Pastor Craig Carter
Today is December 1st and according to the popular song of the season: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Is that true? Maybe, maybe not.
As a matter of fact, many of the things mentioned in the song make it a much less than wonderful time of the year.
“There’ll be parties for hosting…” potentially making it a most stressful time of the year.
“And tales of the glories of Christmases long ago…” likely making it the saddest time of the year for those who remember family members who are no longer present.
“When loved ones are near…” possibly making it the most contentious time of the year.
So, maybe it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone…but maybe it can be.
You see, what makes the season we’re now entering the most wonderful time of the year is not the presents, decorations, parties, family and friends, or even special services. The wonder of Christmas is found in the One whose birthday we celebrate.
What makes this time of the year so wonderful is described in the classic Christmas carol, Joy to the World. After beginning with the proclamation, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” the song ends, “He rules the world with truth and grace…and wonders of his love, and wonders of his love, and wonders, wonders of his love.”
A wonder is defined as “a sense of awe, admiration, or amazement.” The real wonder of Christmas is what it tells us: God loves us in a truly astonishing way.
In Psalm 17:7, David asks, “Show me the wonders of your great love.” (NIV)
The Lord answered that prayer centuries later when His Son Jesus was born and entered into our world.
Because of Christmas, you and I no longer have to question God’s love for us, it’s been demonstrated supremely in and through Jesus Christ.
This Advent season, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, we’ll attempt to recapture the wonder of Christmas that many of us experienced as children, but may have lost along the way.
We’re going to do that, not by focusing on the sights and sounds of the season, but on God’s great love revealed through some of the elements of the Nativity story.
First we’ll look at the wonder of a name given to the infant born in Bethlehem. Then, as Advent unfolds, we’ll be amazed at what the angels, the star, and the manger tell us about how much God loves you and me.
As we prepare to celebrate the name Jesus this Advent season, it’s worth nothing that most parents spend a great deal of time and energy determining the names of their children. We want a name that will well serve them since they’re stuck with it for a long time (at least the rest of their lives and even beyond).
Sometimes we choose a name that has a nice ring to it. Other times we want to pass along a significant historical or family name. Still other times our only motive is trying to spare a child from harm. Most of us wouldn’t name a boy Lucifer (not at birth anyway). Or if our last name is Oswald, we probably won’t call him Lee Harvey.
The naming of children was even more important in the ancient world. In biblical times, the person’s name oftentimes described something about their character, circumstances, or identity. For example, Jacob was a “heel-grabber,” Moses was “drawn out of the water,” and Peter was named the “the rock.”
In the Christmas story, prospective parents Joseph and Mary were spared the dilemma of what to call their child as the name was given to them by divine messengers:
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.” (Matthew 1:20-21 NIV)
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. (Luke 1:30-31 NIV)
Jesus was a common name in Palestine at the time. It was the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua (Yeshua). It was the name given to Moses’ successor who led the Israelites out of slavery into the Promised Land. It means “Jehovah/Yahweh saves.”
So the very name of Jesus tells us something about who He is.
The angel said to [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NIV)
So the wonder of Christmas is revealed through the wonderful name of Jesus – our Savior. Let’ss to explore the wonder of that name by looking at what it means for us.
Jesus is a wonderful name because He is a Savior who…
1) Saves us from our sins.
The angel appearing to Joseph made this role of Jesus explicitly clear: “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
According to Paul in his First Letter to Timothy, this was the reason behind Christ’s birth. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV)
It probably goes without saying, but we only need a Savior if we need saving. And the fact of the matter is, we all do.
We are all sinners. And what exactly is sin? Take note of the letter that is at the center of the word, I. Whenever I place myself at the center of my life, I sin. So sin is any attitude or action that denies God his rightful place as #1 in my life.
Who has sinned? Every one of us. See Romans 3:23 NLT: “Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God’s glorious standard.”
We may not call it “sin,” but we all recognize that we don’t measure up – to our own standards, much less God’s.
Even though we’re sinners, we don’t necessarily need a Savior if we can save ourselves. Of course, we can’t…but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. At some level, we all recognize what the Bible claims is the result of sin: “The trouble is that your sins have cut you off from God.” (Isaiah 59:2)
So we spend our time/energy/money trying to find our way back to our Creator. But try as we may, we can’t get there because the gulf is too wide.
Think of it this way: if I throw you in the pool, you can probably swim to safety and don’t need someone to save you. But what if I throw you into the middle of the ocean? There isn’t a person alive who can swim to shore. Your only hope is that someone comes along to rescue you.
In the same way, our sin is so great, we need a Savior – divine intervention. So, you may ask, “What do I need to do to be saved?”
I’m sorry to say, “You’re too late!” Everything that needs to be done was done 2,000 years ago by the One who arrived in a manger in Bethlehem. That tiny baby given the name of Jesus grew into a man who gave His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. So we are saved, not by what we do, but by what Jesus has already done.
We have already been saved, by God’s grace, which we now receive through faith. So we must quit trying and begin trusting. There’s nothing you and I can do to deserve it or earn it, it’s a gift. And like all gifts we receive, the only suitable response is to accept it and say, “thank you.”
We can never pay God back because He’s done something for us we could never do ourselves. Have you received the greatest gift ever given? If not, say “yes” to Jesus and put your faith in His saving work. If you have already been saved, let this season be a time to say thanks. In either case, stand in wonder and amazement of the name of Jesus – the one who saves us from our sins.
2) Rescues us from our fears
In Matthew 8, we’re told that Jesus’ disciples found themselves adrift on a stormy sea. They went down below where they found Christ sleeping and made this plea, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25 NLT)
As we’re all familiar, Jesus answered their request and calmed the angry sea. Later, in Matthew 14, we once again find the disciples in a boat (vv. 22-33 NLT). This time, however, all is well until Jesus approaches them…walking on the water:
“When the disciples saw him…they were terrified…In their fear, they cried out!” “But Jesus spoke to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!’” Impulsive Peter attempted to join the Lord on the water. “But, when he began to sink, he was afraid and shouted, ‘Save me, Lord!’” “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him.”
In each of these instances we find Jesus rescuing persons from their fears. Notice that it is not merely His presence that brings comfort to people. He is able to do something about their situations.
In such a way He lives up to His wonderful name of Savior.
All of us have things in our lives that cause us to be afraid. Fear is one of the most common emotions experienced in America today and it comes in all shapes and sizes.
There’s the child that is scared her father will come home drunk and abuse her, the widow who is afraid to venture out into her own neighborhood, the young professional who is fearful of losing his job, the single mom who is worried she won’t be able to pay this month’s rent, the parents who see evil lurking on every corner waiting to devour their children…and the list goes on and on.
Americans are overwhelmed by a sense of fear, anxiety, and downright terror. When my wife, Lee, was teaching high school, she received a letter from a bright, beautiful 16-year-old was who facing the prospect of having to go and live with her sister in another state. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:
“If so, I’ll have to move. I’m really afraid of that. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m scared of everything. I think that about covers it. I’m scared of life, I’m scared of death, I’m scared of love, and hate, people, school, career, the past, the present, the future, trusting other people, and the list goes on. I’m so afraid and I just don’t understand why.”
Many of us understand and are familiar with the sentiment expressed in that letter. So we need the wonder of the name given to the One whose birth we’re about to celebrate. As the angels said to Joseph, Mary and the shepherds: “Don’t be afraid” because Jesus is a Savior who rescues us from our fears.
Say, “Save me, Lord!” and wait for Christ to embrace you in His arms of love.
3) Heals us from our infirmities
In Matthew 9 Jesus was headed to raise a dead girl. On the way He encountered a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. “She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’” (v. 21 NIV)
Just as she thought, when she did, she was miraculously cured. And Jesus said to her, “Take heart…your faith has healed you.” (v. 22 NIV).
In both cases, the word translated “healed’ is not the normal Greek word (therapuo). It is the word that we have seen elsewhere as “saved.”
God is not just concerned about the life hereafter (i.e. getting us into heaven and sparing us from hell). He wants to makes us whole and well in the here-and-now.
Neither is God simply concerned about our spiritual well-being. He wants to bring health and wholeness to every area of our lives. He wants to save, or heal, us spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally.
Because of this desire, God sent His Son Jesus to save us from our infirmities.
An infirmity is a: “bodily ailment, human frailty, personal failing, moral weakness.”
Infirmities are those things that keep us from being the people God intended us to be. They are attitudes, behavior, and thought patterns that keep us in emotional, physical, emotional, or relational bondage.
Here’s a partial list of common infirmities: sickness, chronic pain, worry, anger, depression, despair, shame, guilt, resentment, regret, addictions, painful memories. Many of us have resigned ourselves that those conditions are just the way things are.
But since Jesus is our Savior, we don’t have to be content with the status quo.
He is “Jehovah saves,” so He can heal us from physical afflictions, deliver us from the “demons” that torment, set us free from anything and everything that holds us captive, and give us a new start in every facet of our lives.
Just as we can trust Jesus to save us from our sins and rescue us from our fears, we can trust Him to heal us from whatever is ailing us.
As Jesus once told the father of a demon-possessed boy, “Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Mark 9:23 NLT)
And a woman who was healed from a decades-long hemorrhage would say, “Amen!”
You see, this and every season is a wonderful time of the year because of the wonder of a name – Jesus. As the angels declared at His birth, He is Christ (the Messiah) the Lord. But He is also our God who saves…and that, my friends, is good news of great joy!
Pray this prayer as you celebrate the wonder of the name that saves:
Jesus, your name is beautiful and special. You are the Lord of salvation – our God who saves us from our sins, rescues us from our fears, and heals us from our infirmities. You are our Savior and that is good news that brings great joy! May the wonder of your name fill our hearts with peace this Christmas and always. In your precious name we pray. Amen.
Advent wreaths are a great way to remember and celebrate the wonder of Christmas. Click here to visit our Christmas website where you can learn more about Advent and download Scripture readings and prayer for your own Advent wreath at home.