Summary: A sermon for Christmas Eve.
“God Stole The Show”
By Kenneth Emerson Sauer
Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church,
Newport News, VA
How many of you have ever seen a Christmas pageant or been in one?
Each time the scene is basically the same—isn’t it?
You’ve got the manger in the middle, Joseph and Mary nearby, and the shepherds, Wise Men, angels, and animals in the back of the scene.
In all the depictions I have seen, whether it be a pageant, a play, or a nativity scene…
…I have never seen one that depicts the whole story.
Because, you see, I have never seen a card, a painting, or a stage that is big enough to depict the whole story of Christ’s birth.
You would have to have an incredibly large stage in order to make the nativity scene look small.
And the truth of the matter is that if you really want to portray the whole birth of Christ, then you have to make the nativity scene look small. Very small.
Luke tells the story for us, and he does a nice job of setting the stage—the whole stage—for the story.
He starts with the headline of the day: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
If there had been newspapers in the ancient Mediterranean world, this would have been the front page headline on every one of them.
In Athens, Ephesus, Damascus, Alexandria, and Jerusalem alike; the big news was this decree from the Roman emperor.
It would have been the lead story on every news broadcast and the hot topic of every roundtable discussion.
It set people in motion all over the Empire, including a certain couple from Nazareth who were pledged to be married.
See how Luke begins to set the stage…Rome…not a manger, is at the center of the stage.
The Roman Emperor, not a baby, is the star of the show—or at least the character with the top billing at the start. And the prospect of some Empire-wide tax, not some anonymous birth, is the headline.
Luke goes on to tell how the decree from Caesar Augustus prompted Joseph to travel from Nazareth, where he lived, to Bethlehem, which was where he grew up.
A traditional nativity scene puts the manger in Bethlehem in the middle.
Luke’s account reminds us, however, that Bethlehem was not only far from the center of the world’s stage, it wasn’t even at the center of Joseph’s stage. His home was Nazareth, and going to Bethlehem was going out of his way.
Next, Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem, only to find that there is no room for them at the inn.
“I’m sorry, the motel is full…
but you’re welcome to stay in the parking garage!”
This couple and this birth were not even a big fish in the small pond of Bethlehem.
They were pushed off to the side of a town that was itself off to the side of a province that was off to the side of the Empire.
The truth is that God came into the world backstage. He came practically unnoticed by the world. He came to an unknown and unimportant place, and He came to unknown and unimportant people.
It blows your mind to think of how God could have made His entrance onto this world’s stage: the irresistible spectacle, the unmistakable glory, and the unfathomable power. That is how He will make His return some day in the future, but that’s not how He chose to make His entrance some 2,000 years ago.
The truth is that God came into the world backstage…
…wouldn’t you know it: God stole the show!
Philips Brooks, in his cherished Christmas carol, expresses the quiet, unassuming way that God worked into Bethlehem, and how He continues to work in hearts today: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still dear Christ enters in.”
The birth of Christ gives us a glimpse of what God is like and what God continues to do.
God didn’t come marching in through the front door, flexing His muscles, and demanding the spotlight. He could have, but He didn’t.
A movie star has his or her entourage.
A sports team runs onto the court or field with fanfare, cheers, and applause.
A big-name performer gets a standing ovation.
And the President, Prime Minister, and Queen are all welcomed by bands, red carpets, and protocol.
But the King of the Universe arrived in swaddling cloths, mostly ignored by the world He had created.
And still, today, the Lord does not barge or force His way into our lives. Instead, He stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to welcome Him in.