Surprisingly, this was one of the harder messages I’ve ever written. After all, this is the message about Jesus’ birth. We all know the story; it should be an easy sell. I should be able to write this message in my sleep. It was a shockingly hard thing to do, though.
Perhaps when I explain, however, it will be clearer. What I tried to accomplish in the previous three weeks was to make the characters a bit more human. We read about people in the Bible and think all kinds of things. We think they were somehow better than we are that perhaps they really did have a glowing halo around their heads and they were magically filled with thoughts of God all the time. What I really wanted to do was show them for who they were, people who were commissioned by God to complete a job and who responded faithfully and obediently.
With Jesus, though, the story is different. After all, he was simply born. The story of Jesus actually takes place before and after his birth, the birth simply being the conduit through which Jesus came to earth as a man. In fact, much of his story of his birth is seen in the Old Testament prophecies and in speculation about what might have taken place in Heaven for Jesus to humbly put aside his glory in order to come to earth.
I want to open today with a passage of scripture in Luke 2. We’ve talked over the last few weeks about several characters involved in the story of the first Christmas. Today I want us to look at the reason for the story at all. His name is Jesus.
Jesus was born in humble circumstances, to humble parents, and was first celebrated by humble people. The circumstances of his birth could not have been more other than his position of glory that he left. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that the humility of Jesus was such that even though he was God, and didn’t need to prove anything, he condescended to come to earth.
I was reading Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What earlier this week and in a stroke of serendipity came across a brief discussion about this very thing. Miller remarked how amazing it was that Jesus in his infinite glory decided to forgo that glory for a time in order that we might be saved.
You see, it’s impossible to talk about the birth of Jesus without speaking to why he came in the first place. Jesus came so that we might have life. He says it in so many words in John 10. He came that we might have abundant life. But even in his birth he set an example of humility for us to follow.
Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem from Nazareth, because they were called there to a census. Caesar wanted a count of “all the world.” Joseph was of the lineage of David, who came from Bethlehem, so that is where he had to go to be registered. If you thought filling out census forms last year was tedious, imagine what it was like having to travel to another city and stand in line just so you could be counted so you would have to pay more in taxes. To top it off your fiancée is very pregnant; so pregnant in fact that she goes into labor because of the trip.
It’s interesting at this point because we like to make up drama and tension to help us tell stories. Verse 7 says that Mary “laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” I think we like to paint a picture of Joseph and Mary wearily going from inn to inn, house to house, trying to find lodging, only to be turned away. Luke says “there was no place for them in the inn.” (emphasis mine) Perhaps this was the only inn in Bethlehem. At any rate, Joseph and Mary found what they could in which to lay newborn Jesus.
We spoke last week for just a moment about what was going on behind the scenes during Jesus’ birth. If we could peel back the veil of time and space, if we could glimpse the throne of God and see what was taking place, I wonder what we would encounter. The Father, Son, and Spirit pre-existed everything else. They existed in perfect, loving relationship with one another, truly three persons in one being. The doctrine of the Trinity is so foreign to us there are no words or metaphors that could possibly describe it.
Imagine, though, that in this perfect relationship there is realized a necessity for one of the persons to actually separate for a time from the other two. The bond of the Spirit is the connection that keeps the three in communion with each other, but somehow the Son is required to leave the glory of Heaven and be born as a human. We believe that life begins at conception, so that would mean that Jesus would have had to go through the whole gestation process. He would have been helpless. What’s more, if anything had happened to Mary, there was no other Son that the Father could have sent. Even in John 3:16 we see the truth of this. John says that because God loved the world so much he sent his “only begotten” Son. There was no other Son because Jesus was the “only.”
The enemy is a crafty one. While he is not privy to God’s plans, he knows that God is trying to save all of humanity. He knows that God’s desire is that everyone would be saved. Perhaps he didn’t know the details of the birth of Jesus, but he knew something was going to happen. We have seven verses that tell us Jesus was born. But then the angels couldn’t contain themselves and began to sing about Jesus to shepherds out in a field. The simple fact that Jesus was born defeated the odds. But Jesus was born. The Son condescended to earth that he might save people from their sins.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” This is probably my favorite description about the birth of Jesus. The Word became flesh. That which spoke the world into being, the very word that created, became a part of that creation, became flesh. God put on skin in the form of a baby. The Son grew up like any other person grows up. The Word became flesh and lived among his people.
How can you not love a God who would do something as radical as become a man?
John talks about Jesus as the Word and the true light. He says that Jesus came to the world to enlighten everyone. He came to save. But the world would not see him for what he was. John says that “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” There are all kinds of theories as to why they didn’t accept him, but they simply didn’t.
I’m supposed to be using my time today to talk about Jesus. He is, after all, the reason there is a story at all. Without Jesus, the rest of the characters in the story would have been living their lives much differently. Joseph and Mary would have had a normal married life, would have had a family, and would have been saved the 2000 years of scrutiny they have faced. But it’s hard to talk about Jesus in newborn form because he was simply born. The miraculous thing he did was love enough to be born. The song Levi and Jordan sang last week “Mary, Did You Know?” has a line in it that asks: Did you know that the child you just delivered would soon deliver you?
The God of the universe, who created Joseph and Mary and knew them before they were born, would allow himself to be raised by this couple as their child. This child would grow to be a man, perhaps with his parents never really understanding what it was he came to do. “Save people from their sins” is a rather vague idea, after all. The word “save” could mean so many things.
The fact was that Jesus came to die. He came to be the sacrifice. It’s impossible to remove Jesus’ death from his life because they are so intertwined.
Isaiah 28:16, 59:20
There is a wonderful book written by a man named T. H. White called The Once and Future King. This is a tale about King Arthur, the fabled King of England who, it is told, will one day rule again as her king. This book was basically a re-telling of much older British mythology. In the title of the book and indeed in the telling of the story itself White alludes to, perhaps inadvertently, the impending return of a messianic figure, one who would restore England to her former glory.
Interestingly, when I read this book for the first time in high school, I was intrigued by the messianic metaphor seen in Arthur. While this book is no allegory to the life of Jesus, it does raise some interesting similarities.
You see, there once was a king born in a town called Bethlehem. His was named Jesus because he would rescue his people from their sins. He was also called Immanuel because he was truly “God with us.” Though he did not look like he was expected to look, make no mistake, he was The King. And make no mistake, The King will return.
Isaiah prophesied that God would lay a stone in Zion, that it would be the Cornerstone. It would be the foundation upon which everything else in his Kingdom would be built. This would also be the Redeemer in chapter 59:20, the Redeemer who would save all those who turn from transgression.
As we close our series on Advent today I want us to be mindful of the King who was and will be again. When Jesus came to earth he came as no one expected, even though there was prophecy that dealt specifically with his birth, life, and death. He will come again someday and I would venture to guess that it will be as unexpected as his first coming. Even though we have prophecy about what that will look like, there is no reason to believe we will get it right. Most people missed him the first time around.
So there was a King and he will one day return. We live in the in-between. We live in the time period between times, the era in the middle. What does this mean for us? I read a quote several years ago and it struck me so much that I had to type it and print it out. I hung it on the wall of my office while I was at Highland Park because I wanted to be reminded of its implications. I don’t remember it completely, but I want to share the sentiment of it with you as we close today.
It was said: We often speak of the second coming of Christ. Most people have never heard about his first.
There is one week until Christmas day. This is perhaps the most natural evangelistic season of the year. What better time is there to tell people about King Jesus? Why do we use it to perpetuate the capitalist system that tears us from our souls? Why do we use it to cause more division among people? Most people in the world don’t know Jesus. Is this not the time to tell them?