Here is the 3rd part of the Christmas 2021 sermon:
3rd Trimester: Angelic broadcasts good news of miracle birth (Luke 2:1-20)
3rd trimester…Christmas day arrives.
And here we see that the living God of Israel works his creative kingdom design even through the very will, ways and decrees of Emperors like Caesar Augustus.
Luke wants us to see with the birth of the Messiah – that there is a secret working out of God’s providence – which will work in and around the so-called great events of humanity.
Luke tells us in ch 2 that Caesar Augustus is reigning…and Quirinius is the governor of Syria. Now when the Roman emperor Caesar issues decrees things happen.
And the decree goes out… ‘all the world should be registered’. A census is to be taken…and when you pull out your phone for the QR code you had better be in your right home town. Essential for the statisticians.
Yet…in and through this there is something in the way that the story is told by Luke. You see, Caesar Augustus, Quirinius and co are really just the background the main act. Luke neutralises Caesar.
The real focus is – v 4 – on Joseph from Galilee.
Actually not so much on the person but on what he represents for ‘he goes from Galilee…to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.’
All of that lines us up with the great promise to King David in 2 Samuel 7 – ‘your house and your kingship (David) will be made firm forever’.
There is Caesar and his grand and powerful decree…and there is Mary’s pregnancy and the feeding trough…
But the real attention is on the latter: Mary’s Magnificat again:
“His mercy is for those who fear him…he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate”
Luke knows the meaning of Christmas: Christmas is putting Caesar in his place.
There is a problem for Joseph and Mary…they are presently in Nazareth. But the word of God in Micah 5:2 had prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem:
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah; from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel’’.
But how will the Messiah be born in Bethlehem if Joseph and Mary are living in the north, in Nazareth? It’s as if God says: ‘Let’s make Caesar Augustus useful. So Augustus gives his decree…and suddenly becomes necessary for Joseph to return to his home roots…so Mary and Joseph found themselves heading to ‘Davidsville’ as might describe Bethlehem.
“Emperors can make such fine servants, even if they are utterly clueless about what is taking place.” (Davis).
Now if God’s providence is at work in the politics and geography of the first Christmas…might it not also be operating in our own day and age?
Today…2021…when our world has been gripped by the drama of the pandemic known as Covid-19…when words like ‘social isolation’, delta, and now ‘omicron’ have been introduced into our vocabulary and experience.
We can become so consumed with it…and that’s what our media delights in…if we are consumed with reading their news and agenda…that we lose sight of the Sovereign Lord is over everything including world pandemics.
“God’s fingerprints, however, don’t make noise, so you’ll often find evidence of his presence at some later point as you look back and see the subtle touches and silent trades of His work. It often seems so ‘natural’ – like a decree for a census. But nothing should surprise you, if He’ll even stoop to using an emperor to carry out His plan of redemption.” (Davis, p 45).
But despite such power and grandeur…the birth of Christ underlines the ‘humiliation of Christ’.
Luke 2:6-7: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Every Christmas we are confronted with this profound reality in this description of the babe being placed in a manger. It never ceases to amaze…and yet it is a constant reminder to us ‘never be surprised at the humility of God’. This God who so directs Emperors for his own purposes – his son is laid in the manger.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
Its answer begins: ‘Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition…’
In a feeding trough, needing a mother’s breast and a change of nappy. How very incarnate the incarnation is!
And yet what encouragement there is for us – that Christ stoops so low to bring hope to our world.
In his first Christmas message since becoming the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Raffel wrote these words which were on the Sydney Anglican website:
His sermon will draw on Jesus’ words in John 6:51, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’. (Every now and then, I’ve always thought, it is permissible to draw a ‘Christmas text’ from further afield than the nativity story. As long as the carols and other readings give a decent nod to shepherds, angels and stars!).
Jesus, the bread from heaven. Essential. Substantial. Glorious. Gift. The trouble of this year will inevitably give way to more trouble next year. In recent days, we have been grief-stricken over desperate tragedies around the nation. Jesus was born into such a grief-stricken world (and I add…placed in a manger in the ‘house of Bread’ – meaning of Bethlehem), and came to bear our griefs and sorrows. No, Christmas is not somehow out of step with the daily report of unspeakable tragedy. Jesus was born so that the world might know a true and living hope, a light that has dawned, good news for those on whom God’s favour rests. Into this vale of tears, hope has come!
[This section is in note form:]
We are proclaiming Christ the Saviour. The great news: the proclamation:
Vv 10-12 – what we are doing today.
The good news: ‘A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord…is born this day.’
How are we to respond?
The shepherds capture it: active and eagerly to seek for him…and they worship him.
- Went ‘with haste’
- Told others
- Mary reflected…treasured it all.
Dale Davis also notes Mary’s response: There is a Call to be reflective.
“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
“If the shepherd’s response is active…Mary’s is mainly reflective: But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Mary tosses over in her mind what has happened, she mulls over it, chews upon it, seeks to put it all together. No doubt with plenty of conversations with Joseph down the track…plenty of time to talk in that long trip down to Egypt which would come soon (Matthew)!
But perhaps we have here in the comment by Luke about Mary: ‘a model of the careful, thinking disciple.’ Sometimes people don’t view Christians as ‘thinking’ people. But Mary here serves to remind us that not all insight and understanding of the truth is instant or immediate…rather (as Dale Davis comments) ‘it often comes with time and exposure and mulling over what God has shown us.’