Sunday Morning | December 24, 2023 | John C. Majors | Louisville, KY
In preparation for Christmas, Pastor John reflects on angelic visits in the biblical narrative and how they relate to individuals' attitudes and actions. Mary, the first recipient of an angelic visit, initially experiences fear but demonstrates patience and trust in God's plan. Joseph, described as "just," seeks wisdom in a dream, emphasizing the importance of listening and obedience in discerning God's will. The Wise Men actively seek a sign, worshiping and offering gifts upon finding the newborn Jesus. Shepherds, often overlooked, eagerly respond to the angel's message, becoming evangelists. The contrast is drawn with Herod, who, troubled by the news of Jesus, represents a worldly fear and lust for control. The overall message is that angels appear to those who are humble, God-fearing, and eager to hear and share the good news, emphasizing the peace found in Jesus. The reflection concludes with the verses from Longfellow's poem, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day," affirming the enduring hope of peace on earth despite worldly challenges.
At Valley View Church we are currently studying through the entire gospel of John, verse by verse. You can join us on Sunday mornings at 11 AM for worship. We are located at 8911 3rd Street Road, Louisville KY 40272.
Good morning. It's good to be here together. And I especially want to greet I know we probably have more kids in here than normal. Let me see a show of hands for the kids who are in here today. Look at this. Hey, watch it. I don't mean kid at heart. I know some of you. Listen, I knew you'd be in here, so I need your help this morning. The adults can help, too. We're going to look at a few images. And when you see what comes up on screen, I want you to let me know whether if this thing came to your neighborhood, would this be good or bad? All right. We're going to go through these and you're going to shout out just when you see it, you shout it out. If you don't know what it is, that's okay. We'll get through them. Let's start with this first image. Good or bad? You tell me. Number one, you know that's bad. Whoever said good, that's bad. Godzilla shows up, and that's the old school Godzilla. But I know you're like, that's papier maché and putty or something, But you don't want Godzilla showing up. That's bad. All right. That's the first one. Let's look at this next one. Good or bad? I heard mostly good, but some of us might say bad, right? Depending how often you visit Krispy Kreme. Okay, Let's look at the next one. Good or bad I heard mostly bad. There's a few times the Hulk shows up. That's the old school Hulk again. Few times he shows up and he’s good. That is a little bit of a mix there. Okay. What about this next one, good or bad? That was the strongest response yet. Good. There's nothing bad about Chick-Fil-A, right? In fact, I saw this meme show- Pop up this next one. Is this what Jesus meant when he said he goes to prepare a place for us? Okay, last one. Good or bad? This is- We don't know exactly what an angel looks like. This is meant to be an angel. What happens when an angel shows up in your life? I think we all in the course of our life, we want to. We want God to show up. Day to day. We may face a challenge. We may face a hard time. And we're asking him, Where are you? Are you going to show up? Well, today we're going to look at a couple of stories of where an angel shows up. Angel's just the word. It just means messenger. Angel's a messenger of God who comes to bring a message for God on behalf of God. What happens when the Angels show up? We’re going to look at four different people. And let's start with Mary. And by the way, we're going to be flipping around a lot in the Bible today. We're going to start in Luke chapter one. We're going to go back and forth between Luke and Matthew. If you don't have a Bible, we're going to have the page numbers up on the screen. You can go out and put that one up first. And if you don't have a Bible, we have copies that we can put in your hands right now if you just raise your hand. I have a few people that are ready to hand those out. And the Bibles that we're handing out are tied in to the page numbers on the screen. So just raise your hand. You can keep those or you can leave them here, whatever. But they'll do that while I go into the message. But we'll be in Luke chapter one. We'll also be in the beginning of Matthew will be going back and forth because the account of Jesus birth shows up at the beginning of Luke, shows at the beginning of Matthew. And so we kind of got to go back and forth between the two. There are four main stories of Jesus's life Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and we'll just be looking at two of those today. So Luke, chapter one, let's look at Mary. What happened when the Angel shows up to Mary? And specifically look for and what I'm going to be highlighting as we look at each of these four people, what are the characteristics of the kind of person that an angel comes to? What are the things that are true of the person that an angel is likely to visit-- in a good way? We want to look at those character qualities, those personality qualities, those attributes of character as we look at these stories. So Luke, chapter one, verse 26 In the sixth month, which is the six months of Elizabeth's pregnancy, we'll get to that-- in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 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. All right, so the first person we're looking at today, whom are angel visits related to the birth of Christ is Mary. And, you know what? I think that's probably a good starting place because she's the one who's got to explain to everyone how she is that she is pregnant but unmarried. That's a tough task. And an angel comes and greets her. Now notice the first response she has. It says she was greatly troubled at the saying, O favored one, the Lord is with you. That phrase also means thoroughly shaken, maybe deeply perplexed and confused. It's used of Joseph, not this Joseph and Mary, but Joseph in the Old Testament, Joseph coat of many colors Joseph, used by his brothers. You remember this story where they got some food from him. They thought they paid for it. They get home and the money's in the top of the bags and they open them. Same words used. They were very confused and troubled. This is a problem. They're going to think we stole this. They're going to think we did something bad. It's going to cause more problems for us. Mary, in this moment, what in the world is going on? I have no idea what to do with this. Now, I'm going to point out two, in particular character qualities here that we see in Mary. First notice it says, the angel says to her in verse 30, and the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary. Now, certainly Mary was afraid, as you would be, to meet an angelic being. But I think this also points towards her fear of God. You know, Mary walked in humility and fear of the Lord. That's part of why she was chosen to give birth to Christ. And the angel calms her fears. Don't be afraid. Now, what I appreciate about Mary in this moment, she's confused. She's afraid, but she's not afraid to ask for clarity, which I really appreciate. If you look back at what she says, she says in verse 36, then Mary said to the angel, How will this be since I am a virgin? This doesn't make any sense. She's not afraid to ask the hard question in the moment of confusion, which I really appreciate. And by the way, if you're facing a really difficult question in your life, if you're confused about what God is doing in your life, it's okay to ask him about it. It's okay to ask him for clarity. I've heard people say, you know, you shouldn't question God, and I know what they mean by that. But it's okay to come to him. I'm confused. Lord, help me. I need come sincerely come from a place of humility. He's not afraid of that. In fact, he wants to meet you where you are. It's okay to do so. Hopefully that helps some. We'll see. So she asked for clarity. Now, here's the great part. We know it's okay to do this because the angel responds to her. Angel gives her an answer. Angel gives her a couple explanations. First, he says to her, Look back here. I say, He, the angel. We don't know. The angel said, How will this be since I'm a virgin? Angel answered her, verse 35, The Holy Spirit will come upon you. Power the most high will overshadow you. Therefore, a child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God. That clears everything up, right? Probably not, but it's some answer. Okay. But then he also gives further evidence. Practical evidence in front of her. Look. Look at what he says next. And behold, your relative, Elizabeth, in her old age, has also conceived a son. This is the sixth month with her who was called barren, for nothing will be impossible with God. Okay, Mary, I understand you're confused. Let me give you some evidence. Your Aunt Elizabeth, she too, the one who was barren, the one whose womb was dead, the one in her old age. God can do the impossible. And I love how Mary responds. So the first attribute to point out about her was that she feared God. But secondly, look at how she responds to all this, because this is a lot to put on anyone. But look at how she responds to this. Look at verse 30, let's say 36, 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. Mary's immediate response was trust. Her immediate response was trust. How many of us would have responded that way immediately? I can't say that I would. I mean, I'm not worried about an angel coming to tell me that I'm expecting. But you can understand how confusing that would be, how difficult that would be. Her immediate response is trust. So the first two attributes of a person, an angel will come to visit. I will put these up on screen. Mary feared God and trusted him. She feared God and trusted him. So that's Mary. All right, let's look at the second person here. Second person in the story is Joseph. And for that, we're going to flip over to the book of Matthew. Matthew, chapter one. We're going to look here at verse 18. That's on page 757. If you have a church Bible. Matthew, Chapter one Looking at Joseph. Now, the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother, Mary had betrothed, had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Couple of things to point out about Joseph here. One, it says that he was a just man that can also be translated righteous man, you know, one who deeply valued the law of the Lord, one sincerely committed to his faith, which we would say is a good thing. However, if you're in Mary's shoes, that might not be a good thing. Because what was to be done, according to Old Testament law, to someone who was found caught in adultery. I heard stone them. Right. So maybe you don't want your husband to be really committed to the law in that moment, but we see a tension at play here. He was a just man. However, look back at what it says. But he was unwilling to put her to shame. You see this contrast? He's wrestling with this reality. Okay, this looks bad. She's telling me she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That's a new one. I'm struggling to agree with that. I'm struggling to get my mind around that. How did she come up with that? Never heard that one before, But yet he's also wrestling with. But I love her and care for her so much. I don't want to put her to shame. And you see in Joseph in this moment, you see this wrestling, this longing to do God's will. Lord, what do you want me to do? Give me clarity, Lord. How can I do the right thing in this moment? And that's, I think, what I appreciated about Joseph in this morning, in this moment, he's deeply longing to do what God wants, what's best for him and Mary. He's not just reacting to the moment. Lord, let me hear from you in this moment. He's longing to hear from the Lord. Now what happens? What happens when the angel shows up? Look at verse 20. But as he considered these things an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son. You shall call his name Jesus. He will save his people from their sins. And then verse 24 Look at how Joseph responds to this. By the way, one thing that's interesting. Angel appeared to Mary in person appears to Joseph in a dream. In fact, two of these people that we're looking at four two angel appears in person. Two in a dream. Mary In a dream. Joseph in person. Look out. Joseph responds to this. When Joseph woke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took his wife but knew her not until she had given birth to the son, and he called his name Jesus. What I love about Joseph here, and these are the two attributes we're going to highlight about Joseph, his immediate response to something that seems absolutely crazy is obedience. Yes, Lord, whatever you say, I'll do it. And so the two attributes of Joseph-- if you’ll put those on screen-- He was longing to know God's will. And when he got it, he was quick to obey. That's the kind of person an angel visits. Longing to know God's will, quick to obey. So we've got Mary. We've got Joseph. And now let's look at the wise men. Look at chapter two of Matthew. It's right here with us in chapter two. We just continue the story. The wise men. 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 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. When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. What I appreciate about the wise men to begin with, and I think this is the first thing to notice about them, is that they were seeking a sign from God. They were actively seeking to hear from God. And I think many times in life, I don't know about you, but there have been times where maybe things weren’t going the way I thought they should. And I was struggling or wrestling, but I wasn’t seeking God in the middle of that, maybe leaning on myself, maybe running from him, maybe leaning on other opportunities, wisdom of others. But the wise men, they are on the lookout. They are actively seeking God. Where are you? We need to hear from you. We want to hear from you in this moment. And when they see this star, man, they're going after it. Wherever this goes. That's where we're going. We got to be where he goes. Now it says star. Some have argued. Was it a star or not? Could have been an angel. Could have been some weird alignment of of planets or something. I don't know. It says star. I'm going to go with that. Maybe it looked like a star. One thing is real is that God was meeting them, guiding them, directing them to the Savior of the world. He was active in meeting them as they sought him. So they're seeking him now. Look at how-- what happens after they seek him. Keep reading here, Matthew chapter two. In fact, let's look at verse seven. Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, Go search diligently for the child. and when you have found him, bring me word that I too, may come and worship him. After listening to the King, they went on their way and behold the star that they had seen when it rose went before them till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And look at how they respond. Verse 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, frankincense, myrrh. When they encounter Jesus, they've been seeking him. And there's a king on the horizon when they encounter him, their immediate reaction is worship. They come prepared to worship. They come with gifts to give him. They are ready to worship both in their hearts, but also with their gifts. And it's at this moment that the angel shows up. Doesn't say angel. But given that Joseph was visited in a dream by an angel, that's the inference. If you look at verse 12 and being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. And so the next group of attributes that are true of someone an angel visits. Look up here. The wise men were seeking God and they were ready to worship. They were. They were ready. They couldn't wait to worship when God showed up. All right. So we've looked at Mary, looked at Joseph, looked at the wise men. And now let's look at the fourth group. Let's turn back to Luke Chapter two, Luke, chapter two. And here we see the classic Christmas passage. Thanks to Charlie Brown. Chapter two, verse eight. And in the same region, there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night, and an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shown around them. And they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, Fear not for behold, I bring you good news of great joy for that will be for all the people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 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. When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another. Let us go over to Bethlehem. See this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us. Now, here are the two attributes that I want you to see of the shepherds. Look at verse 16, and they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds had told them. Two things to notice here about the shepherds. First, and you can throw this up on screen, we’ll point out both of those. They were eager to see Jesus when the angels came and told them about it. They were eager to see him. They didn't just sit around wondering, Hey, that was kind of cool. Strange. I've seen weird things out in the wilderness. I don't know what to do with that. Let's just stay put. No, they were eager to go see Jesus, but also they were eager to tell others. They didn’t just keep it to themselves. They immediately went to tell others. And I think if you’ve received a message from God again, Angel, it's just a messenger from God. Angel doesn't point to itself, points to Christ, points to God's will. If you've received a message from God, you're going to be eager to tell others too. I had a friend I worked with years ago, he said, I'm pretty sure I was visited by an angel. One day I was walking through an amusement park and you know how amusement parks, they kind of set it up to where you have to walk through the stores to get from one part to another. You know, it's kind of a ploy to get you to buy more amusement park junk. So he's cutting through one of these. He's got his grandkids in his hands and he's just just delighting in the moment, you know? Thank you, Lord, that I can be here with my grandkids. I can be here on vacation. I could be enjoying this time together. Thank you. And he said, I was walking through this through these aisles and I see a man off to my left in between two candy aisles or as I'm passing the guy, the guy says to him, May the Lord bless you today. And he said he heard it, but it took a second to register. He wasn't expecting that. And he gets a step or two past the guy and he turns to tell him thank you and nobody's there. Now, was that true or not? I know this guy wasn't a liar. He had a high character. Could the guy slipped away? Sure. Who knows? But he came away convinced, you know, in that moment, I think that was just the Lord sending a messenger to just bless me in that moment, to just say I love you. No other agenda. I wasn't even crying out to him in that moment, he said. And he just poured out his love on me in that moment and what that did in that moment. And I think the word as we look across all the messages of the angels today, what that brought him was just this abiding peace, just overwhelming joy and peace. I mean, we saw just before this glory to God in the highest in verse 14 and on earth. What's the message from the angels? Peace on earth, goodwill to men. One thing else I really appreciate about the angels coming to the shepherds. You know, shepherds at this time, they wouldn't have been very highly esteemed. They would have been the guys that showed up on Dirty Jobs, you know, kind of underappreciated, but necessary, maybe like our garbage men. But the shepherds come, the angels come to them. I think we think in our modern mindset that you have to be someone highly esteemed and important in our world for God or for the angels to show up to you. But the beautiful part of Scripture is it's the opposite. It's actually the opposite of that. Who is God most likely to come to? A young girl in a humble little town who no one's ever heard of, who's quick to obey A husband to be, who is struggling with honor and God's will. Some men from some other country no one's ever even heard of. Who were seeking God. And then the people who are considered the lowest of the low. But I love what Paul says in First Corinthians, God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak, to shame the strong. You know, His math is different than ours. What he esteems is different than what we esteem. Now there's one person that we need to make sure we address that the angels don't visit in all of this, in this whole story, because we see the kind of people that the angels come to. But there's one the angel doesn't visit. Look back in Matthew, because it's a big contrast. Matthew Chapter two. We saw where the wise men came. They met with Herod when Herod heard about where they were headed. Notice what it says about Herod. This is chapter two, verse three. When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. Now, this is a different troubled than what Mary was facing. This is-- if this is true, I might lose power. If this is true, I might lose influence. If this is true, my whole royal realm might fall apart. This was a fear for his own purpose in power and rule and reign in life. Very different than Mary's trouble. And where does this lead with Herod? We'll look at how he responds to this. He doesn't seek God in the midst of this. Look at how he responds to this. Look at verse further down in chapter two. Let's go down to verse 16, then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise man became furious and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Where Herod ended up in this and where his heart was all along. I'm going to do anything it takes to keep my power, to keep my rule, to keep my reign. I'll do whatever it takes. And his response was furious, murderous rage. And no angels showed up to visit Herod in the midst of all this. He wasn't open to that. He wasn't coming from a place of humility, a place of longing. And the message of the angels had no part in where Herod was. There was no peace in his life. You know, when I think of Christmas, I think of that phrase peace, peace on earth, goodwill to men. I think that's what we all want. More than likely this time of year, you're longing for peace. Maybe it's physical sickness. Maybe there's challenges in your family. Maybe there's injury you faced, maybe medical emergencies, maybe it's loss. In the midst of the season, we're longing for peace. In fact, there's a famous carol that is often sung this time of year. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Have you heard that? Are you familiar with that? Look at the first line of this carol. I heard the bells on Christmas Day. They're old, familiar carols play next-- and mild and sweet. Their songs repeat of peace on Earth, good will to men. Keep it there. Not yet. That's beautiful. That's what we're all praying for. That's what we all long for. Now, the man who wrote this poem, it started as a poem, not a carol. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Famous poet. Lots of poems. Well known in the mid 1800s. Let me tell you, he wrote this poem in the midst of some huge challenges in his life. I mean, his whole life had been filled with tragedy. His first wife dies while giving birth to their child who died. He remarries. They have children, brothers, parents die left and right. Lots of tragedy in his life. And he's writing this particular poem in 1864, right in the throes of the Civil War. And just a few years before this, his second wife, while tending to something in the house, her dress caught fire and they couldn't put it out. Or when they finally got it out, she didn't make it. I mean, he was there himself trying to put the flames out. He had severe burns on himself in an effort to save his own wife. And here we have him writing this poem, wrestling with this concept of peace, and he reflects on the state of the nation. One of the most contentious periods our nation has ever faced. And look at the middle verse in this. This one doesn't often show up in the song. But in this poem, look at the middle verse.(Go ahead and put that up.) Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the south. The black mouth being the cannon. The mouth of the cannon. And with the sound the carols drowned of peace on Earth, good-will to men. You see him wrestling with this? Can there really be peace on earth when that's going on? The carols tell us there's peace on Earth. Can that really be happening? Can we know peace on Earth? Well, here's what we're going to do. We're actually going to sing that now because the last two stanzas, we'll recite- we'll sing the first one. Then we'll go to the last two verses because it comes to a conclusion that'll give us hope today. And so, Andrew, Tiffany, would you guys go ahead and lead us in this carol? Go ahead and stand. Let's sing together. So as pastor said, seeing the conclusion of this, the peace, peace on earth in the midst of all that. So can we sing this chorus together that we all know? End together as one voice Silent Night. Sing this last line. Lord, we thank you that we can gather today And now we do pray a prayer of blessing as we leave here today. May the Lord bless you, may he keep you may His face shine upon you and be gracious to You; may you feel the fullness of his countenance upon you. And here's the phrase for us today May he bring you peace. Peace on earth. Good will to men. God bless you. Have a great day. And by the way, as you're leaving, we'll have new Bible reading plans for next year that you can pick up. I'll talk more about those in the coming weeks, But I wanted to go ahead and get those in your hands. I know some of you like to read ahead. Those are on the way out. Also, giving information will be on the screen as you leave. But thank you for being here today. Have a great day.