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WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
 
LUKE 2:16
 

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 21, 2003


This morning I'd like to share one verse of Scripture with you - Luke 2:16 - which says, "And they - the shepherds - they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger."

The carols we've been singing this morning have helped us to visualize this familiar scene. Christmas carols help us to capture the mystery - the beauty - the emotion of Christmas - to recreate in our imaginations the scenes of the first Christmas - the crowded inn - the sleeping city - the lonely shepherds in the field - the blazing, sudden glory, of the heavenly hosts breaking through the darkness. Then the contrast of the stable with the sleeping baby and the wondering hearts that come to worship and kneel before Him - Immanuel - God with us.

One carol asks the question:

"What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?"
The chorus answers,

"This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the son of Mary."
This morning the same question is asked of us, "What Child is this?" "What is the answer to this question? Who is this Child and what significance does His coming have for our lives?"

Chuck Swindol, in his sermon, “Since Christ Has Come…What’s Happening?” shared the poem: “’Twas The Day After Christmas”:

’Twas the day after Christmas,
     When all through the place
There were arguments and depression -
     Even Mom had a long face.

The stockings hung empty,
    And the house was a mess;
The new clothes didn’t fit…
    And Dad was under stress.

The family was irritable,
    And the children - no one could please;
Because the instructions for the swing set
    Were written in Chinese!

The bells no longer jingled,
    And no carolers came around;
The sink was stacked with dishes,
    And the tree was turning brown.

The stores were full of people
    Returning things that fizzled and failed,
And shoppers were discouraged
    Because everything they’d bought was now on half-price sale!

’Twas the day after Christmas -
    The spirit of joy had disappeared;
The only hope on the horizon
    Was twelve bowl games the first day of the New Year! (1)

When the Shepherds came to the stable - on that first Christmas - they came with the same question, “What Child is this? What will His birth mean for our lives?” Gazing at the Child their answer was incomplete. We read in Luke 2:19 that even Mary "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." She didn't know what the answer was.

A while back I read a story about a man - back in the 1800's - who had visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from lack of sleep. He couldn't eat, and he avoided his friends. Sound familiar? The doctor examined him and found that he was in prime physical condition.

Concluding that his patient needed to have a good time, the physician told him about a circus that was in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. This clown - night after night - he had the people rolling in the aisles. "You must go and see him," the doctor advised. "Grimaldi is the world's funniest clown. He'll make you laugh and cure your sadness."

"No," replied the despairing man, "He can't help me. You see, I’m Grimaldi!" (2)

Joseph Bayly has written a poem “A Psalm in a Hotel Room” that echoes what many feel today. Listen to these words:

I’m alone Lord
alone
a thousand miles from home.
There’s no one here who knows my name
except the clerk
and he spelled it wrong
no one to eat dinner with
laugh at my jokes
listen to my gripes
be happy with me about what happened today
and say that’s great.
No one cares.
There’s just this lousy bed
and slush in the street outside
between the buildings.
I feel sorry for myself
and I’ve plenty of reason
to. Maybe I ought to say
I’m on top of it
praise the Lord
things are great
but they’re not.
Tonight
it’s all
gray slush (3)
Ever feel that way? Who do you know who does? “What Child is this? What significance does He hold for my life?”

Its impossible to answer the question until we see the full record of His life unfolded in the gospel - accounts of Jesus’ early years and His coming of age - His baptism by John - the trudging up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea with his disciples - His teaching - the miracles - and finally, the last crowded dramatic week in Jerusalem that culminated in His crucifixion - and then His resurrection.

Then the moment in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out upon the waiting disciples - the sound of a rushing wind in the wonder of Pentecost. Its only then - after seeing these events - that we begin to get a full answer to this question, "What Child is this?"

In 1646, the great Dutch painter, Rembrandt completed his work, The Adoration of The Shepherds - Rembrandt's interpretation of the visit of the shepherds to the Child in Bethlehem. Have you seen this painting? Its a simple scene in a stable. In the foreground are Mary and Jesus. Joseph is in the shadows in the background.

Peering over into the manger where the Child Jesus is laying are the shepherds. Behind the manger Rembrandt has painted a ladder - leaning against a beam. In the shadows it casts there’s the form of a cross. On the beam against which the ladder rests is a rooster - the symbol of betrayal.

The light illuminating the whole scene is not coming from outside - or a nearby lantern - but from the manger. The faces of those looking in are put into sharp relief as they look down. The light is coming from the Child Himself. Its Rembrandt's way of saying that the story of Christmas is the story of salvation. By means of the crushing inner agony of betrayal and the outer agony of crucifixion - that the Child in the manger would become the world's Deliverer and Redeemer. This Child is not just a baby lying in a manger. He’s the hope of mankind.

The prophet Isaiah said, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light - those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us....His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:2,6,7)

We ask, "Why this emptiness? Where is there hope? What's wrong with humanity? What's wrong with life? Why is the world in a continual mess? Why is the news always of murder and violence and hate and corruption and darkness? What relevancy does this Child have for my life?"

The Bible tells us the answer: "Man's sin." That's what lies at the root of it all. The terrible taint that all of us possess that can never be washed away by our own efforts. Jesus is the light that shines in this darkness. In Jesus, God has solved the deepest problem in human life - the problem of human sinfulness. (Romans 3:10-18,23; 5:6)

This child lying in the manger in Bethlehem is the answer to mankind's greatest need. He’s our Savior - the one true hope of mankind. The good news of Christmas is that every one of us who has found Jesus - who has come to Him and who follows Him - finds again and again that He has the power to cleanse us - to put away the guilt of the past - whether the last 50 years or the last 5 minutes - to renew us - to restore us - to set us free with a clean slate - to empower us to live life in the power and grace of the living God.

A while back I had lunch with a group of pastors. One pastor in particular - that we had come together to meet with - this one pastor had come from Liberia - Pastor Hananiah Zoe. From his tribe - Pastor Zoe's parents were among the first few believers in Jesus Christ. When he was 5 years old a persecution arose and a tribal mob attacked the missionaries and native believers in his village - killing one Christian - burning their property - and imprisoning Pastor Zoe's father. Pastor Zoe was taken into the home of a missionary couple. Through them he came to know Jesus as his Savior.

Pastor Zoe has been involved in church planting and discipleship in Liberia and west Africa Their ministry is primarily among those who are Animists and Muslims - two religions of great hopelessness. As people turn to Jesus they bring them into their home and disciple them for 10 weeks - train them - ground them in the word - help them to understand their spiritual gift - and then send them into the mission field. In this way thousands are coming to know Jesus as their Savior. There are literally hundreds of villages asking to hear about Jesus Christ.

As you can imagine there’s also a tremendous amount of persecution - especially from the Muslims and animists - who are fanatical and against anyone coming to Christ. This persecution continues with the sanction of the governments involved. One of the persecutors was Commander Mohammed - a member of the Liberian Army - who had literally killed thousands of Christians - often by very cruel means. Commander Mohammed had also killed Pastor Zoe's brother.

One day Commander Mohammed - who is a descendant of the original Mohammed - and an Imam - a Muslim religious leader - went to a mosque to call the faithful Muslims to prayer. He went up the minaret and began to call them to prayer. As he was calling out - Jesus appeared to him and said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." And this Commander Mohammed - who had killed thousand of Christians - came to believe and trust Jesus as his Savior.

When he came down from the minaret - down to the Muslims who had gathered for prayer - he told them, "Jesus is real. I've seen Him. He's alive. He's God."

Its miraculous that they didn't kill Mohammed. They dragged him out of the mosque and striped him of all his military medals - his uniform - and sent him off in disgrace. Having no where to go he ended up at the church. Where he's brought into the house of Pastor Zoe - whose brother he murdered. He’s brought into Pastor Zoe’s house for discipleship and training. And now, all Mohammed wants to do tell people about Jesus!

I asked Pastor Zoe, "There's been so much persecution - do your people struggle with forgiveness?" He told me that Mohammed came to his house with nothing. He shared his clothes. He slept in his house. He shared everything for this time of discipleship. This is something only Jesus can do - to bring this type of healing and love - in the lives of those who are surrendered to Him. Today, these two are brothers in Jesus Christ. Their love for each other is a testimony to others of what Jesus can do in our lives.

This is the living reality of who this Child is. This is Jesus - our Savior - the light in our darkness - the Wonderful Counselor - Mighty God - Eternal Father - Prince of Peace.

The first word of the angel to those shepherds in the field was "Fear not. Do not be afraid." In Bethlehem is born your deliverer - your Savior. It doesn't matter what Herod or the Romans or any government might do - or the clever manipulative minds of men - what burdens you carry - what you struggle with in your family or workplace or school. Jesus is born.

And the question today for each of us is this: What Child is this? Who is Jesus in your life? A baby lying in a manger? Or the Savior who has come to take away your sins and lead you in life for God.

The words "Fear not" appear in the Bible exactly 365 times. Perhaps, once for every day of the year. Not just at Christmas - but each day of our lives - we’re called - not to fear - but to trust. To answer the question, "What Child is this?" with, "This, this is my Savior. He is my Lord." To trust Him with our lives. To allow Him to recreate us - to renew us - to restore and heal us. To lead us in God's love and graciousness.



_________________________
1. Charles R. Swindol, from the sermon, Since Christ Has Come...What’s Happening?
2. Quoted from The Biblical Studies Foundation - Depression
3. Joseph Bayly, Psalms of My Life - quoted from Charles R. Swindol, Swindol’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.