Passage: Luke 2:1–2:20
Jesus didn't come for those who have it all together but for those humble enough to admit they need him.
Humble Birth (Luke 2:1-7)
When people have a baby, you can get this little baby book where you record details about the baby’s birth. What was their height and weight? What time were they born? What hospital and town were they born in? What was the temperature outside? Who were the first visitors? Sometimes people will keep a newspaper from the day the baby was born to show what was happening at that time.
If Jesus would have had a baby book, we just heard what was recorded in it. A newspaper clipping about the census the Roman Empire was taking under Caesar Augustus. Where was he born? In Bethlehem, the city of David.
Where in Bethlehem? There’s a picture in the book with Jesus lying in a manger surrounded by animals and there’s a story behind this picture. Like Mary and Joseph, many others had traveled to Bethlehem to be registered for the census so houses in town were crowded. The word here for “inn” would probably be better translated as “guest room”, not a formal inn. Mary and Joseph probably stayed with some relatives of theirs in Bethlehem and it seems many others had the same idea as they did. With a packed guest room, there was no room for Mary and Joseph. So they slept in the larger family room which was also where the animals were kept. And this is where Mary ends up giving birth. After giving birth, Mary swaddled Jesus in strips of cloth and placed him in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. It’s like a basin made out of stone. This is what is recorded in Jesus’ baby book as his birth place.
This scene depicts Jesus’ humble birth. He was not born to a rich and powerful family in a palace. He was born to a common family who were traveling under orders from the Emperor like everyone else. They were staying in a crowded house with others. Jesus came into this world quietly, born to an insignificant couple in the world’s eyes and his birth would have gone unnoticed.
What does Jesus’ humble birthplace tell us about him? It tells us that Jesus came for the humble. Jesus came for the insignificant. Jesus came for the overlooked. Jesus came for the outcast. Jesus came for the forgotten. Jesus came for the common and unimpressive. This is the story of the God of the universe coming down to become small in a small way in small village to small couple in the world’s eyes.
What does Jesus’ humble birthplace tell us about ourselves? We don’t need to impress God. We don’t need to clean ourselves up. We don’t need to convince him we are good enough. We can come as we are.
Christmas is a yearly reminder that God is not looking for impressive people. God is not looking for people who have it all together. God is not looking for rich or smart or powerful or good or perfect or religious people. God is looking for people who are humble. Jesus’ birth reminds us that God is not picky. It reminds us of the kind of people God came for: the humble, the low, the everyday person, the forgettable, the downcast, the outcast. When God becomes human, who does he choose to identify with? He could have chosen anyone. But he chose Mary. God chose to have his Son born in a crowded house out in the family room with the animals where he’d be placed in an animal feeding trough.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and he didn’t come to be with the perfect or the cleaned up or those who have it all together. He didn’t come to be with the popular or impressive. He came to be with those who know they need him.
God, would you help us tonight to see what Jesus’ birth tells us about you and about yourselves. Would you let us see that you came to be with those who are humble enough to admit their need for you? Amen.
Heaven’s Song (Luke 2:8-15)
Each year, dictionary.com picks a “word of the year” - a word that best captures what the past year was about. Do you have any guesses on what this year’s word was? Dictionary.com’s “word of the year” for 2020 was: “pandemic”. They explained that whatever else was happening, it was happening in the context of the pandemic. It was there putting its mark on every other event, whether it was racial tension or the election, the pandemic had its effect on the conversation. It was not just regional or national but global in its effect.
But dictionary.com also releases a “people’s choice” word of the year that is submitted by users. This year, the people chose “unprecedented” as the word of the year. If we all had a quarter for every time someone said something like “In these unprecedented times”, we could have more easily afforded the Christmas presents we bought this year. “Pandemic” and “unprecedented” are the words that describe 2020 according to dictionary.com.
There’s a popular Bible app that you can download for your phone called YouVersion. It is installed on over 450 million devices all over the world. Each year, they release the most read Bible verse for the year. They keep track of what people search for, what people read, and what people bookmark. In 2020, they said this: “Isaiah 41:10 ranked as the most searched, read, and bookmarked verse on the app: ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’”
That’s not surprising, is it? In a year where the words that best capture what it was about are “pandemic” and “unprecedented”, people felt afraid and searched for Bible verses that could address that fear and comfort them. They used search terms like “fear” and “do not fear” to find the words in Isaiah 41:10 that say, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
As we travel back 2,000 years to the birthday of Jesus Christ, we meet a group of shepherds. What is it that the shepherds feel in this story? What do they experience? From the scene with Mary and Joseph in the family room with their baby, Luke takes us to a nearby field where shepherds were watching over their sheep in the dark of night. The only light is coming from the moon and stars.
Then, in the darkness of night, an angel approaches with the glory of the Lord shining around the angel. They are filled with great fear. The glory of the Lord shining around this angel would be startling in itself as it lit up the night. It’s unusual to see shining people. But throughout the Bible, this is how people respond when they find themselves in God’s presence. In Romans 3:23, the apostle Paul says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In God’s glorious presence, people suddenly have a clear sense of God’s holiness and their sinfulness. In other words, they are made painfully aware of how far they fall short and how unworthy they are.
But the angel responds to their great fear by saying, “Fear not.” He calms their fear. Why shouldn’t they be afraid? The angel says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” What is the good news that brings great joy? The angel continues, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The angel calms their fear in the presence of God’s glory with good news. The good news that the angel brings is that today a Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord. This is good news of great joy for all the people, meaning it includes the shepherds: Jesus is a Savior for them. It is good news for them. It can bring great joy to them. Instead of great fear they can have great joy.
Then he gives them instructions for how to find the Savior: The angel says:
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
They won’t look in a palace but in a feeding trough. This strange and unexpected scene of a baby swaddled in a feeding trough will serve as a sign to them that they have indeed found the King of whom the angel speaks, the King who can save them.
Then the angel isn’t alone. The story goes on:
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)
An army of angels appears singing in praise to God. This is the third song in Luke about Jesus’ birth and its significance. We have many great Christmas carols we will be singing tonight and many are hundreds of years old, but we could call these songs in Luke the first Christmas carols and they are over 2,000 years old. This one is heaven’s Christmas carol, telling us what heaven thinks about Jesus’ birth.
A Savior is born, but what is he saving us from? The Christmas song of the angels tells us. The two lines of the song match up with each other. Glory is given to God in the highest, meaning in heaven. Heaven is singing God’s glory. This means God gets the credit for salvation and God gets the praise. We contribute nothing to our salvation except the need for it.
So glory is given to God in heaven. The second line addresses what’s given on earth to humanity: peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased. So it’s glory to God in heaven and it’s God’s peace to people on earth.
So what is this “peace” that’s given to people? “Peace” refers back to the Hebrew word shalom which means wholeness, completeness, harmony, and well-being. Shalom is the way things ought to be. “To bring shalom” is to take what’s broken and restore it to wholeness, taking what isn’t as it ought to be and making it as it ought to be. Really, peace on earth means heaven has come to earth.
When YouVersion reported on the most read Bible verse of this year, they shared this: “Bible searches spiked corresponding to major events, with ‘fear’ becoming the app’s top search term in the first few months of the year, ‘justice’ in the spring, and ‘healing’ trending throughout the year.” So if you line those up with what was happening during the year, “fear” was a major search at the start of the pandemic. “Justice” was a major search after the murder of George Floyd as our nation and the world broke out in protest for justice. In the midst of a global pandemic, racial tension, and divisive politics, “healing” was a trending search all year, showing our awareness that things are not as they ought to be and need to be healed. These searches reveal a desire for peace - for shalom.
When we look at our world, we know things aren’t as they ought to be. We long for peace - for it to be healed. But if we take a good long look at ourselves, we realize that we also are not as we ought to be. The world isn’t as it ought to be because people aren’t as they ought to be. Perhaps you think, “Well, I’m not that bad.” But it’s also true that you aren’t that good. God’s command to us is to love others as we love ourselves but we usually are better at loving ourselves. It’s our natural bent. God also commands us to love him with our whole being and we quite often give our love to other things above him.
How will Jesus bring peace on earth? How will he bring the healing that we need? How will Jesus make things how they ought to be? Should he get rid of all the people who are causing the problems? We might think that’s a good solution, until we realize that we actually contribute to the problem in more ways than we’d like.
No Jesus came as a Savior to save those who are causing the problems. The deepest peace we need is peace between us and God. The greatest sickness that needs healing is the sickness of sin that turns us away from God and kills us. The thing that is most messed up in this world and needs fixing is our relationship with God. Jesus was born to bring shalom - wholeness and well-being - to that. He came to make our relationship with God as it should be - to make us as we should be.
But how would he do that? The Son of God was not born to live a long, happy life on earth. He wasn’t sent by God on some sort of exploratory mission to return and report back what earth was like. We know where Jesus’ story ends. We don’t usually think of the cross and Jesus’ death at Christmas, but it’s all right here in what the angels say to the shepherds and what they sing.
Why is peace necessary? Because our sin and selfishness have messed up our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, and they have messed up this world. Why is salvation necessary? Because we have something to be saved from! We are in a mess of our own making. We have rebelled against God and are under his judgment.
How does Jesus bring healing? He dies from the sickness of sin on the cross. How does Jesus bring wholeness? He is broken in our place on the cross. How does Jesus bring salvation? He takes what we deserve in our place on the cross. Jesus brings peace by taking upon himself everything that we have done that destroys peace.
Jesus’ humble birth tells us what the eternal Son of God did: though he was God, he did not count equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, but emptied himself of his status and privilege as the Son of God, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). The Almighty swaddled. The Creator cradled and carried. Deity died. This is the humility of Christ.
Like the shepherds, in God’s glorious presence we would all have great fear because we have sinned and fall short of his glory. But we can hear the words “fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.” Our Savior has been born who can bring us peace to stand in God’s presence with our relationship with him whole and healed and healthy. And all the credit goes to him: glory to God!
God, would you let us today receive Jesus as the peace you have provided for all that is wrong with us and with our world. Would you let us receive him as the greatest gift you’ve ever given. Amen.
Human Response (Luke 2:16-20)
A baby book may record the first people who came to visit: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. It might include pictures of them to show the child later on. So if Jesus had a baby book, who would be the first visitors recorded? What mix of people would a picture capture?
From the field with their sheep, the shepherds travel with haste to find Mary with her baby and they find him exactly as the angels had said: a baby lying in a manger. Then they tell those present what the angels had made known to them. Most people react with wonder. Mary treasures up all that is said, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds return to the field, glorifying and praising God.
So who are these shepherds? Who are these visitors in Jesus’ baby book? Many respected people in Old Testament history were shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David. Psalm 23 says that the Lord is our shepherd and often the image used for leaders in the Bible is that of a shepherd.
While there is nothing shameful or wrong with the role of a shepherd itself, it was a lowly job. In terms of social status, shepherds were not high ranking. They were blue-collar workers who had to move around a lot with their flock. This also kept them from participating in many of the religious rituals of the day. The Sabbath was a very important ritual to the Jewish people where they were not allowed to work but shepherds were seen as Sabbath breakers to a certain extent because they continued to take care of their flocks. By this time in history, the religious teachers of Israel, the Pharisees, had constructed a whole set of rules around the Sabbath for how to keep it and the shepherds were breaking many of those. So from a social standpoint and a religious standpoint, the shepherds were not significant people. They were also not seen as highly religious people by others.
But these are the people who receive the royal announcement of Jesus’ birth. The announcement of the birth of the Savior of the world was not given to the rich and powerful of the world. It was not given to the religious elite of Israel like the high priest or the Pharisees. It wasn’t given to the influencers or the significant and impressive in the world’s eyes. It was given to lowly shepherds.
These are the people gathered around Jesus on the night he was born. And these are the kind of people that will be gathered around him during his adult ministry: the poor, the outcasts, the sinners, the rejects, the guilty and ashamed, the prostitutes, the low and humble.
As they walked away from the manger that night, do you think the shepherds looked at each other and wondered, “Why us? Why did God tell us to come? We aren’t anything special?” And that’s exactly the point.
Jesus was born to people who didn’t have money. His mom was a teenager. Her husband-to-be was a blue collar carpenter. Jesus was born to nobodies in the world’s eyes. We would have walked by them on the street because nothing made them stand out. Jesus was not born in a palace surrounded by gold and luxury. He was born in a crowded house and laid in an animal feeding trough. He grew up in the rural, backcountry town of Nazareth. The first people to celebrate his birth were shepherds who barely had anything to their name except the sheep they slept with. They were nobodies like his parents: unimpressive, insignificant.
Heaven’s Christmas carol told us that God’s peace doesn’t come to everyone. Peace comes “to those with whom he is pleased.” What kind of people please God? On whom does God’s favor rest? This story is telling us: not on the impressive, not on the significant, not on those who have much to offer, not on those who have done great things. It doesn’t matter your status in this world. What matters is your heart condition before God.
God doesn’t discriminate based on worldly definitions or classifications. He doesn’t exclude people based on social class, income, significance, impressiveness, goodness, or anything of that sort. He also doesn’t include on that basis either! This is good news of great joy that will be for all the people. It is peace among those with whom he is pleased, and he is pleased with those who respond to him with a heart of humility.
God exalts the humble but opposes the proud. God is drawn toward humble people. God moves toward people who make themselves low before him. People who come to him poor and needy with nothing to offer but the empty hands of faith.
There’s a Christmas song that came out this year called “O Come All You Unfaithful.” The story behind it is that a Christian woman named Lisa Clow was attending a church service kicking off the Christmas season. Usually she would have been on stage singing with the band, but she told them she couldn’t that year. She didn’t explain why to them, but it had been a long year and a half. She was dealing with financial stress, she had miscarried twins, and she was battling a deep relational bitterness.
The first song of the service was “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the first words of that song are, “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” She says they clobbered her. She stopped singing. Her thoughts were, “I have been so unfaithful. My joy has dwindled, and I am a triumphant…failure.” She didn’t sing the rest of the service.
After the service, her mind was still churning, wondering “Is that really who is invited to come to Jesus? The faithful? The joyful? The triumphant? If so, then I am hopeless.” That night, she wrote lyrics to a song to express how she was feeling. Those lyrics eventually got reworked into a song called “O Come All You Unfaithful.”
Let me read these lyrics to you and hear them as an invitation for you:
O come all you unfaithful
Come weak and unstable
Come know you are not alone
O come barren and waiting ones
Weary of praying, come
See what your God has done
Christ is born, Christ is born
Christ is born for you
O come bitter and broken
Come with fears unspoken
Come taste of His perfect love
O come guilty and hiding ones
There is no need to run
See what your God has done
He’s the Lamb who was given
Slain for our pardon
His promise is peace
For those who believe
So come, though you have nothing
Come He is the offering
Come see what your God has done
Christ is born, Christ is born
Christ is born for you
We don’t come to Jesus because we are joyful and triumphant. We are joyful and triumphant because of Jesus. We are joyful and triumphant because of what God has done on our behalf.
Christmas is our yearly remembrance of our Savior’s humble birth which is our invitation to not let anything keep us from coming to him. Jesus is not a Savior for the cleaned up, the super religious, or the good enough. He is a Savior for the broken, needy, hurting, and fearful. And that’s all of us. But we have to be humble enough to admit it and come to him.
God, thank you that we do not need to earn our way to you or impress you with what you’ve done. Would you help us to come to you humble and low to receive Jesus as the Savior he was born to be. Would you help us stand in awe of what you have done. Amen.