CHRIST IS CHRISTMAS
Luke 2:1-14 k.v. 10-11
Through last week’s message in Luke chapter 1, Dr. Jason helped us learn about the blameless life of a Godly couple in Zechariah and Elizabeth. Their extremely long wait for a child highlighted the importance to never give up and to never lose hope. We also discovered that faithfulness can sometimes take time before we can see our prayer topics come into fruition. Additionally, we were reminded that God still listens to our prayers even when we suffer from our unbelief. Lastly, God revealed that no matter the sufferings, God can take away our disgrace and provide us with an abundance of grace as it was shown to Elizabeth when she went from being childless to giving birth to John the Baptist. In today’s message, I will have the honor to introduce you to the birth of Christ Jesus and what his birth signifies in respects to our Christmas celebration. My message has 3 parts.
Part I. The gathering of Christmas (verses 1-5)
Luke begins by casually presenting a decree that was ordered by a man name, Caesar Augustus. As important of a ruler as he was in Roman history, Luke did not care much to provide the reader with Augustus’s background. So, that is where I come in. According to historian scholars, Military Commander & Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus was one of the most successful emperors who reigned for 45 years. He was the grand-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. And after Julius was assassinated, Augustus took over as the new leader. He is recorded as winning many battles and defeating big name rivals. The name Augustus was honored by the Roman Senate which means ‘reverend,’ ‘the exalted,’ or ‘the venerable,’ in recognition of his efforts to restore order after the Roman civil war. Moreover, he is described as a benevolent dictator who brought peace and prosperity and established order and stability to the Roman world. He was a daring leader who knew how to influence people and his reign was marked by innovation. He also worshiped the pagan gods, and even allowed himself to be worshiped as a living god. This might explain why Luke did not waste time in elaborating on the man’s history.
As a result, Luke simply mentions in verse 1 that this guy name Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman World. While many theories exist on why this decree was ordered, one common reason was simply to tax Roman citizens just like we get taxed today. “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register,” Luke says in verse 2-3.
Now, while Luke does not provide its readers with any background information regarding these events, it is worth mentioning the magnitude of traffic Rome had to endure during the days of registry. To put things into perspective, according to United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV), a Roman history online source, “The population of the world during the time of Augustus was considered to be between 200 to 300 million people. The population of the early empire under Augustus was about 45 million or roughly 15% of the world’s population. And of this 45 million, Augustus declared nearly 4.5 million people including women and children under his care. These numbers, if fairly accurate, offers us a good picture of what the census registration looked like. So, imagine 4.5 million people traveling back to their place of origin?
Among those registering were Joseph and Mary. Even though they were residing in Nazareth (at that time), they had to travel back to Bethlehem. Luke tells us so in verses 4-5. “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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” The more I carefully read, the quicker I realized that Luke is a selective writer. Not only does he minimize Augustus and who he was, Luke skips the traveling of millions of Roman citizens and he also fast forwarded Joseph’s and Mary’s challenging journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
This too is also worth mentioning because according to the timeline, Mary was on her 39th week of pregnancy (a full pregnancy duration lasts for 40 weeks or 280 days). Also, according to google, the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is approx. 90 miles. And, since there is no mentioning of a donkey, we can assume that Joseph and Mary walked. And, in walking distance it can take roughly 4 to 7 days of traveling. Not to mention that in a desert environment, it gets very hot during the day, and very cold during the night.
Despite all of this, Luke’s focus was on one thing and one thing only, God’s sovereignty. Introducing Augustus did not matter. The logistical challenge of the masses coming down to one central location did not matter. And while I am sure Luke had a shepherd heart for Joseph and Mary, their challenging journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem under such circumstances did not matter either. Luke’s focus was on God and his orchestration behind the scenes as God gathered the masses and brought Joseph and Mary to the birthplace of baby Jesus. Simply speaking, God used Augustus’s decree to assemble all people. This decree also obligated Joseph and Mary to come as well. We can visualize God moving every piece to fulfill what was written.
Micah 5:2-4 tells us so. It reads “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore, Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.”
Therefore, I am encouraged to believe that the words Christ and mas put together originated from this event. Christmas is Gods’ sovereign gathering of this massive population within the proximity of Jesus’s birthplace. God assembled this mass of people no different than how we assemble family and friends when we celebrate our birthday. Like any parent, God our Father wanted all people to be near the birthplace of his baby son Jesus. Let us pray that we may praise God by gathering in his name as we celebrate Christmas by welcoming baby Jesus into our hearts.
Part II. The gifting of Christmas (verses 6-7)
As if walking a 90 mile trip for 7 days were not enough, Mary still had to go into labor. Poor woman could not catch a break. Luke mentions in verse 6-7 that “While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” The timing of this great gathering and the delivery of baby Jesus into this world could not have been more punctual. It was exactly what God had ordered! Jesus arrived just in time for all of us to receive him as our greatest Christmas gift. Will your Amazon orders arrive on time? It seems as though God paid an extra money for an on time Jesus delivery! However, unlike Amazon, where you can have your gift wrapped at additional cost, Mary did not have this option. This God given gift did not come in a nice, appealing wrapping paper with a big red bow tie. Jesus was simply wrapped in cloths that were most likely taken from Mary’s handbag. Interestingly, the more attractive a wrapped gift looks the more excited we get to open it. My family can tell you that my gift wrapping skills are horrendous. I have used a cereal box before and slapped a bow tie on it and called it a day. And I noticed that those whose gifts look more pleasant received better attention than my cereal box with a bow tie. Is this how we view baby Jesus in a manger?
The gifts of this world are the gifts that seemingly receive more recognition and appreciation. These gifts are conventional. It is the most common and trendy way we give and receive. Similarly, when we think of the rulers and kings of this world we perceive them as those with riches and great power. We see their crown and glory. A high class life style and VIP service. So, when we hear of this new King who is to be a born Savior for all people, we snub at him because he appears so unconventional. This King received nothing but some cloths and a box from which horses or cattle eat out of (a manger). How can this be our King? Where is his glory? Where is his entourage and his VIP service? This is a pitiful way to display and present our new King. A small and lowly king on a manger?
However, God teaches us that being unconventional is the most Godly thing we can do. To be unconventional is to be opposite from this world and its patterns. And while the difference in appearance and delivery are clearly obvious, this unconventional king, King Jesus will give us more than what Emperor Augustus ever provided to the Romans during his tenure as a ruler. King Jesus gives us sacrifice, humility, and love. King Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This Baby in manger does not bring glory on earth but glory in heaven. God is not pompous. God is a servant waiting to serve us! We should adopt this unconventional way of thinking. To love small things and be faithful to the small things.
And yet, out of 4.5 million people who were present during Mary’s final moments before her labor, not one person offered her a room. Verse 7b reads “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Do you have room for Jesus? It seems as though we become so busy that we make no room for Jesus. In a way, we become like these people selfish and self-centered. Perhaps we fear of losing our positions when we contemplate on putting Jesus into our tight schedules. Consequently, we miss out on his love, humility, and sacrifice.
The true gifts of Christmas do not come from this world. A true gift comes from heaven. As benevolent as Augustus might have been, this world king could not defeat death or forgive sins. Little baby Jesus in a manger could and did. Let us pray that we may exchange King Jesus as our true Christmas gift with one another.
Part III. The invitation of Christmas (verse 8-14)
Before breaking the news of a savior being born, Luke continues to focus on Gods sovereignty. After assembling a massive population, God interestingly selects only a few people to receive this news. Look at verse 8-11“And there were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them do not be afraid. I bring you good news of 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.
While others may have learned of the birth of Jesus, remember that no one seemed to care. There was no room for Jesus. Remarkably, some who truly had no idea of this event, who were simply attending to their flocks, an angel of God had appeared to them. This is very telling. People who knew did not appreciate the birth of Jesus. So, God found some who knew nothing but who seemed to have a shepherd heart.
I believe there is a strong connection between these shepherds and God. Even though these people had no idea of the birth of Jesus, God found them to be Christ worthy. This teaches us how important it is to find shepherd like friends. Who we invite into our inner circle matters. While God reached out to millions, only a few received a closer access. We saw that with Moses and Arron in the tent of meeting. And we saw that through Jesus and his close relationship with his disciples. Therefore, God sees our hearts. Those of us who know little or nothing of Jesus can still receive his glory when we have shepherd like hearts. And this was exactly what occurred to these shepherds living out in the fields. An angel had appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them! Wow. Thank God for his grace upon us! Thank God that even those who know nothing of Christ can still be welcomed into his Kingdom.
Receiving good news that will cause great joy for all the people must have been a special moment for these shepherds. It was an unexpected news to say the least. This also teaches us that God presents us with great news when we least expect it. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord, “ the angel tells them. And to provide them with a little guidance, the angel even shares what sign they should look for. Verse 12 reads, “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Subsequently, God provided some reassurance to cast away any doubt or unbelief of such event. Look at verse 13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ Let us pray that we may invite Godly people into our inner circle especially when share Jesus Christ is our gifts.
As we celebrate Christmas let’s think about this message. Let’s remember that God is always in control moving every piece and using people to fulfill his mission. Through Augustus decree, we saw how God assembled millions of people to actually bring them close to baby Jesus. This was arguably the first Christmas gathering. Lets focus on the true gifts of Christmas. The gifting of Christmas does not stem from this world, but from heaven. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving. This lowly King gives us sacrifice, humility, and love. And finally, lets remember that while God welcomes all into his orbit, only shepherd like people can receive closer access of Jesus glory. Who we invite into our inner circle matters. We must establish relationship with those who have shepherd like hearts. Christmas is Christ. In Christ we gather, in Christ we gift, and in Christ we invite, all to celebrate his lowly and humble birthday!