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Advent 2020

4: Just Christmas

December 20, 2020 • Sean Higgins

Matthew 1:1-17 Series: Advent 2020 #4 # Introduction My favorite technique of painting is Pointillism. For whatever reason, I remember my fourth-grade art teacher introducing us to “Seurat the Dot” at least as she nicknamed him (here is [my favorite painting](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sunday_Afternoon_on_the_Island_of_La_Grande_Jatte)). Pointillism, as you might expect, is the meticulous pointing or dotting of a canvas with small dabs with the tip of a small brush. From a distance it is often hard to tell that the painting is made of dots at all, but up close one can see the crowded specks that blend to form the picture. (Also interesting, printers and screens are concerned with dpi, that is, the density of dots per inch.) Pointillism is the opposite of broad brushing. It’s not a quick method, not like rolling or spraying the side of a barn. No single dot makes the painting, but every single daub gives depth and direction to it. The birth of Jesus could be considered as just a dot in a landscape of human history. For as significant as the Incarnation was, and is, God did not dump out a 5-gallon bucket of paint to mark it. Ponder with me, like Mary, some of these things in your hearts. God told *the serpent* that Eve would have offspring who would crush his head (Genesis 3:15). God did not tell Adam and Eve, or the serpent, when. God told Abram that he also would have offspring of his own, that nations would come from him, and that certain of his offspring would bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-2; 15:5). God did not tell him when. God told David through Nathan that he would have offspring that would rule from the throne as King of Israel, that the nations of the earth would come and do homage (2 Samuel 7:12-16). God did not tell him when. There were a lot of details given to the patriarchs (i.e., Abraham, Jacob, Judah) and to the prophets about the seed, starting small. Some of it is super obvious, at least if you know what you’re looking for. But the prophets themselves “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating” about His coming (1 Peter 1:10-11). To Isaiah it was revealed: > Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 ESV, quoted in Matthew 1:23) To Micah it was revealed: > But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, > who are too little to be among the clans > of Judah, > from you shall come forth for me > one who is to be ruler in Israel, > whose coming forth is from of old, > from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV, quoted in Matthew 2:6) As I mentioned in the first advent message three Sundays ago, God’s people were *waiting*; they didn’t know *when*. As generations went by God progressively revealed more specifics, but fathers and their sons anticipated the arrival of a Son who would be King. They weren’t the only ones looking for this one seed in a great tree, for the promised point on the canvas. It wasn’t only the visible realm, but also the invisible—at least to our eyes—world that was watching. The ancient serpent, the dragon, was also looking for the seed. Remember from Revelation 12, the great sign of a “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1)? That Woman is *not* Mary, it is *the genealogy* of Matthew 1:1-17. The Woman is not only the Jesus’ genealogy, but if this was a painting, think of His genealogy as a distinct line of subtle color on the Woman, obvious once it’s finished and pointed out. It was not only subtle leading up to Joseph and Mary, it was *covert*, so small that it was largely secret. Why? Because the dragon was looking to devour the Child. > And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon….His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. (Revelation 12:3–4, ESV) Again, the Woman is Israel. The dragon was not in the stable/delivery room with Mary, he was watching the entire nations’s nursery as it were. The dragon was watching and waiting to find the Child. But he didn’t know when either. We don’t know everything that’s happening in the spiritual, invisible realm, even though we know that realm exists and is part of our wrestling and warfare; “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We have enemies, and they were seeking to destroy our Hope. For whatever reason, through ignorance or ineptitude or blindness, the dragon and his scribes and scouts were not as attentive as the Magi from the east (Matthew 2:1-2). The only people on the planet who knew, in the moment, that the King was born were Joseph and Mary and some small group of shepherds. It was just another dot on the canvas, “just Christmas.” The heavenly host *had* to announce the joy to *someone* (Luke 2:13-14), but it was limited in such a way as to make the point *and* keep the identity of the Child-King secret from His enemies that would have done anything to kill him. This is why the arrival of the Magi two or so years later is not just a matter of historical accuracy, it is a matter of divine strategy. When they arrived before Herod, Herod was “*troubled*,” “disturbed” (NIV), alarmed. He responded immediately. As we’ve seen in the Apocalypse, the spiritual forces are often in alignment with political powers. Herod’s attempt to find and devour the Child was not merely his own petty, fleshly fear about losing his throne. There wasn’t a government in the world that the dragon wouldn’t have used to assassinate the newborn King. As it is, God warned Joseph through an angel to hide in Egypt (Matthew 2:13), making Herod’s decree to slaughter all the male children in the region of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16) a blood-red strain on the painting, but not blotting over the Christ. The King was born! > She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 12:5a ESV, citing Psalm 2) Looking back at Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is easy. It’s finished; every “t” crossed and “i” dotted. But it was not so clear as the painting was being dotted. Which way would the family tree branch? Where would the next point lead? The genealogy reminds us not only to wait on the Lord, but also, **don’t despise the day of small begettings**. “Begat” is the English word William Tyndale (c. 1525) used that the KJV translators (1611) borrowed from him (Wycliffe used “bigate” c. 1390) for the Greek word ἐγέννησεν (*egennesen*), which is the verb used 40 times in the genealogy. The ESV waters it down with “was the father of,” and fine, but “begat” is both lively and sturdy. (Andrew Peterson’s song, “[Matthew’s Begats](https://youtu.be/06XHn4D9Nzw),” is well done.) It was Zechariah to whom the Lord gave encouragement about small beginnings. When Israel returned from the captivity in Babylon (referenced in Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew 1:11-12, 17), it was not obvious to the Jews that their rebuilding efforts would succeed. It felt to them as if starting over, from the ground up, wouldn’t survive the threats from neighbors. So first, the Lord reminded them, “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:8). And then specifically related to the temple, the LORD promised that it would be completed, “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice” (Zechariah 4:10). Or, “Who dares make light of small beginnings?” (NET) One brick isn’t a wall, one dot isn’t a painting, one son isn’t always the solution. But don’t despise the day of small begettings because then the King was born! The birth of the King was without a parade. In the moment it did not feel awesome, even though of all the dots on the canvas of earth, Jesus’ birth really is awesome. But the glory of that dot could only be seen *by faith*. How many people did Joseph even try to tell about his dream, and how many of them didn’t meet him for coffee again after that? Mary was a young woman and, apart from her cousin, she seems to have gone through her pregnancy and labor mostly alone; she didn’t even get a home birth. Were they glad for the stable? I’m sure they were, but ox and ass aren’t comfort animals. Bethlehem was off the beaten path. *Nothing* visible was big about this begat. Yet as we look at the canvas, after the passing of 2000 more years of the Lord’s work, what dot has not been affected by the begat of Jesus “who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16)? Because of that small dot on a potentially silent and starry night, time and space and heaven and hell and souls and stories, and even God Himself, have not been the same. If after Adam’s fall we have questions about the goodness of being bodily image-bearers of God, the Incarnation of the God Himself into flesh forever settles the matter. What a small, but irreversible, begat. If we wondered about the possibility of knowing our Maker’s transcendent “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20), it is the eternal Logos, through whom all things were made (John 1:3), who made known this invisible God (John 1:18), and brings all who believe to be *children* of this Father God (John 1:12). What a small, but incredible, begat. Christmas gives us the ultimate and also concrete standard for humility (think Philippians 2:5-7). Christmas is the ultimate and decisive test for who is telling the truth: > By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:2–3, ESV) Christmas exposed philosophers as fools. Christmas makes redemption possible for Scrooges, and makes every Scrooge a character to be pitied, not imitated. Christmas, with Jesus’ growth and perfect obedience and loving sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave, is a project of abundant life life (John 10:10). Christmas divides our marking of years, B.C. and A.D. (before Christ and “in the year of our Lord”). Christmas, unknown to our enemies at the time, sent demons reeling and into constant scurrying in attempt to retaliate. Christmas began the crushing of the serpent’s head. That is some kind of small begat. # Conclusion How should you respond to all of this? Believe it. Rejoice in it. And Just Christmas. The theme of our study through Revelation has been Just Conquer. When the saints keep faith in Jesus they conquer the dragon, and the world, through the Lamb-King. **“This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith”** (1 John 5:4). And Jesus said all we need is faith like the grain of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). So then, by faith, *just Christmas*. I mean “Christmas” here as a verb, a small action, a small dot painted in and for Jesus’ name. Is your gift small? Is your sacrifice small? Is your encouraging word small? So was every begat. Are you giving yourself for your kids, for your guests, for your employer/employees, but it doesn’t feel awesome in the moment? Remember Bethlehem. Don’t despise the day of small begettings. God not only can use small births and small gifts, God has His reasons for choosing them. Make a point, even if it’s just a small one. May God be pleased to use your little point in His grand canvas for His glory and your blessing. ---------- ## Charge: God "begat" (Tyndale’s translation) us to life (James 1:18) by the word of truth, and by implication that means that He begat us to receive all His good gifts (1:17), begat us to be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger (1:19), begat us to obedience as doers of the Word (1:22), begat us to the law of liberty (1:25), begat us to be #blessed (1:25). The King was born, and you’ve been born again into His kingdom. Offer whatever you have to Him, no matter how small. ## Benediction: > Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25–27, ESV)

3: The End of the Naughty List

December 13, 2020 • Sean Higgins

Matthew 1:1-17 Series: Advent 2020 #3 # Introduction Christians do not believe reasonable things, at least as the world defines reasonable, and often even what *religious* people call reasonable. Jesus Christ, God’s Son in flesh and blood, is not reasonable. His existence is a scandal. Many Jews anticipated the promised Messiah, but they stumbled over Jesus' claim to be that divine King and they killed Him for it. The fact of His crucifixion caused other Jews to stumble over Jesus, because their Messiah couldn't be a crucified Messiah. Jesus was a rock of offense (1 Peter 2:8; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Not only Jews, but also many Gentiles had their own religious expectations and considered the word of the cross foolish (1 Corinthians 1:23). What kind of "god" was this? The scandal and offense and foolishness began not with Jerusalem but Bethlehem. The Word lifted up (John 8:28; 12:32-33) started with the Word come down, the Word become flesh. The doctrine of Jesus' divinity taking on humanity is called the hypostatic union. As our historic catechisms confess, Jesus is “true God from true God” and “became truly human” (Nicene Creed, AD 325). > one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ (Definition of Chalcedon, AD 451) In the first few centuries this was simply unbelievable. Some argued that Jesus wasn't really a man but just *seemed* to be one (Docetism), or that Jesus wasn't really God (Arianism), or that there were two separate persons in Jesus (Nestorianism), or that after the incarnation there was only the one nature (Eutyches). The hypostatic union was too much of a scandal for many to handle. Christmas has been causing idealogical and worldview arguments since it started. The incarnation of God (the second Person of three Persons in the Trinity, equally God but not the Father or the Spirit) is staggering enough. As Athanasius pointed out in his book _On the Incarnation_, the Son was still holding the universe together while His limbs were being knit together in His mother's womb. But the divine-human union of Jesus' nature is not the scandal that Matthew started with. As we've seen the past two Sundays of Advent sermons, the first seventeen verses of the New Testament point to God's promises fulfilled over generations of *waiting*. The fulfillment came in the coming of the Christ; my boss is not just a Jewish carpenter. *The King was born!* As we come for a third focus on the genealogy we see that Jesus' family tree is a royal mess. The "book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ" (verse 1), the "account of the origin" (NIV fn), the "record" (NASB) could very well be called the original Christmas naughty list. The birth of Christ is filled with inconveniences for Jesus' immediate family, Joseph traveling with his pregnant fiancé where there were mask mandates in the inn, and no room (Luke 2:1-7). But Jesus' extended family is filled with immoralities. It's not just the bit players either. The headliner names, Abraham and David, were not mere mythical figures in Jewish history, they were mortal and sinful men. Abraham, who is the father of the Jews, was *not* a Jew himself. Abram was from Ur, chosen by God to become the father of many nations, including the nation of Israel. Though Abraham believed God, he also disobeyed God, as Genesis records that twice he lied about Sarah being only his sister to cover his butt. David was also chosen by God and anointed as King of Israel, a "friend of God." Also, while being king, David disobeyed God by taking a census (2 Samuel 24:1-17) that led to death by pestilence for 70,000 of his citizens. *These* are Jesus' relatives. We don't have records about all of these fathers, but there are some other big, well-known names. Isaac lied about Rebekah, Jacob lied and stole his brother's birthright and played favorites with his wives and sons. Later on, Solomon took many wives for himself and did most of what the Lord told kings *not* to do. Rehoboam oppressed the people. As I said last week, Jeconiah was such a wicked man that the Lord promised that no son of his would ever sit on the throne (Jeremiah 22:30). Someone could argue that this is an unfair selection, a needless amount of attention on the sins of these men. After all, Matthew moves through the list without pointing out every dirty deed. That is true, sort of, except for two things that make the third point for our advent consideration. Waiting on God's promises, for a King who would rule like the light of dawn, points us to the *grace* in the promises and *grace* from the King. The genealogy is a message of waiting, a message of the King, a message of *grace*. God called Abram from paganism. God called David as the youngest of eight and, at the time, the ruddy runt. Neither Abram or David *deserved* God's attention or His promises, let alone God's forgiveness after their sins. Matthew is selective, not just selecting through Joseph's line (rather than Mary's as in Luke 3) through David (for sake of the royal lineage) and from Abraham (unlike Luke who works backwards all the way back to Adam). Matthew has also selected three sets of 14, with apparently a few steps edited along the way compared to other genealogies. But what Matthew *does* include that makes the grace the inescapable point of the genealogy are *five women*, and the majority are women of ill repute. Jewish genealogies rarely included mother's at all; Luke's does not mention one, not even Mary. Matthew has five, but not Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, but prostitutes and pagans. Four times Matthew says "[Name] the father of [name] *by* [woman]," and the fifth woman gets her own construction. This is a list full of grace. ## Tamar (verse 3) "Judah the father of Perez and Zerah *by Tamar*." If you were a scribe charged to write the royal record you just would not do it this way. All we really need to know is that Judah was the father of Perez and Perez the father of Hezron. Zerah is superfluous for the genealogy; no son of his is mentioned. And *by Tamar* brings back all sorts of sordid memories. Tamar had been married to two of Judah's *sons*, Er and Onan, who were so “wicked in the sight of the LORD” that the LORD put them to death (Genesis 38:7, 10). Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law. But her husbands died, and Judah refused to give her the next brother, Shelah, for sake of the levirate marriage. So Tamar dressed up as a prostitute, deceived her father-in-law, took his signet and cord and staff as a pledge on a goat which was the price of sex. When it was told to Judah that Tamar was pregnant, he prepared to have her killed for the immorality (verse 24), until she presented his staff and proved that Judah was the father (verse 26). Judah said, “She is more righteous than I,” but I’m not sure that “righteous” is the word we would use to summarize the affair. ## Rahab (verse 5) "Salmon the father of Boaz *by Rahab*." There's nothing that stands out about Rahab being in the genealogy other than that she's also a woman, *and* a Canaanite, *and* a prostitute by trade. "The prostitute" is the inspired epitaph given to her in the book of Joshua (see 2:1 and 6:25). Hers is the story of receiving and hiding and lying about the two spies sent out by Joshua. She had heard that the LORD had delivered Israel in the Red Sea and was giving Israel the land. She saw the panic among her neighbors, they were melting away (Joshua 2:9). > Our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11) She believed the LORD more than many of the Israelites did. Yet she and her father's house were outsiders. They received great grace in order not to be destroyed with Jericho, but to be invited in to live in Israel (6:25). She herself, with her sinful past, was taken by Salmon as a wife. She didn't belong, and yet here she is. ## Ruth (verse 5) "Boaz the father of Obed *by Ruth*." She has an entire book of the Bible in her name. It is a great, short, true story, a rom-cov (romantic covenant). We rightly appreciate her loyalty to her mother-in-law, her willingness to work in the fields, her submission to do what she was told, her humility in seeking the help (and redemption) of Boaz. When she said, "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16), we love her conversion and commitment. But she was still not a Jew. What's more, she was a *Moabite*, and Moabites were one of the most bitter and hated enemies of Israel. > No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, non of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever (Deuteronomy 23:3). Those in the line of Moab were vicious toward the Israelites. Yet Ruth not only came along with Naomi and "came to Bethlehem" (Ruth 1:22), she was the great-grandmother to David the king and part of the Divine King's line. ## [Bathsheba] (verse 6) "David was the father of Solomon *by the wife of Uriah*." There is no polite way to read this part of the genealogy. I have said that David is perhaps the *key* to the list. He is mentioned at the beginning and the end, he is mentioned twice in middle, he is the ancestor of Joseph (legally) and Mary (physically). Even the fact that the generations are counted in fourteens seems to point to David by way of numbering his name according to Hebrew gematria. He is "David the *king*." And there is no way to read the second part of verse 6 without thinking about David the *killer*. Bathsheba does not even get named, and Matthew didn't make a mistake. Bathsheba is referenced, with a Greek article; "David begat the Solomon from *the (her)* of Uriah." Matthew could have written her name, but naming Uriah means we have another non-Israelite, a Hittite. Thought Bathsheba herself was a Jew, she married a non-Jew. This would have been a big enough problem if Uriah had died of some other cause; it would be weird that David married this man's widow. But David made her a widow, and that was after making her an adulterer. These sins of David were not pre-conversion, as we might wish. David was anointed as the king, he had it all, which is part of Nathan's prophetic story (2 Samuel 12:1ff). It was gross sin. It led to systemic problems in his household and in the nation. And *this* is the cream of the kingly crop from which Jesus came? There is no other emphasis here than *grace*. ## Mary (verse 16) "Joseph the husband of Mary, *of whom Jesus was born*, who is called Christ." We ought not take for granted that Mary is named in the genealogy; as I said already, Luke does not name her. Though she is a vital part of the Christmas story, and we'd assume worth mentioning, Luke simply says, Jesus "being the son (was was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli" (Luke 3:23). Luke has nothing against Mary. Luke records much more of Mary's part in the story than Matthew, including her response of belief to the angel and her response of praise to the Lord, called her *Magnificat* in Luke 1:46-55. Mary knew the Scriptures, she understood her part in the great scheme of generational promises, especially to Abraham (Luke 1:55). She knew that she was #blessed (Luke 1:48). She also knew that she was a virgin (Luke 1:34). It seems likely that she was a pregnant, unwed teenage girl. Part of the reason she "went with haste into the hill country" (Luke 1:39) has to be because of the *shame* and humiliation that would have been cast on her, though she did not actually deserve it. One of the criticisms thrown on Jesus was that he was born illegitimately (see John 8:41), and Mary was the obvious target. Joseph was "unwilling to put her to shame" (Matthew 1:19), but he might have been the only one. Though Mary wasn’t a “great” sinner, she was not sinless. She was shown mercy and grace. # Conclusion This is a naughty list up to the end. It is the original doom-scrolling; “Oh no, not him too!” There are women, there are immoral women, there are wicked kings, there are Gentiles, they are *all* of them *sinners*. Perhaps this angle on the genealogy is the angle we would prefer to gloss over; the part of the Christmas tree we turn toward the wall. Yet Matthew doesn’t tuck these ladies away in an unused decoration box, he gives these ladies prime placement. This is a list that would make “religious” people flush. Matthew lays down a stumbling block right out of the gospel gate. The reason is because Jesus, the King, is the King of *grace*. It is not just majestic glory that is revealed when the King of kings was born, but merciful glory far as the curse is found. Are you a sinner? The incarnation, celebrated as Christmas, is for you. Do you have significant sin in your past? Christmas is for you. Do you have sinful, distasteful, tough relatives in your family tree or coming over to your table? Christmas is for you, and them. Do you need *grace*? Christmas is for you. Are you stumbling? Look to the end of the list! Look to Jesus. If the mask mandate (anachronistic joke) that kicked Joseph and Mary to the lowly stable with ox and ass isn't enough to temper your visions of a perfect Christmas and Hallmark holiday, then consider the genealogy. Cutting paper too short for the package you’re wrapping, or finding out that the perfect gift is out of stock is the least of our problems that there is grace for. Jesus did not come to make Christmas great again, Jesus came because things were and are not great. He came not to honorable men, or to make us honorable in the eyes of the world, but to make us jealousable by His grace. ----------- ## Charge Christmas is less than fourteen days away. As you get closer and closer, the temptation is to be more and more frustrated, dealing with an increased number of bad attitudes, and I don't just mean you own. But remember, Christmas means that men are *not* basically good. Christmas means that *sinners* are in the grand scheme of things. Men are broken, the world is broken, your picture-perfect tree and table and family time is as unrealistic as Pelagianism. But the God of all grace sent His Son. This Word made flesh has His Father's glory, full of grace and truth. Celebrate gracefully. ## Benediction: > And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10–11, ESV)

2: Keeping the King in Christmas

December 6, 2020 • Sean Higgins

Matthew 1:1-17 Series: Advent 2020 #2 # Introduction One December when I was a kid I got into big trouble for writing "X-mas" on a box. As I remember the circumstances, I wasn't trying to make a theological statement or express a new commitment, I had seen X-mas somewhere and it seemed like fun, plus, it fit on my small box. My abbreviation skills were not appreciated and I got a good lecture on keeping "Christ" in Christmas. Even with my contrarian streak it wasn't my intention to keep the gifts but get rid of God in flesh. But I took the lesson to heart, and made the concern my own for a number of years...until I learned Greek in college. In Greek class I learned that the first letter in the word for Christ is a *chi*, which looks exactly like our English letter *x*. Perhaps the first person to ever write X-mas was a sophomore Biblical studies major who thought he was being clever, and little did he know how much consternation he would cause among Christian mothers trying to teach their kids about the reason for the season. In more recent years we Christians have gotten garland wrapped up tight around our groins about business signage and disposable coffee cups and public greetings of "Happy holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." This verbal shift was calculated to promote the good-feels of the god of pluralism and avoid offending those who don't worship the Christ. I'm fine with a deliberate "Merry Christmas" back with a twinkle in your eye, or if you have a little longer, maybe a response of, "Thanks, but what's so holy about the *holi*day without Jesus?" The *Christ* in *Christ*mas is certainly key. Christ is more than Jesus' last name, though after a while calling Him "Jesus Christ" became natural in a way that calling me "Sean a Pastor" never will. Being *the* Christ is part of Jesus’ very nature. All of the gospel writers identified Jesus as the Christ, but Matthew highlighted this attribute more than the others. It is part of the reason that his gospel comes first of the four, and part of the reason that it comes immediately following the end of the Old Testament. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings anticipated the Christ. The people of God were waiting for the promised Seed, the Christ. Χριστός (*Christos*) is the Greek word, transliterated into English as "Christ," that translates the Hebrew word for *Messiah*, a word that is difficult to define with just one word (which is why the English “messiah” is transliterated from Hebrew). It referred to one who was anointed, that is, recognized and appointed to a certain office or title or responsibility. We typically associate Jesus as Christ with Jesus as *Savior*, and that is good. But there are specific words for savior, like, you know, the word Savior. When we think of “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4), we think of Him as God's-Son who saves and is sovereign. Again, that's good. But it's not enough. Yes, Jesus will save His people from their sin (Matthew 1:21), but the saving work, the primary aim of His first coming, is prominent in His earthly name: *Jesus*; the Hebrew name *Jesuha* means “the Lord is salvation.” Calling Jesus the *Christ* makes prominent that He is the Savior *King*. Keeping Christ in Christmas is only as good as we're thinking about it as keeping the King in Christmas. If you are a serious Christian, one who reads his Bible, one who hates the commercialism and the materialism and the secularism of what our holiday has become, you also probably think about Jesus as a King in terms of Jesus' explanation to Pilate when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The way such a serious Christian honors Jesus as King is with church services and songs and spiritual thoughts. I have been a "serious" Christian "celebrating" Christmas like that. But it is ironic, isn't it? To celebrate God becoming man, God with us, Immanuel, the Word made flesh, by trying to forget or acting like the flesh things, the earth things, the food and gifts and wine and decorations and hugs things, are of lesser importance? And what is hitting me freshly this year is that God with us, the Word made flesh, came as, and will come again as, *King*. The wise men/magi came from the east because they saw the sign that "the *King* of the Jews" had been born (Matthew 2:2). Celestial, astronomical events moved into place to make the point, that the world would now come to orbit around this King, this Son of God. Herod heard the magi and asked the chief priests “where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4). Christ means king. It's why Herod attempted to find the baby Jesus and kill Him because Herod's earthly throne was threatened; even those in Jerusalem were “troubled” (Matthew 2:3). The killing of male children two and under in Galilee was not because Jesus' birth as king only had spiritual meaning. Years later, as all four gospels record, the forerunner, John the Baptist came preaching that the "kingdom of God was at hand" (Matthew 3:1) That was his message that the kingdom, with its King, was upon them. It is the great confession of Peter when Jesus asked, "You are the Christ" (Matthew 16:16), in other words, the promised and anointed King. Within a short time Jesus was crucified as "the king of the Jews" (Matthew 27:11). He was mocked for it (Matthew 27:29), given a crown of thorns to mock Him for it, a sign written in multiple languages scoffing over Him as king (Matthew 27:37). Jesus as King is not merely a celestial reality, but a spiritual one with earthy consequences. Beloved, this is exactly why Matthew begins his message of good news with a genealogy, and why he selected the lineage list as he did, to show that Jesus is the King. Look again at how the book begins: > The book of the genealogy of Jesus **Christ**, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Jesus is a son of Abraham, which establishes His identity as part of the covenant people. God made a promise to Abraham of offspring, and through Isaac and Jacob and Judah we have Israel. Jesus is a Jew, and from the line of Judah, and remember Jacob's blessing to Judah: > "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples." (Genesis 49:10) One of the heavenly elders told John, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Revelation 5:5). Jesus is also the "son of David," a title Matthew uses nine more times in his gospel. David is the only name mentioned in two of the three divisions of 14; David is the final name in the first group, with his title: "Jesse the father of David *the king*” (verse 6), and then David begins the next set of 14, as verse 17 summarizes. It is "the book of...Jesus *Christ*" (verse 1), "Jesus was born, who is called *Christ*” (verse 16), and the counting ends after the deportation to Babylon "to the *Christ*” (verse 17). Note the second division, starting with David halfway through verse 6. These are Israel's kings, the final king Jechoniah when the nation was taken into the Babylonian captivity. Though kings were not reinstituted when they returned to the land, the genealogy continued, and this is the royal line. Jesus is heir to the throne of David. This is why the angel addressed Joseph in a dream saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife" (Matthew 1:20). It is why when Caesar Augustus called for a census and taxing, "Joseph went up...from Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David" (Luke 2:4). When the angels showed up to the shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night, one of the angels said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy 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" (Luke 2:10-11). Here are three different words: the saving one--Savior, the sovereign one--Lord, and the *royal* one--Christ. It is a fascinating rabbit hole, without a current bottom, to consider some of the differences between the genealogy Matthew provides and the one that Luke lists. One proceeds forward from Abraham and the other moves backward to Adam. One includes multiple women, the other has none, not even Mary. And one has the grandfather of Jesus as Jacob, the other has the grandfather of Jesus as Heli. Of the usual options that are given for the discrepancy (and other discrepancies), other than the option that the Bible has errors (which I don’t accept), are either that 1) Jacob and Heli were brothers, and it was Jacob's *name* that mattered as the older brother and Heli married Jacob's wife when he died (levirate marriage), Heli was the physical grandfather. Or 2) Jacob was Joseph's father and Heli was *Mary's* father, with Luke tracing Jesus' physical genealogy as the Son of Man back to the first son of man, Adam. It turns out that a couple important things happen here. First, the last king of Israel before the exile was Jechoniah (also known as Coniah). He was so wicked that the LORD cursed him and said that “none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David” (Jeremiah 22:30). Though he was in the line of kings from David through Solomon, and then though Jacob and Joseph were part of his line, Jesus was *adopted* into the line, so the *legal* heir of David but not a physical descendent of Jechoniah. Second, this would mean that Heli, from David through *Nathan* (Luke 3:31), not Solomon, down to Mary, would mean that Jesus was also physically a son of David, just not through Jechoniah. So Jesus' legal father and His earthly mother were both from David. Jesus is from the bloodline and the royal line of King David. Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham, from the tribe of Judah, and the house of David. He was born as *King*. The shepherds worshipped Him as such, the magi recognized Him as such, and Herod feared Him as such. Christmas is a time to celebrate that Jesus came to save sinners. *He came to **redeem***, to ransom, and through His holy and perfect obedience He was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice so that we might be forgiven and have peace with God and know freedom from sin. He is the atoning Lamb, He is God’s gift to us. But if we are keeping the Christ is Christmas, if we understand that Christ means King, then Christmas is a time to celebrate that Jesus came to sit on a throne. *He came to **rule***, to lead and judge in righteousness and peace. He is the anointed Lion, He is God’s gift to us. In this joyous strain, listen again to the prophetic word of Isaiah: > For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. **Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore**. (Isaiah 9:6-7) Christmas reminds us of His *authority* not just His humble birth. It cannot be coincidental that King David's last words were about the glories of being ruled well. > Now these are the last words of David: the oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: ... When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. (2 Samuel 23:1, 3b-4) Christmas reminds us of Christ who makes life *bright* as our Ruler, of Christ who governs and makes justice grow like grass. # Conclusion While Jesus is King of the Jews, it will be for *all* nations, King of kings. > Joy to the world the Lord is come > Let earth receive her King Here are three things I've been thinking about, asking myself, and planning to try. I've been thinking about *how* to do more than just think about Jesus' birth as King. I hope you're not offended when I say I've been thinking about the paper lanterns that an entire city set off at dusk in _Tangled_ to remind them of the lost princess. It was a cultural symbol, an annual ritual. It reminded them of the king's daughter and perhaps caused some to long for her to be found. Certainly it didn't mean that much to everyone; everyone didn't care, even if they participated. But can we decorate and feast and gift-give in such a way that reminds us of the King? “Let men their songs employ.” I've been asking myself throughout the day this past week or so, not just “What would Jesus do?” but *What would the King have me do?*. It's not as quick as WWJD, and WWKHMD isn't going to catch on. But as clearly as ever in my adventing, I'm putting next actions and decisions about what’s best next in light of the King’s pleasure. What I'm planning to do, and you're welcome to try this if you want, when I'm out and about, in my mask or without, and especially if I'm greeted with "Happy holidays," I'm aiming to reply with, instead of "Merry Christmas," with *"The King was born!"* ---------- ## Charge Jesus' genealogy was over 2000 years in the making from Abraham (at least 4000 going back to Adam). It's very unlikely that any of us are going to be successful in tracing our family lines 40-50 generations back to Jesus' day, even four or five might be a challenge. But how about giving some effort toward four or five generations *from* now? Be a beefy branch on the family tree known for asking questions like, *What would the King have me do?* ## Benediction: > Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. > To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:4–7, ESV)

1: Waiting for Christmas

November 29, 2020 • Sean Higgins

Matthew 1:1-17 Series: Advent 2020 #1 I have never preached a series of advent/Christmas messages before. For a number of years I've taken the four advent Sundays and connected four confession exhortations or communion meditations, but never four sermons. I prefer keeping the course through a book of the Bible, at least up until the Sunday immediately preceding Christmas. Even then many times I try to link the providentially appointed next paragraph with the holiday theme. But it's 2020. If the only thing that doesn't change is change itself, then could we say that change feels like the most normal thing? That obviously breaks down, and quickly, but I thought, why not? Revelation 17 and 18 go together, so pausing in between is sort of like parking on the downhill side. After these Christmas sermons and some sermons on our worship and liturgy, we'll pick up in the Apocalypse and speed toward the finish sometime in the spring, Lord willing and the 'rona don't rise. So, four whole messages for advent. Advent (from Latin *adventus*), as we've learned, means *coming*. Some people advent naturally, others of us have learned to appreciate the discipline of the season, and even how the annual month of conscious re-waiting for celebrating Christ's incarnation (His first coming) orients us for Christ's parousia (second coming). Not everyone gets excited about the Christmas holiday, and fine, but every Christian should be getting ready for the great day of the Lord. What I'd like to do in these messages is consider some Christmas *meta*, not just sub details, but some of the overarching narrative that gives a pattern or structure for our beliefs. Christmas is a message about the coming of God’s Son, and Christmas gives meaning to God’s people. To start that, I want to take a look at a part of the story that most people skip, or skim. We're going to take a look at, and a look through, the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew. If your family reads Scripture on Christmas morning, you probably start in Matthew 1:18, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way" (or you read Luke 2 instead). And yet the first verses of Matthew’s gospel, the first verses of the New Testament are, "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ" (1:1). There are (at least) four large-scale encouragements, applications, plot points, object lessons, etc., in this genealogy. Don't get anxious about how bored you're going to be, at least wait a little before deciding you'd rather quietly disagree about the millennium. In fact, the first lesson is just that: **wait**. Waiting is an appropriate subject for a heavenly host of reasons, including that this is the first Sunday of advent, so it is the furthest Sunday from Christmas. Christmas is on Friday this year, so we're almost as far away as we could be. We are at least post-Thanksgiving, which makes it lawful to talk about the next festivity, but it is also still *November*. Waiting is also appropriate because 2020 has demanded it. “Fifteen days to flatten the curve” was **259** days ago. Lockdown deadlines approached, pressure built, and then deadlines were extended, restrictions added, inconsistencies multiplied, apparently arbitrary decisions magnified. We turned some anticipation energy toward elections, and what a sinus headache with your head in a vice on a plane climbing altitude that turned out to be. Whence comest relief? We can't crescendo forever, right? I like movies the same way I recommend marital engagements: short and sweet. Anticipation can be fun, if it doesn't go on forever. I appreciate Melville's work in _Moby Dick_, how he so successfully gave me a sense of how tedious months on a ship in the the middle of the ocean would feel, even as I felt that way wading through page after page reading about it. Solomon similarly nailed not only the content about vain repetitions, he captured it in his style. Christmas is *a lot* about waiting *a lot*. As a kid, my sister and I poured over the J.C. Penny catalog and crafted our lists and presented them to our parents with sufficient time for ordering without Amazon's overnight delivery. Then we'd go back to the catalog to visualize the acquisition of our lists into real-time use. That was Christmas to us, shallow, but not altogether wrong. God's people waited *generationally* for The Gift. They weren't working from a wish list, they were working from *divine promises*, from God the Father giving His Word to patriarchs that He would send a Savior-King-Son. We do not have time to sit in their waiting shoes, but we can be encouraged by the Scripture written beforehand. We should read the Scripture that starts the Christian story, a family story, a royal store, a sinful story, a *long* story. > The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. > > Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. > > And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. > > And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. > > So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:1–17, ESV) We probably know enough of the Bible to appreciate a lot of what's here, and we also can spare a little time to learn some more about it. I mean, you're not going to get these verses on a greeting card. I pray that after four weeks considering these verses that we will never be able to unsee these points, and at least introduce your reading in 1:18ff with "After waiting many generations for the Christ...." Matthew 1:1 begins with the *biblos geneseos* (Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), the "genesis," the "roll of birth," the history of origin. While there are three paragraphs in the body of the list, there is an intro sentence and a conclusion. Unlike the genealogy that Luke provides going back through Mary's side of the family to Adam, Matthew starts with Abraham down to Joseph, Jesus' earthly father. Matthew's focus from Abraham through David to Jesus has a crucial connection which will be the subject for another sermon. For now, remember that both were given promises, both were called to believe, and *neither* of them saw the fulfillment in their lifetimes. They had to *wait*. God called Abram to another land and said, "I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2), so that "in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (12:3). By Genesis 15 Abram was still without a child, and the LORD not only reaffirmed that Abram would have his own son, the LORD also said, "know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred year" (15:13). After Abram's sin with Hagar, God said, "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout the generations for an everlasting covenant" (17:7). Then Paul explained further, "Now the promises were made to Abraham and his offspring. It does not say "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring t one, "And to your offspring," who is *Christ*" (Galatians 3:16). It turns out that Abram was *42 generations* (or more) from Christ, over **2000** years. Isaac was a miracle, so Jacob, then Judah and his brothers (Matthew 1:2), but those only began the 400 year exile in Egypt. Abraham lived by faith, believing the LORD (Genesis 15:6), and *waiting*. The genealogy in Matthew gives attention to David due to a promise God made. That promise is summarized in Psalm 89 (see the promise in context in 2 Samuel 7:4-17): > You have said, 'I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations." (3-4) Even the book of Revelation refers to Jesus as the Root of David, the one who has conquered and coming (Revelation 5:5; 22:16). But according to Matthew 1:17 there were 14 generations between Abraham and David, then 14 more before the Babylonian captivity where Israel was **70** years waiting on the promised one, and then there were another 14 generations after Israel went back to Israel before Christ was born. How many believers felt as if they were in Nomans Land, *waiting*. They waited for immediate deliverance from foreign enemies, deliverance from crooked kings and unjust judges and polluted priests, deliverance from the burden of the law and the sacrificial system, deliverance from physical and relational pains. There were over 400 years of silence from God between Malichi and Matthew, between the last prophet of the Old Testament and John the Baptist. And then, the Christ came! But(!), He came quietly, privately, remotely, innocently. It would take another 30 years before Jesus was announced to the public, three more years of mixed reviews, and then He was put to death. How was any of that a relief to all the built up pressure? How could a baby born in Bethlehem possibly be what they were waiting for? But He *was*. > Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23) His name will be "Jesus for he will save his people from their sins" (verse 21). "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet" (verse 22), in fact, by many prophets. Christmas is more than fun surprises of gifts and about promised deliverance by grace. But the package says in big letters: **Some Anticipation Required**. This is how God worked before the first advent, we ought not be surprised if He calls us to exercise waiting muscles before the second advent. All of this was written that we might have *hope*. Not only is God, by attribute, the God of endurance (Romans 15:5), He gives hope and joy and peace in believing so that we may abound in hope (Romans 15:13). Many Gentiles are being brought to rejoice in Christ, the same Christ promised to the patriarchs, many of whom are written by name in the genealogy. > The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles. In him will the Gentiles hope. (Romans 15:12) # Conclusion Our Christmas Quick! needs are so high that we don't even have time to wait two or three years for the wise men to show up in our nativity scenes. At least we can sing some songs with minor chords, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Jesus holds it all together (Hebrews 1:3) for *generations*. In peace and in war, in prosperity and in captivity, in summers and winters, in harvests and hardships, in sickness and in health, over lifetimes and centuries. So *wait for the Lord*. > It will be said on that day, > “Behold, this is our God; we have > waited for him, that he might save us. > This is the LORD; we have waited > for him; > let us be glad and rejoice > in his salvation.” > (Isaiah 25:9, ESV) ---------- ## Charge Because of how God made the world, we cannot skip genealogies. We can skip reading them, though maybe we shouldn't. But we can't skip being *in* them. Some who came before you have been waiting to see what you would do when your time came. Others who come after you will look back to see how you ran the race, including how well you *waited* for the Lord. ## Benediction: > May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)