Summary: Message on Christmas story of the birth of Jesus
What Is So Special About Christmas (?)
I’ve entitled this morning’s message “What is So Special about Christmas” with a tentative question mark. That’s because the sentence is intended as both a question and a statement. First, as a question, to make us all think. And second as a statement, because, of course, the intent of this message is to make a plain statement as to exactly what is so special about Christmas, from a spiritual and Biblical perspective.
The way people answer that question depends upon whom you ask. Certainly, if you ask young children, the answer is going to be the gifts—all the gifts they receive at Christmas. That’s what really is so special about Christmas to them. And for some of us as we grow older, it’s everything associated with the season. The lights, the tensile, the decorations, the warm feelings, the good food, the merriment. The world has caught on to this, and it’s become a great tradition full of good memories of good times for many people, And then, hopefully, as you grow older, you begin to realize that what is so special about Christmas are the relationships, the love that is shown between family members and special friends. If we mature at all, we begin to realize that what really counts in life are the people, the love and the relationships that we have with one another.
But what is it that ultimately, spiritually and eternally is so special about Christmas? Well, while most of us here this morning know what the answer to that question is, as has been noted time and again, it’s easy to get caught up in everything that goes with Christmas and to forget what made Christmas so special in the first place. And for that this morning, we go back to the basics, a true story, a remarkable, miraculous and wondrous story told of events that occurred in the little town of Bethlehem on the other side of the world more than 2000 years ago. And what we find in the midst of this story is Heaven’s perspective about what makes Christmas so special—what even the angels themselves announced about it!
As we just read, the exact timing of these amazing events was carefully marked by the well-educated physician Luke who has been demonstrated by modern scholarship time and time again to be most accurate in all the history that he provides for us. It was at the precise time that a decree had gone out from Caesar Augustus, the emperor of the great Roman Empire, that a census had to be taken of the, as the text puts it “inhabited world.” This is the way that the Romans commonly spoke of their empire—as though they controlled the entire inhabited world. It was an acknowledged exaggeration—it was simply the world which the Romans inhabited and dominated and it stretched at this time from the isles of Great Britain on the west all the way to the Caspian Sea and the Red Sea on the east, so it was indeed a vast empire.
And it was the first census which took place while a person named Quirinius was Governor of Syria—that is the governor under Caesar who ruled the Roman provinces in which these incredible events took place. We know from other sources that Quirinius likely ruled in Syria for two terms, and that the first census during his rule took place during his first term, from roughly 6-4 B.C. And so we have these events firmly anchored in history, in the time-space continuum of actual human history during this period, which puts the birth of Jesus Christ at approximately 4 B.C.
And what was going on was much like what’s happened in the U.S. today. There was an enrollment period, a registration period with regard to this census. Only it was a much bigger deal than Obamacare, and government was much bigger under Caesar Augustus, and there was no on-line enrollment for Augustuscare, and there was no pretense that Augustuscare was all about taking care of the people. It was all about taking care of Augustus and the occupying force of Roman armies; it was all about taxation, even tribute. And the requirements of Augustuscare were far more imposing than Obamacare. It required the citizens of those nations occupied by Roman forces to return to their ancestral homes where they or their families owned property by a certain deadline—didn’t matter how inconvenient it might be—in order to be properly registered for that all important matter of Roman taxation.
And so it came about that a very special but very poor couple known to us as Joseph and Mary of Nazareth of Galilee were hugely inconvenienced by the Emperor’s Decree. Mary was more than 12 years old, so she, too, had to accompany Joseph on this trip, though she was hardly older than 16. And she, though she was now more than nine months pregnant, had to travel with her betrothed to Bethlehem for this enrollment at a most vulnerable time in her life. The distance was about 90 miles. There were no cars or buses or trains, only a donkey, at best, as a means of easing the rigors of travel. And the reason that both of them had to travel to Bethlehem is that each of them were descendants of the great King David, they were of the royal family of David, and they were members of the tribe of Judah, and so their birthright, their inheritance, the land which they and their family owned was in Judah, and in Bethlehem, the land of their forefathers, not in Nazareth of Galilee, which was part of another tribe’s inheritance.