THE BEGINNING OF THE OLD, OLD STORY
The scripture we study today is the opening act of what we may call the greatest story ever told. Yet, the main characters are a common, unknown man, a pregnant teenaged girl, a helpless infant lying in a feed trough, and a band of nondescript shepherds watching their flocks one night in a corner of an insignificant province of the Roman Empire. Despite appearances, this story is the beginning of the most important event in human history.
Humble though these events might be, they are accompanied by huge heavenly celebration. Heavenly hosts sang. Lights glowed. The hills were filled with the sound of music. Angels explained the meaning of these modest events. This indeed is the best of good news. God is keeping his promise.
As was his custom, Luke carefully establishes the moment in history when all this occurred. Augustus was Caesar. The adopted son of Julius Caesar, Augustus ruled Rome from 27BC till 14AD. He had instituted a new system of taxation that demanded a census of the entire Roman world. Quirinius was governing Syria. He had “governed” Syria for several years before he was actually appointed “governor.” The census demanded that each person be registered in his ancestral home. Thus, Joseph and his wife were forced by law to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because they were from the line of David.
II. 2:4-7. The Center Point of All History.
The little out-of-the way village of Nazareth is about ninety miles north-west of Bethlehem. It was known for its rich loamy soil and abundant rainfall which produced ample harvests of wheat and barley. Thus, its name means “house of bread.” How appropriate that the “bread of heaven” was soon to enter the world in its precincts. The journey would have taken them about ten days.
They “went up” to Bethlehem which is situated a short distance south of Jerusalem. Jerusalem stands atop Mount Moriah, the highest point in the Judean mountain range. Bethlehem is slightly downhill from Jerusalem. So, they literally went up as they climbed the mountain. But for Jews of that day and today any one who goes toward Jerusalem “goes up.” Their purpose in travel was to be registered in the census Augustus had ordered. But God’s purpose was to fulfill a promise that the Messiah would emerge from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
Mary was espoused to Joseph, and the birth of her baby was imminent. Joseph took her with him on this difficult trip because he wanted to be there when the birth occurred. (Perhaps Mary’s pregnancy had so sullied her reputation in Nazareth that the folks there would refuse to help.) At any rate, her baby was born there in a stable because all rooms were filled by others there for registering. No matter. There in these inauspicious circumstances and with this unknown and insignificant young couple there occurred the greatest event in human history. Jesus the Christ was born.
III. 2:8-14. The Announcement of His Birth.
Again, the principle human actors were “nobodies.” But this time there was a celebration of momentous measure. Angels and heavenly hosts sang. Lights flashed and glowed. The “glory of the Lord surrounded them.” This was truly an awesome event designed to tell these shepherds that the Messiah was among them and could be found sleeping in a cattle trough! The Jews longed for his appearance. But like this? Let us remember today that God seldom does things as we expect. He is full of surprises!
Note carefully the words of the angelic host. “Don’t be afraid” (v10). When God really shows up, all of need that word of comfort. “I bring you good news” (v10). What happened that night is the most wonderful news anyone can ever receive. God is here! He is present, involved in history and involved in your story. Have courage and go forward. Life, your life, has meaning. There is a reason for everything and your destination life with God. How do we know? “Today in the city of David there is born a Savior! (v 11). Not a great moral teacher, not even a good man. (Though Jesus was both of those). He is what we most need, a Savior. He is a life changing force, (a storm, if you will) a redeemer who can redirect our life in accord with God’s original purpose for us. He can pull us out of the messes we make of life without him and he takes us to heaven! That is what a savior is and that is good news.
IV. 2:15-17. The Shepherds’ Response.
As suddenly as they had arrived, the heavenly host departed. The shepherds did not sit around the fire debating the meaning and veracity of what the messengers had said. They went immediately into the city to look for a baby in a manger. And they found him. I wish we had more information about what was said in that stable that night. What did they say to Mary and Joseph? What did Mary and Joseph say to them? I am sure they were all amazed and thrilled at what was happening. When their conversation ended that shepherds went to tell others. Those would be interesting conversations to overhear.
Mary treasured all this in her heart. She is a new mother looking into the face of her firstborn (2:7) child. Those memories are “treasures” to keep. She also “pondered” what these things could mean and what the future would be like being responsible for this little human being who was also the “son of God.” Wow! Today we also ponder what all this means. When he is born in our hearts by faith, like Mary, we take on an awesome charge. Her life would never be the same, nor will ours. He brings great joy, awesome blessings. He offers a meaning and purpose for our life. He gives direction and guides our feet on the path that he ordains. But as we follow, we discover that his road is narrow and the way sometimes is hard. But the destination is heaven.
Who is this baby born that first Christmas night? If he is who the angels said he is (and who he said he is), he must be the center point of our lives. If he isn’t, and that is the only other option, then nothing really matters. He was no more than a charlatan or an insane man. Mary treasured these memories “in her heart.” I too, after a long-life walking with Jesus, have some treasured memories which convince me that I have made the right decision. For me, he is who he said he is. I bet you have some. too.
- Lesson provided by Jim Kitchens
- October 18, 2020
- October 4, 2020
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