Gospel: Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
1In 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, beloved of God, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
“In those days a decree went out…” Thus begins a story we have told year after year. It’s become akin to “once upon a time.” When we hear those words, we know a story is coming, a beautiful story we hear every year on this day, Christmas Eve. When we hear these words, I always feel like a kid again – gathering close to hear my mom or dad, grandma or grandpa tell the story again. But what is it about these 20 verses out of Luke that captures our attention. I mean, there has probably been more said about this story than about anything else in the Bible, but why?
As you may have guessed, I do have some ideas. To start, it’s a story that means more than the sum of its parts. It has to be. The main characters are a couple of unwed teenage parents, their newborn child, a bunch of glowing angels, and some shepherds, still smelling of the open fields and the sheep they care for. The setting is rather odd, too. A barn in a small Middle Eastern town when there was no room in their family members’ houses or an inn. And all this taking place in a country that was riddled with war and under the power of an oppressive military regime. Yet, this is the time, this is the place, these are the people with which God begins tells the most beautiful story we will ever hear.
And this is just one piece of a larger story. We spent the last 4 weeks hearing stories of others who came before him, the prophesies he would fulfill. Jesus wasn’t just born to be born. God did not come to earth to just see what it was like. No. Like any great saga, after this story, there are many, many more. Jesus will show us a new life, will teach us how the kingdom of God works, will suffer and die and rise again to give all people salvation and eternal life. As we hear this story, we know that this will happen (actually, that it has already happened) but for now, he’s a helpless child who is wrapped in swaddling cloth, lying in a bed of coarse straw, hearing the braying and commotion of animals in a barn. Right now, the story begins.
And maybe the best part about this story is the fact that it is for everybody. Jesus wasn’t born just for the people in Bethlehem of Judea. He wasn’t born just for the Hebrew people or the people who have their whole life together or who know what to say at the right time. Jesus was born for you. And there’s nothing you did or will do, nothing you can think, say, or be that will change that. Jesus was born for you and not just the good parts of you, but all of you.
And the coolest part of all this is that it doesn’t even stop there! This story is for all people in all times in all places. And there’s nothing that we can ever do to change that or add to that. We maybe haven’t all heard it from a choir of angels, but we’ve heard it – maybe from a loving parent, maybe from a Charlie Brown Christmas special, maybe from reading it yourself, or maybe the first time you have heard this story is from a bearded, awkward seminary student. But, ultimately, who you heard it from doesn’t matter. This story doesn’t end with us, but continues to move outward to all people in all lands in all times. We can simply follow the example of those smelly shepherds – stop what you’re doing for a minute, come to the stable, and rejoice in what God is doing here. We come because we’ve heard the story.
“And the decree went out…” The story begins again, drawing us in, captivating our attentions and our thoughts. It begs us to listen again with a child’s heart, a heart that leaps for joy at the news of a new baby, a heart that longs to join in the story. We rejoice with the shepherds. We stand in awe with Mary and Joseph, knowing that God is in our midst. And we sing with the choirs of angels, joining our praise with theirs, singing our “Glorias”, “Harks”, and our “Joy to the World.” The wait is over, the story has begun, the Son of God is born. Alleluia and amen!