no room, maybe you tell them they can set up your camping tent in the backyard!

    Then again, if you knew how significant these travelers were, you would’ve done anything for them! Hindsight is 20/20, right?

    If I had known the iPhone would change the world, I would’ve bought Apple stocks when everyone was saying they were headed toward bankruptcy.

    If I had known he was really that drunk I would have taken his keys.

    If I had known those jalapenos were that hot, I wouldn’t have ordered that burrito!

    If I had known she was carrying the Christ child, I would have given them my own bed.

    Instead, Joseph and Mary slept on the ground floor with the animals, under the sleeping quarters of their relatives, under the upper room. The Greek word here (
    kataluma) is the same as the place where Jesus celebrated Passover and had his Last Supper with his disciples before he was crucified.

    So why do we think there was a stable, a barn, or even a cave? The only hint of such a thing is that Jesus was born in a
    manger, a food trough for animals. We often depict mangers as wooden beds with hay, but ancient mangers were probably made with something like concrete. In my research, I discovered,

    “Guest rooms were typically in the front of houses and the animal shelters were in the back of the house or the lower level (in a cave). In the family shelter, the family animals were fed and protected at night from the cold, thieves, and predators. So Joseph and Mary were lodged on the lower level or in the back of the house—the animal shelter. Most likely, the animals were removed while the couple lodged there. (There is no mention of animals in Luke’s or Matthew’s account. St. Francis is credited with building the first manger scene complete with live animals.)”

    So What?

    Advent is about making room for Jesus.

    Did Joseph’s relative make room in his house for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. No. Space was made below in the area animals would typically spend the night. They received the leftovers rather than the finest hospitality.

    What about you? Are you making room for Jesus?
    Some people ignore God 167 hours a week and think an hour on Sunday will be sufficient.

    Some people spend all of their money—and then some—on stuff for themselves and feel good if they drop a ten or twenty in the offering plate.

    Some people like the parts of the Bible which talk about blessings and rewards but make no room for the challenging teachings of surrender and sacrifice.

    Some people are fans of Jesus, but they’re not truly followers.

    Let me get very practical. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We often call church buildings “houses of God,” but really we are the houses, the places where God dwells. Have you allowed God into all of your house?

    What about the study or library of your house? That’s where you think. Do your thoughts bring glory to God?

    The living room is where we hang out with friends. Is there room in your relationships for God, or do you keep Him out of your friendships?

    The dining room is where we feed our desires. Is there room for God in the things you consume?

    The bedroom is where intimacy is experienced. Have you surrendered your sexuality to God or is he locked out?

    The rec room is where we watch movies, listen to music, read books, and play games. Have you made room for God in your hobbies and entertainment?

    The attic is where we hide things, things we don’t want others to see, things we hoard and can’t get rid of like bitterness and envy. God would love for you to let Him there.

    The workroom is where…we work! God wants you to make room for Him on your commute, in the cubicle, at school, at the job site.


    I’m glad you made room for Jesus this morning. I really am. There are many things you could be doing now besides listening to God’s Word. The innkeeper—if there was such a person—Joseph’s relative made a little room for Jesus’ family, but it certainly wasn’t his best. They got the scraps, the leftovers.

    God’s glad you gave Him this hour, but He wants all of you. It’s only fair. He gave His very best for us—His only Son, Jesus. Jesus made room in his life for us. He stepped away from heaven and came down to live with us, to be God with us, Emmanuel.

    You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Where do you need to make room? Where do you need to surrender?

    I Surrender All

    • Credits
    Some ideas from

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Elizabeth, 4 December 2016

    Series: First Christmas
    Luke 1:46-55

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: God is making life out of the barren places.


    God is making life out of the barren places.

    It happened to Isaac’s parents, Abram and Sarai.
    It happened to Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife.
    It happened to Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah.
    It happened to John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

    It is still happening today.

    My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. Last week we examined the wise men who traveled likely hundreds of miles to meet the Messiah, possibly years after his birth.

    Today’s character is Elizabeth. If you open your Bibles to Luke chapter one you’ll discover the story of Elizabeth. She may be one of the most underrated figures in the Bible. She not only was the mother of John the Baptist, she was old and barren.

    Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

    They weren’t just old…both Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old!

    Very old people are usually called grandparents or great grandparents, not mom and dad! How could this be?

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, did you see the news this week? The tragedy at Ohio State?
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, how are we going to pay off the Visa bill after Christmas?
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, my marriage is a disaster and I feel trapped in misery.
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, I don’t know what to do about these out-of-control children.
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, I really want a baby but the doctor says it’ll never happen.
    God is making life out of the barren places.


    What do you think of when you hear the word barren? A desert, right?

    Fortunately, we no longer use it to describe women unable to have children. But Elizabeth heard it. She heard it for years. It was likely her label. Barren. “That woman over there…she’s barren. I wonder what she did to make God curse her. What secret sin did she commit?”

    In the culture, the more children, the more worth you had, the more God loved you. But Elizabeth was barren…for decades. Imagine the shame. Imagine the stares. The whispers. But notice Elizabeth is not an evil woman.

    Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

    There’s a great story in the Bible that occurs in a barren desert. Actually, the people of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness, a region which contained deserts. On at least two occasions the people complained about having no water to drink.

    Now I think that’s a valid concern, don’t you? “Moses, we’re starving in the desert. We’re going to die out here!” At least twice God provides water for the people. It doesn’t rain. It doesn’t come from a well. No food trucks arrive on the scene with water bottles. In the book of Numbers, it says

    So Moses took the staff from the LORD’S presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:9-11)

    The original Hebrew word for “gushed” is “rabbim.” It means great and abundant. God didn’t just provide a little bit of water. He gave an abundance.

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible quotes Jesus as saying

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    Jesus came to give abundant, full life. Greater life. Extraordinary life. More.

    Can you think of a time when God provided in abundance?

    For Heather and I, First Alliance Church has been an example of God providing for us abundantly. We could never have imagined a year and a half ago we would be serving alongside so many incredible men, women and children in Glass City. My prayers have been filled with gratitude for His abundant provisions.

    But back to Elizabeth and Zechariah!

    Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. (Luke 1:8-10)

    Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:11-17)

    Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about Abram and Sarai and their miracle baby, Isaac, born to a 90 year-old mom and a dad who was one hundred years old. So obviously, they were filled with faith and excitement about finally becoming parents, right? No!

    Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

    The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

    That’s one way to keep a priest from preaching long sermons!

    When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:23-25)

    Better late than never, right? Elizabeth’s going to have a baby…but not just any baby. Jesus said of this child

    Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11a)


    God is making life out of the barren places.

    You might wonder what Elizabeth and John the Baptist have to do with Advent and Jesus.

    In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

    Sound familiar? Mary is excited and can’t wait, right?

    Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33)

    “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

    Is this a good question? Absolutely! It’s an honest question. Although the word “but” is not here in the English translation, that’s Mary’s response. “But how can a virgin have a baby?”

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)

    Here we have two miracle moms. Two miracle babies. Two examples of God making life out of the barren places. Mary appropriately says

    “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)

    Then Mary goes to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home, John the Baptists leaps in the womb when he hears Mary’s voice, and Elizabeth celebrates Mary’s news, leading Mary to say (or sing?)

    And Mary said: 

    “My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has been mindful 
    of the humble state of his servant.
    From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
    His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
    He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty. 
    He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (
    Luke 1:46-55)

    So What?

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    I’m not saying every woman unable to conceive will have a baby in nine months.

    I’m not promising your student loans will be miraculously forgiven next week.

    I can’t even say your troubled marriage is guaranteed to thrive in the new year or that this will be the best Christmas ever.

    But I can say God is making life out of barren places. But it might take time.

    How well do you wait? Waiting is hard in an on-demand world. The microwave can’t cook quickly enough. The fast food order can’t arrive fast enough. The crazy red light can’t turn green soon enough. If my package takes more than two days to arrive at my doorstep…!!!

    Imagine waiting your entire life for something. We do, right? That driver’s license? High school diploma? Spouse? House? Kids?

    Kids. Elizabeth and Zechariah waited decades.

    Could it be that the very things we desire today
    will become reality tomorrow…just not today?

    I’ve prayed for many sick people and seen them healed, but not always instantly.

    I’ve prayed for many broken relationships and seen them healed, but rarely instantly.

    I’ve watch friends overcome addiction and abuse and tragedy, but it took time and work.

    “Here’s the formula for waiting: buckle up, don’t grow weary, do good, don’t give up.”
    • - Harvey & Gilbert, Letting Go

    God IS making life in the barren places. All the time.

    There’s one empty, barren place I love. Nobody is certain exactly where it is, but it’s in the Middle East, in Israel. It’s a barren tomb. It once contained a dead body. A body that was placed in the tomb after a brutal death, a death we remember today.

    We celebrate the empty, barren tomb because Jesus is alive! He is risen! He will hear us in three weeks when we sing, “Happy birthday” to him! He is with us know through the Holy Spirit. Best of all, he’s coming back to earth soon. When he does, he will permanently make life out of the barren places of our lives. And until then, we declare Jesus Christ is LORD, Messiah, and King.


    Some ideas from

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Wise Men, 27 November 2016

    Wise Man
    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 2:1-12

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: The wise men waited, listened, and journeyed to follow Jesus, setting an example for us to follow.

    Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-2; 9-12


    For years, people have been warning us, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Is it me or has it taken people a decade or so to finally realize that applies to Facebook? There are so many bogus new reports, urban legends, and flat out lies about people proliferating.

    Perhaps one reason so many people believe lies is they don’t take time to listen.

    (silence) Do you hear what I hear?

    As the Peanuts song declares, “Christmastime is here.” It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the most stressful time of the year. For many it’s the most depressing time of the year. For merchants it’s the most profitable time of the year. And for many Christians it’s the most offensive time of the year as their religious holiday is hijacked by Santa and sales at the mall.

    But let’s set all of that aside. Christmas is our celebration of Christ’s birth, but it’s more than a day. It truly is a season. It’s a season we call Advent.

    Advent is a time of waiting. It’s a time of anticipation. It’s a time of preparation, watching, and listening. Advent is here. Each week we will look at the First Christmas through the eyes of a different character in the story. Today that is the wise man.

    Hide and seek.

    Did you ever play hide and seek when you were a kid? Of course! The best players played hide and go listen. Listen for the sounds of the hiders under the bed, in the closet, or behind the curtain. Listen for the giggles and whispers.

    Listening is a lost art. Unless you’re a psychologist paid to listen, most of us struggle with keeping quiet, being fully present, and hearing what another is communicating.

    Our understanding of the First Christmas has been terribly distorted over the years. Like Facebook myths, there are myths surrounding the wise man (not “the wise guy!”):

    - There were three of them. The Bible never says how many. It says there were three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Eastern tradition says there were twelve!

    - The camels. They’re in my nativity set. Are they in yours? They may have been present at the First Christmas, but they’re not mentioned in the Bible, either.

    - They had names. Well, of course they did have names, but we don’t know their names. Tradition says they were named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, but the Bible does not tell us their names.

    - They were kings. Do you remember that song “We three kings of Orient are/bearing gifts we traverse afar/field and fountain/moor and mountain/following yonder star…oh, star of wonder, star of might/star with royal beauty might/westward leading/still proceeding/guide us to thy perfect light.” It’s a great song, written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., but he took some liberties in calling the wise men kings, or telling us there were exactly three. Magi were not kings, but rather religious advisers.

    Listen…to what the Bible says about the wise men, also known as Magi:

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    We could do an entire message on the star. Who would travel after seeing a star in the sky? One must remember the skies were brighter and clearer. There were no skyscrapers, car headlights, or even streetlights. When the sun went down, the only lights were candles. Star gazing was a big deal, and it was believed the heavens and the earth were intricately connected. Halley’s Comet appeared in 12-11 BC, but that was a little early for the First Christmas. It may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction with each other. N.T. Wright notes

    Since Jupiter was the ‘royal’ or kingly planet, and Saturn was sometimes thought to represent the Jews, the conclusion was obvious: a new king of the Jews was about to be born.

    We’re not really sure about the star. It may have been a natural phenomenon, a comet, planets, a supernatural astral light, or even an angel. We do know astronomers and astrologers often went together in the ancient world. These men made a journey to Jerusalem.
    This word “Magi” can refer not only to wise men but also magicians, astrologers, or experts in interpreting dreams. Today we would probably call them “spiritual” men.

    And who did they ask in Jerusalem? The mayor? The chief of police? The director of the Chamber of Commerce?

    Three decades later Pilate’s soldiers will call Jesus, “King of the Jews.” His crown will be made of thorns. His throne will be a cross. A bright star will be replaced by midday darkness. But that’s a story for another time.

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: (
    Matthew 2:3-5)

    “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler 
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (
    Matthew 2:6)

    Herod was listening. He had heard the prophecies of a king, a king of the Jews. Of course Herod was disturbed. He was the king of the Jews. He ruled over Jews and Gentiles. He wasn’t ready to have his kingdom divided. The Messiah came not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles. The rule and reign of King Jesus will ultimately extend to every nation, tribe, and tongue.

    Jerusalem is disturbed, too. This may mean the actual residents of the city or the Jewish leadership aligned with Herod. The religious people may have been threatened by Jesus from the very beginning, the one they will crucify many years later.

    Note the prophet Micah gave this prophecy seven centuries earlier.

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

    Obviously Herod was not serious. What king goes to worship a child? What king worships another king? He wanted to snuff out the competition! He feared no attack from the west because that was the heart of the Roman Empire. He was more afraid of attacks from the east. It should be noted as he became older, Herod became increasingly paranoid as his ten wives had many children who competed for his throne.

    Is Jesus a baby? We’re not certain, but it could be up to two years after his birth. We do know after he was born and presented in the temple, he was raised in Bethlehem, a city six miles south/southwest of Jerusalem.

    (Heather was there earlier this month, yet another reminder that our faith is not based upon fantasy or dreams, but rather upon historical events, real people, and real places).

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (
    Matthew 2:9-12)

    The Magi followed a moving star! Maybe it
    was an angel guiding them? A supernatural message delivered a life-saving message to them in a dream.

    These gifts were standard items to honor a king or god in the ancient world. In fact, it is recorded that these three were offered to the god Apollo in 243 BC by King Seleucus II Callinicus. They were also very prophetic. Gold is, of course, a precious metal. It represents the kingship of the Messiah. Frankincense is a perfume or incense, a symbol of Christ’s priestly role (also possibly used as an arthritis remedy). Myrrh is anointing oil often used to embalm the dead, a prophetic image of the crucifixion.

    No names.
    No camels.
    No kings.
    No stable.

    But they had been listening.
    They had been watching.
    They had been waiting.

    So What?

    I want to challenge you to pay close attention throughout this series to what is said—and not said—in the text.

    The Magi traveled with gifts to honor Jesus. Although they may have been wealthy, their journey was surely a sacrifice. Although they may or may not have ridden on camels, they certainly didn’t take Delta Airlines, Amtrak, or even the interstate. Their route may have been nine hundred miles, taking several months!

    What about you? Today we must be listening—and reading the Word of God. We must be watching—for signs, for his activity in our world. We must be waiting.

    The Jewish people waited thousands of years for the Messiah. The prophecies of his first arrival to our planet were well known, even among Gentiles. Can you imagine waiting thousands of years for Jesus? Yes we can! The Messiah is coming…again! Soon.

    Are you ready? Are you willing to come to Jesus? He traveled a great distance to come to us. Are you willing to offer your best gifts to him? He gave everything to us, even his very life.

    The Magi came to worship Jesus.
    We have come today to worship Jesus—with singing, the study of God’s Word, and the giving of our tithes and offerings.

    Wise men—and women—still listen…they still look…they still seek the Messiah as they await his return.


    “God of Light and Love we know You are speaking. Help us to have ears that hear. Help us listen for your Voice. Help us listen to each other. Help us to hear the pain in the words that aren’t spoken. Help us be Your listening ear so that we may lead others to You. Amen.”


    Some ideas from, The NIV Application Commentary, and Matthew for Everyone by N.T. Wright.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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