Today we now are under a week away from the day we celebrate our Lord’s birth. Christmas Day is just 6 days away. If you’ve been doing any kind of Advent countdown the anticipation has and will keep building up right to Christmas Eve.
I do want to invite you Friday Night to Christmas Eve candlelight service at 3:00 and 4:30. It will be a beautiful night reflecting on the treasure of Christ. That gift is what all of our Christmas Gifts remind us of.
But, today — we get to look at the circumstances of that gifts arrival — And it wasn’t by FedEx or UPS. Which reminds of me of a meme I’ve seen the last couple years around this time… Or this one… Both of these are getting to our human tendency of thinking we are actually in control.
But the epitome of this small narrative of Jesus’ birth shows otherwise— That God is the one who has been in command the entire time — Despite all the outward appearances that look as if God has forgotten His people. His promise of a Savior.
Once again — we look at this question:
What are we to behold?
What are we to pay attention to in this small narrative that could be easily skipped over but verses 6 &7. Let’s watch God’s hand moving throughout this passage — to bring about the promise that has had centuries filled of people anxiously awaiting His arrival. The Savior wasn’t delayed — He wasn’t lost in transition — He came exactly as God intended — when God intended.
Remember Luke is giving an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life. So he begins with the context.
A Royal Family
“In those days” — Luke is obviously reflecting back from the eye witness accounts that he’s compiled. This was a historical look back. As I read this over and over — I kept hearing my grandpa or older relatives tell me stories, in those days….it always involved walking uphill both ways…. Now, I’ve grown up in the Midwest my whole life — with these stories, you’d think we’d have a much mountainous landscape — but its pretty flat farm ground? Anyways — Luke gives us direct historical marker, Caesar Augustus — He was the first and one of the most important Kings of the ancient roman empire.
He was the emperor that united the lands under his conquering rule. He set off the Pax Romana — The Peace of Rome — which was fairly stable for about 200 years. Luke is writing this to Theophilus to which he knows his reader would have immediate context of this Caesar — He was emperor from 27 BC to 14AD. As Caesar— he decrees the WHOLE world should be registered. This was a common practice of Kings wanting to know who is in their kingdom in order to rightly tax the people. In Caesar’s estimation — all the land he set foot on what his — therefore the whole world was under his rule. Caesar and Jack Dawson (Played by Leonardo DiCaprio) from Titanic thought they were “King of the World”
Then we see more of this reach of the Roman government by placing Quirinius as the Governor of the region — Showing that God’s people are not in control of themselves.
Then — verse 4 peaks our attention. Joseph is in the family of David — Return to the ancestral village was not abnormal — so Joseph and Mary are going to make another 100-mile or so trip from Nazareth to David’s City.
One of the commentators noted that Luke specifically names Bethlehem because many readers would think David’s city was the royal seat — Jerusalem . No — David was from another little insignificant town— Bethlehem. But, there is significance with the link to David.
Within these first few verses — we should be taking note of all the royalty that is being spoken about —Caesar — Ruler of all the Roman Empire — His world was vast — most of modern Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean land.
Then we have this Governor mentioned — he ruled all of the Syrian Provence. Then there is Joseph — betrothed to a woman pregnant but not with his child. Returning to the birthplace of his ancestor who was the greatest King of Israel. The one a special covenant or promise was made — a king will come from your family that will rule for eternity. There is a lot of power language being thrown around here.
Which brings us to the first point:
We are to behold the royal implications around this promised child.
He’s being born in the ancestral home of the great King David. And yet — look at this juxtaposition — The earthly king of “the world” is exerting his force and power over—The actual eternal king of the universe. The One within Mary on this journey to Bethlehem — supersedes any of the power and royalty that Luke has just named.
But this narrative that Luke paints wants us to see there are royal implications surrounding this promised baby. Gabriel already proclaimed that he would be King forever — Yet, Caesar is making their little family travel 100 miles to be counted for tax purposes.
Let’s dig in more to this location of the birth.
The location of the birth prophesied
So we’re looking at this insignificant town — insignificant in the world’s eyes — just a little town that King David grew up in. If they had billboards, they would have had the “King David’s Hometown” proudly on display. But it would have just been understood throughout the Jewish culture — and Jerusalem would have had much greater clout his Royal seat of power.
The other interesting thing is that more than likely Joseph was the only one needed to actually register. He was the head of the house — he would have been the one that actually paid the tax. Yet, Mary makes this long journey with Joseph. We can only speculate as to why — but can see something else happening? It’s by God’s direction — whether we read the audible words or not — we know that God’s hand is moving in this birth.
We’ve already been confronted by the fact that it was deemed that this baby would be born outside human means, That Mary was chosen by God for this to happen — that it WILL indeed happen. Well, why would God desire Mary to go to Bethlehem with Joseph? It was in our first Advent Candle reading:
2 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,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
5 And he shall be their peace.
It has been long foretold — Bethlehem would be the place! The one coming from ancient days! Ancient as in — before the beginning — Creator Himself!
We may not know the human circumstances of Mary going to Bethlehem with Joseph, but we can easily see that it is being directed that way by God.
Look at God’s hand in this again — To enact His purposes — He moves a world empire — God planned to use Augustus’ decree to fulfill His Will! It’s almost as if God is chuckling at Caesar — preening himself — declaring his own glory of his empire — And God’s like yeah — I planned for you to do that — so that I would receive more glory! God’s like — Look what I had Isaiah tell Ahaz:
“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Look this prophecy is pointing to two things — that coincide with our narrative: House of David! — Bethlehem where the House of David was born! The Eternal King will come from the House of David as promised to David by God. The virgin will give birth — he will be Immanuel — God with us!
So many times I take for granted the little town of Bethlehem — As just a minor detail of the Christmas Story. However, this is something to Behold. That God is able to move heaven and earth — in this case specifically the people of the earth to fulfill His will!
So point 2 is:
We are to behold the prophetic fulfillment of the birth location of Jesus.
Don’t skip over it — God acted to make this happen as He had spoken through His prophets of old. This is not just another baby. This is one that God would Sovereignly move empires to see His purposes enacted. That is something exciting — Behold! Look at it!
Next we come to one of the most oft quoted parts of the birth narrative.
Born in Humility
I think we should see the sweet tenderness of this action. A mother elated with her first-born — softly wrapping Him in fabric to keep Him warm and cozy. Then we are hit with the realization that it was a manger he was laid. Which has become so culturally normative of the story that it looks as it should, baby Jesus in a wooden feeding trough. A feed trough…. Get that. I’m not sure how many of you have been around farms, but have you seen the areas around where cattle eat their hay or silage…. Let’s just say they don’t have the best manners — slobber and their body rubbing up against it. I mean not the picture of our perfectly sanitized bassinets at the hospital…
We have beautiful representations of this verse of the nativity scene. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger with the animals all around? Scholars have debated for years what this “stable” was like. Was it a cave — was it just lean-to on a side of a building — Was it a house that was just understood as having animals inside?
We don’t know — The point that Luke is making is that there was no room — no room fit for the royalty that was just born. He is showing the circumstance of the surroundings. We must think — why? Why was there no room? Were they late to arrive? She’s obviously in her last trimester traveling 100 miles. Were they looked down upon? This is relation— yet she is pregnant before marriage. Were they too poor to afford something better? Sleeping with the animals does not scream abundance of resources.
Yet again, we must conclude— The God who directed them having Jesus at this location, must have directed this lowly circumstance. Again — look at the contrast — Caesar living in luxury — King David himself lived in luxury as king.
And now — Jesus — the King that Isaiah says:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
Royal Implications — Fulfillment of Prophecy — Humility. Everything about this birth is antithetical to human standard of Kingship. Insignificant parents — Scandalous, despised even. Insignificant town — Other than yesteryear’s famous King’s hometown. Insignificant accommodations — only fit for livestock. Yet again — God takes the insignificant and fulfills His promises. His greatest promise — a Savior — to save us from our greatest enemy — our own sin.
This is where we find our Lord and Savior making His appearance. Of lowly stature.
We are to behold the humility of Jesus’ birth.
Don’t let the circumstance be lost through repetition of the story and nativity scenes on our coffee tables. Jesus — the Word made flesh — God with us. Chose to be born in circumstances that were completely opposite of our understanding of Royalty.
Yet, there is such human tenderness in this scene that should not be lost on us. Mary gave birth — overshadowed by the Holy Spirit —again, God yet Man.
Think of this connection: Greggory of Nazianus
“He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of the grave.”
A baby born to die. That is an incredible story to Behold indeed.
Two things I think we need to take from this:
Take away – 1
We must see and acknowledge God’s actions throughout the events of the world.
Take away – 2
We must recognize and imitate the humility of our Savior’s arrival.
These are two important elements that lead us to the Gospel:
First, are you humble enough to recognize your need for a Savior? Is there room for Him in your life? Or is your life consumed by your own desires and passions?
And second — God’s hand is willing to move heaven and earth to make away for His Son to be our Savior — To pay the price we deserve to pay. Recognize your need — and repent — turn from those old ways!
Trust and Believe that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection secure salvation— yours, mine, all who trust Him!
This is good news indeed. This we Behold. God’s Hand moving — to fulfill and prepare room in the most humble places. Our dirty, lowly hearts. Praise God that He makes all things new!