I was able to preach this past weekend at Westminster thanks to an awful bug that Dave caught. This is the closest I’ve ever come to a Christmas message, but it’s full of stuff that I’ve been thinking about for years. Hopefully in a few days I’ll post the audio, but don’t wait! Read on!
Christmas is this week: I always love to really think deep about the events, because the events of my life have lots of detail, lots of significant moments and turning points. It’s too easy to read the first parts of Matthew and Luke and not think about the reality of the events.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
Leviticus 20 says that she should be put to death. There were probably ways that you could escape this if you went into exile or moved to a more Gentile/Pagan area like Corinth, but you would be leaving the whole Jewish world that you know.
It says “As Joseph considered these things.” We don’t have a timeline here. No doubt Joseph and Mary had a few very difficult conversations. Mary had to tell Joseph about the angel, and about her pregnancy. We don’t know what his initial reaction was, or how she was handling it herself.
Every single reveal, pregnancy, and birth of our children was a huge adventure for me and my wife. It’s too easy to read past this and move on. Think about the stress, expectation and excitement! Don’t read by it too fast!
We get all of that part of the story from Matthew.
Now look at Luke
We are skipping the whole intro with John the Baptist.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
It’s the time of a census. It’s only in recent history that a census has been a good thing. The only reason an ancient ruler would take a census would be for 1 of 3 reasons:
- Military Draft
- Slave “recruiting”
Luke drops a few hints around that talks about the terrible state of the world at the time of the Messiah’s birth, but he doesn’t come out and say it too directly. If you knew how God wanted things, this stuff would stick out plain as day.
It’s a time of census, so Joseph and Mary have to travel.
It’s also a time when everyone returns to their parent’s house, where they were born. We don’t get any explanation, but why in the world can’t Joseph and his soon to be wife stay with his parents or at least extended family? You’d think they would let them in, especially since she is 9 months pregnant. -Out of wedlock.
Some people have suggested that the inn was full because all of the people that left Bethlehem had returned and they needed a place to stay.
That could be.
But middle-eastern hospitality and compassion would never put a pregnant woman out on the street. I’m not sure this is a commentary on tourism or how small out town Bethlehem is, but I am sure that part of this is a commentary on how dark and horrible the world was at the time of the advent of the Messiah. If a woman who is about to give birth can’t even be offered a bed, the world is in a sorry state of affairs.
Lot (the guy with a funny name) in Genesis 19 demands that two visitors not sleep out on the street, but to come into his house for safety. When the townspeople begin to ask Lot to send out his visitors, he offers his own daughters to them instead of the visitors, because of his hospitality.
THAT is Jewish hospitality the way it should be, and the world is so dark at this time that a pregnant woman has to lay her baby in a feed trough for lack of a bed.
Shepherds in the fields
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
I want to help us really grasp the fullness of this event. (too much to write here about what I’d do if I had access to a platoon of army men, a hillside at night, and a bunch of High School & Middle School kids)
A few words about angels: everywhere angels appear in the Old Testament somebody dies. One time an angel showed up and 168,000 men in an army died! When two showed up, Sodom and Gomorrah were wiped off the face of the Earth by fire! Now the whole sky is on fire and there are hundreds and hundreds of angels. Also, they didn’t have electricity or light at night, so for something like this to just appear, happen, and then be gone was completely out of the realm of their imagination.
Shepherds were the worst and most dangerous job. It was one of the only jobs that you could get if you were an ex-felon. You were expendable to wolves, big cats, and robbers. It was a lonely and lowly job.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Wise Men
Everywhere in the Bible except for one place East represents sin.
- In the garden of Eden, when they got kicked out, they went east.
- When Israel wanted help from Assyria and Isaiah was telling them to look to The Lord for help, they looked to the countries to their East.
- When Israel was dragged into exile for not following The Lord, they were taken far East to Babylon.
- (The only place that doesn’t fit is when Jesus goes east to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. You’re on your own on that one.)
But wise men came “from the East” to worship Jesus.
They came out of sin, out of where they were, to come to Jesus. And then, almost perfectly, Luke talks about how they left and returned home “By another route.”
You may have seen the sign that says “Wise men still seek Him” but it is really amazing to see that they left their sin, came to Jesus, and didn’t return the same way, just like us.