When God Turns Up
Luke 2:1 – 20
When God turns up
Did God turn up?
You probably recall the royal birth this year, Princess Charlotte, heir to the British throne, born on the 2nd of May. When she was born, her arrival was announced in the same way as the birth of her brother, and her father, a notice placed on an easel, in the grounds of Buckingham palace. And thousands and thousands of people queued up to read it.
I wonder what kind of announcement, you imagine ought to accompany the birth of a ruler,
A king, or a saviour,
Or even, the birth of a god.
Let me read one to you. “the birthday of the god, was the beginning for the world, of the glad tidings that have come to men through him.”
It goes on to describe this god as, “savior for us and those who come after us”
He will “make war to cease”, “and bring peace.”
He is, “The saviour of the world”
Who is this saviour?,
This king who brings peace?
Well, we read about him in the part of the Bible written by the historian Luke,
He’s mentioned in chapter 2,
The god, king and saviour, whose birth is described in these lofty and glowing terms in those ancient inscriptions, is of course, none other than Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome from 27 BC to 14 AD.
That’s how Augustus’ birth was described. And later in his life, when he was, by far, the most powerful person in the world, it was in those terms, that Caesar Augustus decreed that his birth would be spoken about.
Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who himself was worshipped as a god in the empire, and so Augustus styled himself as “son of God”, and during his reign, he got people to refer to him as “Saviour” and “Lord.”
You might have seen our theme for Christmas this year is “When God turns up.”
But as far as Caesar was concerned, as far as the world at large was concerned, by about 6 BC, when these events in Luke chapter 2 were unfolding, the calendar people got the dates a bit wrong, but don’t let that worry you, by 6 BC, the world thought that God has already turned up.
His name is Caesar Augustus,
He lives in a palace in Rome.
He is, according to prevailing opinion, saviour, Lord, and God.
Which means, we have a problem.
Because Luke our historian, tells us in no uncertain terms in that section we read, that at this very first Christmas, God turned up.
And it wasn’t in a marble palace in Rome,
And it wasn’t in the form of a mighty military and political leader,
God turned up as a baby.
Have a listen again, to this birth announcement. Verse 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 Messiah the Lord.
Do you hear the direct challenge to the claims of Caesar?
Good news of great joy!
But before we go too far, let’s get our bearings, and make sure that we can have confidence, in these events that Luke, our historian is describing, because, let’s face it, these events are pretty far from the ordinary.
My birth was announced by a little ad in the births section of the Advertiser.
These days people do it by Facebook and Instagram,
Even Princess Charlotte, heir to the throne had just that notice stuck on an easel, “Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a daughter at 8.34am”
Clearly this announcement is somewhat more significant.
So let’s make sure we can trust what we read.
Luke, out author and historian, is very eager to make sure that we understand just how careful he has been in assembling his historical account. He makes a point about it at the beginning of chapter 1, and here at the beginning of chapter 2
God turns up, real and verifiable
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.
It was census time.
Now, we know about this. August 9th next year is census night, but for the Romans, they wanted to know how many people they had, so they knew how much tax they could collect, and who they could press into their army. So the Romans pretty much always conducting a census somewhere or another.
But unlike our census next year where 2 thirds of our population, 15 million of us, are expected to complete the census online, 2000 years ago it was a bit more involved, verse 4, 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.
The Romans couldn’t really care less where you were on Census night, they would have been happy with the online option, but for Jewish people, where you were at this moment mattered, and so the Jews would always travel to their ancestral home to take the census. Hence Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem, the town of David, because Joseph belonged to the house and line of David.
And to remove any doubt, that might creep into our minds because of this very out of the ordinary angelic appearance,
Lest we be tempted to think that this is not real, somehow divorced from reality, Luke identifies 2 real historical figures, to help pinpoint this event in history.
Caesar Augustus, who we’ve mentioned, the one who thought of himself as , saviour and lord, the son of God.
He was Emperor from around 27 BC, to 14 AD,
And Quirinius, governor of Syria, who we know died in AD 21.
Yes, there’s out of ordinary here!
But there’s a lot that’s very ordinary, and verifiable.
Luke’s first readers, some of them would have been counted during this census,
Lots of them would remember Quirinius, like we remember Bob Hawke, or some other leader.
Some of Luke’s readers may have even been in Bethlehem during this census.
When God turns up, it’s not something done in a corner, that was known or accessible only to a few,
It is real and verifiable.
When God turns up it’s good news for all people
But let’s come back to the announcement, because Luke, our historian wants us to know, that when God turns up, it’s good news, for all people.
Bethlehem was only 8 kilometres from the much bigger city of Jerusalem, and so the fields around Bethlehem were a good place for shepherds to graze their flocks which would later be sold in the city.
And so out in these fields, on this night, when God turned up, some shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks at night, as they did, I’m sure, every other night.
But this night was different!
Verse 9, An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified
Well, no surprise there!
But maybe you think, “hang on, I thought we were dealing with fact, and historical evidence, and now you’re telling me that angels appeared in the sky?!”
But remember, Luke our historian wants us to believe that Christmas is about God , turning up.
And so ff we, like most Australians, believe in God,
74 percent of Australians say they believe in God,
If God is going to turn up in history,
And if we’re at least open to the possibility of the existence of God, and possibility that God might, at some point, break into his world,
We’d have to imagine that that event is going to be accompanied by something out of the ordinary, wouldn’t we?
If the God who made everything, turns up, right in the middle of everything that he made, we should expect some things that we don’t see every day.
Sometimes I meet people who say to me, “I don’t believe in God, because there’s no evidence.” And sometimes those very same people say to me about this kind of event, “You can’t expect me to believe in miracles and angels and stuff!”
Well, you can’t have it both ways!
If you want God to give you evidence, then make sure you pay attention to the evidence when he gives it.
So assuming, that if God ever did turn up in the world, this is the exact sort of thing we’d expect to see, have a 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.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that at our home, we have the Fisher Price nativity set,
And because we also have the Fisher Price Noah’s Ark set, our Nativity also includes 2 elephants,
2 peacocks, and 2 zebras!
But in the Fisher Price nativity set, the shepherds are little, and cute, and rosy-cheeked, but in reality, Middle Eastern shepherds in the first century AD were not at all like that.
They tended to live rough
They were often regarded as thieves,
In some cases, the only people lower than shepherds on the social ladder, were people with leprosy.
To most people, shepherds were only valued, for what they could provide;, sausages.
Shepherds were never the first people to know anything. In fact they were much more likely to be the last people to know anything significant that was going on.
And yet it’s to these people, that God’s messenger says, “I’ve got good news that will cause great joy”
You probably heard the news a couple of weeks ago that Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, announced the birth of their daughter, and used the birth announcement to reveal that they’re going to give away 99% of their Facebook shares.
At current market value, the birth of this daughter signals a gift of about 45 billion US dollars!
That sounds like it’s going to be good news to a lot of people!
But there’s something about this baby that is so significant, that his arrival is good news even for the shepherds on nightshift.
God has turned up!
And notice, that the announcement’s not made to religious people in a temple,
It’s not made to the rich and powerful in a palace,
The announcement is not made to good people, in a, in a school building!
It’s made to very , ordinary people, who have nothing to offer to God.
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord
Good news! Jesus is Saviour
Now, maybe you are one of those 74% of Australians who believe in God, but perhaps you’re not entirely convinced that God turning up, is such good news!
Someone who knows everything you’ve ever done,
Every thought you’ve ever had,
And then of course there’s the awkward question of, what would God expect of you, and, have you lived up to those expectations?
No, there might be some of us, who are not quite sure that God turning up is good news, but Luke our historian is convinced that it is!
The first reason that he thinks that God turning up is such great news, is because this baby is a saviour!
Again, remember that Caesar liked to think of himself as saviour?! “Saviour of the whole world” is what he’d put on his business card
And so to call Jesus , saviour, is to say that Caesar is not saviour.
But of course also, to say “Jesus is saviour”, is to say what? It’s to say, people need saving isn’t it?
I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that here at Cornerstone they have a couple of those automatic defibrillators. So if your heart stops, someone can just whip it out, put the paddles on you and zap your heart back into rhythm.
And the person who does that to you, we’d call your saviour. They’ve saved you from sudden cardiac arrest!
So what is the equivalent here of sudden cardiac arrest?
What is it that this saviour saves people from, that makes his arrival such good news?
Caesar saved people from political uncertainty, from war, from international and domestic troubles. The famed pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, that’s what Caesar could offer.
But if a baby is saviour, it doesn’t look like all that other stuff is what God thinks we need saving from.
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, because God has revealed to him, how his son, who today we call John the Baptist, how John is going to prepare people, for this saving that Jesus is going to do.
And he says, verse 76, 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,
This salvation, is salvation from sins.
We perhaps tend to think of sin as a list of things that people do that they, ought not do.
And some of you might remember at our Carols by Glowstick a few years ago, members of local religious group put flyers on the windscreens of all of our cars while we were inside singing,
And on their little advertisement, it said,
To sin is to lie,
To commit adultery,
To commit murder,
They even said, that your standing before God depends on, and I quote, “If you’ve been naughty, or nice.”
And I thought, you’ve confused God, with somebody else who comes at Christmas time!
Because, friends, 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.
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, or offloading on ebay.
I read an article about the worst kind of Christmas gifts!
The teenage boy who received the pregnancy handbook “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”
A Jewish woman being given a porcelain nativity scene.
One man received, one slipper.
And a lady who received a book on etiquette, from her mother-in-law.
Friends, a saviour, is not that kind of gift;, a useless gift that we neither need nor want.
Jesus is the saviour we need.
And he’s 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.
Christmas is good news, for all people, because Jesus is saviour.
There’s a line in Dostoevsky’s novel Demons, where Irina is annoyed that Marie is having a baby, because she thinks the world’s in a terrible state, the way people treat each other, all of that. And so she says to Marie, “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.
Christmas is great news, because 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.
One day little Princess Charlotte’s big brother, Prince George will become king, and when he does, in his coronation ceremony, he’ll be anointed with oil.
That’s what the Hebrew word Messiah means.
It just means anointed.
It’s the same as the word “Christ.”
And so the Messiah, is the king that God would anoint, and send to his people.
God had been promising for centuries, that the Messiah would come.
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?
For 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 a day in my life!”
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.
See, submitting to Jesus as king, isn’t about kissing my life goodbye, but actually getting the life that I was created for.
God’s king, has arrived.
Good news! Jesus is God who turns up
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
Now, this takes us back to where we started.
Here’s how we can be sure, that Jesus isn’t just a saviour,
He’s not just God’s king, the Messiah.
Jesus is God, who turns up.
the Lord is the phrase used in Bible of the first century AD when Luke was writing, to refer to God.
And this is how Luke consistently talks, when he refers to God.
Look just up in verse 9, we see it twice in that one verse.
To speak of the Lord, is to speak of God.
So to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, is to say that not only has God sent the saviour we need,
Not only has God sent the king he promised, but that God himself has turned up.
At this moment, God has turned up.
God has entered his creation, as a baby.
God is wrapped in strips of cloth, looking up at the stars that he made.
Silent night, the Christmas carol, probably a favourite carol of some here, Bing Crosby’s version is the 3rd best selling single of all time!
But in 1818, when Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics in German, he got this exactly right, “Jesus in deiner Geburt!”
“Jesus, Lord at thy birth”
And actually, even that first part of the angel’s good news, a saviour has been born, prepares us for this.
In Israel’s history, God was the saviour.
In fact, that’s exactly how God is described, just a few lines up in Luke chapter 1!
To say that this baby is saviour, is to say he’s going to do , God’s job, what God does.
I don’t know if you’ve had reason to notice, but Kmart have recently changed their staff uniform, so now they’re all wearing a blue and white checked shirt.
Now I have a blue and white checked shirt, remarkably similar to the Kmart pattern! And so a couple of times, I’ve gone into Kmart, wearing my blue and white checked shirt,
And, yes, you guessed it, people come up to me, and ask me for assistance!
I try and be very, very helpful!
But how do you think it would go down, if I start marking down prices, giving away freebies,
I get on the PA, “Good afternoon shoppers, it’s Clayton here from Kmart, We’ve got a special deal for you today. I’m going to be giving away free stock off our shelves!
If you can carry it out of the store, you can have it!
Happy Christmas from Kmart!”
Now, it’s not going to be too long before they wrestle the microphone from my hands, is it?
I don’t have that authority!
But the claim that Jesus is saviour, like the Old Testament saviour, sounds a bit like that! It sounds like he’s come to do things, that an ordinary person as no authority to do!
But Jesus is no ordinary person,
He has the authority,
He is, the God who turns up.
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 the play, where King Henry disguises himself, and wanders around the English camp the night before the battle, talking to his men.
He walks around in disguise, because he wants to find out what his troops are saying about him.
The king comes down off his throne, and, wraps himself in a borrowed coat, to find out what his people think of him.
Do you see it’s like the Christmas story, but different?!
Christmas 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.
What do you do about the God who turns up?
So what do we do about this God who turns up?
That automatic defibrillator, it’s great if you’re in cardiac arrest.
But if you think you’re perfectly healthy, and someone runs up to you, slaps the paddles on your chest and yells “clear!”, you’d be in for a bit of a shock, wouldn’t you! Do you see what I did there?!
Actually you’d probably run the other way!
If you realise your need for it, your extremely grateful that it’s there,
But if you don’t think you need it, you want to keep it at a safe distance!
I wonder, some of us, if that’s what we’re like when it comes to the God who turns up.
A king! A Saviour! and we run the other way.
But remember that angel, the birth of a saviour is not just good news for bad people,
Not just good news for dirty shepherds,
good news, great joy, for all the people
Do you see our need?
Do you see your need?
There’s another thing though.
I was reading up on the defibrillators a couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing, and it seems some people have been caught, because the defibrillators often come in a red case,
But you can also buy, just the case.
And just the case, costs 144 dollars!
People have handed over their money, thinking they’re getting the actual unit, but all they’re getting is the case,
It seems to me that that’s a danger for some of us with Christmas.
See, I love , everything about Christmas.
Snow, you know, the whole lot!
But friends, it’s very easy to get caught up in the wrapping, only to realise, too late, that that’s all we’ve got, and we’ve missed out on the real deal;,
The God who turns up.
So friends, I’d love, this Christmas, if we responded to the God who turns up, just like these shepherds.
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, see there, “the Lord”, it’s form God’s own mouth, 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.
Bethlehem, well there was no room for Jesus, that’s why he was out in the barn!
But the shepherds, ordinary people, as ordinary as you could get, but they hear, and believe, and accept.
And so they are the ones who benefit, from God’s good news.
God turned up.