Summary: The Christmas Story is full of surprises: Surprises that reassure us that GOd uses ordinary people, is in control of history, gives us significance and accepts all people.
What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you? Is it lunch with your family? Is it singing carols? Probably not after you’ve been hearing them in the shopping centres for the last 2 months! How about Christmas presents? Are you like Garry’s wife in this cartoon? Does it matter whether you get the things you’ve really been hoping for? Are you like some people who go out and buy the thing you really want just to make sure you get it? That’s what I do sometimes. Or would you rather be surprised? I actually like it when I’m surprised. It is good to get the thing I really wanted that I went out and bought three weeks ago, but opening up a parcel and discovering something inside that I really like but I hadn’t expected at all, makes it much more fun, I think. Now I know from last week’s children’s talk that Roy’s been crawling under the Christmas tree for the last few days or even weeks to find his presents and then feel them and shake them to try to find out what might be in there. But I reckon if you do that it just spoils the fun; both for you and for the people who are giving the presents. In fact there was a time when I used to wrap up the presents I was giving in all sorts of strange shapes so no-one could work out what might be in there: so the surprise would be all the more on Christmas Day.
Well, today I want to talk about some surprises we find in the Christmas story. Then I want us to think about what’s inside this gift from God that we’re unwrapping today for the umpteenth time.
Surprise 1: Jesus’ Parents
I’d like you to stop for a moment and ask yourself this question: if you had the choice, who in our world today would you choose to be the parents of the Messiah, this child born to be king? Now I think if you were honest your first choice wouldn’t be a couple of teenagers from an insignificant country town with limited prospects. You’d want them to at least have some money behind them, preferably ’old money’, perhaps with a bit of social standing, maybe even some political clout. Or you might choose a spiritual leader, someone the world looks up to; someone perhaps like Tim Costello or Billy Graham, though they’re probably both too old now for the job. But you wouldn’t naturally think of a couple of young kids from Galilee. Yet that’s who God chooses.
When the wise men come looking for the Messiah, where do they go first? To the palace. That’s where you go to find a newly born king. Not to a little village like Bethlehem, let alone Nazareth.
I mentioned yesterday Nathaniel’s comment about Jesus’ origins: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Yet that’s exactly where Joseph and Mary come from. Who would have thought that God would choose people like them to be the parents of his only Son.
Surprise 2: The Timing
Jesus is born at a time in Israel’s history when it’s at its lowest ebb since the exile. Israel is a lowly part of the huge empire of Rome. Had he been born a couple of centuries earlier when the Maccabees were about to rebel against Syria, maybe his Messianic claims could have amounted to something. Or imagine if he’d been born into modern Israel with all its military might. In fact if he’d been born anywhere during the 20th or 21st century, with our instant communications, mobile phones, SMS messages, CNN, the Internet, etc. the whole world could have heard about him in a matter of minutes. This is the age when the news coverage is instant wherever something happens anywhere in the world. So why not have Jesus come into a technological world like ours?
Yet, you know, this is what we read in Gal 4:4: "But when the fullness of time had come, [or, "At just the right time"] God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law."
As far as God was concerned this moment in history was just the right moment. In fact if we think about it some more we realise what was so good about this time in history:
Language: 300 years before, Alexander the Great had conquered virtually the entire middle east and established Greek as the common language throughout the region.
Roads and garrisons: The Romans had taken over from the Greeks and had built roads and garrisons across the known world, making it much safer to travel, allowing the message of Jesus Christ to be taken to the far reaches of the empire in a reasonably short time.