A Real Christmas
Luke 2:1 – 20
A Real Christmas
When does Christmas become real?
When does Christmas become real for you? We know that Christmas is coming, months out, don’t we? It seems that the supermarkets start selling mince pies, as soon as they take the Easter Eggs off the shelves,
But when does it become real, for you? When does it shift from, “At some point I’m going to have to get ready for Christmas”, to “It is Christmas!”? For some it might be when you go to the pageant., Which, seems like it’s getting held earlier every year. Next year I think they’re going to have it in February.
Maybe for others of us, it’s when holidays come. Perhaps it’s sitting down watching your favourite Christmas movies, which, depending on your generation might be,
Miracle on 34th Street,
The Polar Express, one of those.
No doubt for others it’s the food, maybe the day you order your Christmas prawns! Maybe it’s going to Carols by Glowstick, and you get to sing all your favourite carols! Perhaps wrapping presents, Perhaps it’s doing your Christmas shopping, that makes it real for you, which means for some of you, it was just an hour or so ago / 12 hours ago, that Christmas became real!
In our family, we’ve got lots of Christmas traditions, and one of those, is the setting up of the Fisher Price Nativity Scene at the beginning of December.
Mary, Joseph, Stable,
Innkeeper, shepherds, sheep,
Angels, wise men, camels,
And because we also have the Fisher Price Noah’s Ark set, our nativity also features 2 zebras,
And 2 elephants,
And Mr & Mrs Noah double as Simeon and Anna from Luke chapter 2.
But of course our nativity also has baby Jesus, and we bring him out and lay him in the plastic manger, on December 1 every year, and that’s the moment, when Christmas becomes real for me.
Christmas is about a real baby in a real place at a real time
Luke, the historian, and author of this part of the Bible we’ve heard read this evening / this morning, is really big on the issue of Christmas being real.
But not just, “real for me”,
But real full stop.
Christmas is about a real baby, in a real place, at a real time.
Look at how this episode opens.
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 his 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.
It was census time.
Being able tax people, being able to raise an army, depended on knowing how many people you had, so the Roman Empire were pretty much always conducting a census somewhere or another.
But as part of their strategy of world domination, the Romans allowed the various nations and ethnic groups they’d conquered, to take the census according to local customs.
So the Romans couldn’t care less where you were on census night, but for the Jewish people, that was a big deal, and so Jews travelled to their ancestral home to take the census. Hence Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem.
And as well as historical events, Luke identifies 2 historical figures, to locate this episode in time for us.
Caesar Augustus, Roman Emperor from around 27 BC, to 14 AD,
And Quirinius, a life-long public servant, governor of Syria, who died in AD 21.
Here’s two people.
We know when they lived, and we know geographically where they exercised their influence.
Luke’s first readers, some of them would have been alive during these events,
Others would have known people, who got counted in this census,
Some may have even been in Bethlehem during the census.
And Luke gives these other pieces of information, so they can be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was a real baby, in a real place, at a real time.
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 room for them in the inn.
Christmas is good news for all people
But just because an event happened in history doesn’t mean it’s necessarily significant, does it?
This day, for example, December 25th, on this day last year, 3 people were injured, when a barbeque exploded at a Christmas party in New South Wales.
Real historical event, but no real implications for us.
Luke shows us, these events of the first Christmas, are an entirely different category.
Christmas is good news, for all people.
Listen to what the angel says to these shepherds out in the fields. Verse 10, “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 Messiah the Lord.
The Fisher Price nativity set, presents a very sanitised, G-rated version of the birth of Jesus.
When you press down on the angel sitting on the roof of the stable, it plays silent night, and the shepherds are little, and cute, and rosy-cheeked.
But shepherds in the first century BC were not that.
They tended to be rough,
They were most often regarded as thieves,
In some cases, the only people lower than shepherds on the social ladder, were people with leprosy.
Maybe you’ve had someone come up to you once, and they said, “I’ve been busting to tell you something, ”
Well no one ever said that to shepherd.
They were really only valued for chops and sausages.
And yet it’s to these people, who were never the first to be told anything, that God’s messenger says, “I’ve got good news of great joy”
Some of us, I imagine, when we were born, were announced with a little notice in the paper,
These days it’s a text message, a Facebook update, and an Instagram photo, but it’s the same idea; Parents tell their friends and family, “the baby’s arrived”
But Jesus’ birth is announced to complete strangers.
There’s something about this baby that is so important, that even the shepherds on nightshift can benefit from this good news.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord
God’s messenger turns up, reflecting something of the glory of God in some visible, blazing way,
And the announcement that follows is no less spectacular.
Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you;, he is the Messiah, the Lord.
A saviour, The Messiah, the Lord.
Good news! Jesus is Saviour
So the first thing we’re told about this baby, the first reason that Christmas is good news for all people is because this baby is a saviour!
Historians tell us that at the time Luke is writing, that the Emperor, Caesar Augustus, was becoming known, as saviour, and in fact, they’ve discovered one inscription that calls him “saviour of the whole world.”
That’s the world that Luke’s writing into.
And so to call Jesus saviour, is to say that Caesar is not saviour.
But of course, to say “Jesus is saviour”, is to say what? It’s to say, people need saving isn’t it?
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a room, when a firefighter walks in, helmet, breathing apparatus, the whole lot!
It’s happened to me once, in church, one Sunday morning.
3 CFS trucks pull up in the car park, and in marches half the Country Fire Service!
That kind of makes a statement, doesn’t it?
The guy in the fireproof suit in the middle of the room, says you’ve got a problem, and I can do something about it.
And if the building is on fire, then the arrival of the CFS, the saviours, that is good news!
So what is the “being on fire equivalent”?
What is it that this saviour saves people from, that makes his arrival such good news?
If Caesar was saviour, well, he could go a long way to saving people from political uncertainty, from war. The famed pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, that’s what Caesar could offer.
But it doesn’t seem that that’s what God thinks our greatest need is!
If you have one of those blue Bibles there, look just over at the previous column, at verses 76 and 77 of chapter 1.
A man named Zechariah is speaking, and God has revealed to him, how his son, who we call John the Baptist, is going to prepare people, for what Jesus has come to do.
And he says, And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
Salvation from sins.
We perhaps tend to think of sin as a list of things that people do wrong,
In fact, if you came to Carols by Glowstick, and were unfortunate enough as probably all of us were, to find that members of a Mount Barker religious group had put a postcard, on the windscreen of your car, you would have read there, that sin is to lie,
That postcard, which I hope you put straight into the bin, said that your standing before God depends on, and I quote, “If you’ve been naughty, or nice.”
And I think they’ve mixed up God, with somebody else who comes at Christmas time!
Because the Bible’s definition of sin is much more simple.
Sin is simply living in the world that God made, but living as if there is no God.
It can be very polite,
And even if you reckon, that in the last week, or, perhaps the last day, maybe just the last hour, you might be pretty sure you haven’t lied, murdered, or committed adultery, if you’ve lived in God’s world, without honouring God as the rightful ruler of the world,
Putting him first in every decision,
Allowing him to be king, and not you,
Accepting that it’s God who determines right and wrong, and not you,
Then even in this last week, or day, or hour, you’ve lived as a sinner, a rebel against God, someone who, the Bible tells us, is deserving of death and separation from God forever.
If that’s you, and, let’s face it, that’s all of us, you need this saviour.
I need this saviour.
We all need, someone who can save us from our sin.
Tomorrow morning, let’s face it, some of you will open presents /
This morning, let’s face it, some of you opened presents
, to discover a gift that you really don’t need!
A gift that will go / has gone straight into the cupboard already, for re-gifting next Christmas!
Friends, a saviour, is not that kind of gift;, a useless gift that we neither need nor want.
Jesus is the saviour who changes everything.
Through his life, his death in our place, his taking the punishment we deserve, he changes our standing before God.
He changes what we have to look forward to beyond the grave,
He changes the way we can relate to each other,
He makes it possible for us to have hope for this life, and the next.
That’s what kind of saviour he is.
Christmas is good news, for all people, because Jesus is saviour.
There’s a line in Dostoevsky’s novel Demons, where Irina voices her disapproval of Marie having a baby, because of the appalling state of the world as she sees it, the way people treat each other, the whole lot. And she says, “first change the world, then have babies.”
Well God does kind of the opposite, doesn’t he?
Because of the state of the world, and the people in it, he sends a baby, in order to change the world.
Friends, I’ve got good news: Jesus is saviour!
Good news! Jesus is Messiah
Secondly, the angel says his message is good news, because Jesus is the Messiah. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Now, there was a royal birth this year, wasn’t there? Prince George was born in July, and is 3rd in line to the throne.
I had a quick look, this week, through the top 50 names in the line of succession, just to see if my name was there, which it wasn’t!
But when Prince George becomes king, in his coronation ceremony, he’ll be anointed with oil.
Messiah is a Hebrew word, that means anointed.
And Jewish kings too, were anointed with oil. But the people knew, one day, God would send a special king.
He wouldn’t just be an anointed one, but the anointed one; The Messiah.
And this Messiah, this special king, who would reign over God’s people, and look after them, deliver them from their enemies, this king would come, from the dynasty of King David. That’s what God had promised.
Do you remember why we’re in Bethlehem?
Because of the census, yes, but, because Joseph, verse 4, belonged to the house and line of David.
That promised king,
The king that God’s people have been waiting for for centuries, he’s arrived.
Have you ever heard that piece of career advice, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”?
Of course, you still have to work, don’t you! I don’t think the Leadership Team here would be too pleased if I said to them, “Well, I love my job, so I’m going to stay and home and never work again!”
No, the idea is, if it’s what you were made for, then there’s nothing better that you can do.
There’s nothing more human, more in line with who we are, than to submit to Jesus, God’s chosen king.
“He’s here!” The angel says.
That’s good news.
Good news! Jesus is Lord
The third reason the angel says that Christmas is good news for all people, is because Jesus is Lord.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord
Try to put out of your head, images of 10 lords a’leaping or anything like that.
Lord is the word used in the Greek Bible of the first century AD, to refer to God.
And this is how Luke consistently refers to God.
To speak of Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord, is say that not only has God sent the king he promised . but that God himself has come.
Jesus didn’t become God, through his good life,
He wasn’t rewarded for good deeds, by being given goodness, like in some of the myths of the ancient pagan gods.
Jesus was, as we sing in Silent Night, “Lord, at thy birth”
Actually though, even that first part of the good news, saviour, prepares us for this.
In Israel’s history, God was the saviour.
In fact, that’s how God is described, just up in chapter 1!
To say that this baby is saviour, is to say he;s going to do what God does.
If, Thursday / tomorrow morning, I get a card table, and a fold up chair, and I set myself up on the footpath, outside the Drs surgery here in Littlehampton.
And as people come in, feeling sick after eating uncooked turkey, or whatever it is, if I say, “Here you go, I’ve got a little prescription pad here, don’t bother going into the doctors, I will consult,
I’ll write you a prescription,
I’ll bill Medicare,
I’ll do the doctor’s job,
What will happen?
We’ll I’ll get arrested,
It’s a serious business to claim to be able to do someone else’s job like that!
But the claim that Jesus is saviour, like the Old Testament saviour, isn’t like me offering to write prescriptions, because he’s doing God’s job, sure, but he is God.
God come among his people.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, he tells us that, in fulfillment of another promise from God, this baby is also given the name, Immanuel, which means “God with us”.
If you, like me, were forced to study Shakespeare at school, you might remember reading Henry the fifth.
It’s centered around the Battle of Agincourt, during the Hundred Years’ War.
And it’s got some famous lines in it; It’s where we get Once more unto the breach, dear friends, And the well-known St Crispin’s Day speech.
But there’s a scene in which King Henry disguises himself, and wanders around the English camp the night before the battle, talking to his men.
He walks around, soliloquizing, lamenting, that he’s the king, but he’s also just a man, and really, what’s he’s trying to do, is find out what his troops are saying about him.
The king comes down off his throne, and, wraps himself in a borrowed coat, comes among the people, to find out what they think of him.
Do you see it’s like the Christmas story, but different?!
The Christmas story isn’t about the king coming to his people to find out what they think of him,
But the king coming as one of his people to let them know, what he thinks of them.
You are my people,
I love you,
You need a saviour.
But this king doesn’t lament that he’s just a man,
This king, is God, come among his people.
That’s good news!
`What do you do with Christmas?
So what do we do with Christmas?
Well there might be some, who like to do a bit of reinterpretation of the story, re-write history, so I don’t have to deal with Jesus as saviour, because that means I’ve got a problem with sin,
Or, I so don’t need to accept Jesus as Messiah, because that would mean submitting to Jesus as ruler,
And if I can skip over the bit about Jesus being Lord, well then I won’t be confronted with God come in the flesh.
Last week the New York Times wrote about how the Central Propaganda Department in China, was trying to re-write history, with respect the life of Nelson Mandela;, trying to play down his human rights advocacy, his fight for democracy,
Minimising his friendship with the Dalai Lama,
They banned discussion of South Africa’s close links with Taiwan.
And in place of all that, they promoted a picture of Nelson Mandela, as a revolutionary, in the same mould, as China’s founding leader, Mao Zedong.
They’re trying to say Mandela was Africa’s Chairman Mao.
It seems to us a clumsy attempt to re-write history, doesn’t it?
To make a person out to be, someone they never were!
And yet, so many people try and do that to Jesus, and it’s no less clumsy; “I’ll re-write history, I’ll imagine Jesus to be someone else, other than who he is, just so I don’t have to be challenged by him.”
Friends, please don’t be like that.
Others though maybe, we’re happy, at Christmas time, to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour, as Messiah, as Lord.
But, my Fisher Price Baby Jesus, what do we do with him?
We take him out at Christmas time,
We put them there, pride of place in our home, where everyone can see him,
But then after Christmas, we take Baby Jesus, we put him back in his box, and we hide him away in the cupboard,
We’ll take him out next year.
What a mistake it would be to do that with the real Jesus! Just whip him out at Christmas, and then hide him away for the other 11 months of the year.
Let’s not do that, either
We’ve heard the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, and the thing about these shepherds, they do something in response to this good news, don’t they.
They accept, that when God says, “I have good news that will cause great joy for all the people”, that it really is good news.
Verse 15, Let’s go to Bethlehem they say and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
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,
Sure, the birth of Jesus is good news for all people, but people have to accept it.
The shepherds are, ordinary, humble, people, and when God shares his good news with them, they accept it,
See, the shepherds in Luke are painted in a different category to Bethlehem, which has no room for Jesus,
Here are ordinary people, nothing special, but they hear, and believe, and accept.
And so they are the ones who benefit, from God’s good news.