We all love a good underdog movie. We love it when an unlikely hero emerges and gains a totally unexpected victory. However, none of us want to experience or live out the beginning of the movie where that hero is a zero and their life is consumed with pain, rejection, and frustration.
It reminds me a lot of us as followers of Jesus. We all love the Easter story. We love the victory where Jesus overcame sin and death. We love knowing of the power and authority that Jesus has been given over all things. We love to experience the awesome presence of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We get excited about spiritual gifts and being able to see the raw power of God at work in and through our lives. We’re like a kid on Christmas morning when we think about the return of Jesus when He raptures us home to be with Him forever and ever.
However, we could have never had this victorious and powerful resurrection celebration if it weren’t first for the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. We love the superhero Jesus, but completely fail to understand God’s Kingdom and who He is if we do not equally value and embrace the underdog life of Jesus; His pain, rejection, and frustration.
Jesus reminded us that the student is not above the teacher and that we, also, if we are true disciples of Him, would share in His same experiences, both suffering as well as victory. Paul well understood this truth:
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
This time of the year, we love to quote certain prophecies about Jesus from to book of Isaiah. Go to any church and it’s almost a 100% guarantee that you’ll hear this prophecy quoted around Christmas:
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 greatness 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.
However, you will rarely hear quoted this equally important prophecy of Isaiah regarding Jesus:
1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
If we stop to imagine a tender shoot growing out of dry ground, we understand that it would be unlikely for such a plant to survive; it would suffer greatly. Although we do not have time to cover the facts this morning, Jesus had the odds stacked against Him from His very birth to the time of His resurrection. He lived a life of adversity and hardship. King Herod had every male child two years and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem murdered in attempt to kill Jesus before Jesus had probably even put together His first sentence or been potty trained. When those who were anxiously awaited the coming Messiah and the coming King of the Jews saw Jesus face-to-face, they rejected Him and saw nothing of the like in Him. In fact, Isaiah goes on to prophesy that:
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
Based on this word alone, we can throw out every image and impression of what we think Jesus looked like. No, he was not an attractive, blue eyed, English man with long wavy hair and a tender smile. Jesus was ugly. In fact, Isaiah went on to prophesy that:
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Most people sitting here this morning can, unfortunately, think of a person that they try to avoid. If you see that person heading down aisle 3 at Walmart, you would head straight for aisle 15. People felt that same way about Jesus during His lifetime. Imagine, however, how it would feel to be that rejected person and to know this about yourself. Even Jesus’ own brothers who grew up with Him made fun of Him and did not believe that He was the Messiah (John 7).
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
This Christmas, we’re going to learn much about the Kingdom of God by the birth Jesus; of our Lord and Savior, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator, the very image of our Heavenly Father. He came not in an expected way, but in the exact way which the Heavenly Father willed in order to teach us much about who He is and what His Kingdom is like.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, 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 conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants 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 on 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 unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Mary’s song teaches us so much about God. The heart of God is filled with compassion toward the underdogs. Our Heavenly Father chose the most humble and unexpected of circumstances in which to give us the greatest gift ever given; His own son. God loves the humble who fear and obey Him. They may suffer for a season, but their suffering does not go unnoticed by God. Mary’s song reminds us that God’s promises will be fulfilled, that we can trust in His word.
This Christmas season, I believe that God wants to remind us of the desperate need for humility in our lives. Not a false humility where we speak poorly of ourselves or where we intentionally put ourselves into oppressive situations, but true humility where we consider the needs of others before our own needs, will, and opinions. It is the will of God that our hearts be renewed to be like His. It is so easy to become hard hearted toward other humans who were created in the image of God that Jesus gave His life for. It is so easy to see their sins, their weaknesses, their failures and have no compassion toward them.
I believe that God is looking for us to be like Him. He saw us in our wretched state. He knew full well that we were responsible for the mess that we were in. However, He responded with a merciful heart of compassion. He took our sins onto Himself. He saved us and set us free! Jesus was born into poverty and His chosen parents were young and afraid. His birth caused them shame, disgrace, and alienation. Absolutely everything about the birth of Jesus teaches us about the ability for God to work powerfully through the humble who seek after Him.
This morning, we’re going to allow the word of God speak for itself. I encourage us all to listen as if though it is the first time that we are hearing these scriptures. Let us open our hearts and minds to God and allow Him to speak to us and shape and form who we are and how we see others. Let us humble ourselves and have the same heart toward the poor and oppressed as God does. After all, we are called to:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
He mocks proud mockers
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
This Christmas season, I believe that God wants to give us a new heart of humility that sees as He sees. He desires to move in and through His people to show mercy and compassion on those undeserving even as He has already done so for us. It is because Jesus totally and completely humbled Himself that He now reigns over all things with total and complete authority. He chose to obey the will of His Heavenly Father and trusted Him even with His own life. He knew who He was and what He was capable of, but chose to meet our needs instead of to save Himself. What an awesome friend and savior we have!
God desires to set us free and to richly bless us as well. He wants to fill our lives with a new song even as He did for Mary and for Zecheriah. However, will we humble ourselves and walk through seasons of pain and suffering in order to rightly gain our victory? Will we look to the birth and life of Jesus and learn from His example and apply it to our own lives?
Jesus desires us to be more like Him, humble in every way, searching for ways to serve the needs of others and in doing so, bringing glory and praise to Him! As we move on God’s behalf, He will surely move on ours! He is faithful and true, trustworthy and unfailing from generation to generation!
This Christmas season, let us take our eyes off of ourself and fix them on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Let us learn and live by His example. Let us humble ourselves and serve the needs of those around us; especially those who are poor, oppressed, and need a defender. After all, His word declares this truth.
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.