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What We Learn from Love / Fourth Sunday in Advent

Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Do you ever have trouble falling asleep? There’s a podcast that’s called “Sleep With Me”, with the goal of telling stories that help people fall asleep. Its sometimes referred as the “the podcast the sheep listen to when they get tired of counting themselves.” According to the host, the key to the perfect bedtime story is to make it slow and boring. His speaking tempo is slow and speaks in a really low voice. His plots are hard to follow, and he goes on long tangents where he explores odd information, such as a detailed exploration of the science behind mood rings. The plot line of one story involved a secret war between two candy companies, See’s Candies and Whitman’s Samplers.

The host says it takes a lot of careful editing to ensure his stories don’t stir up too many strong emotions in his listeners. He doesn’t want them to get so interested or excited that they can’t fall asleep. As he says, I’ll be like, whoa, I got a little excited there, so I must to cut that part out. He must be doing something right. Last year, his podcast was ranked in the top 50 podcasts on iTunes, and his stories are downloaded 1.3 million times each month. He may be the only storyteller on earth who wants to craft boring stories. Because his purpose is not to wow his listeners with his skill. His purpose is to help his listeners fulfill a need. I know what you’re thinking. But no, that’s not my goal when preaching.

This morning, we’re going to look at the greatest story ever told, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. And I hope I don’t get struck by lightning for saying this, but if I were God, I would’ve started this story very differently. I would’ve started with Jesus coming from heaven with explosions and earthquakes and shooting stars. No one would’ve missed it! The whole world would have bowed down in wonder before Him. But God’s purpose wasn’t to wow us into submission before the awesome power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His purpose was to save us and restore us back to a relationship with Him. God’s purpose was to give us unmistakable proof His love for us. And so, God chose to become like us so we could see what love looks like when it walks in our shoes.

Our story begins, this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband was faithful to the law, but he figured he’d divorce her quietly.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joe, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because her baby is from the Holy Spirit. You’re going to be a dad to a son, and name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.

When Joe woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord told him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth. And he named Him; Jesus.

Amazing! The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, God in the flesh, came as a little baby to a poor couple to save His people from their sins. From the very beginning of His life to the very end, Jesus’ story is the story of grace, the unending gift of God’s love for us.

I don’t know why you came through these church doors this evening/morning. But I hope it’s because you wanted to hear the story of a God who loved you enough to take on human flesh and walk in your shoes. The God who became one of us. The story of Jesus’ birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection are a story of love from beginning to end.

The birth of Jesus is what it means when love makes a plan. Love makes a plan. When you love someone, you build your plans around them. You intentionally spend time with them, watch for their interests, and envision a future together. The Bible tells us that before the foundation of the world, God chose us for adoption as God’s children (Eph. 1: 3-6, 11), prepared a kingdom for us to inherit (Matt. 25: 34), planned for Jesus to offer His life as a sacrifice for us (1 Peter 1: 19-20), and promised us eternal life (Titus 1: 2). What an awesome plan! Before God even created this world, He made a plan to restore our relationship to Him and give us eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Many years ago, when computers were archaic, I bought a computerized chess game. I loved playing the game, but it was also frustrating. No one likes to lose to a machine, especially me. Finally, one night, I yelled at the game, all right, you idiot, if you’re going to cheat, I won’t play with you any longer.

I knew the computer didn’t cheat. It had simply made a move early in the game that would secure the win. I didn’t notice it at the time. It slipped right past me. But the computer had already won the game long before it was over.

God did something very similar at Christmas when He sent Jesus to be born as a baby in Bethlehem. That move secured the future. That move guaranteed the outcome. Meanwhile, we’re free to go on making our moves on the chessboard of life, some pretty good, others unbelievably bad. Yet all the while God is edging us toward the inevitable triumph, not over us, but in us.

When you love someone, you build your plans around them. You’re intentional about creating good for them. Before the foundation of the world, God planned, through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to restore us to Him and to give us eternal life.

We also learn from the birth of Jesus, that love keeps its promises. We all know this to be true. Trust is essential to a healthy relationship. And when someone you love breaks a promise to you, it becomes difficult to trust them. When someone consistently keeps their promises to you, however, you feel valued and loved. So, what does it mean that God is always faithful to His promises?

Let’s look at verse 22-23 in our Bible passage: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”).

More than 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah brought a message to King Ahaz of Judah. Ahaz was a bad king, defying God constantly. During his reign, Syria and Israel joined together to attack Judah. It was during this time of tremendous stress and suffering that Isaiah was sent to both warn Ahaz and assure him that God was still with him. And part of that assurance was the vision God gave Isaiah of the eventual birth of Jesus. It was an iron-clad promise of hope and salvation for all people. In fact, the apostle Paul writes in Second Corinthians 1: 20, for no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.

A French woman during World War I was overcome by fear and hopelessness. So, she created a promise box, a small box in which she kept slips of paper on which she had written the promises of God. Each day, she would pull out a promise and meditate on it and on the faithfulness of God.

But the war gave her lots of challenges to her faith. Her family was hungry, their clothing ragged, their nerves on edge. The situation was desperate, and this poor woman couldn’t see how God could be working in the midst of a war. So, she prayed and asked, is there a promise in this box that is really for me? But when she reached for the promise box, she accidentally knocked it into her lap. It opened, and all those little strips of paper spilled into her lap and onto the floor around her. And she was filled with hope as she realized that all the promises of God in that box were for her and were ‘Yes’ in Christ.

When you love someone, you keep your promises to them. God is always faithful to God’s promises. The birth of Jesus proves that love keeps its promises.

We also learn from this passage, that with the birth of Jesus, love becomes a Person. Our Creator, the Great I AM, loved us enough to be known by us. How awesome is that? Immanuel, God with us. In the flesh, through the birth and life of Jesus Christ. And in our hearts and minds as the Holy Spirit who continually grows us in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. God’s continual presence with us is proof of His never-ending love for us.

Many years ago, a man went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the Christmas Eve service. But he was feeling sleepy and started to nod off. To keep himself awake, he began reading the Bible story himself. And as he read about the birth of Jesus, he began to cry.

He said, love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s logical. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love must become an action or something concrete. It must happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.

Love must become an action or something concrete. It must happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh. In Jesus, God became concrete. Love in human flesh.

The oldest known Christmas hymn is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which was written around the 8th or 9th century. This hymn was originally a Gregorian chant performed by Benedictine monks. The original hymn has seven verses. In the week leading up to Christmas, they would chant one verse each day to prepare themselves for receiving the truth and joy of the promise that’s ours through the birth of Jesus.

How are you preparing yourself for Christmas? Are you ready to receive the truth and joy and transformative promise that God means for you through the birth of Jesus? It’s such a simple story that it’s easy to take it for granted. In Jesus, God made a plan for us, God kept a promise to us, and God became a Person for us. That is how much God loves us. I pray that this Christmas you will be fully ready to receive God’s love and to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, so that all God’s promises will be made complete in your life.