Just as retailers in the current tight economy already are turning people's attention to Christmas, Dr. Alex Himaya directed OBU students to consider God's announcement of Christ's birth during a chapel service Wednesday, Sept. 21.
Himaya, senior pastor of The Church at Battle Creek in Tulsa, Okla., talked to the students on the topic, "The Pursuit of God: Removing the Veil." The message was based on the chapel theme for the fall semester, "The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine," based on the book by A.W. Tozer.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, the temple was the center of Jewish religious life, the place where people presented sacrifices and worship to God according to the Law of Moses. A thick veil separated the people from the Holy of Holies, the earthly dwelling place of God's presence. The veil indicated the people were separated from God by their sin.
The Jewish people had been waiting hundreds and hundreds of years for the Messiah, Himaya pointed out, noting Christians today have waited hundreds of years for Jesus Christ's return. Today, people carry on with life as usual -- going to work, paying taxes, dealing with government and trying to determine a personal stance on religion. Similarly, the people of biblical times were carrying on with their typical work, including the shepherds who were faithfully watching their flock the night Christ was born.
Himaya read the account of God declaring Christ's birth in Luke 2:8-11 (HCSB): "In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.'"
The news came during a time when Rome, the powerhouse of the day, used the world as its stomping ground. For 400 years since the Old Testament writings, God had been silent, Himaya noted. Until the angels' announcement of Christ's birth, it looked like God had forgotten Israel. The place chosen for the history-changing announcement was a small town, Bethlehem, a few miles from Jerusalem.
But the significance comes from the recipient of the announcement, Himaya said. The message of good news was directed to all people, not merely a select few. The actual recipients -- the shepherds -- lived outside and would have been considered ceremoniously unclean, unable to go to the temple. Raising the sheep possibly used for temple sacrifices, the shepherds would have been reminded every day of God's rules and how they could never measure up.
Christmas, Himaya said, is all about removing the veil -- removing the barrier sin creates. The message of the angels declared the arrival of the Savior who could forever bridge the gap between man and God.
"Do you know why I love that?" Himaya asked. "Because in my life, and in your life -- maybe you're there now -- there was a time when I was not sure where I stood with God. …
"But here's the message: God's grace is so big, and so broad and so wide that no one, regardless of what they have done, gets outside the parameters, the boundaries, of God's grace."
Jesus lived his life perfectly every minute of every hour of every day of every month of every year for 33 years to be sacrificed on the cross on the behalf of every person's sin, Himaya said. When Jesus died, the veil was torn as if God said, "I have made a way for you to come to me." And the veil was removed.