Summary: This Christmas Eve sermon (with visitors and seekers in mind) encourages people to see that Jesus is for everyone. God sent Jesus for you!
This week, as I have been reading Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, I’ve found myself needing to put together some kind of a disclaimer. The draft version goes something like this:
Concerning the birth of Jesus! If you are expecting to hear a message about a beautiful, pregnant young white girl, wearing a mystical blue dress, travelling gracefully on a donkey to Bethlehem, where an inn keeper offers a stable as all the rooms are taken, where Mary quietly gives birth to a little boy who never cries and wears a shining halo, with beautiful winged angels singing soft lullabies in the background, clean-shaven shepherds bringing a new born lamb as a gift for the baby, donkeys looking on lovingly, in a freshly swept, squeaky clean room with a Christmas tree in the corner, and snow falling outside …then you may be disappointed.
When it comes to the birth of Jesus, and what we read in the Bible, I find myself wanting to say, “Handle with care!”
Handle with care, because we otherwise end up with a Christmas event which is almost completely divorced from what really happened!
So what did happen then? And what still happens now?
1: The involvement of God in human history. On the face of it we have ‘Caesar Augustus [issuing] a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.’ And we have Joseph and his pregnant wife-to-be, Mary, setting off from Nazareth on the 85 mile trip to Bethlehem. Ladies, I have for you here a free voucher, entitling you to a fully accompanied 85 mile walk, from Southampton to London. Basic accommodation will be provided upon your arrival in London. The only condition is that you have to do the 85 mile walk whilst you are 8 months pregnant! How does that sound to you?
You might be thinking – OK, yes, so Caesar ordered a census, Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, and next …came the birth of Jesus.
But what I would like us to do is to stop …and consider the fact that God brought this event – this sequence of events – into being.
Caesar was considered to be the most powerful man alive. He insisted that people refer to him as ‘Lord’ and ‘Saviour’. Interesting then that later, the angels should announce that Jesus will be ‘Saviour’ and ‘Lord’! Caesar decides he wants everyone to register – probably for taxation purposes. And God uses this action of a pagan Roman emperor to ensure that Joseph and Mary end up in Bethlehem at just the right time! They were residents of Nazareth 85 miles away, but they had to end up in Bethlehem for the Old Testament prophecy to be fulfilled, that the Messiah, the saviour, would be born in Bethlehem. And we read that Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem because he was a descendant of King David, who himself was born in Bethlehem.
At face value the Roman census is the action of a mighty emperor, but what we see is the involvement of God in human history – God using a census for his higher purposes!
But that was then. What about now?
It may help to cast your mind back over this last year, or over the time that has elapsed since you moved to your current home, or the time that has elapsed since you got married, or since you became a parent …or for some of you, to cast your mind back over what has happened to you since the death of a loved one.
Whether you realise it or not, God has been, and God still is, right there with you, in your circumstances. Just as God was working in the lives of Mary and Joseph to get them to Bethlehem at just the right time, so God has been with you, seeking to be in a relationship with you, and seeking to work his purposes out - through all the emotions of life.
As I look back, I see God at work in my marriage, God’s purposes becoming clear as I left a well paid job at The Woolwich to train to become a Vicar, and God’s perfect timing 18 months ago as a house was arranged for me in Horton Heath, just 3 days before I had to move in. The process had begun 9 months earlier and 3 previous houses had fallen through! And yet God’s timing was perfect!
The coming of Jesus reminds us of the involvement of God in human history.
2. And now to the shepherds! They weren’t just ‘out in the fields … [keeping] watch over their flocks.’ They were ‘living out in the fields near by.’ And as a result of their trade, many Jews would have viewed these shepherds as unclean peasants! Shepherds were often people who had been forced to drop out of respectable society and become outcasts. But yet, shepherds represent the sort of marginalized people for whom the birth of a liberating Messiah would be good news indeed!