December 24, 2001
The Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
Sermon: "Christmas 2001"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
December 25, 2001I am always excited about Christmas. I can not help it. The excitement of Christmas mounts throughout the month of December. In the town and the stores decorations come out of storage. Newspapers are filled with articles about Christmases past. Trees go up for sale. Houses are decorated with Christmas lights, wreaths, and bows. Parties with good food and great company abound. Presents are bought and wrapped in beautiful paper and ribbons. Even the churches get into the spirit. Bows and wreaths decorate our doors. Special bulletin covers are purchased. The brass and silver are polished until they gleam. And yet, when we read the Christmas story I wonder if we realize we hear the greatest scandal in the history of the earth.
When I use the word scandal, I do not mean our present day definition. The original definition of the word scandal comes from the Latin word scandalon. Scandalon means stumbling block. Now why would the Christmas story in Bethlehem be a stumbling block?
Let's review the story. The mother of Jesus is Mary. She is a teenager probably fourteen to sixteen years old. She was not married when she conceived Jesus. She is a simple maiden in a small town. Her husband to be is Joseph, a simple carpenter. As she nears her delivery date, she must leave her home with Joseph and go to Bethlehem. When they reach Bethlehem she is in labor. No one has a room for them. So, Jesus, the Son of God, is delivered in a stable. Animals are the witness to the birth. Shepherds find him lying in a manger, a feed trough, for his bed. I think we would agree Jesus had a humble beginning.
If we are honest with ourselves how might we picture the birth of a king at any date or time? We would expect many preparations. The house or mansion would be decorated and prepared. All of the right people would be contacted and made aware of the new heir's arrival. Messages would be sent to the mother, father and child. Gifts would be purchased and perfectly wrapped. Family and friends would be present at the super clean hospital. Last but not least, the new born king would be placed in the perfect crib. Our best example in recent history is not the birth of a king but the birth of a prince. Do we recall the pregnancy of Princess Diana and the birth of Prince William? Look at the amount of media coverage. We knew almost every detail. Loads of letters were received. Many foreign dignitaries visited the royal family. Incredible gifts were received for the new prince. Isn't this the way a future king is to come into the world?
But our God, our King, Jesus Christ, does not enter the world in this manner. God, in Jesus Christ, broke into human history as a helpless, vulnerable baby, laid in a feed trough. His parents were poor. The only human witnesses are some shepherds whom Joseph and Mary do not know.
God could have come in splendor. The Son of God could have been born into the world with all of the trappings, or could he? How would the story change if Jesus' mother was a wealthy debutante with her financially upward climbing husband? God might be perceived as a God of the wealthy or the elite. Wealth might be seen as the seat of all power. Even worse being elite may be seen as being influential with God.
God does not work that way. God has always chosen to be unpredictable by human standards. God has chosen unusual people for his purposes. Moses was to carry the message of salvation to the people of Israel. Yet, he had a stuttering problem. David was chosen to be King of Israel. He was the youngest and smallest of his brothers. So, here we are at Bethlehem, with a young girl, her husband, and a helpless, vulnerable baby boy. Here we are with the scandalous birth of Christ the Lord in a lowly stable.
However, the incredible circumstances of his birth resonate with all people in all walks of life. Through the journey, the stable, and the manger, God identifies with the powerless, the oppressed, the poor and the homeless. By entering the world as a child, a newborn infant, God identifies with each of us. We all come into this world dependent and vulnerable. God identifies with you and with me. God knows what it is to be cold, hungry and sad. God knows what it is to be warm, full, and joyful. I have to be honest. I can comprehend more in the birth of Christ than I can with the birth of Prince William.
But can we see how the birth of Christ is a stumbling block? Who would believe the Lord of Lords would be born in such a manner? Who would believe the Creator of all that is, would come to us in such a humble way? Yet, God does. On this most holy night, in a stable in Bethlehem, God comes to us. In flesh and blood, Jesus Christ is born. And in his birth, the hope of all the world, is found. Is Jesus' birth scandalous? Yes, but his birth to Mary and Joseph is in keeping with the unpredictable ways of God. For who could expect this child, born in this way, is indeed the Savior, Christ the Lord?
Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room, and let heaven and nature sing.