Summary: A second look at an all-too-familiar story.
I) The Circumstances of Jesus’ Birth
Christmas “cards stress sunny words like love, goodwill, cheer, happiness, and warmth…we honor a sacred holiday with such homey sentiments…. In contrast to what the cards would have us believe, Christmas did not sentimentally simplify life on planet earth. Perhaps this is what I sense when Christmas rolls around and I turn from the cheeriness of the cards to the starkness of the Gospels.” (Philip Yancey)
A) A UNIVERSAL______________ DECREE (2:1-3)
1) It is interesting, if not surprising, how our story starts. Dr. Paul Maier comments, “The first person mentioned in Luke’s familiar story of Christmas was neither Mary, Joseph, nor shepherd, nor wise men In fact, he would seem to have nothing to do with the story, for he was the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. And yet it was his decision, fifteen hundred miles away, which started the train of events that finally led to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.” (In the Fullness of Time, p. 3)
2) This decree required everyone to go to their hometown. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because they were in the lineage of David.
(a) Over the years, some scholars have questioned this. They derided the Gospel account saying, “Could Luke really think that the emperor made everyone go to the hometown for a census?” But, it was so and modern archeology has found ample extra-Biblical evidence to prove this true: about every 14 years, the Roman government required this.
(b) A Clarification: The KJV says that this was for a “tax” while the more modern translations call it a “census.” Biblical scholars say that “census” is the more correct terms, but as you know whenever the government counts someone they usually want to tax them in some way. So it was probably a census for the purpose of taxation.
3) These first two verses about government officials and census might seem irrelevant to the story, but these details show how God was in control of all the events that unfolded in the birth of Jesus. Little did Caesar Augustus know that his sovereign decree would set God’s prophetic table by ensuring that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2: “
B) AN UNCOMFORTABE_______ TRIP (2:4-5)
1) The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was a grueling one. It was 85-90 miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem. And Mary and Joseph would have traveled on foot averaging about 15-18 miles a day.
2) After 5-6 days traveling, it is understandable that Mary and Joseph would have wanted nothing more than to find a warm and safe place to have a baby!
3) They probably arrived late in the evening because ‘there was no room for them in the inn…”
(a) Let me ask you: How many after reading that phrase “there was no room for them in the inn…” have a mental picture of a mean innkeeper who refused to provide a room for a young couple looking for a safe place to give birth? That is a very popular conception.
(b) There’s just one problem with that image: there is absolutely no mention of an innkeeper in Luke’s text. Would there have been an innkeeper? Probably. But, perhaps there is another way to think about this.
(c) First, an inn was not like our lodging of today. It was probably a caravan-sary—a place (it might of even been just a large room) where groups of people huddled together to stay while on a journey like this.
(d) Since this room was already bursting at the seam by the time they arrived and there would have been absolutely no privacy for Mary and Joseph, they were offered the barn instead.
(e) And so Jesus was born in a borrowed stable – and it was probably a cave rather than a wood structure. So, the manger (a feeding trough) could have been made of wood or possibly even stone.
C) AN UNHERALDED____________ EVENT (2:6-7)
“God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feed trough. Indeed the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses.” (Philip Yancey)
D) AN UNLIKELY______________ ANNOUNCEMENT (2:8-20)
“The irony in this scene should not be lost. It was not the kings and nobles of the day who were present at the birth of the Son of God but the outcast, despised shepherds. They came not into a palace or a temple but found the King of Israel lying in a trough used for feeding animals.” (Robert Stein)
II) The Lessons of Jesus’ Birth
A) God’s will is often accomplished in unexpected WAYS___________!
“Jesus was born in a borrowed barn and buried in a borrowed grave and was homeless most of his life. The authentic Gospel has enormous power for the whole world when we tell it the way it really is.” (Raymond Bakke)