(St. Luke’s Church had an electrical outage over the weekend. The radiator pipes burst, and there was no worship service on Sunday, December 25, 2022. This sermon comes from my archives, from December 24, 2003.)
“God’s Birth Announcement”
Luke 2:1-14 – December 24, 2003
I have several friends who have recently had babies. Welcoming babies into the world is such a joyous occasion. One of the first things most people I know do is spread the news about the new baby, letting other friends and acquaintances know about this new little one who has joined the human race. When and where the baby was born, how big it was, whether it was a girl or a boy, and what the parents decided to name the baby are all details that are joyously spread, as soon as possible.
I wonder . . . what would God’s birth announcement look like?
In the fullness of time, God sent His Son. Prophesied in many passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, foretold for centuries before His coming. Looking at the Old Testament passage for today, Isaiah 9, the prophet tells his readers about the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, who is the coming Messiah.
Throughout the Advent season, we’ve been preparing for the coming of this Messiah. Well, I have news for you. He’s here. Today is Christmas Eve, and tomorrow we celebrate once again the earthly birthday of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Savior of the World, the only begotten Son of the Heavenly Father. Our Lord Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer, from age to age the same, came into this fallen world as a baby. Imagine that. Emptying Himself of all His vast, eternal God-ness, and being born as a human baby.
I wonder: what would God’s birth announcement look like?
I think we have a pretty good idea, if we take a look at the second chapter of Luke. Doctor Luke gives a full accounting of what went on in those days. This account here is God’s version of a birth announcement, but what an unexpected sort of announcement!
Let’s look at the parents of the Baby, first of all. The mother, Mary of Nazareth, is not even married yet. Sure, she’s engaged to this carpenter, Joseph, but they haven’t yet been fully joined in marriage. Marriage in those days, in the Jewish culture, was a several-step process. Mary and Joseph hadn’t quite finished the whole marriage thing.
We read in chapter 1 of Luke that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and she conceived. Is Joseph the father of this Baby? No. Joseph could not believe this part of the account at first, until assisted by some heavenly help. An angel came and reassured Joseph that Mary was on the up and up, and that the baby inside of Mary was really the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In other words, the Son of God.
So, the birth parents are not the usual kind of parents. The circumstances of the birth are not quite the typical birth scenario, either. Imagine the birth of a baby today, here in Evanston. Chances are that the baby would be born either in St. Francis or Evanston Hospitals, with the latest medical technology available, just in case. Not so for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Not only did she have the baby Jesus in less than optimum circumstances, in terms of hygiene and medical needs, but she was also far from her home as well.
Mary and Joseph were both far away from familiar people, places and things. They were travelers, like many people in the town of Bethlehem at that time. Luke 2 tells us that there wasn’t any place for them to stay–anywhere. Because of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, the town of Bethlehem was mobbed.
Since Bethlehem was the ancestral home of King David (who had a lot of children!), that meant that there were quite a lot of people who had to be counted who were descended from David. And not all of them had money. We can see, from the offering that Mary and Joseph offered to the Lord shortly after the birth of the baby Jesus, that they did not have very much money.
Bethlehem must have been very crowded indeed, if a woman about to give birth couldn’t find even a room to have her baby in. She and Joseph had to room in a stable. It would be similar to today, where a young woman might have a baby in any common garage. We could even take it a step further, and draw some definite similarities between Mary and Joseph and some other young, homeless couple going to have a new baby, searching for a place to spend the night.
I don’t know whether any of you have currently had the opportunity to see a sign in front of the First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, but one of the smaller trees near the front door to the sanctuary is practically covered with blue ribbons. There is a sign posted next to the tree, saying “While celebrating One homeless Family, these ribbons ask us to remember the homeless with us today.” I had never thought about the Holy Family in that way before. Again, it’s God’s unexpected way of announcing the birth of His Son.
While we’re thinking about the stable where Mary had her baby, what about that stable, anyway? Jesus, after all, was a descendant of King David, through both His mother Mary and His adopted father, Joseph. A stable is an unexpected place to find a king. I don’t know about you, but I’d expect royalty to be born in a palace, or at least in a nice house. Not in a stable, anyway.
And who are the people who first receive this birth announcement? Are they influential members of the community? Rich, movers and shakers? Leaders of the local synagogues and teachers of the Law of Moses? Those would be the kinds of people who I might expect to have a birth announcement sent to them. But God doesn’t work that way. Again, God does the unexpected, and chooses the most unlikely people to receive a hand-delivered message from the Lord of Hosts, the King of Kings.
Some people in the 21st century probably are so accustomed to the Christmas story that their idea of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is somehow associated with Christmas cards. But it was life as usual for these working people. An everyday way of life in Palestine. What’s more, being a shepherd was not a particularly high class job. The lowly vocation of shepherd was on the outskirts of society. A possible comparison today is to think of a person selling “Streetwise,” the paper sold for $1.00 outside of grocery stores and coffee shops here around the Chicago area.
And suddenly, the angel of the Lord came to these shepherds–came to people in homeless shelters, people selling “Streetwise,” people down on their luck, people on the edge, on the outs of society. The angel of the Lord came to them with good news. Good news. With news of God’s birth announcement. We can see God again breaking through, in an unexpected way, to an unexpected group of people.
God sends a birth announcement in unexpected ways to unexpected people, in many situations, all over the world. The angel was the first to tell of the newborn Baby, born in Bethlehem, but then the shepherds spread the news about the new Baby, letting other friends and acquaintances know about this new little One who has joined the human race. When and where the Baby was born, the news that it was a boy, and that the parents decided to name this Baby Jesus–for He would save people from their sins–are all details that the shepherds joyously spread, as soon as possible.
Again, it’s God’s unexpected way of announcing the birth of His Son. Can you think of someone who hasn’t heard about this birth announcement? We today have the opportunity to spread the news about this Baby born in Bethlehem. And we can joyously praise God, for Jesus is the savior and redeemer of the world, as the angel of the Lord proclaimed so long ago.