Theme: The Promise Accepted and Believed
From these Christmas lessons, we look at how God’s promises were fulfilled at the first Christmas, and what everyone must do in response to them.
Scripture: Luke 2:6, 7
Yet there was another reality to that first Christmas that I also want you to see. Chiefly, it was the fulfillment of God’s promises made to Joseph and Mary, Israel and the entire human race, to you and me. But it was also the acceptance and belief in those promises by those God called. Without that acceptance, the conception and birth of Jesus might well have occurred, but it would have gone unnoticed, unobserved. And it certainly would not have resulted in the accounts of that first Christmas as we know them.
Joseph was a model of acceptance and belief, which means that he must have been a very devout and spiritual man. He was asked to believe that the woman to whom he was engaged and who was pregnant, was pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God and that this was necessary if God was to come among us and the one to be born of her was to save us from our sins.
It was a great challenge to faith. But Joseph believed that, took Mary under his sheltering care in what was certainly a time of great danger for her, and was present with her in Bethlehem on that long-ago-day when Jesus was born. According to the story, Joseph proved his belief by doing “what the angel of the Lord had commanded” and by naming the child Jesus as he had been told (Matt. 1:24, 25).
Mary also accepted the promise and believed God. Her belief involved the danger of public disgrace and even death, for stoning was the punishment for adultery and her condition could hardly be explained in any other way by those who had not seen or heard the angel. Mary’s reply is beautiful. She answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
What about the masses of Israel to whom the promises were also made and who were expecting a Messiah even in the time of John the Baptist? We know the problem here. These people had not read the Scriptures carefully and were therefore looking forward to a Messiah who would fulfill their felt needs and expectations, not the deliverance from sin that God promised. They wanted a Messiah who would drive out the Romans. But a Savior from sin? Not that. In time they would crucify that kind of Savior.
And yet, there were some who accepted the promise and truly believed in Jesus when he came. The earliest ones are among my favorite characters of the story: Joseph and Mary, of course, but also the shepherds, who received an announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ from the angels. They left their sheep in the fields and went by night to Bethlehem where they found the child and returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).
After the birth, when his parents took him to the temple for the official presentation of the firstborn, Simeon, an old and devout man, came forward and greeted them, and taking the child in his arms he praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
A short time later an old woman named Anna also came up to them and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). These were the elect of Israel, true Israel, who waited for the promise, saw it, believed and praised God for its fulfillment. There would have been no “first Christmas” without the fulfillment of the divine promise followed by this human response.
Of the characters in the Christmas story, who believed God’s promises? How did they demonstrate it?
What kind of reactions did people have who did not accept and believe what was told them of God’s promises in the birth of Jesus Christ?
Application: Pray for the salvation of those who are very religious and who consequently hold the Christmas story in high regard, and yet are not truly converted.