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                My best friend growing up was my cousin Gary. I did not have a brother, so he was as close to a brother as I would have. Some of the best things I ever did as a kid or a teenager, he was a part of. It is also equally true that some of the stupidest things I ever did he was there for those, also. We had a large group of friends, and I always liked think that we made our friends better people. The truth is, we probably did not impact our friends as much as we thought we did. How could we? We really were just like them. We did not have much to give to make them better. I wish we could have been more like a much more famous and important set of cousins that were born 2000 years ago. They not only affected their friends, but they changed the world with their lives.

                If you have not figured out who the cousins are, they are John the Baptist and Jesus. They were born nearly six months apart. The story of their birth announcements is found in Luke 1: 8-38. An angel came to John’s father Zechariah and later to Mary. As you read the passage, there are four truths that the angel is announcing not just to the parents, but also to the whole world.

                The first truth is the truth of hope. Both John and, more importantly, Jesus were bringing a hope into the world that had never been seen. Before their births, God had not spoken to Israel in over 400 years. The last words He spoke were found in the book of Malachi, which also happens to be the last book of the Old Testament. The book of Malachi is centered on a series of questions. God would point out their sins, and they would question whether or not what God was saying was true. The Israelites were, at best, halfway serving God. They made an appearance of doing holy things, while holding back from God what was his. He was warning them. His last words were about a prophet that would be coming (John the Baptist) and a warning if they did not change. They did not change, so God punished them. He not only did not speak to them, he sent foreign countries in to take over. After each invasion, the people would look for the promised Messiah who would free them. For four hundred years they searched, and God was silent. The people were losing hope. Then one day an angel appeared and told an old priest that the words of Malachi were being delivered in his son. Then the angel spoke to Mary and told her that the promised King would be her son. Hope was about to be delivered in two cousins.

                The second truth was the truth of the Word of God. The Old Testament made many promises about a Messiah. The people kept looking. Occasionally a person would show up and get the people’s hope up. That person would then fail as a Messiah, and the people were back to square one. It is not hard to imagine that many started looking at the Scriptures as some type of fairy tale meant to keep everyone’s hope up, but never actually delivering on the goods. Half-truths and outright lies would soon take the place of the truth. When lies replace the truth, chaos ensues. We see this today in our country. We have been lied to by politicians, preachers, athletes, and just about everyone else. As I heard one man say many years ago, “[we] would rather climb a tree to tell a lie then stay on the ground and tell the truth.” We have been lied to so many times by so many people we just expect it. This is a terrible way to live. The births of John and Jesus break up the lies. The birth of Jesus fulfills at least fifty distinct prophesies and maybe as many as three hundred. If only nine are fulfilled, it would be like being blindfolded and asked to find a specific marked silver dollar in a state as big as Texas that has been covered two feet deep in silver dollars (https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/old-testament-prophecies.html). They are truths that you can count on and believe in.

                The third truth is the truth that God performs miracles. Something supernatural had to occur for both John and Jesus to be born. John was born to an older couple that had given up hope of ever having a child. God had never promised them that they would, so they probably had given up hope. They may have been making plans to retire and move to Morehead City and spend their final years with just each other. Then an angel showed up and told them they would have a child. Some may say that this is not really a miracle. No laws of nature, or the universe were broken. That is true, but for this to happen, God had to work within the laws he created to do something no one else could do or think could be done. Jesus’ birth was clearly a miracle. God did break the laws of the universe to make this happen. Mary was quite clear that she was a virgin and had never known a man intimately. Childbirth could not happen. It was a miracle. We needed this. We needed not only a savior, but to be reminded just how big a God, God is. We needed to be reminded that the laws of the universe are for us, not Him. We needed to know that nothing is too big for Him, and that He can do whatever He wants to do whenever He wants to do it. The truth of miracles reminds us of the bigness of God, and how much He loves us. He will step outside the laws of the universe to save us.

                The final truth revealed in the births of John and Jesus is about repentance and reconciliation. John was born to preach a very specific sermon. His sermon was one of repentance for forgiveness of sins. He was sent to prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 3:3-4). Before we can ever truly know God and serve Jesus, we must repent of our sins. Fortunately, their births were not just about repentance. It would get frustrating if all we ever had was repentance. The birth of Jesus brought something even greater. He brought reconciliation after repentance. We are made right with God. We are brought back into God’s family that we left when we sinned. We have been reconciled.

These Christmas cousins should remind us of the incredible meaning that Christmas has. It is not just about gifts, lights, trees, and a jolly, old, fat man. There is nothing wrong with any of these in their proper place. Their proper place is behind the story of Jesus. If at any time these things become bigger or more important than Jesus, we have lost the truth of Christmas. Let us keep our eyes and minds focused on the truth and celebrate what Christmas really means.

MJ

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