Summary: Fourth in a series of sermons developed around and following the Magnificat (Luke 1)
Thinking Outside the Crib
INTRODUCTION: What was God thinking? Why did God choose the time and place He did for the birth of his son, the savior of the world? To quote Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What he said about eighteenth century Paris, France, could just as easily be said about Israel at the pivotal turn from B.C. (before Christ) to A.D. (Anno Domini, the year of Christ’s reign).
The world was a rambunctious, rancorous, rancid mess. Most of the civilized world was under the rule of Rome and its Caesars. The Jews had it bad. These were the ‘stars’ of the Old Testament, God’s “chosen people.” But by this time, the mighty had fallen. Hard. Several times.
At one time, they were the preeminent nation on earth. Now they were relegated to a dusty outpost astride a modest trade route in the Roman Empire. Foreign troops occupied their land. Their economy was bobbing along unproductively. Government at every level took advantage of them. They had virtually no middle class. Their was a large chasm separating the upper and lower classes. And they hadn’t heard any decent preaching in 400 years.
Israel was a divided nation - part of it was inhabited by the Samaritans, the Jews from the ten tribes that had intermarried with the people who had conquered them. That would include the Medes, the Persians, the Babylonians. They were considered mongrels, dogs, by the Jews of the remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin.
The provinces of Judea were ruled by the Herods, a despicable family that was notoriously known for their inbreeding and consummate desire to rid themselves of any challengers to their rule - from within their own family circle as well as from outside their family tree. They weren’t nice folks.
Unless you were a senator in Rome, a scholar in Alexandria, or a member of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, the world was a pretty rough place a little more than 2,000 years ago. By today’s standards - even in the middle of our economic recession - those people had it bad, worse than most of us.
I. HOW DO YOU FIX SUCH A MESS?
In order to fix such a mess and to bring the presence of God back into the midst of His chosen people, you have to understand the back story. In the world of drama, every character in a play, or in a television show or movie, has a back story. This is what happened before they came on the scene in the movie.
Most movies or plays or television shows, are what is called “slice of life.” You jump into action that is already underway. During the early part of the show, the writers reveal to us, the audience, what was going on before. Some television show jumpstart this exercise by commencing the show with a brief synopsis of what happened over the course of the last couple of episodes. They always preface it with the familiar phrase, “Previously on _________.”
The back story of Jesus’ birth was chapter one of Luke. The end of the back story begins in chapter 2, verse 1: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his own town to register.” (2:1,3)
Now we know what lead Joseph and Mary to leave their home town, Nazareth, and travel to Bethlehem. Yes, it was also to fulfill the prophecy about the Messiah being born in the city of David, but there had to be an overwhelming reason for a woman nearly nine months pregnant with her first child to leave her home and travel several days to a faraway city, and this was it.
If you or I were going to fix this mess, we would probably start by sending brigades of elite special forces to throw out the occupying army. We would call in our Council of Economic advisors to jump-start business, pump up the tourist and convention trade, and recapitalize the central bank.
We would commission ambassadors to write new treaties with neighboring countries and put a trade czar in charge of drumming up reciprocal relationships with crafts people from Asia and Gaul. We’d dispatch a healthy Billy Graham to preach a great revival. And for sure, we would elect the wisest, strongest, most experienced warrior/ CEO/politician to manage all the redevelopment.
II. WHERE DID GOD BEGIN?
But this isn’t what God did. Instead, God sent a baby. Of course, Jesus was no ordinary baby. But the Bible says he was as fully human as the rest of us are, and that he was fully divine as his Father in heaven is. Just the same, he was still a baby, born like any other baby of that time. “While they were there, the time came for her 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.” (2:6-8)