Sermon Christmas 2019                                                                                                        The Rev. John M. Atkins

The Gospel of Luke 2:1-20

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!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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We hear this story every year.  Why do we long for this yearly celebration?  Hasn’t it become ‘old-hat’?

For most of us the answering is assuredly, “No”.  The story of Mary and Joseph’s travels and adventure in Bethlehem draw us in.  An engaged couple; a pleasant couple; a Mother expecting her first born son; a couple mesmerized by the divine plan birthing this baby; a couple astounded by the response to the birth of the child; and a couple suspicious of what might be ahead for them and their entrusted newborn.

There are other virgin-birth narratives in antiquity.  The importance of those narratives centers on conveying admiration and divine purpose.  Those narratives provided a reason for granting the person authority.

Luke is the only Gospel writer sharing the details of Jesus’ birth.  It does include a promise of Jesus’ authority as God’s promised Messiah.  He will be the Savior for God’s people.

Whether this story from Luke’s Gospel is factual or not, we will never know.  Yet, even if the story’s facts are not reality, the story is true.  This wondrous story communicates a divine truth.  God anointed Jesus of Nazareth as God’s promised Messiah whose mission was to save God’s people from their sins.  Sin is anything that separates us from God and others.  Sin is expressed in thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds.  Jesus was born for the purpose of being our Savior.  And, those who accept Jesus as Messiah (Christ), will be filled with joy and peace and given the mission to share those gifts in order to bring about God’s realm of justice, merry and peace on earth.

I don’t get caught up in the details of the story.  Rather, I’m confident in the truth this story reveals.  God so loved the world that God gave the Son, Jesus; so that whosoever believes in him will rejoice in God’s gift of salvation (paraphrase from the Gospel of John 3:16).

Let the truth of the Bethlehem story come alive in you.  Merry Christmas.