Summary: Like a music crescendo, the glorious story of the birth of Jesus builds into an awesome outpouring of praise! Glory to God in the highest!
“It All Began In A Manger” -- Luke 2:1-20
*During Christmas vacation of my senior year in high school, I picked up a book I just couldn’t put down. It was called “The Hobbit”, written by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was fascinated by the hairy little people called Hobbits who had 6 toes and ate 6 times a day and who had round little bellies and lived in a place called the Shire, between River Brandywine and the Far Downs. I loved the wizard named Gandalf, and the slimy little creature named Gollum. In the front of the book there was a neat little map that showed the whole make-believe land where the story took place. Of course, the whole thing was made up; it was all part of the genius of Tolkien, and I loved every page.
This morning, as we gather here on Christmas day, we hear another amazing story from an author who, by even his harshest critics, was a first rate historian. His name was Luke, and when he begins writing about the birth of Jesus Christ, immediately you realize something wonderful: This story is no fairy tale! No Bilbo Baggins here, no Frodo, no make-believe land. Immediately Luke ties the birth of Jesus to a real event and real people: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register.”
For the longest time critics claimed that Luke made up the story of the census. It was all make-believe, they said, to bolster Luke’s fairy tale about Jesus. And then a few decades ago a mass of evidence was found that proved Luke’s claim. Sure enough, starting with this census, every 14 years for nearly 2 centuries the Romans had everyone in their empire go to their family’s home town to register themselves and pay a tax. This kind of information might seem boring to us today. Who cares about an ancient tax anyway? But it shows that Christianity-our faith and our hope in a baby born in a manger-are all rooted in history!
The birth of Jesus is not a fairy tale. He really was born. He really died to forgive our sins. He really rose from the dead, and He’s really coming back! It’s all real! It’s a story we can trust and put our hope in.
Let’s look at the details of this awesome story written by the first class Historian, the physician Luke. Because both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, they went to the city of David, Bethlehem, to register. Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. The Gospel of Matthew tells us they hadn’t slept together yet, but Mary was already pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then almost matter of factly the Bible says “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” Why is Luke so dry when he describes the birth of the Savior of the world? Why doesn’t he jump up and down and shout, “Hallelujah? Praise God! The Son of God was born!” Because he wants us to know that Jesus was a human being, born like any other child had been born in the history of the world. It was a tough journey for Mary from Nazareth. She was sore. She was tired. She gave birth in a stable. No spinal for her! It was painful and bloody, and smelly, and she gave birth to a baby boy. That’s how Jesus was born. Ever heard the expression, “Close the door, were you born in a barn?” Jesus could answer, “Why, yes I was! I was born in a barn and wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. I am as human as any other person walking this earth.” It’s important to understand that Jesus was a man, because God demanded a human sacrifice, not some disembodied spirit, for the sins of the world. Mary gave birth to a human being. Luke reminds us that it all began in a manger; it all began with a baby.
Then Luke lets the angels tell the other side of the story, the second half of the salvation message, the story of how this baby was also God, and suddenly the lid starts to come off and the celebration begins and just builds and builds. It’s like a crescendo in a piece of music - it just gets louder and more joyful: mp “There were shepherds living out in the fields near Bethlehem, watching their flocks at night, mf and an angel of the Lord appeared, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they terrified!” The shepherds stood in the presence of the divine. They thought they had reason to be afraid! f “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News of Great Joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord! This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ff fortissimo! “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!” Hallelujah! Praise God! The Son of God, God in the flesh, is born! REJOICE!! LET IT ALL HANG OUT!