A primary purpose for our study of Luke's gospel is so you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luk 1:4). Today we look at the Christmas Story. We will have a few weeks as we go through the Christmas season to ponder and treasure the story a little more deeply.
This biblical story is the most known and popular portion in the entire Bible. Even those far from God can tell this story. I've heard it and you've heard it every year at Christmas time since we can remember. We've subconsciously added what our parent's said, Sunday school teacher said, preacher said, songs said, etc to the story. We've come up with literally our own Christmas Story frequently missing the real emphasis of what God said and meant for it to mean. We may know what we think it says, but do we know what it means?
I will reframe from attempting to adjust your Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, Santa Clause, and your myths of Christmas if you will admit Christmas, though a wonderful family holiday, places little, if any, emphasis on the true meaning of the birth of Jesus. How much time do you spend during Christmas holidays pondering the birth of Jesus? Let me guess. The one hour you are here on the Sunday prior to Christmas. I love Jesus. He is everything, but on Christmas day my emphasis is family, not Jesus. God wants us to at least get the real meaning of the Christmas story and forward it on to our children and grandchildren. So today, thirteen days before Christmas day, is about knowing the certainty of the things you have been taught about Christmas.
What do we need to know for certain about the Christmas Story? What do we need to pass on to our children about the Christmas Story? Let's begin with Genesis and the promise since time began for the one to come to crush Satan.
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the WOMAN, and between your OFFSPRING AND HERS; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." [NIV]
Over four millennia ago God promised, from the offspring of a woman, the birth of a special child who would crush the serpent's head.
Isaiah wrote about this story around seven hundred years before the story happened around 2,700 years ago.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The VIRGIN will be with child and will give birth to a SON, and will call him IMMANUEL. [NIV]
The Christmas story is about Immanuel. We know the baby's name was Jesus, but he was/is Immanuel meaning literally "with us is God." It's about finally, after millennia and millennia, God himself with us. Here's the importance of it. Had he not come, you and I would most likely go to hell. Our children would go to hell. The lives we live today would be nothing like they are. If God had not become human - Immanuel - there would be no Savior.
Around four hundred years before the Christmas Story, Micah wrote,
Micah 5:2 But thou, BETHLEHEM Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, YET OUT OF THEE SHALL HE COME FORTH unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [KJV]
If Mary was the virgin carrying Immanuel, God had to get her eighty miles south on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. One thing we need to know the certainty of concerning the birth of Jesus is God is the God of time, not of coincidence, so we read…
Luke 2:1-2 IN THOSE DAYS Caesar Augustus issued a DECREE that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And EVERYONE WENT to his own town to register.
Caesar Augustus, historically known as the most powerful Caesar of all time, ruled the know world over fifty years. God had Caesar issue a decree to take a census. Quirinius was the governor of Syria who must report to Rome and Augustus the number of people in his governorship. Quirinius needed to show the necessity of his position by showing a large population. The census determined taxes, government money for Quirinius, and military support from Rome. The census was a mandate carrying severe punishment for those who did not register, but Mary was nine months pregnant. That didn't matter. EVERYONE went to his own town to register.
God is the God of time. He used the most powerful person in the world so a baby could be born in a specific tiny town. God is working all around us in time, but we don't see it. Here's an example. A member in our church had surgery. We prayed for healing prior to surgery, but that wasn't what God did. He had the surgery and was home recovering when his wife became despondent. She was dying. They rushed her to the hospital, but had he not been home recovering from the surgery we all prayed he would not have, his wife would have died. God is working all around us all the TIME.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 Everything is appropriate IN ITS OWN TIME. But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, MANY CANNOT SEE THE WHOLE SCOPE OF GOD'S WORK from beginning to end.
Joseph and Mary were probably fussing about having to go to Bethlehem for a ridiculous census Caesar Augustus ordered. What are you fussing about today? What are you praying about that God seemingly is not answering? God is doing something in time.
Luke 2:4-5 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, TO BETHLEHEM the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
The KJV says Mary was "great with child." Luke points out the social stigma. Mary was not yet married but expecting a child. She was a very young, despised, teenage girl nine months pregnant. Joseph was seen as foolish and mocked for going on with his marriage to Mary. Both were topics of gossip and certainly accused of being two teens messing around, getting Mary pregnant. They remained righteous and pledged meaning the marriage was not consummated. Mary remained a virgin. A virgin would birth Immanuel.
The last thing any nine month pregnant woman or man with a nine month pregnant woman would want is an eighty mile walk, donkey ride, wagon ride (or luxury ride for that matter). I felt sorry for my wife just getting into or out of a chair at nine months pregnant. Imagine their concerns of the consequences in delivering a baby on a dirt road to Bethlehem. However, even if Mary had wanted to deliver on a dirt road to Bethlehem, that would not happen. The baby would be born in Bethlehem.
Some things we cannot change no matter how badly we want. When I run into something I want to change, but can't, I've learned God is birthing something. I really don't enjoy the labor pains, so let's just get to Bethlehem as fast as we can.
Many of you are at that place right now. You've tried to change it, but it won't change. So, what is God wanting to birth through you? Just get to Bethlehem. God's trying to get some of you to Bethlehem right now. You won't birth what God wants birthed any place along the way.
Luke 2:6-7 While they were THERE, THE TIME CAME for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a SON. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [NIV]
This was Mary's firstborn. She would birth more children, but not in a stable. Wouldn't you think God could do better than a stable for Immanuel? It doesn't say stable, but that's where a manger would be. It seems God could at least get them a decent sanitary place to have the baby. Weren't they in the middle of God's will? Yes. They couldn't have been any more in the center of what God was doing. So, couldn't God do better than some extra rag cloths to wrap the baby? Was God not thinking ahead on this one? Didn't God know all those people would be in Bethlehem to register? It seems Mary and Joseph, and who knows who else, found shelter in a stable. If there was no room for them in the inn, surely there was no room for others also. How humiliating that would be to give birth in a stable with probably people around you didn't know.
Immanuel, the greatest, most important person, ever born was born in the most disgusting, humiliating, and disgraceful circumstances. Jesus was birthed by an unmarried teenage mother and a teenage boy probably in a nasty stable smelling of animals and dung probably around complete strangers. Immanuel was wrapped in some rapidly acquired cloths and put into an animal feeding trough (GUTTER, DRAIN, DEPRESSION, LOW). What was God doing? One would think God would give the best of care, the best accommodations, the best nursery equipment, and the best clothing for Mary and that baby, but that would not be Immanuel.
There is a theological doctrine called "Incarnation."
John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
John echoes the very first verse in the Bible In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… The Word is God today, with God from eternity past, and yet was God. The Word is Jesus also called Immanuel. Do most Christians actually see the Word as God and as Jesus? Should we? How much time do you spend with God the Word?
John 1:14 The WORD BECAME FLESH AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [NIV]
That's Immanuel! God is the One and Only, yet God is a trinity of the Father, the Son/Word, and the Spirit. The central/center part of the trinity became flesh and lived among us.
Here is the definition of Incarnation from dictionary.com. "…Theology the doctrine that the second person of the trinity assumed human form in the person of Jesus Christ and is completely both god and man." This is Immanuel. It's God coming in the most disgusting, humiliating, lowest, and disgraceful circumstances to become man. He's not a man who worked so hard at being good that he became God. God came to us.
True Christianity says we don't ascend to God through works or any other way. It's about God descending to us and becoming like us no matter whom or where you are. How many of us were born in a stable? How many of us were wrapped up in some cloths and placed into an animal feeding trough, (GUTTER, DEPRESSION, DRAIN, LOW)? None? However, no matter the bad circumstances you were born into, Jesus can relate. No matter the humiliation, Jesus can relate, understand, and meet you there.
The entire teaching of Incarnation is to show us how God became a person. In a time of Oprah, new age, Scientology, etc, we hear something along the lines of divinity is the cosmic force and we connect to the divine cosmic force by "channeling" and "centering."
It's pantheism which removes God from being a trinity. Instead, God becomes the universe and cosmic power. We ascend to God through karma, channeling, centering, etc. There is only one way to God and that is through Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
There is only one way to God and that is NOT through channeling and centering to the universe. It's only through the MAN Christ Jesus. God became a man - Immanuel. It's not about our finding a way to touch God. It's about God making a way to touch you.
Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. Today in the town of David a SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a SIGN TO YOU: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
That sounds so sweet and we've heard it all our lives, but that was a terrifying moment for those shepherds. They were terrified - megas phobeo - mega terrified! It was night. They were sitting around the campfire just chilling when MEGAS PHOBEO!
Have you ever thought, "Why shepherds?" There were many people in Bethlehem. Why go out of town to announce Christ (Messiah) - Immanuel's - birth to shepherds? If you were going out of town, why not tell Caesar Augustus or Quirinius? Why not tell Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity? Here's why. Jesus didn't come to the rich and famous, the powerful and popular. Nor did he come to the monks and Pharisees who refuse to touch the dung of life. Jesus DID come to the stables and dung of life. He spent his time with the lowest worst sinners in the deepest mess, the demon possessed and prostitutes, the fornicators and the poor. Jesus came to the stables and mangers and rags of life. He is not a God who stands back and says you've got to become good before you can get to me. You've got to channel and center. No. Our God became like us so God could touch us. The angel said good news of great joy that will be for ALL THE PEOPLE. The sign to the shepherds would not be a king in a palace, but rather a baby in a manger wrapped up in some rags.
Why shepherds? Being a shepherd was not an occupation to be desired. It was viewed as the lowest occupation a person could have. Shepherds were weird. They stank. They lived, slept, ate with sheep and goats. They could not leave their animals to attend synagogues and religious feasts. So, they were viewed as sinners. Some were actually crooks, thieves, and murders. Moses after murdering an Egyptian fled to the backside of the wilderness and became a shepherd. Shepherds were at the bottom of the list of social status. David's brothers belittled young David saying all he was worth was to keep a few sheep. When Jesus said he comes as the good shepherd laying down his life for the sheep in John 10, he had just healed the man born blind arrested and disgraced by religion. Jesus, as shepherd, was expressing his love for the lowest of positions in life. Jesus would smell like them, live, sleep, and eat with them. He would even give his life for them. Go ahead. Put Jesus among the lowest of society. That's where he desired to be.
God planned, talked about, wrote about, the coming of the Messiah, Christ, Immanuel for millennia and who does he announce it first and only to? SHEPHERDS FIRST and only to shepherds. Nasty SHEPHERDS hanging out with animals! That's Immanuel - with us is God born illegitimately to peasant people. With us is God born in a tiny insignificant town. With us is God born in the lowest sort of way, probably a stable with the smell of animals and dung and among strangers. With us is God wrapped in cloths and rages and placed in a feeding trough. With us is God first announced to, recognized by, and worshiped by the lowest on the social ladder. If God can reach to the lowest, he can certainly reach you. That's GOOD NEWS FOR ALL PEOPLE and should cause GREAT JOY.
Luke 2:13-16 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "LET'S GO TO BETHLEHEM AND SEE this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
The shepherds were not commanded to go see, but they did and they hurried. The shepherds didn't put it off until tomorrow. Many people hear about Jesus, but never get up to seek him. People put it off, thinking, I'll go see about my life tomorrow. I'm going to enjoy where I am camped for now." How many people do you know "putting off" seeking Jesus?
Luke 2:17-18 When they had seen him, THEY SPREAD THE WORD concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
The shepherds told everyone what happened to them and about the child. This year is nearly over. There are only a few days left. Did you tell anyone about this child? Did you share the gospel with anyone all year? Did you tell anybody concerning what had been told you?
Luke 2:19-20 But Mary treasured up all these things and PONDERED THEM IN HER HEART. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Mary pondered - sumballo - to combine. This is what we should all do this Christmas. At some point, we should combine all God's done through the rough times and good times, through Caesar Augustus and the shepherds and ponder.