Summary: Preached 24th December 2013 at the Midnight Communion. Debunks Christmas and re-focuses on the incarnation of Jesus, what that meant to the shepherds and means to us.
***The following conventions have been used in this sermon, which may assist delivery: Capitals indicate Bold Text, parts bracketed between forward slashes indicate italics, it may also be helpful to skip who wrote or defined what***
Five minutes into the film /Love Actually/ (1) a little girl rushes to tell her mother her great news:
Daughter: We've been given our parts in the nativity play /[Mum oohs]/ and /I'm/ the Lobster!
Mother /[taken aback]/: The Lobster?
Mother: In the nativity play?
Daughter /[proudly]/: Yeah. /First/ Lobster.
Mother /[bemused]/: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daughter /[knowing something mum doesn't]/: Duh!
We’re going to look at three points tonight – THE INN, THE INCARNATION and THE INVITATION. So, which of these belong /IN/ the Christmas Story: Lobsters? Santa Claus? A Stable? Unwed Mothers? Shepherds giving Lambs? A baby born on 25th December 0AD? Herod killing little boys? Three Kings of Orient? No room at the Inn? Snowmen, Mistletoe etc?
NONE OF THEM!
• We don’t know when Jesus was born, but it wasn’t on 25th December 0AD; it was probably late September in 6 to 4 BC, and although Jesus’ birthday was associated very early with 25th December, even then calendars have been consistent; it depends on whether we use the Julian or Gregorian calendar and when the year changes (In England until 1752 for example the year began on 25th March i.e. 24th March 1750 was the day before 25th March 1751)
• The three wise men arrived later - we only know there was at least two, bringing three gifts
• Herod killed all boys under two – Jesus was probably 12-18 months old at the time.
• Joseph & Mary were married (Matthew 1:24-25).
• No animals except flocks in the fields are mentioned; if lambs were given, they weren’t accepted – at Jesus' temple presentation (aged 8 days), a poor man’s gift of 2 doves are sacrificed instead of a lamb (c.f. Luke 2:21, 24 Leviticus. 12:8).
• No stable is mentioned in the Bible; Moses was placed in a basket, but wasn’t born in a Laundrette! Jesus was placed in a manger because Joseph’s relatives weren’t expecting a baby.
• “No room at the Inn” –
•• The word “Inn”, translated from a Greek word kataluma, is translated “Guest Room” everywhere else (cf. Luke 22:11 and Mark 14:14). Luke uses the common Greek word for Inn – pandokheion to designate a commercial inn in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (cf. Luke 10:36)
•• Joseph “belonged to the house and line of David.”; that’s why he had to travel to Bethlehem with Mary for the Census (Luke 2:4). Almost certainly his family is from Bethlehem; even if he had no family in Bethlehem, he could expect to be put up “for David’s sake” (2).
So, let’s strip away the familiar, comfortable and romanticised, and concentrate on the passage.
... the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6b-7).
We’ve already seen that THE INN is probably not as we’d imagine; mostly likely it’s a one-roomed private home, with a raised area for the family, and a lower area for the animals. Hardly salubrious accommodation or where you’d expect to find a King.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8).
The miracle in this passage, as the Angels subsequently tell the shepherds, is the incarnation. The Angels told the Shepherds of the great joy that was being revealed to them “for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11). This short verse contains the doctrines of Calling (/“to you”/), Salvation (/“a Saviour”/) and THE INCARNATION (/“is born... Christ the Lord”/), the obstacle for those who would see Jesus as something less than God. Even Hinduism, for example, could accept God working in the world through Christ and according to Panikkar (3) “…call it perhaps Isvara (Lord). The stumbling block appears when Christianity further identifies, with the required qualifications, Christ with Jesus, the Son of Mary”; the stumbling block is Christ as both mortal man and God eternal. Baker (4) wrote “Without the Incarnation, Christianity is both incoherent and inadequate; and with the Incarnation Christianity shows up the incoherence and inadequacy of non-incarnational theism.”
The circumstances are unusual - unusual enough for the shepherds to be given it as a sign - but the miracle is the Incarnate God, the creator of the universe, the Word made flesh and residing in human form. That God himself puts aside his glory, is conceived of a Virgin through the Holy Spirit, begotten and born of a human woman into a poverty stricken family. Of course, Jesus does not remain a baby; he grows. He is fully man yet fully God.