In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 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.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The picture above is the site in Bethlehem where Jesus was reportedly born. It is in a cave inside the fortress-like Church of the Nativity. Kelli and I went there in 2008. Why was Jesus’ birth, ‘News of Great Joy?’ We have seen the birth of Jesus replayed again and again. We have grown so familiar with it that we don’t miss it when it’s gone. We see more public displays of Santa Claus and Rudolf than we do of Jesus. This last Christmas did the family huddle around the T.V. to watch Elf or did they watch some retelling of the Nativity Story? I am not trying to shame anyone, I am trying to ask where the magic of Christmas has gone? We need to believe in Santa and sing his sleigh into the air according to Elf, but what if no-one really contemplates the miracle of Jesus’ birth?
This is why the whole narrative of Scripture is important. When I taught at a summer camp in Wauconda, I used a curriculum which taught the narrative of the whole Bible. My coworkers were impatient to get the children saved. “Skip to Jesus!” they would say. However, what kind of Jesus? Jesus without context becomes a Jesus of our own choosing. If you travel through the Old Testament with the Jewish people you see the need for the Messiah. You see the foreshadowing of the coming king. If you read intertestamental history, you see the years of silence and waiting … waiting … waiting. Then suddenly angels appear and start announcing his birth to those who will make preparations (Jesus’ family) and those who will be witnesses (shepherds and magi). This is not the beginning of the story, it is the beginning of this chapter in God’s story. It is the chapter of redemption. Redemption is no source of joy to those who do not feel like they need to be saved, but to those like the Israelites who were in literal and spiritual captivity, there is no more important story. It is frightening to behold an angel, they can bring news of God’s judgment, but God was reaching down in mercy to a confused and mixed-up world. God’s grace was lavished on shepherds who were neither the highest nor the lowest in society. They have access to the most significant figure in history and they find him in a barn, stable, or cave where the animals are kept. Because Christmas has become so familiar to us, the sight of a baby cradled in a manger is no shock to us. However, it was highly unusual, just as no mother today would choose to have a baby in a barn and put them in the straw to sleep.
Become familiar with the slow unfolding of God’s plan in the Old Testament. Ponder 400 years of silence. Then let news of Jesus’ birth break out of the night sky with a fearsome announcement and a strange location. Then allow the joy and relief of those who understand the significance of this event warm your heart today as if it was Christmas. God cares. God is present. God is with us.
We know that Easter and Christmas are significant times to remember. However, our familiarity breeds contempt. We take for granted the most miraculous events. Jesus, let us grasp more of the wonder of what happened. Maybe now the festival of Christmas is over, we can reflect on Philippians 2 and Luke 2 and sense more of the miracle of the birth of God into the limitations of humanity.
- What did Caesar agree?
- Where was Jesus born?
- Why have shepherds as witnesses?
- How do you respond when you read of Jesus’ birth?
- How do you keep the birth of Jesus as news of great joy?