He Is Born!

“He Is Born!”
A Message on Luke 2:8-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:8-20  (NRSV)

 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 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 heaven,

   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

 

15 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.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

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Babies are great, aren’t they? And if you ask me, miraculous, too.

 

It still boggles my mind to think that Pam and I created life. Two lives! Yes, I know the biology and the science behind it (of which I will not go into detail here, if that’s what you are wondering), but it still boggles my mind to come to the realization that new life was created, living, breathing, sentient, new human beings with souls. Wow!

 

And to be present at the birth of a baby I think is a holy thing.

 

The birth of our daughters was a holy thing. I remember someone telling me before the birth of our first daughter, Sarah, about the incredible love that parents feel when they hold their baby for the very first time.

 

It’s not that I didn’t believe them, but when it finally happened I had not anticipated just how powerful–and–holy it would be.

 

Babies are celebrated. People come to the hospital bringing gifts and balloons and flowers, and they all line up outside the widows of the nursery to see the newborn babies, searching the nameplates for “their” baby.

 

Having a baby really is a big deal. A really, really big deal. It is a life changing event. Nothing is ever the same afterwards.

 

It was a big deal back in the first century as well.

 

As you can imagine the infant mortality rate at the time was much higher than it is now. According to some scholarly estimates, about 1 in 3 babies died before their first birthday. That is a startling statistic but that was reality of life in the first century.

 

Children were important for several reasons: security (especially if the children were male), labor (there were no child labor laws), and to take care of their parents in old age.

 

So when a child was born it was a big deal. It was great event. It was a celebration.

 

Mary and Joseph were in a peculiar situation, however, with the birth of Jesus. As we talked about last week, they had gone back to Bethlehem so that Joseph could be counted in the census and pay the census tax. He had to go to Bethlehem because he descended from the House of David, who was from Bethlehem.

 

It also fulfilled scripture. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph were aware at the time of what was written in the 5th chapter of the book of the prophet Micah: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

 

So Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem and as they get there Jesus is born. Not in a nice house, not in a palace, not even in a house at all, but a stable, a place where livestock is housed.

 

We are not told in the scriptures but Mary probably did not have anyone to help her during her labor and childbirth of Jesus. Joseph may have been the only one present, with little to no training with regards to childbirth.

 

There were no relatives showing up with balloons or flowers. No friends visiting and bringing casseroles. It couldn’t have seemed like much of a celebration.

 

But then we read the scripture we read from Luke. Shepherds were outside Bethlehem, taking care of their sheep as they always did. Night time was a dangerous time for sheep. Sheep really don’t have any defense mechanisms to fight back against predators. As my grandfather, who used to raise sheep, used to say, “Sheep don’t need a reason to die.” They were easy pickins’ for coyotes, wolves, bears, and especially lions. As a result the shepherd had to keep a lookout all through the night for nocturnal carnivores looking for something to eat.

 

Because they spent their time outdoors with their animals the shepherds couldn’t have been very clean. They probably didn’t smell very good, either. They weren’t high in the social order, either. It was an honorable occupation, but certainly not a prestigious one. And not an easy one, either.

 

And yet… And yet…

 

These are the very people that God chooses as the first ones (besides Mary and Joseph, of course) to hear the news that the Messiah had come. It wasn’t the rich and mighty people of the time, it wasn’t the Jewish religious leaders, it wasn’t the Roman rulers. Nope. It was shepherds. Just plain, dirty, stinky, Shepherds. Proof once again that God doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called.

 

But let’s take a closer look at what the Shepherds do after they visit the baby Jesus. The scripture from Luke tells us “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”

 

They didn’t keep it to themselves. They shared the good news of the birth of Jesus. They “made known.” The NIV translation says they “spread the word.” The King James version says they “made known abroad.” The Message says they “told everyone they met.”

 

The baby Jesus was–and still is–big news. It was a life changing event. Things will never be the same. That is why we celebrate it today.

 

You see the baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem is a big deal because it needs to be viewed through the cross of Calvary.

 

This is a cross that my wife, Pam, bought several years ago. She doesn’t even remember where she bought it, but we bring it out with all our other Christmas decorations every year.

 

I like the theology of it. It illustrates the story of Jesus birth but does so in the shape of a cross. For the baby born in Bethlehem goes on to die on the cross of Calvary. And he does so in order that we may be offered salvation. THAT is a big deal, a story worth telling.

 

But who are we telling? Or are we telling at all? Are we like the shepherds, telling everyone we meet?

 

Is Christmas more about what we get, or is it more about what we give?

 

So my challenge to you this Christmas Eve is to, to quote the old hymn, “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

 

Remember that Christmas is the celebration of when God comes to earth. This baby is a big thing. This baby changes everything. Things will never be the same, because this baby is the salvation of the world, the one who gives his life for every human being. This baby is God’s grace given to us, not because we deserve it or earn it, but because he loves us.

 

So let’s go, and tell it on the mountain.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.



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