"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, insignificant among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." Therefore, He will give them until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.
The Game Changer
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Not many people are really conscious of the fact that Christmas is a real game changer. We know it, but we are not encouraged tho think about it too much these days. Our society and culture are so profoundly hostile to God and to Christ that we have to stop and remember that what we celebrate today is the pivot of history. Christmas divides what was from what is and what is to be. Our theme on this Christmas Sunday is, The Game Changer.
The game changed in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a nowhere place, too small to be significant in anyone's eyes. Then Jesus was born. Magi - the ancient scholars from the East came to Bethlehem looking for the recently born son of a young couple of no particular fame - believed to be fairly poverty-stricken by the standards of their world, and certainly the standards of our own. Now, of course, everyone knows the name of Bethlehem, and can tell you what happened there, even if they don't believe it. Mary and Joseph are more famous than Elvis, or Obama. See? It was a game-changer.
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, insignificant among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. Even then, in the prophecy, Micah could see that what was going to happen there was going to be big, and change the world. And it did.
The world used to be divided between Jews and Gentiles. Some people still think it is, but with over a third of the nearly seven billion people of this world claiming to be Christians, it is clear that the real division of humanity today is between Christians and non-Christians, by whatever title you identify them. Even if the numbers were significantly less favorable to the name "Christian", the division would still be the most significant division among humanity, those who are going to heaven and those who are not.
History is divided by mankind into Before Christ and After - what used to be called "Anno Domini", (the year of our Lord). Modern scholars are started to use BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (the Common Era), but even so, the dividing line is the time spoken of by the prophet, Micah, until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. That event, and that Child was a game-changer.
The Bible is divided by that town, that event, and that Child. The Old Testament times were governed by a covenant that looked back on the Exodus and forward to the time of which Micah prophesied. It was a covenant of Laws - each intended to help the people focus, and look forward to the coming One, and to express their trust in the God of Israel. Oh yes, the Laws were also intended to train the people to understand their need for the Messiah to come, and to recognize Him when He arrived. Their Testament told them where and when and what He would be like and what He would do, and all sorts of things.
When He came, they recognized Him, from the things written in their Scriptures. They rejected Him. They did not want Him. They refused to listen and they brutally murdered Him, pretending it was all neat and legal. But they recognized Him. From Herod, who sent his soldiers to kill Him - and all the children in the area from two years of age and down - all the way to Caiaphas and Annas, they recognized Him. They all tried to kill Him, and when they finally succeeded, it didn't work out the way they expected.
It just divided time and made the game change. Then came the New Testament. The Old one, of Laws and covenants, was fulfilled and superceded. It wasn't invalidated, it was fulfilled and the New Testament - as in last will and testament - was set in place. Now grace and forgiveness were made supreme. Faith still held her place, but the structure of ceremonies and laws designed to point to the Coming One were done away with, and He stood alone.
Suddenly, His words about He who is not with Me is against Me took on new meaning. Humanity was suddenly divided between those who were with Him and those who were against Him. The people of God, the chosen people, Israel was now numbered by those who were with Him and those who stood against Him simply deleted themselves from the role-call of Israel. The Prophet Micah saw that coming too. He said, Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. The Apostle Paul, writing by inspiration, put it this way in Romans 9, (T)hey are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
The enemies of our Lord celebrate His birth. They try to disguise it, but the day is called "Christmas". When they go all pagan on us and insist that we say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", they still call it a "holiday", or a "holy day". They exchange gifts in silent witness to the greatest gift of all times, the gift of the Son of God in the flesh, sent to die for our salvation. They light everything up with festive lights without realizing that they are a symbol of the Light of the World. Even Santa Claus is just a slurring of the name of Saint Nicolas, who was a bishop once in the Church of Jesus Christ. Christmas was such a game-changer that they cannot help themselves.
Modern public education is the fruit of the commitment that everyone should be able to read the Bible for themselves. The very form of the modern book arose out of the desire of Christians to be able to quickly access and study the Word of God without the need for searching through long scrolls. Even much of modern science, the religion of many of the enemies of Christ, owes its beginnings to men who simply wanted to understand just how God was doing things, and to, as Albert Einstein once put it, "think the thoughts of God after Him." The values the world cherishes, and many of the tools they use to fight against Jesus Christ, arose out of His worship and from among those who worshiped Him. That is how much of a game-changer Christmas is.
Of course, our world, particularly our portion of it in America, is descending again into the moral abyss of paganism. It is following the cycle that history has seen so often. Christ comes with His good news and men receive it with gladness. But after a time, their children or grandchildren take it for granted, and some begin to chafe under the truth, or their misunderstanding of it. Many parts of the world which are most vehemently anti-Christian today were once the strongholds of the faith. St. Nicolas was a bishop in what is now Muslim Turkey. Many of the strongholds of the Islamic error were former bastions of the Christian faith where men grew sated and satisfied, and turned their eyes from thanksgiving and praise to self-service and the so-called delights of sin, and darkness and unbelief followed.
It is happening here, where parents once treasured their faith and their church and the next generation less and less, and their children learned from their parents to disregard their religion, to ignore it, and they adopted the fables of the age, like Santa and the Easter Bunny. Many Americans are growing strong in ignorance and weak in faith, and wandering helplessly into the waiting darkness. Not all, but many are falling away, and they increase in number as the witness of the life of the unfaithful become prevalent in schools, in the media, and in the home, and the faithful few go home to be with the Lord. But all is not lost. The Gospel is growing in new fields, in Asia, and Africa, and South America. In some places, the descendants of those who surrendered their faith long ago are discovering the faith once again, for the Church will not perish, according to the promise of God. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it, or so Jesus said. Micah put it this way, And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.
Today, we celebrate Christmas, the day of the birth of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the Incarnation, where God took on human flesh and blood and became one of us, Immanuel, God with us. We celebrate the life and death which paid for our sins. We celebrate the resurrection which proclaimed His mission accomplished. We celebrate the fact that Your sins are forgiven because of that Baby, born so long ago in a stable, and cradled in a manger, and all that He did. We celebrate a truth that the sinful world does not want to know, and cannot live without.
We take our place in this Old Testament Prophecy, among His people. We claim Him as our Shepherd, King, and Lord. We confess our sins and weakness, and thank God for His steadfast grace and goodness. And we recognize that the events to which Micah point in His prophecy are - and always have been - the real game-changer! Let us rejoice and sing and delight in saying Merry Christmas!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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