Christmas Sermon: Psalm 96 Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20. Revd Tudor V Roberts December 2020
Luke Chapter 2 is quite surprising because in some ways Caesar Augustus, the manger, and the shepherds get more print space than the holy family. Why is this? Because Luke wants us to know that this story is completely reliable, and for those involved in this adventure in Bethlehem the sign of the manger was vital and reassured the Shepherds, Mary, and Joseph that they had all heard the Lord’s angels clearly and correctly for the angels spoke about a manger being the sign that this was where the Christ Child would be found.
Powerful people like to believe they are in control maybe that is what President Marcon felt when he shut the border between France and England inadvertently trapping his own and other EU drivers in Kent. He exercised his power, but it had consequences he had not anticipated. The EU and his own transport unions made him reverse his decision.
Caesar Augustus or Gaius Octavius was the adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar he had come to the throne in 27 BC and would reign until 14 AD with the whole of his Empire under what came to be known as the Pax Romana = Roman peace. Caesar Augustus, just as Julius Caesar his father had done, took upon himself the role of “God”, people worshiped his image and statue in the streets and at temples. He did what he wanted. He as Emperor of the whole Roman Empire lifted his finger in Rome and using a wax seal ordered a census of the entire Roman world. Miles away in Nazareth in Galilee a humble and deeply pious Jewish betrothed couple, Mary, and Joseph. obeyed and prepared to travel the 80 miles from their adopted town to Joseph’s place of birth to register for the census.. Onboard, as it were, in this journey was the most precious cargo in the entire Universe in Mary’s womb, she carried the child who already was the Son of God, Son of the most high, who came into being by miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. Here then was the upside-down kingdom, unwittingly Caesar had put into place circumstances for one far greater than he to be born in Bethlehem, and take the throne of David, as Mary had sung in her Magnificat in Luke 1:52 , ”He has brought down monarchs from their thrones and raised on high the lowly”. Luke wrote two volumes; his gospel Luke, and the book of Acts; Acts will end with the man who would be come one of his greatest followers, St Paul standing before the Roman Emperor in Rome and declaring that when it came to Lordship that in fact Jesus was Lord. Fast forward to 325 AD and even Rome, a previously pagan city, would have a Christian renewal, a time when many people even the Emperor Constantine would confess that this Christ carried by Mary was Lord and King and God forever. This was and is through the power of Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of his Holy Spirit The ultimate Empire strikes back but through God’s love being made known afresh, not through battle and conquest....
Now in this year, this “annus horrriblius” ( HM The Queen 1992) It is easy to feel matters are out of control; with leaders making decisions we have no influence over, and Covid 19, Brexit (albeit better news today 24/12/20), the Climate crisis, changes in power in the USA and elsewhere just happen. But first century Israel must have seemed similar, despite the so-called Pax Romana people lived under a form of military law through Herod, and local Jewish religious law through the authorities in Jerusalem, it must have seemed to people like Mary and Joseph that life was out of control, why should they travel 80 miles? But both were pious they believed that Yahweh ruled over the world. Imagine though in the later stages of your pregnancy of your first-born child that you have to move 80 miles to your fiancé’s family hometown of Bethlehem. Did Mary and Joseph know the scriptures of Micah 5 and Isaiah 9? as Jewish people they would have, and in addition ringing in their ears would have been the individual words of the Angel to them.
Mary was told Luke 1: 31 and 35 You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus he will be great and will be called the Son of the most high The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.
And Joseph was told by the angel: in Matthew 1:20
Joseph son of David do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.
So, both Joseph and Mary themselves steeped in Hebrew scripture must have a had a sure knowledge and a growing sense that indeed God was with them on the birth of this miraculous child just as God had been there at the conception
Luke does not tell us that Mary gave birth to Jesus the moment they arrived in Bethlehem; Luke simply says when they were there the time came for the baby to be born. Exodus chapter 1 mentions the Hebrew Midwives who delivered Israel’s babies, they were there when Moses was born, then as sure as bread is bread one of their 1st century equivalents would have been there at the birth of Jesus. We know this as the child was expertly wrapped in strips of cloth, swaddling clothes, this was a skilled job; Mary probably could not have done it, she would have been exhausted and Joseph as a man would probably not have been directly present at the birth of his child. There was no room for them in the Guest room of the house they were in, so the child was placed in a manger commonly found on the ground floor where the animals were kept every night to keep them and the family warm. Livestock were in effect a wonderful form of central heating. Happy and warm animals and happy and warm household.
The one who would as Isaiah said have the government on his shoulders and would be wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of peace for now had his shoulders tightly wrapped in swaddling clothes and lay cosy and safe in the hay or straw of a manger despite the difficulties it would have felt perfectly safe to Mary and Joseph.
That child in the manger “all eternity for now wrapped in swaddling cloths” was in the right place at the right time with the right people, and when the shepherds came hurrying from their sheep pastures it was just as the angel had told them, this news again would have reassured Joseph and Mary that they were on track, God had planned this birth at just that time and place and circumstance and so when the shepherds left they spread the word concerning all that they had heard and seen and it was the cause of much joy.
And so, it is to this day the fact that Jesus became incarnate was born amongst us pitched his tent amongst us, so God takes our humanity seriously, it means that any crisis everything that Covid 19 throws at us, Brexit lorries at Dover, your issues my issues; the Christmas story teaches us that we can know that God is on our case and if we let him, and accept him as Saviour, and obey him as Lord, he will infuse with Joy.
Like Mary and Joseph, we can dare to take God at his word though I am sure in those 9 months of waiting it must have been hard to go on believing.
Like the shepherds we can respond to Gods call and go and check out what God has announced, as someone once said isn’t it remarkable that so often God appears to people at their place of work (ask Him to speak into your family, your work, your life), Peter would be called by Jesus when out fishing, Matthew when out counting money, and You and I in lockdown he comes into our homes, no walls a barrier, and asks will you follow me?
Is he Savior? yes, he is, Is he Lord? yes, he is, is he wonderful Counsellor? yes, he is, is he prince of peace? yes, he is, read all 4 gospels all the evidence is overwhelming, and so is the witness of countless ordinary and extraordinary saints down the years of history since the day Christ made himself known in AD 30 or thereabouts .God is faithful He was in Bethlehem and he is now. May you know him this Christmastime. Amen.
who made this most holy night
to shine with the brightness of your one true light:
bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth,
to see the radiance of your heavenly glory,
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Saviour and our eternal God.