Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:1-20, NKJV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“And it came to pass,” the story begins. We might say, “in those days.” That’s how St. Luke begins the story of Jesus’ birth. It happened in “those days” it’s almost like that movie… “a long long time ago.” The story of Jesus’ birth is a great story that we celebrate every Christmas, but we don’t celebrate it because it is a great story. We celebrate it because it is a true great story. We celebrate it because what happened then means something to us today. It means something to us that Mary and Joseph trekked across Judea to pay their taxes and found shelter for their newborn child in a stable in an overcrowded little town. It means something to us, even though it happened in “those days.”
It is a very special message, too. It is very good news that comes to us from Christmas past to Christmas present. It is Good News that we need especially in these days, when so much seems to be unsure, and so many people seem to be troubled. The story of God’s action in time actually does what it says. It is the way that God does His life saving and life changing work in human history. Whenever we remember what God has done, how He did what was necessary for us to be saved, we rejoice. We have good reason to talk about “Those Days, and these.” Because of what God did then, and what he is still doing now. This is a time of year to rejoice, these days.
How did it happen… in those days? God was involved in human history. Even the Roman government was involved. The decree of the Emperor was in accordance with God’s will. He didn’t know that his decree to count people for taxes was going to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. He had no idea who they were, much less did he care. Yet, it was exactly what God wanted to happen. God was working through the Roman government to make His promises come true. The Messiah, who would save God’s people from their sins, would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2).
Jesus birth was according to God’s plan in those days. Everything went according to God’s promises. As strange as it seems God’s plan was to save the whole world through a baby born to a poor young mother, in a dirty stable, in a crowed town. This birth was special, just as the Angels announced. This child was the promised Savior. He was sent by God, and set apart for a special purpose. This baby is God in the flesh, just as God had always promised: He, Himself, would come to assure that people would be saved. He shall be called Jesus… his name means “God Saves!” And he was born to save all people. He saves them from sin, from its punishment and its power. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour…”
In those days, the birth of Jesus was celebrated by both angels and people. “Glory to God in highest!” the angles sang. “And peace to men on earth.” And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see what they had been told about. And they couldn’t wait to tell it to everyone they saw. Just the sight of the baby Jesus had a life changing effect on them, they returned to their sheep, “…glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” They would never be the same again. Indeed no one would ever be the same again.
But, Christmas isn’t just for “those days.” It is very much for us. It is very important to us here in “these days!” When the angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy…” he said it would be for all people. He didn’t just mean all the people living “in those days.” Jesus Christ saves the sinners in “these days too!” He was born for us, just the same as he was born for shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. He was promised also for us, he came as our Lord, God in human flesh, to live among human beings in our world. He came to save us, in these days.
And save us he did. We need saving, because our worst enemy stalks us, and torments us… sin. Sin drenches everything we do and say. It lives in our thoughts, and often controls our actions. We hate it, and yet we so often bow to its power in our lives. At Christmas we think of children. We want them to feel the love given in a gift. But, just look at the world they are born into these days. A quick look at today’s paper will show you sin out in the open. Bomb threats, murder, theft, shootings in the mall, these are all a part of these days. And while we want to think we are better, we know we are born with that darkness in us. We know that our children are born with sin in them. That’s why, “those days” are so important. That’s why Jesus was born a baby in “those days.” He saves us completely by become completely one of us. He lives in our world subject to the same temptations and troubles as we are. He had relatives who died. He suffered from illness in his family. He knew of corrupt politics and religious leaders who only led people away from God. He heard of murder, and theft and threats to human life. “Those days” where just like “these days.” That little baby that we loving adore in the cradle grew to be a man. He knew the temptations of being a teenager. He lived as a young adult in a small community. He roamed the streets of cities and towns and saw greed and its most direct effect, poverty. He saw first hand the effects of sin on the people around Him. Yet, Jesus lived His life without sin. In spite of all that was around Him, He lived in perfect relationship to God and perfect relationship to everyone around Him in those days.
Jesus lived His perfect life according to God’s will, which led him to the cross. Every step, every word, every action led there. Jesus, completely God and sinless human being was nailed to the cross as a common criminal. It was unjust and yet, God’s way of saving us. Jesus sinless life was sacrificed in place of our sinful one. He hung bleeding and dying on the cross, suffering the punishment deserved for the worst kind of crime. But that wasn’t enough. God heaped on the Baby of Bethlehem the sins of the whole world. Every sin in thought, word and deed, every sin you and I have done and the things we should have done but have left undone, God laid on Jesus’ shoulders. The shear weight of them caused Him to cry out to God in those days, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s because Jesus didn’t just suffer the physical pain of crucifixion, He suffered the spiritual pain of eternal hell, complete rejection by God. That is the punishment that the smallest sin deserves, because it violates God’s design and will for human life. It is a stark contrast from the swaddling cloths to nakedness of the cross. But that my dear Christian friends is what the scene in the manger is all about. Without the cross in those days there is no joy to the world for these days.
Everything Jesus did in “those days” has a lasting impact on us in “these days.” In fact “these days” our lives are completely different. We have so much to celebrate on Christmas. We see the salvation of God in the crib and we see it in the cross. He is our savior from sin in “those days”, in “these days” and for all eternity.
We are happy at what we see in the manger on Christmas. The Shepherds were “in those days.” It’s ok to rejoice in what God has done for them, and for you and me. Today, in these days, we can find Joseph, Mary and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Shout out with joy what he has done, today! It is indeed good news of great joy for all people. Spread the word in “these days” just as the shepherd did. Express the joy of Christmas. Tell everyone you see as you return home. “Joy to the world the Lord is come!”
It is true: Christmas in those days is Christmas in these days. It is Christmas for us! It isn’t just the celebration of something in the past. It’s the celebration of something God is still doing. He still brings the good news of forgiveness through his word, the story of what he has done. Hear the Good News of Great Joy for all people… for you who live in ‘these days.’ Today, this day, a savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.