Eleven shopping days until Christmas. Because every day is a shopping day now. Lakeside will be open until 11 pm and even Freeport in Braintree will be open until 8 o’clock every evening so no excuses for not buying those presents. Of course many shops have been counting down to Christmas for months and I am sure those of you who like to be organised will have everything sorted already, cards written and posted, presents bought and wrapped, puddings steamed and five kinds of stuffing in the freezer months ago.
But when did the countdown to the first Christmas begin? How long did the preparations for the first Christmas take? We can definitely say that preparations for the birth of Christ began long before Mary and Joseph set out from Nazareth. The wise men would have begun their long journey from the East following the star weeks before that. But we know that the Countdown to Christmas would have begun at least nine months before Bethlehem, when the angel first appeared to a young girl called Mary.
Luke 126 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
So Mary knew God was going to do something amazing in her life and something totally amazing for the whole world before she became pregnant. But at that point her cousin Elizabeth had been already expecting God’s forerunner John the Baptist for six months. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah knew that God’s plan of salvation was about to unfold at least 15 months before Jesus’s birth.
Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. He shows us that the Countdown to Christmas began not months but centuries beforehand. Matthew sums up the history of God’s plan of salvation like this.
Matthew 117 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
Fourteen generations before Jesus, around 600 BC, the Exile of the Jews in Babylon marked God’s judgment on the Israelites. God’s promises of salvation were channelled into a faithful remnant and promises through the prophets of the Messiah who was to come.
Isaiah 7 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 9 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD — 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
So the Countdown to Christmas was well under way when the prophets delivered those wonderful promises of the Messiah in the time of the Exile. But Matthew counts back a further fourteen generations and the time of great King David.
1 Samuel 7: 11 “ ‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. ….. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, ….. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ”
So one thousand years before Bethlehem the people of Israel were already looking forward to great David’s greater Son. We could track God’s wonderful plan of salvation back several hundred years to the Exodus, God’s miraculous deliverance of his chosen people from slavery in Egypt and the creation of the nation of Israel with the giving of the Law and the 10 Commandments to Moses. Instead Matthew counts back fourteen generations from David to Abraham the first of the Patriarchs around 2000 BC.
Gen 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
The Countdown to Christmas was well under way when God called Abraham to set out for the Promised Land. We can look back further through the events we have been thinking about this autumn in our series of sermons from Genesis, We could talk about Noah.
Gen 6 9 Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. … 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.
God saved Noah and his wife and their three sons and their wives along with all the animals from the judgment of the Flood.
But even before Noah we saw God’s masterplan of salvation begin to unfold right back in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve rebelled against God we saw how God’s judgment on the serpent the devil contained a promise of ultimate salvation for human beings.
Gen 3 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
So the Countdown to Christmas began in the Garden of Eden. Or even earlier. There is a phrase in the Book of Revelation which helps us see Christmas from a whole new perspective.
Revelation 13 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
The Lamb that was slain from the Creation of the world! Even as God was making the world, the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross was always part of the plan. Slain from the creation of the world. The Apostle Peter reveals the same glorious truth.
1 Peter 1 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Christ was chosen, not even at the point of the creation of the world, but BEFORE the creation of the world, to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. And surely that is why human beings were created in God’s image.
Made in the image of God. Mental. Creative. Moral. Social. Spiritual. That is what human beings are. And entrusted with dominion over the whole of creation. That is what we were created to do. Made in the image of God – human beings are the only creatures that God could one day become.
Matt 1 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Hebrews 1 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. … 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. … 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
God made Adam and Eve exactly the way they were so that one day God could become a human being in Jesus Christ. And the Word became flesh as Jesus Christ so that we could be redeemed and His image in us could be restored again. Through Christ we can become new creations and be transformed into His likeness as we put our trust in Him. Christ shared in our humanity so that we can have the possibility of sharing in His deity. That was God’s master-plan from the very beginning of Creation, from even before Creation.
God always knew that Adam and Eve would sin. And Christ was always prepared to come to earth and to die on the cross so that we could be redeemed. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus says
Matthew 25 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
And Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
Ephesians 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
So the Bible shows us that the salvation of each of us here today was already planned even before Almighty God began the work of Creation. So we ask when God first began the preparations for the birth of Christ? Here is the wonderful and glorious mystery of the Incarnation. The Countdown to Christmas had begun already even before the moment God first spoke into the darkness and said, “Let there be light.” Bow down and worship, for this is your God.