Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20 – “The Birth of the Savior”

Mark Wheeler
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Luke 2:1-20
“The Birth of the Savior”

We so deeply need what only You can offer, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and heal our hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkest moments. On this eve of the celebration of Your birth, we praise You with the conviction that You were born for us and for our salvation. Amen.

Finally, it is Christmas Eve! As much as I sometimes dread the harried schedules and almost anti-Christian aspects of American holidays – I love Advent and Christmas! Thank You for celebrating this day together with us!

For my first Christmas as a semi-professional pastor I worked with a collection of Presbyterian Christians in a little unincorporated town that was 99% African American. The residents of this town across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco had moved there during WWII to work in the Sausalito Shipyards, and then when the war ended these Black men were not allowed to join any of the unions and had no money to move back home (mostly to Louisiana), so they stayed in Marin City in government subsidized housing, in the wealthiest county in the nation! The church I worked in was called St. Andrew Presbyterian Church; half the congregation were African-Americans from WWII with 3rd grade educations, the other half were highly educated white doctors, lawyers, and university professors – an odd and beautiful mix of people.
I started there in June 1987 as an intern, and the church hired me to stay after my internship ended for another 2-½ years. This church had 40 people on a Sunday morning, and a choir of 7 people – but boy could they sing!
Alma Randolph, one of the senior ladies, whenever she said grace quoted from Acts 10, “Arise Peter, kill and eat. Amen.” One day “sister Alma” told me about the founding pastors of this church, seminary students in the 1950s, who told her how much Jesus loved her – and that’s all it took for her to believe!
That encounter, and several others kind of like it, always made me stop and simply admire who our God is – how powerful and how personal He is. As a white man in a suit and tie walking the streets of Marin City, 99% Black, I learned that many believed I was some sort of police officer walking my beat – then they learned that I was pastoring one of “their” churches and they suddenly warmed up to me – a little. The Gospel sometimes has a way of breaking down all the walls.
But, there was always a “wait-and-see” attitude. Wait and see what this white kid is gonna be like in this town.

Thankfully, waiting for God is over. God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, 2:1-20 …. —-
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

After four weeks of anticipation and waiting, Christmas is finally here. The air is so thick with excitement that we can almost taste it. And this passage is probably one of the most familiar of all Christmas accounts. Every time I read it, I’m reminded of Linus Van Pelt explaining the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown – not quite as high-class as Handel’s Messiah, but powerful none-the-less.

This passage contains three narratives around the birth of Jesus: The setting of Jesus’ birth itself (2:1-7), the angelic announcement of the birth (2:8-14), and the response of the shepherds to the announcement (2:15-20). In putting Jesus’ birth first in an historic context, Luke not only links Jesus to a real world political setting but also references back to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was a descendant of King David (cf. Micah 5:2), a very important link for the early church. As if he wants to contrast the political powers of Rome’s ruling elite — Caesar Augustus and Governor Quirinius — Luke then immediately transitions to a manger near a small inn in the tiny inconsequential village of Bethlehem: by giving a simple, straightforward account of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, once in Bethlehem, how Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger in the most humble setting possible.

This idyllic setting of Jesus’ birth always reminds me of that small church in Marin City – a simple building in a small township – and Jesus was there!!!

In your own life experience, where do you mostly find Jesus? Do you look for Jesus in all the familiar places and circumstances, or do you look for him in the least likely ones?

Luke then shifts his focus to the countryside where shepherds were tending flocks by underscoring the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ birth, in depicting the angel’s announcement of it to the shepherds, and the glorifying praise by the heavenly host (2:8-14). The announcement of the angel specifically mentions three astounding titles for this humble baby to carry — Savior, Messiah, and Lord — encompassing the highest honorifics known at that time, both human and divine. This is significant because it foretells that Jesus was sent by the Father to become one of us, in order to embody for us this “good news of great joy”— to redeem us from our sins and show us the way to the Father.

In response to this “good news of great joy,” the shepherds then hurry off to see for themselves this newborn babe. They find him just as the angel has described. And after they share with everyone there what they have been told, they return “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20).

But, of course, the Christmas story is only half of the story: because Jesus, who was sent by God — just as the herald angel was — has also sent us into the world to share this “good news of great joy” with all people. Just as Alma Randolph told me the story of a pastor that changed her life by bringing her to Jesus all those years ago, we’re called to make an impact in other people’s lives with the love of God by telling them who Jesus is: the Son of God, who was not only born to be one of us, but suffered and died to redeem us from our sins, was raised from the dead, now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and will one day come back to take us to be with Him forever!

As we celebrate Christmas with our loved ones this year, take a moment to reflect who Jesus is to you — Is He Savior, Messiah, and Lord of your life? If He is, are you then willing to be His messenger in sharing this “good news of great joy” with others who have never heard or experienced God’s love and forgiveness?

Resources:
Teng, Bill; “The Birth of the Savior, Glory to God in the Highest”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.

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