Summary: Jesus’ first advent, as a helpless infant born to peasants, confounds our false notions of power.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the time of the Christian year in which we celebrate the birth of Christ and look forward to His return. During this season we remember the first coming of our Savior, and also anticipate His second coming. Now, let me begin by asking you a question: why do we do that? Why do we make such a big deal out of Christmas? Now, I realize that I’m on dangerous ground here. Questioning the rationale for Christmas could get me accused of heresy, not to mention "Grinchiness". You might as well ask why we hold parades and shoot off firecrackers on the 4th of July. The annual observance of the Christmas holiday has become so much a part of our culture (and our economy) that it’s almost impossible to imagine a December without it. But let’s try, just for a moment. If Christmas was not a part of our history and heritage; if the joy and wonder of Christmas morning was not deeply imbedded in our own childhood memories; if none of us had ever heard of Santa, or Ebenezer Scrooge, or Rudolph, or Frosty; if we had never watched "It’s A Wonderful Life;" or seen a Christmas tree, or hung stockings on the mantelpiece; or gone caroling – If we were starting from scratch today, and all we had to go on were the accounts of Christ’s birth in the gospels, would we still choose to celebrate this season? Would it still have significance for us as Christians? The answer, I think, is "yes". Because the Christmas story reveals so much about Christ and the gospel message. What we’re going to look at today is one of the ways in which the birth of Christ reveals who He is, and what He came to do. Let’s begin by reading from Luke chapter two:
"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.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." – Luke 2:1-7, NIV
Setting aside the supernatural aspects of the Christmas story – the angels, and the shepherds, and the star, and wise men, and the virgin birth – one of the things we’re struck by is how ordinary the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were. For example, he was born into quite an unremarkable family. Joseph was not a wealthy man. We see this in the kind of sacrifice he and Mary brought when they went up to the temple a short while later to dedicate their newborn son. Instead of offering a lamb, as a family of even modest means would have done, they took all they could afford, a pair of birds. As a carpenter, Joseph was probably not well-educated, as for example, a rabbi would have been. And as far as we know, he had no social or political connections. He was just a blue-collar worker; someone who worked with his hands, someone who built furniture and crafted tools. A peasant. And as such, he had very little power in first-century Roman or Jewish society.
His lack of power is demonstrated by the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This was a distance of many miles over rough terrain. It meant several days of walking, or at best riding on the back of a donkey. And traveling through the more remote areas, there would be thieves and highwaymen hiding in the bushes, waiting to attack. In fact, this was such a common occurrence that one of Jesus’ parables, the story of the Good Samaritan, is about a man who is robbed and left for dead, on a journey just like this. It would be a difficult and dangerous trip under the best of circumstances. Now, I ask you – what kind of husband would willingly put his fiancé through that? Especially when she was nine months’ pregnant! What kind of man would choose to expose the woman he loved to that kind of danger, to subject her to that kind of discomfort? But of course that’s the point. He didn’t have any choice. And neither did she. They were under the authority of imperial Rome. Ceaser’s word was law. And so, no matter how angry or afraid they might have been, no matter how unreasonable they thought the decree was, they had no choice but to obey. They were powerless.