Read Luke 2:1-20
We love the Christmas Story and mostly we love it in Luke’s gospel. Mark skips it altogether. John gets it squeezed into one verse—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory. Merry Christmas!
Paul even sneaks in a quick Christmas story.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Merry Christmas!
Matthew gives us a little insight into the earthly parents of Jesus, a visit from the Magi, and a hasty exit to Egypt. Matthew and Luke include the genealogy of Jesus; but it is Luke’s gospel that truly sets the grand stage.
The world of those days was the Roman world. A man by the name of Octavian had succeeded the first man to be Caesar of Rome, that being Julius Caesar. Octavian had taken on the name of Augustus Caesar and after consolidating his power, he declared that a census would be taken of every part of the world under Roman control.
That included those living in what was given to the Hebrew people as a Promised Land. Had there been no census, Joseph and Mary would have had no reason to travel to the City of David—to Bethlehem. Nazareth in Galilee would have been their natural homestead and a trip to Bethlehem would have been a hundred miles of travel that no pregnant woman would inflict upon herself. But the Savior of the world was to be born in the City of David. So the Christmas Story takes on a global nature from the beginning. What that meant to Joseph and Mary was 3 days of traveling while very close to Mary’s delivery date.
And of course, there was no room at the inn. To make sure that the Savior of the world was born in the humblest of estates, there was no room at the inn. We are probably not talking Motel 6 or the Hilton Garden. There were just no rooms available in the places where Joseph knew to look.
So this Christ child would not be born in a palace or even in a fine hotel. He would be born where the livestock gathered at night. There would be little comfort for this child that would step from his place in the heavenly realms to the humblest of dwellings.
But the birth of this child would not be treated as a small thing. Angels, in fact a heavenly host, announced his entry into our domain and proclaimed glory to God because of it. God’s love and peace were bursting into the world, albeit in a small bundle in a place that resembled a pasture more than a palace.
Of course the angels frighten the shepherds and then tell them not to be afraid. Eventually, these men out guarding their sheep at night decide to go check out this news delivered in angelic symphony. They were in the same area. God had sent them messengers and told them what the sign would be for a reason. How could they not go check this out for themselves?
And it was just as the angels told them and as they left they shared what the angels had told them and what they had seen.
Away in a Manger, Silent Night, The First Noel, and other songs paint these Christmas images for our modern minds as we try to picture such primitive conditions in a faraway place from two millennia ago. There is mystery and majesty and yes, it even seems like magic—the Disney sort of magic—in this Christmas story.
Why is it special to us?
We don’t get all that excited about reading Paul’s letters. There is not a whole lot of anticipation to a theological crescendo that we might find in Romans 8. The gospels and Acts are full of miracles but the Christmas story is what gives us chills and smiles and that warm fuzzy feeling inside.
The Psalms are special but they just don’t hit us in the same way that the Christmas story does.
We love the Christmas story. And why shouldn’t we?
God comes to earth as a baby. He is not sitting on a throne. He is not riding a white horse. He is born to a young lady. It is her first child. She is away from home. She delivers in some makeshift shelter. There is no delivery room or midwife or EMT on the scene.
There are no insurance forms to fill out. There is no waiting room for Joseph to pace back and forth within. He is doctor, nurse, orderly, and did not even have to check the block on the admissions form that elected NATURAL CHILDBIRTH.
It doesn’t get much more natural than this.
But the entire creation has waited for this moment. God’s creation has longed for this child.
Joseph is probably thinking, “This kid looks all wrinkled and covered with goo to be the Son of God.” but this child is the Son of God.
This Christmas story is special to us because it is intended to be special. God wants us not only to know his great love but to know that love is not a commodity. Love is not just a quality. Love is more than emotion. Love is more than a verb and action and sacrifice. God is love and in this story that we know all so well, we get to know a little more about the Love that spoke everything into existence and longs so much for everything to be at peace with him.
Our story of Love comes with sheep and shepherds and a manger and a very bright start in the sky. It is meant to be told and retold again as if it were new each time.
This story, this Christmas story is a story of peace and good will and we should feel good each time we tell it and each time that we hear it.
So today, let’s not get too theological. Let’s not overanalyze Luke’s pericope. Let’s not overthink these scriptures. Let’s just enjoy them.
Let the words be music to our hearts and bring peace to our souls.
Let them bring the joy of the season.
Let them take us to that place where we truly celebrate Christmas.
Let us hear a small part of the story once again, this time in the King James Version. This is how many of us heard the story as we grew up. It doesn’t explain anything any better.
It’s just the story we know.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.