What are you going to do with the news of Jesus’ birth? As we take another step forward in our Advent series, we are finally talking about how Jesus’ birth unfolded. The news of His birth rang throughout the world. It was and has become something no one can ignore. Let’s dig into it together.
Designed to Provoke
Have you ever tried to ignore a toddler who has something to tell you? It may not seem all that significant to you, but when a toddler has something to say, as far as he is concerned, it is the most important thing in the world. And, if you happen to be the person he has deemed most worthy of hearing this information, there’s really not much you can do about the matter. You can try to ignore it if you want, but…well…good luck with that.
Hey Dad. Dad? Dad! Hey Dad! Daddy! Dad, guess what. Dad? Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad! Daddy! Dad, I have something to tell you. Dad, listen to me! Hey Dad! You may be actively trying to ignore him, or you may honestly be doing something else from which you cannot divert your attention for the moment. Either way, you’re fighting a losing battle. Finally, once this has gone on long enough, you just almost can’t help yourself from responding with something in the neighborhood of, “WHAT?!?!?!?!?!”
And, of course, once you’ve reached this place of being driven utterly insane, the information that so desperately needs to be passed on in that very moment no matter what else might be going on in the entire universe is usually something along the lines of, “I love you,” at which point you feel like you’re about an inch tall. But, while the inner musings of a three-year-old aren’t often going to rank among the most significant bits of information in the world, there is some news you simply can’t ignore. Exactly what your reaction may be isn’t of primary significance. That you react to it, however, is.
This has been a terrific morning, and I’m so glad Wes has been more than gracious in giving us his time and musical skills for this season. We are blessed and better as a church for it. Today is a wonderful reflection on that fact. You’ve heard the story in song, let’s take just a few minutes together now and hear it in word.
This morning we are taking another step forward in our Advent series, The World Turned Upside Down. All this special season we are walking through Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it. We’ve been reminded to not miss God’s invitations to join in His work. We’ve seen how God doesn’t just cheer for the underdogs, He helps them win. We’ve marveled at the fact that even though we may be on the sidelines for a season, the game isn’t over. All of that, though, has been a prelude for this morning. This morning – not quite a full week before Christmas – we finally lay our eyes and ears on the heart of the story. Today we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
You perhaps know this story well. Some of you may be able to say it from memory. Nonetheless, this is something you’re going to want to see. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to Luke 2 with me. We’ve seen the announcement of Jesus’ coming. We’ve marveled at Mary’s faithfulness and courage. We’ve seen John the Baptist’s foretelling and entry into the world. Now see how Jesus’ birth unfolded.
It started with something no one living in the Roman Empire could ignore. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.” This was basically a census. The government wanted to know how big the empire was and where everyone was so they could be taxed accordingly. This was certainly more disruptive to normal life for them than our census is for us, but it wasn’t so unusual a thing to happen for them anymore than it is for us.
The real inconvenience of it was that Joseph, Mary’s fiance, was from David’s branch of the tribe of Judah. This meant he had to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the registration. Now, when we last left Mary, her situation was a pretty precarious one. Matthew, in his Gospel, fills us in a bit on how we got from there to here. Joseph was understandably shocked when he found out about Mary, but his own character of righteousness and God’s direct intervention kept him from following through on what he was going to do with the news which is pretty much what any of us would have done in his shoes. In the end, though, he came around, he and Mary worked things out, and when it was time for him to go to Bethlehem, she went with him. “Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant.”
Now, there are a couple of things not to miss here that aren’t necessarily obvious in the text, but nonetheless give the story a bit more realism in terms of the actual situations the characters were facing. Luke tells us Mary was still merely Joseph’s fiancee. That meant they weren’t yet married. Well, weddings in that culture were a big deal. You think our weddings have gotten big. Their weddings were week-long affairs. The thing is, from Matthew’s telling of the story, we know they stayed in Bethlehem after Jesus was born until they fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plans. Their families, though, were back in Nazareth. This meant while they may have finally gotten married, they never had the ceremony they had planned. God’s plans for them killed those plans. They were on their own trying to figure life out with a new baby. And they didn’t have a church family to help them out.
In any event, “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” That is, Jesus finally arrived. It was not the situation either of them could have imagined they would find themselves in nine months earlier, but it was where they were and there was only one thing to do: Move forward with it.
But while they were celebrating the birth of their son in relative obscurity, God wasn’t content for His Son’s arrival to be kept entirely quiet. So, Jesus’ proud heavenly dad started sharing the news. Rather than telling the culture’s best and brightest, though, God chose to reveal the news to a group no one would have expected: a bunch of shepherds out in the fields around Bethlehem.
“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 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, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!’”
Now, put yourself in the shepherds’ sandals for just a minute. What would you do with this heavenly display? Would you hide? Would you rejoice? Would you quake in fear? Would you shout it from the rooftops? Whatever you would do with it, there is one thing you couldn’t do: ignore it. Think about it. You had just seen the sky split open and the whole heavenly chorus shouting and singing praises to God over the birth of a random baby down in the city. You couldn’t go back to what you were doing before after seeing that. You couldn’t go back to much of anything that marked out your life before receiving such news as this. It would have changed everything. The news of Jesus is something you can’t ignore.
For their part, the shepherds hustled down into the city in order to see for themselves what the angel described to them. “When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. . .The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.”
In other words, they reacted to the news of Jesus with joyful exuberance. They just nearly shouted it from the rooftops. Maybe they even did that too as they made their way back to the field where their flock was still waiting for them to return. Luke tells about one more reaction here, though. That is Mary’s: “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” That’s a very different reaction than the shepherds had, but it is a reaction. She actively pondered the whole scene and what it could possibly have meant in the broader picture of the world. Again, this was a different reaction, but it was a reaction. She didn’t ignore it. The news of Jesus is something you can’t ignore.
That is actually a challenge I want to leave you with this morning. The news of Jesus is something you can’t ignore. We have been talking about various aspects of it all this month, and in fact, it undergirds every conversation we have together in one way or another. You have now heard the news of Jesus – the baby who was born for you. What are you going to do about it? The news of Jesus is something you can’t ignore. It changes everything as we’re going to talk about this Friday at our Christmas Eve service. You can receive it or you can reject it, but you cannot ignore it. The news of Jesus is something you can’t ignore. It can change your life or it can make a mess of it. It might do both. But you can’t ignore it. You can face Him as judge or embrace Him as Savior, but you can’t ignore Him. The news of Jesus is something you can’t ignore. What are you going to do about it? My invitation to you is to receive it and make Him your Lord so that as we celebrate Christmas next week and no longer just Advent, you can do that with a joyful hopefulness you haven’t experienced before. I hope you will.