I guess that the most familiar story of the birth of Jesus is this one from Luke. That is a good thing for preachers, those stories that folks are familiar with are easier for preachers because y’all already own the story. There is a relaxation when we are on familiar ground, and, who knows, we might even hear an “amen” or two as the message is delivered.
Personally, I love this story because it is clear and to the point. Luke tells the story as a historian, he gives us the date, the place and the circumstances. He makes it clear that this is an earthly event, that came straight to us from heaven.
We begin with the decree of Caesar Augustus that the whole empire is to be enrolled for a tax. Everyone is instructed to go to their ancestral home for the enrollment. Joseph and Mary go of course to Bethlehem since they were of the house and the lineage of David. Bethlehem was the home of David. Jesus is to be the fulfillment of prophecy. Luke weaves the story between old and new together so it becomes one fabric. We can see that the Bible tells one story, the story of the salvation of God.
They arrive at Bethlehem and are told there is no place for them at any of the inns, but this one innkeeper does have a barn he will let them stay in. So Jesus is born in a barn. Then the word goes out to all the religious leaders of the day that the Savior is born.
Ha! Not likely, the word goes out to the shepherds, they are the ones who receive the Christmas Message. What a message that angel delivered: “behold, I bring you good news of a great joy … for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Isn’t that a nice touch? God invites the shepherds to the birth. The shepherds were not only poor and powerless, they were despised by the religious leaders and orthodox. Their occupation took them into the wilderness where they were not able to observe ceremonial religious laws on a regular basis.
Of course the other side of that coin was that the temple leaders needed the shepherds. They had to follow the law which required them to sacrifice unblemished lambs on a daily basis. Those who looked after the sacrificial lambs were the first to know, and the first to see the TRUE LAMB OF GOD, who takes away the sin of the world.
The news of the birth comes not to the palace, not to the temple, no it comes to the fields, to the poor shepherds. The shepherds act on the news immediately. They went, “with haste” to the manger. Jesus was born to be savior of the world and the first one to see the savior were the poor and lowly, the first to hear the Christmas Message were the shepherds.
I have to say that if it was to the religious leaders of the day, and they are anything like the religious leaders of today.
Well there would not have been any haste. They would have formed a study committee and would perhaps have gone to see the child after they had had a couple or three meetings, then would have reported back to the church at the next meeting. Not the shepherds, they heard the word and they went to see. Not because they didn’t believe the angel, but because they wanted to see for themselves this wonder.
They received the Christmas Message, that the savior was born to save mankind from our sins. Friends, you have, I’m sure received some invitations this year, to various functions, but I would say to you that none is more important, or equal to the one sent by God at Christmas. In Jesus Christ, each of you has received a personal invitation from God, and He is waiting for you to RSVP. There is evil in the world, but we can rise above that evil. There is much in the world that is ugly and indecent, but it is possible to live a holy life. Yes death is still with us, grief and sorrow, but death no longer has power over us. New life begins in Jesus Christ.
Since that night so long ago in Bethlehem of Judea, people of faith have been able to dream and live with new hope. It’s what makes the good times good and the bad times bearable. Fred Craddock tells about a trip to his home state of Tennessee. He was in a restaurant in the Smoky Mountains. It was one of those informal places where the owner was the waiter, cashier and the greeter. He moved from table to table, visiting with the diners.
He introduced himself to Dr. Craddock and wanted to know who he was and what he did. Craddock confessed that he was a preacher. The cafe owner pulled up an empty chair and sat down, and began to tell his whole life’s story.
The man said that he was born in a little town in Tennessee, not far from where they were. He was born to a mother who wasn’t married. It was the kind of town where everybody knows everybody else, what they’ve done, all the gossip and scandals. They had a name for someone who was born to an unmarried mother, and the boy got used to hearing that name before he even knew what it meant. It followed him to school. On the playground he would hear it from other children. When he went downtown, all looked at him as if he were somehow different from others. His mother wanted him to go to Sunday School, but even the church people seemed to look at him as if they were afraid he might be a bad influence on their own children.
One day a new preacher came to town. The boy went to church. When the service was over he tried to hurry out. The preacher stopped him at the door. He said, “Who are you, son, whose boy are you ?” He felt that he would like to crawl into a hole somewhere. The new minister had obviously already heard about him. But before he could answer, the preacher said with a warm smile on his face, “Wait a minute! I know who you are.” He leaned down and looked closely into the boy’s face and said, “I can see a family resemblance. You are a child of God.” Then he put his hands on the boy’s shoulders and straightened up and said, “Boy you’ve got quite and inheritance. Go out and claim it.”
The scripture says, “A Savior is born to you this day.” Everyone in this room can hear the same message, for He was born to save you from your sins. When we take communion we say in our prayers; “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. That proves God’s love for us, in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” This birth, will end about 35 years later in a death, and that death is for you too. We every one of us is saved because this savior was born, lived and died for us. All that has to happen is for us to come to Him and repent of our sins and believe that He is Lord.
You are forgiven, you are loved, that is the Christmas Message for you and me today. Peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.