Fifth in the Advent/Christmas series, “What Has God Wrought?”
Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Throughout Advent, we’ve looked at some of the prophecies of the Messiah. We’ve considered repeatedly what it means for God to intervene in this broken world through Jesus Christ, saving us from death.
On this Christmas Eve, let’s simply try to absorb the beauty of it all. Whatever our circumstances, whatever our worries, I pray the moments of beauty we have in this story lift us up.
The story all happened in the midst of life’s troubles. The government had people scrambling to get to their historic family homes so they could be counted, and of course everyone knew that once they were counted, they were going to be taxed. Shelter was at a premium as people traveled.
The mundane physical work in the fields and villages continued, too. Animals need tending regardless of what else may be happening.
One couple traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem had been experiencing their own troubles. The young woman, more a fiancée than a wife, had initially caused the man great consternation when she said she was pregnant. A respectable man, one seen by his community as righteous, Joseph knew he was not the father. It took revelations and assurances from God that something wonderful was happening for him to take Mary in and make her fully a part of his life.
With a woman so far along in her pregnancy, the journey on foot of almost 70 miles must have been quite difficult. We don’t know much about it. The 2006 movie “The Nativity Story” did a nice job of imagining the journey, showing the couple drawing closer together, growing in love as they cared for each other along the way.
The details of the journey in the movie are not in the Bible, but as I watched the travel scenes, I thought, “This rings so true.” Being righteous, Joseph would have thrown himself into the care of Mary and her child wholeheartedly once he was certain of God’s presence and will in the situation. Vulnerable Mary, with her heart so full of love that God wanted to inhabit her womb, would have responded to this care.
They made it to crowded Bethlehem, and the baby was born in primitive circumstances, among the animals. We sometimes say Jesus was “born in a stable” or “born in a barn,” but even those phrases likely polish the circumstances. He may have been born in nothing more than a rock shelter, what we would call a cave or overhang.
And yet, there he was, God’s perfection, in flesh amidst the mundane and profane. I know when I saw the faces of my children for the first time, I was astonished. To see the face of God—to know the world will be changed because of the little person in your arms—well, all I can say is, Joseph’s and Mary’s joy must have been complete.
As all this was happening, some filthy shepherds were having the moment of their lives. Angels came to them to announce the birth of a Savior for all the world. Not to kings, not to rich men, but to them, the poorest of people, people who stunk because of their hard work. There was no doubt about leaving their flocks to God’s care so they could go into town and see a miracle.
We are told they repeated the angels’ words to Mary, and that she treasured those words in her heart. A savior, in her arms. Did she again feel the stirring of the song she first sang as she prophesied with her cousin Elizabeth?
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
We of course see the beginnings of the story of salvation in this birth. We know the man the baby became. We know the death he died. We know of his resurrection, and because resurrection has been promised to us, too, we know we have hope.
Lord, may we take from this story the ability to see you in the low places, in the midst of all the difficulties, pain and nuisances of life. The story of the Christ Child is more real than any of those woes, and his beauty overcomes them all.