Summary: A Christmas sermon preached 12/25/2008 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa on Christmas morning.
In most public buildings, in order to gain an occupancy permit, you are required to have all the exits in your building clearly marked with “Exit” signs. Now our church building was built before that became a regulation, which is why you don’t see Exit signs here, but if you did, there would be one above each door along the side aisles here, and one toward the back of the sanctuary. Now in telling you this, I don’t want you to panic, I don’t intend to preach for so long tonight that it will increase our chances of a natural disaster happening here. I also understand the danger for a preacher in starting off a sermon by telling you how to leave the building.
But the point is, whenever you see an exit sign, what do you expect to find there? An exit right? You know that when you see an exit sign by a door, that when you open it, you’re not going to be facing a brick wall. The sign and the exit go together, the sign points you to the exit. It’s the same way with the church sign that’s next to the building outside. It tells you that this building is Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, so people will know which church this is and what time we worship. Again, you’re not going to see the sign for Our Saviour’s in the courthouse lawn, because the church isn’t in the courthouse.
Tonight, you’re here to gaze with the eyes of faith upon a sign, a sign that was first talked about by the angels to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem that first Christmas night over 2000 years ago. And it was a strange sign indeed. So let’s spend our time this evening talking about that sign the Christmas angels are pointing us to tonight, so that we can understand the sign of Christmas, and what it’s all about.
It was a seemingly ordinary night in Bethlehem when it started. Not a whole lot was out of the ordinary, except there were a lot more people in town than there usually were. Caesar Augustus, ruler of the known world, the Roman Empire, had issued a decree that all the world should be registered in a census. In order to register for this census, each person had to go to their ancestral town or city to register for the census. Bethlehem was best known as the City of David, the great King of Israel from years gone by. There were several descendants of David, so they would have all had to come to Bethlehem to be registered. One young couple, betrothed, were among the descendants of David who making their way to the little town of Bethlehem. They seemed like an ordinary couple at first glance, just starting their lives as husband and wife, and there was even an addition to the family coming, as the bride was quite obviously expecting. They weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, Joseph was a humble carpenter, and they came from the little insignificant village of Nazareth, a place where no one really thought anything of value could come from.
This young couple get into town, and then, the moment all expectant parents anticipate, but don’t always quite seem to be prepared for, happens. “Joseph, it’s time”, Mary says to her husband. Now panic sets in. They’re far from home, and haven’t made lodging arrangements. Joseph goes to every inn there is, but there’s no room. One innkeeper takes pity on the couple, and offers his stable. The couple take him up on their offer, and its there, in the least ideal of conditions, that a baby boy is born. The baby is wrapped in swaddling cloths, and since there isn’t a baby bed there, the baby is laid in a manger, essentially an animal feeding trough. Quite a humble beginning, one that could be described as a bit out of the ordinary.
Out in the fields that night, things started out pretty ordinary as well. Shepherds were tending to their flocks, just as they had for countless nights like this one. But, soon, their night would turn from ordinary to extraordinary. Out of nowhere, an angel of the Lord appears, and the glory of God is shining all around them. This sight puts these humble shepherds in a state of fear. No wonder, it’s not often you’re surrounded by a physical display of the glory of God himself. God’s holy, man is not, thus, to see these shepherds trembling in fear, wondering what’s happening, or more to the point, what’s going to happen to them, is the only logical behavior to expect. But, as with any appearance of angels, they have a specific message. ““Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (v. 10-12)