We’ve now come to the third movement in the Symphony of Christ, but before the musicians start playing let’s quickly review what we heard in the first two movements…
Movement 1, "The Promise"
Our first movement, "The Promise," exploded at the beginning—as we were treated to the creation of the heavens and the earth…followed by a grand celebration because, just like God, the angels "saw everything that [God] had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31a).
The music quickly turned dark and gloomy, however, because our original parents almost immediately trusted the hollow promise of sin…and were rewarded with something they never experienced before…
But our Lord, who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6b-7a) didn’t give us the destruction we deserved—instead He gave us a promise of a Messiah.
We ended the first movement with a slight taste of the second…when would the assurance contained the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 be fulfilled?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Movement 2, "The Anticipation"
Our second movement, "The Anticipation," showed how the promise of a savior was repeated over-and-over-and-over again in the Old Testament in three major forms:
- The earthly king who would rule the world
- The suffering servant who would bear our sins
- The apocalyptic judge who would come in the clouds from heaven
And like Anna and Simeon just before Christ’s arrival, the end of movement 2 left us on the edge of our seats…it was clear that the time had come for the Promised One to appear. Anna spoke "of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38) and Simeon was promised "he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ" (Luke 2:26).
And you won’t see the end of this sermon without seeing the same "Lord’s Christ!"
(It should probably be noted the second movement was happy throughout, except for my terrible rendition of a portion of Carly Simon’s song, "Anticipation" :-))
The instrumentalists are done warming up, and we are about to hear the "Symphony of Christ, 3 Movement: The Incarnation."
How would you predict it starts?
The natural answer would be a melody that fits the miraculous virgin conception (but ordinary birth) of a child…
However, that’s not how it begins..
Instead movement three starts one person of the Godhead doing the unthinkable. Let’s turn to Philippians 2 to be stunned along with the watching angels:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
I can just imagine the angels scratching their head as they see Jesus giving up the glory He had with the Father before the world existed (see John 17:5) to come down to the beings that had so quickly rejected Him.
Everything made Himself nothing.
"What is man that you are mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4a)
Now the Nativity Story…
Revelation 8:1 says that "when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about half an hour." It seems to me that when Jesus gave up His heavenly location and came down here to earth there may have been another bit of shocked cherubic silence…so the third movement has a pause early on…but then, yes, it’s melody becomes that of the Nativity Story…which some of our young men will "play" as I "conduct."
The nativity story begins with the conception…
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." (Luke 1:26-45)
Now, normally I don’t think nativity stories include Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, but I personally love the leaping baby :-)…even before he was born John the Baptist was excited at the arrival of our Savior…fetal anticipation of sorts, eh?
Our music now flows from the conception to the arrival…
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:1-20).
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Those angels…they just can’t help celebrating God’s acts, can they?! Shouldn’t we have the same type of reaction as we see His great deeds through history…as we receive His incredible blessings right now…and as we look forward to His promised returned?
This is where I would normally stop the Nativity Story in Luke…some might include baby Jesus’ dedication at the temple. Whatever your preference, I suspect you, like me, would turn to Matthew for at least one part of the narrative that Luke does not include:
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 " ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ "
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way (Matthew 1:2-12).
What nativity story would be complete without the Magi? 🙂
At this point I wanted us to sing "We Three Kings"…but it’s not in our hymnal. I suspect most of us are familiar with the first verse and chorus:
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.1
Perhaps, however, the last verse is most important:
Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Sounds through the earth and skies.2
Yes, just like the Magi we have seen the star and rejoice exceedingly with great joy.
At this point the action in our third movement is complete. The God-man has been born and rests comfortably in manger—although He likely was no longer a newborn by the time the Magi were able to worship Him in person.
Before the movement ceases, however, we are left with a question.
Why would the Son leave the glory He had with the Father to become the lowly child of a carpenter?
First, whatever the reason, we know it was just at the right time:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5)
Paul makes it clear that our Lord’s timing was perfect…and also shares two reasons for the incarnation. Jesus came:
- To redeem us
- To adopt us
I also like how Paul explains the purpose of the incarnation in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
- To make us rich—but not in a "health and wealth" kind of way—true riches!
As you can imagine…going through all the reasons for the incarnation would keep you and me here the rest of the day, so let’s instead be satisfied for now with a couple more scriptures:
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Reasons #4-8 for the incarnation:
- To destroy the Devil
- To deliver us
- To become our high priest
- To provide a propitiation for our sins
- To help us when we are tempted
A little later on the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 4:14-16, also notes that having come to earth and living as a man Jesus is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses" because He is "one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
So…as reason #9 for the incarnation:
- To sympathize with our weaknesses
Now…to end a list on #9 just seems wrong…so let’s let John share what I believe is the ultimate reason for Jesus’ incarnation:
3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. 6 I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word (John 17:3-6).
Remember in the first movement what went wrong in the Garden? The breakdown of trust?
How do you restore trust?
By evidence of trustworthiness.
Can you trust a God who is like Jesus? Of course you can!
Reason #10 for the incarnation:
- To manifest the Father…to show people what God is really like!
Looking into a Baby’s Eyes
As we wrap up the third movement, just imagine you are one of the Magi, staring into the face of the infant Son of God. You are three-quarters through the Symphony of Christ…and "The Culmination" is about to begin.
You have probably heard stories of children who were born to provide treatment to sick brothers or sisters…for instance in order to donate matching bone marrow for fighting leukemia. Some refer to that type of child as a "savior sibling."
Because of the nature of the disease we are afflicted with, you are looking into the info eyes of the ultimate Savior Sibling.
Born to die.
1http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/e/wethree.htm (accessed 12/11/2010).