Wonder: The Mystery of Promises

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 12/23/2018

I’ve always felt that Christmas messages are the hardest to preach. The Christmas story is so familiar. Every element (from the nativity, to the shepherds, the wiseman, and angels) are so heavily commercialized. Plus there is the whole overlay of Santa Clause, and Reindeers, and Christmas trees, and candy canes, and cookies, and decorations, and presents, and family, and traveling and… How can we break through the cacophony of noise to evoke a sense of wonder/worship?

I was talking to a friend that took his family and left town. For Christmas they leave everyone and everything and just go off alone. I asked him, “What will you do together?” And he said, “Coffee. Walks in the Woods. Eat well. Plan. Teach our son about priorities with Jesus and not retail Christmas.”

This season I’ve enjoyed contemplating different themes of the Christmas story. We talked about the wonder of light. What does it mean for God’s light to shine on a people living in darkness? We talked about the wonder of redemption. What does it mean for God to take our sin away? We talked about the wonder of peace. What a miracle it would be if we were to “put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another.” If, just as the Lord has forgiven you, you forgave.

This morning I want to talk about the Wonder of Promise. Have you ever felt disappointed when someone broke a promise? In high school I worked for a contractor, in the sun, on a roof, long days, I had to drive half-way across the county to the job site. But when payday came the shady contractor kept making excuses. And then one day I went to his house and he’d moved out of town. I think of my dad. He spent his life working in a factory that went through four different ownerships. Eventually they closed the plant and moved to Mexico, all those people lost their jobs and pensions and benefits. When have you been disappointed by broken promise? Someone broke their word, broke their vows, broke your trust, your heart…

One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” Or how about Deuteronomy 7:9? “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant with loving devotion for a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.”

The Wonder of Promise is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever in the future. God keeps his word, His promises, his covenant no matter what. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but his words shall never pass away. This is the very thing that Mary/Joseph, Zechariah/Elizabeth, Simeon/Anna marvel about in the Gospel of Luke. **God had kept his word, God was keeping his word, God would always keep his word.

Many of you are familiar with Charles Dickens story, a Christmas Carol. The central figure is Ebenezer Scrooge, who despises Christmas. On Christmas Eve he declines a dinner invitation from his Nephew. He turns away two men seeking a donation to provide food and heating for the poor. He grudgingly allows his overworked, underpaid clerk Christmas day off with pay but only because of the social customs of his day. That night Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits… the Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas future. As each spirit shows him his past, present, and future he is transformed from a lonely, greedy, selfish miser to a kind, generous, compassionate human being. It’s a Christmas classic!

The Gospel Story of Christmas carries an even greater punch. What would happen if we considered the wonder of God’s promise past, present, and future? 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.” In Jesus we get a perspective on the past, on the present, and the future changes everything for everyone for all times.

First, there is the Wonder of Promises Past. Put yourself in the Gospel story. Imagine that you are Joseph or Mary. You’re intimately acquainted with the story board of Scripture. You know the entire history of God. You’ve been given this rich spiritual heritage. But it’s been some 400 years had lapsed from the last chapters of the Old Testament. Some 4000 or 6000 years from the opening chapters of Genesis. Nothing tangible or exciting or miraculous has happened in anyone’s recent memory. For all practical purposes God has been silent. Life goes on as always. Everyone being dutifully religious, offering sacrifices, worshipping in the temple, growing their families, enduring Roman occupation, surviving. People are whispering that maybe God’s dead?

If you hadn’t heard from God for centuries, would you not have doubt? Where is God? How Long O Lord? Does God hear? Does he listen? Does he remember? Will he take away our disgrace? Will he be faithful? Will he fulfill his promises? Will God show mercy again? Will He stretch out his mighty arm? Will he scatter the proud? Will he topple the mighty from their thrones? Will he satisfy the hungry? Will God help his servant Israel? Will he do again just like he did to our ancestors, Abraham? Will God rescue us? Will he bring peace? Will he bring healing?

There is a verse in Romans 15:4 that says, “For whatever was written in the PAST was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.” As discouraging as life must have been, people took great encouragement from the Scripture. What is the Bible but a continuous chain of stories. There are headliners like Abraham, Moses, Aaron, or Joshua. There are great leaders like David, Nehemiah. There are major and minor prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah/Elijah. There are men of the times like Noah, Ezra, Daniel.

But the real thread (the story behind the stories) is the Living God. How God intervenes in his own time to bring about his intended purpose. You can think of the Bible as a written track-record of God’s faithfulness spanning generations, geography, continents, languages, occupations. The Bible is a gigantic story board, one of the grandest thrillers ever compiled! When we most need encouragement, we can always go back and watch the reruns! WE can Retell, relive, rehearse the PAST promises of God.

When you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. When you see the tedious lengths, they went to spell out Jesus genealogies, and family tree. When you read the prayers. When you read the songs of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna. They were filled with great optimism. They understood God was now fulfilling everything ever promised. To Mary/Joseph the Wonder of God’s Promises Past, now fulfilled, now YES in Christ, were like rocket fuel, giving encouragement and endurance.

In Luke 2:46-50 Mary says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant… the Mighty One has done great things for me, and His name is holy, his mercy is from generation to generation…”

Second, there is the Wonder of Promises Future. In Luke 1:29-33 we find God’s FUTURE promises to Mary. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have favor with God. Now listen. (1) You will conceive (2) You will give birth to a son. You will call his name Jesus. (3) He will be great. (4) He will be called the Son of the Most High. (5) The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. (6) He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. (7) His Kingdom will have no end.”

When Mary hears this news, she has a very practical question! She asks, “How can #2-#7 happen if #1 hasn’t even happened?” Luke 1:34, “How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” So, the angel explains, Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God… and by the way… Luke 1:36, “Your childless relative Elizabeth has conceived a child in old age… and if she can conceive a child in old age… nothing will be impossible with God.”

We’re so familiar with these verses they lose their shock and awe. #1. If you’ve ever dealt with the crisis of infertility, you are filled with so much hope and excitement in the beginning. But then the years tick by. One, two, three, five, ten fifteen, twenty. Before long, you have friends with high school age children, then college, then your friends are becoming grandparents. Think how wild it was for Zechariah/Elizabeth to conceive in old age. As great as a miracle as that might seem, it doesn’t even compare to what the Angel says because Mary would conceive a child not of any man, but of divine seed, of the Holy Spirit. Where does a virgin birth fall on your chart of impossibilities?

But there is more. She’d have a son. He’d become great. He’d be the Son of God. Where does the Living God taking on flesh, being born in the likeness of man, in form of an infant, in a manger fall on your chart of impossibilities? Even more fantastic, Mary is told that her Son Jesus would reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem over Israel and that He would be given a kingdom that would never end. That’s a whole other sermon!

How hard do you suppose it was for Mary to trust the Wonder of Promise FUTURE? What God promised in Mary’s FUTURE was greater than anything God had done in Mary’s PAST! Could you imagine carrying a baby nine months, knowing your child would change the world for eternity? Like how did she even sleep at night, contemplating the future, Jesus, the Son of God, come in the flesh, born a virgin?

We know this about Mary and Joseph. They embraced the Wonder of God’s Promises Future. I love how Elizabeth encourages Mary in Luke 1:45, “She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Is there anything more encouraging than knowing God holds the FUTURE? Just as God has been faithful through the PAST, he will be faithful going FORWARD. He will make the seemingly impossible POSSIBLE!

Romans 8 Future… read selected verses…

Third, there is the Wonder of Promises Present. Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, talks about “crises of belief.” A crisis of faith is when a fork emerges along the road, and you are confronted with a decision that will have lasting implications for your life. In the Christmas story, God tells Mary what he intends to do through her son Jesus, in the FUTURE. Mary understands all the promises God’s has fulfilled in the PAST. But in the PRESENT she has a decision to make. Will she walk by faith or by sight?

A crisis of faith is when God invites you to consider the impossible. With man so many things are impossible, but with God all things are impossible. God was calling Mary and Joseph to faith. Their response of obedience reveals what they really believed about God. They had confidence that what God had promised them would come to pass. This is what our world most needs to see this Christmas. People certainly need to hear God’s word. But they need to see in us, our confidence, that God will do what he has promised.