December 19, 2021. Sermon Title: A Savior, Messiah and Lord Has Been Born

First Mennonite Church

December 19, 2021

A Savior, Messiah and Lord Has Been Born

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Today, although not Christmas Eve or Day, it is our Christmas Sunday. Therefore, it is most appropriate for us to hear the story of the birth of Jesus. Also, as much as we can, it is important to understand the immense significance of God’s desire in giving us his only and beloved Son.

Luke begins his story be setting the historical context of the birth of Jesus in the city of Bethlehem. Caesar Augustus, whose original name was Gaius Octavius, was the Roman Emperor. According to history, Caesar Augustus came to power after the empire had gone through 100 years of wars. The people were tired of bloodshed, death, and devastation. Caesar Augustus reorganized every aspect of life. He ushered what was called the “Pax Romana”—the Roman Peace. It was peace through quick and violent suppression of the least sign of dissidence. Gaius Octavius’ reconstruction work brought new life and rapid prosperity to the people for which he earned the name Caesar “Augustus,” the “revered one.” However, beneath the veneer of benevolence Augustus ruled with autocratic power through was manipulation and crafty political maneuvering. Caesar Augustus was considered savior, son of the divine, and lord of the world. At his decree the world moved.

And a decree was made that a census be done in the recently annexed territory of Judea to Syria. Censuses had two purposes. One, to carry out a polling tax, where all adult citizens are counted for tributum capitis and for famers and landowners, tributum soli.[1]

Joseph, a humble carpenter and Mary, his fiancée expecting child, had to make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. For days, they slowly made the 70-mile journey. Weary and nervous, Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem, the city of David. No one noticed them. No one welcomed the parents of the one who would heir to the throne of David. As night approached, they desperately sought for a place to stay, but no room was available for them. They had to make-do in the backyard stable where, under the dim light, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. There was no midwife to help with the birth. Mary, although exhausted, cut the cord, washed and nurse the baby. She swaddled the baby and because there was no crib, she laid him in an animal feeding trough. The three of them, outside with darkness all around. But then, shepherds came asking if there has been a birth.     

For those of us who grew up attending church, this story is overly familiar. We are so familiar with the story that all the powerful emotions the characters experienced do not impact us anymore. For instance, it is very difficult for us to grasp the feelings of terror the shepherds experienced at the appearance of the angels when they announced the birth. After reading the birth story of Jesus countless times, the “news of great joy that is for the people” hardly touches our heart. The excitement about the announcement, which moved the shepherds to say to one another, “let us go and see this that the Lord has made us known” has been replaced by other kinds of excitement this time of the year. When did we encourage a relative or friend to verify for themselves the good news of Jesus, his birth, life, death and resurrection? Such excitement is almost a foreign thing. Upon confirming the birth, there was amazement in Mary and the shepherds. Mary pondered on every word the shepherds told her. As for the shepherds, they went back glorifying and praising God. I truly hope we will go out from church today glorifying and praising God for what the coming of Jesus means to us.

But, beyond those passing emotional reactions found in the story of the birth of Jesus are somethings more enduring and deeply implicating for us today. These are the things said about the identity of the baby that was born. There are three titles given to the baby. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you, he is the Messiah, the Lord.

The titles given to the baby are significant and powerful. Jesus’ first title is “Savior.” In Matthew one, verse 21, Joseph is instructed to give the baby the name “Jesus,” for he will save his people from their sins. Jesus is the Greek for Joshua, which means, “God saves.” This name is more than a personal title; it is God’s declaration of what he is about to accomplish through the baby. Jesus is God’s means for redeeming his people and the world.

My beloved brothers and sisters, we would not be here if not for God’s redeeming love through his Son. God’s salvation is not only the salvation of souls. God’s salvation is not only to guarantee you and me a ticket to heaven. God’s salvation encompasses every aspect of life, in the here and now and for eternity. God’s salvation transforms the way we relate to others. It reorganizes our priorities in life. It centers our heart’s focus, where pleasing God and finding our delight in him become our greatest joy and satisfaction. God’s salvation in Christ means, establishing a personal relationship with God and the people whom he has called. According to the biblical testimony, salvation does not begin until we die. God’s salvation begins at the very moment we surrender our life to Jesus who is Savior.

He is the Messiah. Messiah is the Hebrew word for “anointed one” and “Christ” in Greek. Kings and priests are consecrated for their duties by anointing them. In the case of Jesus, he claimed this identified when he read the words of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:20b)

In Jewish teaching, the Messiah would be the liberator of God’s people. It was expected that the Anointed One of God would destroy the enemies of God’s people and inaugurate the Messianic age or reign. The Jews looked forward to the day of the appearance of the king Messiah. However, when Jesus introduced himself as the anointed one of God, he shocked and greatly disappointed his listeners. The people knew his humble origin. He did not fit their expectations. But, Christ, Anointed One, was and is God’s deliverer who announces to us the gospel and who wants to set us free from oppression, sin and death. He wants to free us even from ourselves, who deep in our hearts are tempted to believe that our life, our security, and our salvation depend on us.  

The baby born to Mary and Joseph is also the “Lord.” The title “Lord” is a pervasive scriptural title for Israel’s God. God’s name was forbidden to be uttered, except by the high priest. Every time the Tetragrammaton appears (YHWH) in the Holy Scriptures, the reader would say “the Lord.” Lord referred to God in Judaism. In the broader context of ancient Israel, the Baals were the lord, rulers and deities. The pagan nations around Israel worshipped and even offered their babies in sacrifice to the Baals in order to secure good crops, healthy families, or to give them protection. God’s people were often tempted to worship these false lords too. Because of that idolatry, God warned Israel through the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,

your Savior… I, even I, am the Lord,
    and apart from me there is no savior.

 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
    I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.”

(Isaiah 43:3, 11-13; see also Isaiah 45:21).

Ancient Israel was tempted to worship other lords. In Jesus’ times, Caesar was called “lord.” But as we see, the angels declared that the child born to Mary is Savior, Messiah and Lord. A lord, however, can be anything that exercises lordship over you. That can be your own ambitions, goals in life, pleasure, work, fears, etc. In the case of Jesus, he not only entered the world in a humble way, but he humbled himself even to the point of dying on a cross. And as the apostle Paul says,

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11).

My dear friends, Christ Jesus was born in a lowly place, but he was and still is the Savior, Messiah and Lord. If in his first coming he was humble and defenseless, at his second coming he will come as King and Judge of the world. In the meantime, let us acknowledge him as our Savior and Lord. Let us surrender to him and give him our heart to dwell. Have a blessed Christmas! Amen.

Pastor Romero

[1] (December 16, 2021)