Christmas Gospel: Luke 2:1–20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Grace and peace to you, people of God, on this Christmas Eve in the name of the coming Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The wait. Is. Over. The time has come. The announcement has been made. “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” The gift is waiting for you! Go to Bethlehem and find it! This is one of those messages, one of those passages, that is essentially the gospel in a nutshell. There is good news for you and for all people and it is a beautiful reminder of who Jesus is and who Jesus came to. And this passage is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture. It describes a supernatural event happening to totally normal, natural people. The people in this story are not perfect. They are not clean-shaven and wearing their finest clothes. These people live in Bethlehem, not Rome. They are peasants, not rulers. They are poor, not comfortable. And they are not expecting this to happen to them. They were just ordinary people.
Shepherds, for instance, were unlikely candidates for this kind of event. They were basically nomads, wandering the countryside protecting livestock. They served a valuable purpose in society. Because they were so close to Bethlehem, these shepherds’ sheep would have been used for the temple sacrifices. But just because it was necessary, doesn’t it wasn’t exactly a job people were clamoring to apply for or held a good social status. There were surely almost always jobs to be found as a shepherd, because the work was hard, the pay was low, and it meant time away from their family, if they had one at all. And, because being a shepherd is a full-time, 24-hour a day job, they couldn’t leave to do the regular Jewish sacrifice and worship, making them religious outcasts, as well. The comparison I could make today would be to a long-haul trucker. Both jobs are completely necessary, but neither bring a sense of moral or social authority. Both require that worship would be missed. Imagine then, if the angels were to come today, appearing to a group of long haul, over-the-road truckers, meeting at some pit stop, hole-in-the-wall diner, exchanging stories of their travels over greasy burgers served by greasy people.
Another person in the story caught by surprise is Mary, who we learned about in our readings on Sunday, was an unwed, pregnant teenager. If you think this is taboo today, you couldn’t imagine what they would do 2000 years ago in Palestine. She would have been completely shut out of society or even worse if Joseph hadn’t been convinced that the baby was really the Son of God and stayed with her. They arrived late in the night and there was no room for them in either their family’s homes or anywhere. Bethlehem, for all its hype and notoriety now, was a small town, in the middle of nowhere, with a great history (being the city where King David came from) but very little to its name at the time. That is, except for a prophecy that someday the Son of God, the Messiah, God with us, Emmanuel would come from there. However, people weren’t exactly buying up stock in Bethlehem waiting for that. It was basically a forgotten town with a massive overcrowding problem from the census.
So, with these people, in these circumstances, God saw it fit to change the world. How audacious! How crazy! How ludicrous! Why would the Son of God come to these people or come from these people? How silly to think that something so momentous would happen in some little village like Bethlehem! Yet, this is the canvas on which God chose to paint. This is the instrument that God chose to compose with. The most beautiful artwork in the world is created to depict this event and these pieces hang in some of the most prominent places in the world. Yet, Jesus’ birth and company would never have been welcomed there.
What can we learn, then, about Jesus by his birth? First off, we can learn that all are welcomed to new life in Christ. These people are not perfect people. Yet, they are not only welcomed, but sought out. The angels came to them! I know society and, unfortunately, even churches place a lot of emphasis on being right and holy and perfect. They sometimes cast a mold that you must fit to be accepted and acceptable, welcomed and affirmed. Without the right clothes, the right voting record, the perfect criminal record, or the right language, sometimes acceptance and love feel hard to come by. But know this: God doesn’t care, even a little bit, about where you came from, what you’ve done, or even why you’re here tonight. God doesn’t expect you to be the right person for Jesus. Because Jesus is the right person for you. Angels came to announce the news of Christ’s birth to shepherds, not kings. Christ was born of a teenage girl, who was engaged to a carpenter, not a well-established wife of a wealthy husband. So never, never, assume that this good news of great joy isn’t for you.
Another thing to notice is that this wasn’t some perfect, storybook world of kind rulers and stable economies. God chose to come down at a time when government corruption was everywhere, when armies fought brutal, bloody wars for political gain, and those that spoke up against injustice were quickly silenced. And why is this important? Because we need to realize that God is always at work and is able to do incredible things with unlikely people in unfortunate circumstances in unsteady times. There is no time or space where God is not working, and that includes right here, right now.
And another thing we can learn is that it’s okay not to understand everything all the time. Mary, the young mother who had just delivered that baby king, pondered. That means that she thought about or considered what had just happened. She wondered at all these events. Imagine her place. A young girl, an unwed mother, and now receiving visitors who say that angels told them to find her. She went, within a few days, making a long journey to a middle-of-nowhere town, to being in the throes and pains of labor, to placing her baby in a feeding trough, and now she is hearing these shepherds talk about an angelic choir. The text says that she treasured these words and pondered them in her heart. She knew this day had been coming for 9 months and it still caught her off guard!
If you have questions, that’s okay. If you wonder how all this works, that’s okay. If you, like the shepherds, are terrified, that’s okay. If you have no idea how God could use someone like you or want someone like you, that’s okay. Because our ponderings, our wonderings, do not stop the treasure. We can be and are claimed by God, loved by God, and known by God without understanding it all. God’s loving us, using us, and saving us is not based on our earning or understanding it. Instead, it comes from something else. It comes from this baby, a child born in a manger in the tiny town of Bethlehem, who was none other than the Son of God. We could never earn our way to God, so God came down to us. This child, Jesus, has come to earth. He has done, and will do, great things, but for now, let us just come and adore him. In a barn, in a feed trough, surrounded by unlikely people, lay a baby, a holy child, the beautiful Savior and humble king. Let us worship him and thank God for him and know that he has come for all of us. “…for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Better news has never been given. Come, let us worship our newborn king. Amen.