Text: Luke 2: 1- 20
Proposition: The timing, place and way that Jesus was born has the roughness of manger wood and yet the precision of a divine surgeon.
Introduction: There are many times through out Scripture when it seems that God has acted in a completely random kind of way and yet as we watch the outcome we see a surgical precision in what He does. Take for instance the example of Moses. Because the Hebrew population was rapidly increasing Pharaoh sends out an edict that all the male children should be put to death. In an act of extreme desperation Moses’ mother puts her child in a basket and sends him adrift in Nile River. You know how the story turns out, Moses is rescued by of all people, Pharaoh’s daughter. He receives the education and military training that would eventually be needed to lead over two million people on a campaign through the desert that would last for forty years. Out of what seems chaos and haphazard circumstance God accomplishes His will with surgical precision. Many have looked at the account of Moses being put adrift in a basket as a type or picture of what the birth of Jesus would one day be like. The national saviour of Israel becomes a shadow of the global Saviour of the world with those same characteristics of a chaotic beginning that has a perfect design inherent in it. Have a look again at the account of Christ’s birth, see the random become precision in the Christmas narrative. Turn with me to Luke 2: 1-20.
I. One of the Hardest Things When Trying to Understand God Is His Timing.
It says in verse 1 that, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” When we recount the birth of Christ we rarely mention this person called Caesar Augustus. He was born with the name Octavian and his grandmother was the sister of Julius Caesar. In 45 BC Julius Caesar adopted Octavian. Within a year Caesar was assassinated and Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus took over the empire. Lepidus was soon removed with force. In 31 BC Octavian and Antony had their final battle. With the help of Cleopatra, Mark Antony gathered a force of over 100,000 infantry, 500 ships and 12,000 cavalry. Octavian’s forces were slightly smaller yet he defeated Mark Antony and took control of the entire Roman empire. It’s now 27 BC, Octavian arranged for the Roman Senate to grant him the title of ‘Augustus’ Caesar, ‘Exalted’ Caesar. For the next thirty years Augustus Caesar, a talented administrator, built up the Roman empire. In about 4AD he established a census and a decree was sent out to have all the males return to their home towns to register and pay homage to Augustus Caesar. That simple edict by Octavian created chaos all over the empire, including Judea. It meant that Joseph the carpenter had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be enumerated. The now obvious pregnancy of Mary, a betrothed woman pregnant with a child that wasn’t her husbands, meant that Joseph would take Mary with him on this 80 mile journey. God’s timing is so hard to understand because we can’t see what He sees. Christ would be born in Bethlehem, just as predicted in Micah 5:2, but it would mean the upheaval and chaos for the entire Roman world. God would move heaven and earth to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem!
II. The Place That God Chooses Is Always Significant To What He Does.
We know this is true throughout Scripture, from Abraham taking his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah as a sacrifice, the place that we would one day call the Temple Mount to the very place of Israel itself. This tiny piece of land called Israel is about 40 miles wide and 120 miles long, 1/19th the size of California, it’s surrounded by 22 hostile Arab/Islamic dictatorships 640 times her size, with 60 times greater population. In the peculiarity of Israel God chooses Bethlehem to be the place that the Messiah of all mankind should be born. He was Incarnated or conceived in Nazareth, a place even the Jews treated with considerable contempt. Now He is to be born in Bethlehem, the ‘City of Bread’ is what the name means. Jesus Christ, the ‘Bread of Life’ is born in Bethlehem, in a town flooded with homecoming sons for the census. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph arrived at night or day, we don’t know if they travelled by donkey or walked, we don’t know if Joseph had help in delivering the child from one of the women in the village but we do know that the Child once born was placed in a feeding trough as the only safe place to nestle Him. Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel and was told this Child would be called the Son of the Most High. Joseph was also visited by an angel in a dream and told that the Child that Mary carried was ‘a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." My point is that both Joseph and Mary knew that God was doing something wonderful but where He was doing it seemed to be haphazard, chaotic and even random, a stable near an inn in a crowed town and the only place to lay the Child…a manger. Sometimes when we think of the Christmas story we can forget that our lives are not that different. His timing in our lives can sometimes seem so off, the place where we are can seem so confused, unexpected, frustrating and even at times dangerous. But if I am seeking the Lord, if I walk in the understanding of Scripture, if I live by faith in the person of Jesus Christ and in the perfect work He accomplished for us at the cross of Calvary, then His timing is never late, His place never without purpose. The place that God chooses to do what He does is always significant because His plan is not a partial plan, it’s an encompassing plan that considers birth and death, home and highway, head and heart.
III. The Way of God Draws Those Who Are Outside, Inside.
God seems to love using irony. The shepherds just outside of Bethlehem were likely raising lambs for the Temple sacrifice and yet soon they would be standing before the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Shepherds were outcasts and generally distrusted and yet into their hands God first entrusts the great news of Christ’s birth. The very sign that was meant to shock and confirm the angels message was something that even shepherds wouldn’t have ever done, put a new born into a feeding trough. The Child was wrapped in swaddling cloths, His little arms bound close to His side, it was as though the swaddling cloths were like His humanity trying to contain His deity, Omnipotent God wrapped in ragged strips of cloth.
The Christmas story is made up of two key pieces, the wonder of the Incarnation of Christ now born into the poorest of settings and the people that are yet to discover Him. The birth of Christ is not to be done in an anonymity, it was for the people of all the world that He came. The representatives of all those people, even you and I, are this rag tag group we call the Shepherds. They were doing what they always did, they took care of what they owned. They were on the night shift, not really expecting much but being there because they had to. Into that dark night comes brilliance, it’s called the glory of the Lord. This angel had just come from the very presence of God and his appearance was both compelling and terrifying. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” So many times it’s exactly like that, God interrupting the night shift with good tidings of great joy. That’s probably the simplest definition of what the gospel is, “good tidings of great joy”. The great, great, news is that a Savior has been born for us. Did those Shepherds somehow deserve that Savior, not at all. Did they need to get cleaned up before they came to Him, maybe change their clothes, put on a little after shave to cover up that ‘eau du Sheep’ fragrance that permeated all of who they were? No, you don’t need to get cleaned up to go and see Christ, you go because it’s the greatest thing that you’ve always been hoping for, Someone who loves you enough to die for you! The angel even gives them a sign, this is how you will know this is for real, you’ll find something where it shouldn’t be, you’ll see Someone who will be your Shepherd, in a manger, in swaddling cloths…a baby, Christ the Lord! Was it that the poverty of the manger perfectly matched the poverty of the Incarnation, was it that this was the perfect group to receive this message because they didn’t debate it, they didn’t wait till morning, they received what was said with faith and then went and received what was promised. Perhaps all heaven watched and held their breath to see how this would go and then they could contain themselves no more. Suddenly there was a multitude of angels, an even more blinding brilliance and all saying and yet singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” We don’t know if that lasted for 2 minutes or 20 but when the angels had disappeared the shepherds did what we are meant to do. Those who are outside heard the good news and came and searched and found and were now inside. That’s the gospel, the peace that God brings to the outside, to be inside in Christ.