Christmas Eve & Christmas Day: O Come, Let Us Adore Him!

The Christmas Eve service will be Saturday evening, December 24, at 6:00 p.m. Please note that there will be a lovely harp and flute prelude, so being seated at 5:45 is well worth the effort! The Christmas Day service will be at the usual 9:00 a.m., but there will not be Sunday school that day. Communion will be celebrated at both services and nursery will be available as well.

If you plan on skipping church this Sunday because it’s Christmas, consider the story you’re telling: “In some places the wise men might show up for worship and find the doors locked. In an ironic twist of the tale they’d find that there is no room for them in the church.” –DP Cassidy

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 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…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…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 (abridged)

I once happened across what might be one of the most obscure instructional books in the world—at least in our day. It was on the proper etiquette and “liturgy” of organizing a parade. It told about the position of the Grand Marshal, of children, of the benefactors, the poor, local and national leaders, soldiers, those on horseback, musicians of different types, and so on. Parades now seem antiquated to us, as from a nearly forgotten era. We can still see from the dawn of film that it really wasn’t that long ago that parades occupied an important cultural place: ticker tape parades after victories, the parade route for the funeral of President Kennedy, and so on. That book on executing a proper parade said that the flow of the parade was to provide increasing anticipation for the one who comes at the end, the one in the position of greatest honor. All eyes were ultimately focused there.

Matthew’s genealogy above is just such a parade. Vv. 2-16 (I abridged it for the sake of space) take us from Abraham (the Grand Marshal) at the front, to Jesus (the One of greatest honor) at the end. All eyes are focused on Him! This passage is the beginning of the New Testament. I’ve wondered how many people through the centuries, having set out to read the NT, became discouraged before getting out of the first column of the first page. Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Eliskim, and Matthan are hardly household names!

These names are not a waste of time, however. This is like a drum roll or trumpet fanfare. Pay attention! Within the cultural setting of Second Temple Jews, a genealogy like this had people’s attention. It is an impressive and compelling list. Unlike Superman, Jesus does not come from an obscure place. Yes, Jesus can be tracked back to Abraham, but that was the case with any Jew (and they were not just a little bit proud of that!). By the first century AD, however, only a select few could specifically trace their own line back to King David. But wait, there’s more! It keeps going through Solomon and the other kings of Judah to the exile.

This genealogy is a grand story if you know the stories of some of the people who are listed. It tells the history of Israel as Matthew carefully shows the three groups of 14, or perhaps even more poignantly, the six groups of seven. Because of the days of creation, seven is the most powerful symbolic number. The person born at the seventh seven in the sequence of names is doubtless the person of greatest honor. That birth, Matthew is telling us, is what Israel has been awaiting for 2,000 years: That is Jesus, who is called Christ. And that’s the gospel.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning– lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” –Mark 13:28-37

If we take this passage by itself, the likelihood of getting it wrong is quite high. These words of Jesus are part of an eye-opening answer to a specific question about when the Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed, with not one stone left upon another. That means, contrary to many popular interpretations, this is not (at least for the original audience) about the end of the world. Even the famous line, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” is not primarily about the Second Coming of Christ, but about the day or hour of the siege of Jerusalem and the desecration and destruction of the Temple.

Jesus recently used the fig tree as an illustration of fruitless Israel, who had no fruit with which to bless the world as God had intended. It would be destroyed. Now Jesus uses a fig tree again to illustrate that when it “puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.” Just like that, when you see the things Jesus has been describing take place, then you’ll know that “it” (better than the overly-interpreted “he” of some translations) is near. Here’s how near it is: “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The generation who is hearing the answer is the generation who will see it.

What does it mean, then, that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”? Jesus is the last in the long succession of God’s prophets. If you remember His second riddle in the Temple complex (the Parable of the Wicked Tenants), the son who is sent to the vineyard is the last possible representative that the father can send; there can be no one after him. Jesus is the last one to be sent, so “this generation” that rejects the message of the Son will be the generation upon whom the end will fall. Therefore, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” is Jesus’ most solemn assurance that even though all the world for them will be wrecked, His words will stand.

Jesus says He does not know exactly the day or hour that this will take place like the Father does in heaven. That said, Jesus could have gone two different ways: “Sit and work out an elaborate time table for when this will occur,” or, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” To which of these do we tend to lean? Convicting, isn’t it? And then He provides another short illustration about a man who goes on a journey, leaves his servants in charge, “and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”

The early church’s temptations to assimilate into the resulting Jewish culture (all-law-no-Temple) or pagan world must have been powerful. We read in the Apostle Paul’s letters of a brooding, imminent crisis requiring his readers, too, to keep awake and not assimilate. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. Assimilation never works for them, though, always leading to division and suffering.

Now, with it thoroughly understood that this passage applies to the original audience (“this generation”), we can see how it is typological, in a sense, of our own world and experience. There is going to be a coming in the clouds of the Son of Man again. This will be in a different direction (to earth!) than His previous “coming” to God’s throne. We do not know the day or the hour. The Son of Man has gone on a journey, left “home,” and put us in charge of His great, earthly estate. Will we keep awake? Will the door be left unguarded? Will we hoard up all the blessings for ourselves? Will we assimilate into the world? Because when He comes again, He is going to restore the estate worldwide where there is no enemy left at the gate, and He promises eternal life to all those inside. And that’s the gospel.

“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 

And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 

And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. –Mark 13:14-27

In the first part of chapter 13, the disciples have asked a direct question about Jesus’ prophecy of the Temple’s utter demise. Actually it is two questions: when and how will we know it’s getting close? Jesus gives an answer that modern readers often mistake as the end of the world or the final judgment. Jesus was not predicting the end of the world though; He was predicting the end of the Temple. The verses that follow (copied above) get even more specific. Not only should they not worry (vv. 5-13), but now He tells them some things that they should and should not do.

The first thing we see is the mysterious “abomination of desolation” referred to as “he” who is standing where he shouldn’t be. Mark adds that when “he” is seen, “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” While this desolating abomination isn’t something we immediately comprehend, it prompts Mark’s exhortation for the reader to try to understand. At any rate, it obviously supports the assertion that this is not the final judgment. No one will be able to flee to the mountains then!

This time will be terrible for pregnant or nursing women, and would be especially terrible for every one if it is winter at the time. It’s going to be so terrible, that even God’s elect (the followers of Christ) could not make it through if He did not deliver them by shortening this period of suffering. During this historic episode, some people will emerge and appear to be saviors or messiahs who can deliver Israel from this wrath to come.

What we are talking about here is the time when foreign armies will take over the Temple and Jerusalem itself. The historian Josephus tells of this siege including how people starved, fought each other for rancid food, even eating their own babies, with more Jews being killed by Jews than by the Roman invaders. Jesus is telling His followers in this passage to get out and run before they are caught in this hell. The Roman-Jewish war lasted from 66-70AD. History records would-be messiahs and prophets offering hope for rescue, but all coming to nothing in the end.

Finally, Jesus speaks in terms of cosmic destruction. “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Again, this is not the destruction of the world, but the destruction of the Temple. Why such a dramatic description? Because that’s how it was prophesied in Isaiah 13 and 34 and other places. It may not feel from our perspective like such a dramatic shift in redemptive history to warrant this language, but for them there was nothing bigger.

What, then, does Jesus mean when He says, “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”? Surely this refers to the Second Coming, the Advent we await, doesn’t it? Jesus is using a quotation from Daniel 7:13. That’s where we find that this is not about the return of the “Son of Man,” but about His going to God after His suffering. In His triumph and vindication with the judgment that has fallen on those who opposed God’s call, as Psalm 110 says, and Jesus has very recently quoted, His enemies will be put under His feet. That’s at God’s right hand. So from Mark’s point of view, this is the about complete vindication of Jesus: His resurrection and now His ascension. It’s “in clouds with great power and glory”!

While those in Jerusalem at the time must have wished this all was the end of the world, the hope that is held out here is exquisite: Israel will be judged, the Temple will be replaced, God’s people of all nations will be saved, Jesus will be vindicated. And that’s the gospel.