The Clues that Point to the Christ Child

The title of this message is “The Clues that Point to the Christ Child.”  And what I hope to do today is show how people of different beliefs can have respectful, caring conversations with each other about faith.  And I will also point out some of the clues that support believing in the Christ Child as one’s personal Lord and Saviour.

I would like to begin with by suggesting that there is no such a thing as an unbeliever.  Everyone believes in something.  And whether we consciously or subconsciously choose the belief system that becomes the foundation for our lives, generally speaking there are three criteria for belief.  Whatever we are considering has to 1) be plausible, 2) besignificant, and 3) explains things to such a degree that it is worth giving my life to it.

"Hannah and Simeon in the Temple" by Rembrandt

For example, consider the statement, “In the sport of soccer, the Manchester United team will win the English Premier League this season.”  But a person living here in Canada might say, “That may be plausible, but it isn’t really significant in my life and its explanatory value isn’t worth me giving my life to it.”  Or consider the statement “The moon is made of green cheese,.”  A person might say, “If someone were to believe that that may have a significant impact on their life and they might deem it worthy of giving their life to such a belief, but given what we know about the moon, I don’t think that such a belief is plausible.”

Now different people have different standards for what they consider plausible when it comes to matters of belief. Many people today live by what philosophers call “strong rationalism.” And the central principle of Strong Rationalism is the “Verification Principle” which states that no one should believe anything unless it can be rationally proven by logic or empirically proven by sense experience to such an extent that no logical person could disbelieve it.  Now you may wonder what does this have to do with anything in real life?  Well, the other day, I was having a conversation with someone and the topic turned to matters of faith.  And the other person said that God would have to come down here and talk to him in person before he could believe in the God of the Bible.  That is the Verification Priniciple at work.  In recent years, several atheists have become quite evangelical in sharing their message of non-belief.  For example, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens, author of God is not Great, and Sam Harris, author of A Letter to a Christian Nation, all maintain that the evidence for God is not sufficient for belief.

But Timothy Keller, in the book The Reason for God says the following about Strong Rationalism:

Despite all the books calling Christians to provide proofs for their beliefs, you won`t see philosophers doing so, not even the most atheistic.  The great majority think that strong rationalism is nearly impossible to defend.  To begin with, it can`t live up to its own standards.  How could you empirically prove that no one should believe something without empirical proof?  You can`t, and that reveals it to be, ultimately, a belief.  Strong rationalism also assumes that it is possible to achieve “the view from nowhere,” a position of almost complete objectivity, but virtually all philosophers today agree that is impossible.  We come to every individual evaluation with all sorts of experiences and background beliefs that strongly influence our thinking and the way our reason works.  It is not fair, then, to demand an argument that all rational people would have to bow to.[1]

Instead of Strong Rationalism, Keller suggests that we should consider Critical Rationality as the basis for our beliefs.  Critical Rationality assumes that there is evidence that many or most people would find convincing but that that there is no evidence that would convince everyone.[2] With Critical Rationality as our standard, we can look at the clues that exist in the world and consider what might be the most reasonable explanation and base our beliefs on that explanation.

And as I have read and understood what Timothy Keller has written, it has come as a huge relief to me.  For I have always had it in the back of my mind that I had to prove the existence of God to unbelievers, both to justify my belief and to try to convince the other person to believe.  But now I feel like a heavy burden has been lifted from me because the realization that I cannot prove the existence of God to everyone means that I don’t have to prove the existence of God to everyone.  I am now free to engage others in respectful, caring conversations about these important matters of life.  I am free to listen and to try to understand as the other person shares with me what they believe and why.  I know that there are good solid reasons for me believing what I believe to be true.  And I can share those with that other person if there is a level of trust between us.

The Christmas story is a story of clues.  We have a baby, but the baby cannot talk.  And there is nothing extraordinary in this baby`s appearance or activity.  But all around this baby are all these clues.  Clues like:

  1. Ancient prophecies that are fulfilled by the birth of this child
  2. Pronouncements from heavenly beings that point to this child as the Messiah, the promised chosen one from God who would come to save the people.
  3. Wealthy and wise men who are led by a star, who come bearing gifts, and who fall down and worship this young child as divine

And the clues continue in our text for today, Luke 2:22-40.  As our passage begins, Mary and Joseph go up to the temple at Jerusalem to carry out 2 important tasks.  The first of these was for Mary to offer sacrifices for her purification after the birth of her son.  Leviticus 12:6, 8 gives us the basis for this practice

6 ” ‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering….     8 If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’ ” (Leviticus 12:6, 8 TNIV)

Mary and Joseph could not afford to buy a lamb which would have cost $1.75.  Instead, they bought 2 doves which would have cost $.16.[3] Mary would have laid hands on those doves, symbolically transferring her sin to the birds.  Then the priest would have taken one of the doves and offered it up as a burnt offering.  He would have wrung the neck of the other dove, sprinkled some of its blood on the altar and poured out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. (cf. Lev. 5:7-10)

The 2nd task that Mary and Joseph came to the temple to do is to present Jesus before the Lord.  Again, the Old Testament gives us the background for this practice”

14 “In days to come, when your children ask you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to them, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ (Exodus 13:14-15 TNIV)

15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the LORD is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels [a] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. (Numbers 18:15-16 TNIV)

The cost to Mary and Joseph to redeem, or to buy back, Jesus from God was about $2.50

And here are the clues that point to the Christ Child:  Nowhere in the text does it say that Mary and Joseph redeemed Jesus.  And so it is possible, perhaps even likely given their financial circumstances, that Mary presented Jesus before the Lord and, rather than buy him back, as was the practice, she dedicated him wholly and completely to God, much like Hannah did with her first-born son, Samuel, several centuries before.  And that would have made Jesus God’s Son in more than one way.

And then an old man named Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, thanking him for letting him live to see the Messiah.  And he said, “God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised.  With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:  A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32  The Message)

Then a woman named Anna who, depending on how you understand the text, was either 84 or 105 years old and she began to praise God and talk to others about the baby Jesus as the hope for the freedom of Israel.

And having completed all that they came to do, Joseph and Mary returned home to Bethlehem.  And Jesus grew and developed much like any other ordinary boy.  And yet he was strong and wise, and it was obvious to those who knew him that the grace of God was upon him.  Mary and Joseph were amazed at everything that was said and that happened at the temple that day.  There were so many clues that pointed to the baby Jesus as the God-sent Saviour of the world.

But what happened in the temple that day was not just for Mary`s and Joseph`s benefit.  Those things also happened for you.  Maybe you are a young mother who is looking for forgiveness.  The child presented in the temple has shed his blood for you.  He has paid for your sin in full.  You are forgiven and clean.

Maybe you are a father to a child who is not your own and you cannot afford to meet the standards of the world around you.  The child whose earthly father could not afford to buy him back from God, that child has turned things around and he has bought you back for God.  He has showered you with his love, so you can love the child God has given to you.

Maybe you are an old man who longs for release from your tired old body and this world of tears.  The Christ child gives you a promise worth living for:  a new body what will be healthy and whole forever in the new heaven and earth to come.

Or maybe you are a widow who has been living alone for years, and you long for the embrace of the one you love, and yet it never comes.   This Jesus loves you far more than any man ever could.   He is with you in your aloneness and he comforts you with his presence.  Through him you are connected to every other believer in heaven and on earth.  And one day you will see him face to face and he will wipe every tear from your eyes.

I was working on this sermon early this morning and as I finished up around 1:30, I checked my emails as I sometimes do.  And there was an email from Karen Olson.  Some of you may know Karen.  She is a young woman who has been worshiping with us for about a year and a half.  She is a student at Trinity Western University and recently she travelled to Afghanistan to spend Christmas with her parents and two of her brothers.  Her parents are doing development work in the northern part of Afghanistan.  She writes:

Hi friends,
Please pray for my Dad. He’s having (most likely) a heart attack.  We were out snowmobiling yesterday and he started having chest pains.  Right away we took it seriously because he’s had heart trouble before …  We were able to drive him back to the house so he could take some aspirin and other medicine…and he got checked out by the doctor here. They did an EKG and confirmed that it was probably a heart attack.  Right away they arranged an emergency medical evacuation, as there are no facilities here that can treat him.  The earliest the little Kodiak could land on our airstrip was this morning, so they flew him out to the capitol city, and right now he’s on another emergency medical flight to Dubai, where he’ll receive treatment at the hospital.
Though it’s been a hectic past couple days, God has been giving me peace in this situation…His perfect love is driving out fear. I know he’s taking care of my Dad!   There are so many ways:
-We had the snowmobile with us when he started having pain.  We had been planning to ditch the snowmobile at some point and go hiking…but we hadn’t yet.
-The heart attack seems pretty mild.  Dad didn’t have to go on oxygen, and he was only taking aspirin for the pain! We are glad he is physically fit and has good circulation.
-My parent’s insurance company has been wonderful…covering the cost of the two flights.  The medical evacuation company also sent a paramedic on the flight to Kabul, and both a doctor and a paramedic on the flight to Dubai.
-I got to spend two and a half weeks with both my parents, and we had
a wonderful Christmas together before this happened!

She goes on to write that she is planning to fly to Dubai so that she can be with her father there.

I believe that the clues around us point to this Christmas child as the one who has come to save you and me.  In spite of a scary situation with an unknown outcome, Karen sees those clues.  I invite you to look around at what is going on in your life and I hope and pray that you will see the clues that God is at work in your life too.  The news that there is a God who loves us so much that he would come into this world to bring us forgiveness, redemption, release and comfort is more than just plausible, significant and worth the giving of our lives.  It is good news of great joy for all people. And so let us join together in following him.  Amen.

(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on 27 Dec 2009.)

[1] `Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Riverhead Books:  New York, 2008) 122-3.

[2] Keller, 125.

[3] Vincent, M. R. (2002). Word studies in the New Testament. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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