Born to Bless
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. —Genesis 12:3

In the Bible, God's determination to bring a lost world back to himself took a dramatic turn in Genesis 12:1-9, when God called Abraham to leave everything behind and to move toward an uncertain future, sustained only by the promises of God. Abraham's obedience provided an antidote to the rebellion of Eden. Central to God's redemptive purpose was the promise that through Abraham and his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12:3). Throughout the Old Testament, Abraham's progeny struggled to fulfil their vocation to bless the world.

The New Testament writers interpreted the coming of Jesus as the fulfilment of this promise to Abraham, drawing connections between the life of Jesus and the work of God through Abraham and his descendants. Matthew was especially adept at this. He opens his Gospel with a genealogy that situates Jesus as a descendant and heir of Abraham (see Matthew 1:1-17). Then, he repeatedly points out that what took place in the birth of Jesus fulfilled words spoken by the prophets (see Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18). With his frequent references to the fulfilment of the prophecies of the past, Matthew stresses the continuity of God's purpose in the world. In other words, in the birth of Jesus the mission of God to bring blessing to the whole world took a decisive turn; but it was still the same mission to bring the world back to God that was evident throughout the Old Testament. In the events of Jesus' life, the promises made to Abraham were coming to fruition.

Matthew was not suggesting that the prophets of Israel were merely skilled fortune tellers who could see into the future; rather, he asserts that the purposes of God are steady and reliable. God is faithful after all! What began with the promises that God made to Abraham came to a climax in the birth of Jesus. The emphasis in Matthew is on the continuity of God's commitment to work toward the salvation of the world, first through Abraham and his descendants, and now—at last— through his own Son, Jesus Christ. It is this strong sense of the continuing work of God that Matthew shares with us as we prepare to celebrate the nativity of Jesus.

Born of a Virgin
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. —Isaiah 7:14

Did Mary, a young Jewish girl from Nazareth, know this centuries-old prophecy? When the Angel Gabriel told her she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to a son, did she understand that he was the promised child? The one who would grow up to be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (see Isaiah 9:6)? Did this unmarried teenager have even the slightest idea of what the future held for the Son who would be born of her virgin womb?

The lyrics of a popular song by Mark Lowry ask: “Mary did you know?” Did she know that her baby boy would one day walk on water, give sight to a blind man and calm the storm? Did she know that when she kissed her little baby, she was kissing the face of God?

Luke tells us that Mary was greatly troubled by the angel's words. But whether she fully grasped the significance of what was happening or not, she placed her trust and hope in the Lord and faithfully surrendered to his will, declaring, “I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Mary made herself available to God, submitting her life so that the Son of God could become incarnate. He was Immanuel, God with us, destined to save his people from their sins (see Matthew 1:21-23).
In the birth of Jesus the mission of God to bring blessing to the whole world took a decisive turn; but it was still the same mission to bring the world back to God that was evident throughout the Old Testament.

Born in Bethlehem
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. —Micah 5:2

Long before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied that the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. God, in his wisdom, chose a place “small among the clans of Judah.” There were any number of small places God could have chosen—so why Bethlehem?

Bethlehem is the “city of David” (see Luke 2:4, 11 KJV). In 2 Samuel 7:13, we read God's promises to David that he will make his name great, that he will “establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” The promise that a descendant of David will be the King who will remain on the throne forever can also be found in Psalm 89 and 132: “I have sworn to David my servant, 'I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations' ” (Psalm 89:3-4).

The significance of Jesus being born in Bethlehem is, in part, because Christ is the promised king of the Davidic line. The Lord promises David that his name will be great through his offspring, who will remain on the throne forever. But God is also promising Israel, his chosen people, that their Messiah is coming. And they will know who he is, in part, because of the place where he is born and the line he is from. We see this promise of God fulfilled through the birth of Jesus, born from the line of David, in the city of David's birth: Bethlehem. A fulfilled promise.

As you journey toward the manger this Christmas season, remember this small place called Bethlehem. Remember what it represents—that we serve a God who always fulfils his promises through the person of Jesus, our Saviour and King.

Born in Sorrow
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. —Jeremiah 31:15

For more than 40 years, the prophet Jeremiah painfully observed Judah's social, political, moral and spiritual decay and preached repentance. He warned that their unfaithfulness to God's covenant would lead to destruction and exile. In 586 BC, it happened. Babylon conquered Jerusalem, destroying the temple and dragging the people into captivity.

Jeremiah records the bitter anguish of the exile through Rachel, the symbolic mother of the Israelites. Though she had died many years before, he depicts her as grieving for all those slaughtered or sent into exile. Her heart is broken.

In Matthew's Gospel, Rachel's sorrow represents the sorrow of parents in Bethlehem, weeping for their little boys. It's a heart-wrenching part of the Christmas story. King Herod, seeing the infant Jesus as a threat, seeks to find and kill him. He orders all of the boys two years and younger slaughtered. Warned by an angel, Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to refuge in Egypt.

Long ago in Ramah, and now in Bethlehem, there was weeping and sorrow at this loss of life. Children were dead. Parents were devastated. It's sad to think that Jesus' birth, an event to celebrate, resulted in such pain because of Herod's brutality.

Today, many are forced to leave everything they own to find safety in other countries. Families have been separated. Parents weep over the loss of children along the journey. I recall an e-mail asking me to pray for a Christian pastor and parents in northern Iraq, who watched as ISIS killed children who would not deny their faith in Jesus. Such sorrow.

But just as Jeremiah's message changes in tone in later chapters, giving Israel hope for deliverance at the hand of God, so we can find solace and peace in his words. For this season and the new year, we can claim Jeremiah's message whatever our circumstances: “ 'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord, 'they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope' ” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).

Born to Save
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. —Hosea 11:1

Illustration of nativityWhat are the odds that someone living hundreds of years before my birth would predict my family lineage? Or where I would be born? Or that I would need to flee my homeland, and where I would go? The odds are astounding. And yet Jesus fulfils not just three prophecies like this in Scripture, but 350.

What are the implications?

Hosea's prophecy and Matthew's record of its fulfilment tell us that Jesus is absolutely unique. There's never been anyone else quite like him. Matthew confirms this when he tells us about the Wise Men worshipping Jesus. Matthew was a Jew raised on the Shema—“Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4)—and the Ten Commandments, which say, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). He would have been horrified at the thought of worshipping a human being. But Matthew shows these kingly men bowing down to worship a child named Jesus. He is telling us that Jesus is utterly unique, divine and worthy to be worshipped.

Hosea's prophecy harks back to the Exodus, when God called the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. By referring to this prophecy, Matthew is not just referring to the deliverance of Jesus from the hand of the tyrant Herod, he is presenting Jesus as a new Moses. Just as Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus is leading a new exodus, delivering people from slavery to sin, to a life of holiness and ultimately to our home in heaven.

This prophecy also reminds us that the path of life takes many zigs and zags. We all find ourselves fleeing to Egypt for safety from time to time. But God is never blindsided by such things. By faith we head to Egypt in the middle of the dark night of the soul, knowing that one day, by faith, we will come back “out of Egypt.” Both the going and the coming are directed by God.

Though he was the Son of God, Jesus had to escape to Egypt in the middle of the night. If he was not exempt from the trials of this world, how can I expect to escape them? But God will have the last word. Herod will die, Jesus will come back home and God will have his way.

If you don't already know him as your personal Saviour (deliverer), the implication of Hosea's prophecy is that there is a Saviour for you and Jesus is his name.

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