More than Christmas
11 Dec 2010, Pr Sue Redman
(Sue is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
More than Christmas
If I was to ask you what is the first song that comes to mind when you think of Christmas, what would you say? What's the first song that pops into your head when you think of Christmas? Let's hear some of your answers . . .
I'm not sure if this would be the first song that pops into my head when I think of Christmas but one song I've come to associate with Christmas in a big way is the Hallelujah Chorus. Did anyone else think of the Hallelujah Chorus? The Hallelujah Chorus comes from Handel's Messiah and Messiah is not only one of Handel's most famous works, it's undeniably one of the most popular musical works associated with Christmas.
Every Christmas there are at least two performances of Messiah in Sydney; one at Town Hall and one in the Opera House. A few years ago I sang in the one at Town Hall with the Combined Churches Choir and it goes without saying that this was a major challenge for 700 amateurs and just 10 rehearsals. But each year the Radio Community Chest presents another spectacular and next weekend will be their 70th; their 70th annual presentation and fundraiser for the less fortunate in Sydney.
As I think about our choir's performance a few years ago, there was no song that lifted the roof like the Hallelujah Chorus. Not only does the choir sing this chorus but the audience also sings. Not only does the choir stand for this chorus but the audience also stands. Apparently this tradition has its origin in the first performance of Messiah in London. King George II is said to have stood to his feet when the first notes of the Hallelujah Chorus rang out and when a king stands to his feet, so do his people! (1)
It's obvious why though, isn't it? The Hallelujah Chorus has to be one of the grandest and most triumphant of all choruses ever written. Handel himself is said to have been found holding the score in tears, saying he thought he'd just seen the face of God. (2)
But tell me, why is the Hallelujah Chorus associated with Christmas? Is there any mention of angels or the virgin birth? Are there any references to a manger or shepherds or wise men?
"Hallelujah, Hallelujah . . . For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth . . . The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ . . . And He shall reign forever and ever . . . King of kings and Lord of lords . . ."
As I think about the Hallelujah Chorus and I think about Christmas, I'm reminded that Christmas is so much more than Mary and Joseph and a baby. It's so much bigger than a donkey and cattle and sheep. But the irony of Christmas is that the big picture is actually found in the detail. It's only as we read the Christmas story in detail that we find what it's all about.
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we find the one and only record of God sending the angel Gabriel to a virgin in Galilee called Mary, and you might like to open your Bibles and read this part of the Christmas story with me from Luke 1:26-38. Luke 1:26-38,
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 favoured! The Lord is with you."
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 favour 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."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
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."
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her."
Most of you, I suspect, have heard about or read this part of the Christmas story before. You have probably heard of the angel Gabriel. The virgin Mary. Her fiancé Joseph. You may have even heard of Mary's cousin Elizabeth. But have you ever noticed what the angel Gabriel said about the prophesied child? Let's read it again from verses 30-33.
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.
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 descendents forever; his kingdom will never end. Is anyone else hearing the Hallelujah Chorus? "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ . . . And He shall reign forever and ever."
In order for us to understand what the angel Gabriel was saying here and why the Hallelujah Chorus speaks of kings and kingdoms, we first need to understand why the baby was to be called Jesus. There's no record of Gabriel explaining this to Mary in Luke 1 but in Matthew 1 an angel of the Lord explained it to Joseph in a dream and let's read that part of the Christmas story together from Matthew 1:18-25. Matthew 1:18-25,
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.
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."
All this took place to fulfil 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").
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.
Why did Joseph give the baby the name Jesus? Because He would save His people from their sins (verse 21).
Most names mean something, right? Your name means something. My name means something. My formal name is actually Susan which comes from the Hebrew name Susanna or Shoshana which means "Lily" or "Rose." That's not why my parents called me Susan however. My parents chose my name more because they liked the sound of it than because of its meaning. But in Bible times, the meaning of a name was what mattered. (3)
Ideally a Hebrew name in Bible times defined an individual. It said something about an individual's personality or character, or it was given with a prayer that the baby would become like what their name meant. Some Hebrew names also said something about an individual's future and this was obviously the case with Jesus. (4)
The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Yeshua or Joshua which in first century AD meant "Yahweh (or the God of Israel) is our salvation." (5) Salvation in this context means "deliverance from sin and its consequences" (6) which begs the question: why did Jesus have to deliver or save His people from their sins? Why did God have to send His Son into this world, as Rosalind just read, so we can have eternal life (John 3:16)?
If you've ever read the first few chapters of the Bible, you'll know the story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. How God told Adam and Eve that they were allowed to eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die (Genesis 2:15-17). As you may know, Adam and Eve did eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; they gave in to the temptation of the serpent or Satan, and as a result they did die; just as God had said they would (Genesis 3:1-13).
Because God didn't want to be separated from His creation forever however; because God loves His people so much that He will do whatever He can to have a relationship with them, He sent His only Son Jesus to make it possible for us to reconnect with Him; to reconnect with Him and with others and creation. Whenever there is sin there is always disconnection and the only way God could restore the kind of connection or the kind of community or Kingdom He had created, was to overthrow the one who had destroyed it: Satan.
This is what God did when He sent His only Son Jesus to this earth. To overthrow Satan Jesus not only had to live a perfect life while He was here but He had to pay the price of everyone else's imperfection. For the ultimate power of death to be broken, Jesus had to be both sinless and willing to pay the price of everyone else's sins and that's exactly what He was and exactly what He did (Romans 6:23). As Norm just read, "he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
This sacrifice, this free gift of salvation is what tells us how much God loves us. Words cannot begin to describe just how deeply the Creator of this universe loves you and me; what He has done, is still doing and is yet to do so you and I can have a living relationship with Him. This is what the Christmas story is all about. God loving the world so much that He sent His only Son Jesus to restore His Kingdom on earth. Jesus coming to this earth so that you and I can experience the love, joy and peace of Christmas, both now and forevermore!
It has to be said that God's Kingdom will not be fully restored until Jesus comes again however. Until Jesus returns a second time, there will always be pain and suffering and death on this planet. But despite the pain and suffering and death, Jesus is who makes it possible for us to experience the love, joy and peace of Christmas. Accepting Jesus as our Saviour and Lord is what gives us a hope for both the present and future, and it's the future that the Hallelujah Chorus is all about.
Some of you may know that the words to the Hallelujah Chorus don't come from the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of Matthew but from the Revelation of Jesus Christ: Revelation 19:6, 11:15 and 19:16. Some of you may also know that the Hallelujah Chorus is not included in Part 1 of Handel's Messiah which is where we find the story of baby Jesus but it's located at the end of Part 2 which is all about what Jesus' accomplished through His birth, death and resurrection.
Revelation 19, as you may know, is a description of heaven; a description of what will happen after God has destroyed evil once and for all and to get a picture of the magnitude of this scene I'd like to invite you to read Revelation 19:1-9 with me. Revelation 19:1-9,
After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
And again they shouted:
The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:
Then a voice came from the throne, saying:
"Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
both great and small!"
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's holy people.)
Then the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!" And he added, "These are the true words of God."
These are the true words of God. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!
Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys. Did you know that each and every one of us has been invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)? Did you know that each and every one of us has been invited to live with the "King of kings and Lord of lords" "forever and ever" (Revelation 19:11, 11:5)? It's true! We've all been invited to be a part of God's Kingdom for eternity and all it takes for this to happen is for us to acknowledge our need for Jesus. All we have to do is accept Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
I don't know what this means to you this morning but as corny as it may sound it literally makes me want to sing hallelujah! The Christmas story literally makes me want to want to praise God because:
1. I need never be alone, ever again! As I said earlier, the reason God sent Jesus to this earth was so we could reconnect with Him and with others and creation, so there's now no reason for me to be alone, ever again!
2. I don't have to live with guilt anymore! Because Jesus came to this earth to save me from my sin, I am now a free woman. I never have to worry about anything I've ever done wrong or anything I'm yet to do wrong for that matter!
3. I can have peace no matter what! If the kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, then what have I to fear? If God who is all powerful and all knowing and ever present loves me so much that He gave His only Son, surely I can trust Him with what is happening around me!
4. Death has no sting! As confronting as death can be here on this earth, Jesus' birth, death and resurrection has taken away the pain of eternal separation and the emptiness of life lived and lost. Jesus has given me hope, meaning and purpose!
It's for all these reasons that I want to thank and praise God for the Christmas story this morning and I'd like to invite you to stand with me as we play the Hallelujah Chorus. Unfortunately we don't have a 700 voice choir to sing with us but we're so grateful to Rosalind for providing a DVD.
As you listen to the words of this chorus I want to encourage you to think about what the Christmas story means to you. Don't take my word for it! Take some time to reflect on what Jesus has done, is still doing and is yet to do, all so He can spend forever with you!
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