Merry Christmas! Today we have a short lesson, which is our bridge between our Advent lessons and what we’re going to be studying in the New Year, which is Jesus. So today we’re going to talk about Jesus’s birth and what it means.
Someone read Luke 2:1-6.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 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.
This is the story most of us know and think of when we think of Christmas. Emperor Augustus decided to hold a census, not a census as we know it, but rather an accounting of all people so he could make sure taxes are being paid properly. Because it’s hard to know how much money you should expect in taxes if you don’t know how many people live in certain regions. And as we talked about before, the Romans really cared about taxes.
It says everyone went to their own town to be registered. So even though Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem—which is the city king David was from. So they were expected to go back to their family’s home to be counted. This would be as if our gov’t required you to go to your grandparents house in order to vote or something. This is a very old-world idea we don’t really have in America of “houses” which is sort of the box that you and your entire related extended family fit into. So you would have to go back to the head of your house to do official like things.
They make it to Bethlehem and then Mary goes into labor, but because everyone is traveling for this census there isn’t a lot of room. Back then, there weren’t really inns like we know them. You couldn’t just go down to the Holiday Inn. Most people when traveling would stay with family and friends. But if your whole family is traveling to Bethlehem, by the time you got there, they may not have any room left in their house. Some of my research has actually said that the Greek word used here “Kataluma” and that doesn’t mean an inn at all like we think of. Instead it meant upper room, which would be like the family’s nice guest room. Houses back then weren’t built like houses were now. The bottom floor was pretty much in contact with dirt, and sometimes people lived with their animals, so animals would come in and out of the bottom floor. Sort of like having dogs, but people back then would have goats or pigs instead. So the upper room was the special clean room where the animals couldn’t go and where you would host family.
This theory says that by the time Mary and Joseph got there, the upper room was taken—probably by more important family members (a grandmother? Or some sort of other elder probably)—and so Mary and Joseph had to stay on the main floor with the goats and pigs and other random people who were stuffed into the home.
However, common tradition has us translate this as inn. So maybe Bethlehem did have some sort of large home where there was a person who would rent out rooms. Or maybe Mary and Joseph had a wealthy relative who had lots of rooms and they could have had one. But by the time they got their all the rooms were filled.
Regardless, the point here is not whether Jesus was born in an actual stable or on a dirty of house floor and then essentially placed in the family dog bowl. (After all a manger is literally the thing animals eat out of. So in our modern times it would be like you just had a new baby and put it in a dog bowl. Ew). The point is that Jesus’s birth? It wasn’t in a palace. It wasn’t in comfort. It wasn’t even in the best that poor people in Joseph’s family would have to offer—an upper room. The point is that Jesus was born in the muck like the rest of us.
I mean that metaphorically. Most of you were born in very clean hospitals. Jesus’s birth may have been heralded by angels, but when it came to his actual birth, he was born in the dirt and the muck like every human before him had been.
Alright someone please read Luke 2:9-20.
8 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,[a] 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,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
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.
Even though Jesus’s birth was inglorious, God wasn’t going to let it pass without some heavenly glory. An Angel appeared to some shepherds to tell them the good news and then suddenly the whole sky was filled with angels all singing and praising God.
Imagine you’re just a shepherd in the fields outside of Bethlehem, probably been a while since you took a shower or been in town, so you’re used to just hanging out with each other, and then suddenly BOOM. ANGELS. Everywhere. Singing that this amazing thing has happened. A messiah was born in the city of David. A Savoir!
The angels told them this happened, so they make haste to find this amazing thing—this baby who angels have praised his birth. Do they leave their sheep behind in their haste? Does one poor shepherd get left behind to tend the sheep while the rest go in town? Do they drive the sheep into Bethlehem in the middle of the night? I don’t know! But I do wonder!
The shepherds go and see Mary and Joseph and the baby in his food bowl bed. They were told of a messiah, a savior, and they find him little in a food bowl. When they saw Jesus I wonder if the humble poverty of his birth stood in the way of seeing him as a savior. I wonder if they were confused or whispered to each other, “This is how the messiah comes into the world?” I wonder if they tried to offer them something better? Maybe one of them had a wool coat or blanket. Maybe they offered it to the baby Jesus. Or maybe when they saw Jesus they saw his glory. Maybe there was something about him as they gazed upon them. Maybe they felt peace and a wholeness they have never felt before. We don’t know. But they saw the baby and they told Mary and Joseph about the angels.
And afterwards, they went to tell everyone what had happened what they had seen. The angels! The baby! The glory and divinity! The humbleness and humanity.
And that’s the paradox of Jesus isn’t it. That all of this glory and divinity can be packaged together with humbleness and humanity. That Jesus is fully God and fully human.
Jesus is literally God made flesh to walk amongst us, to live among us. God could have stayed in heaven, and not dirtied himself down here on the earth. Instead God chose to come here, to walk the earth, to be like us. To experience everything that we experience. Like being born. Probably like getting a childhood illness like chickenpox. Imagine, we have a God who knows what it’s like to get sick as a kid and be stuck in doors while he recovers. We have a God who was born into a family with human parents and later had younger siblings. Jesus knows what it’s like to argue with his parents—we’re going to study stories where he does. Jesus probably knew what it was like to argue with his younger siblings, and he undoubtedly got the fun of being irritated by them. Jesus had friends, and Jesus knows what it feels like to be betrayed by a friend. We have a God who chose to become fully human and experience all of these wonderful and awful human things that we all experience every day.
Jesus is God. He was there at the beginning when there was nothing. He was there when the universe was created. He lived in majesty and glory and perfection in heaven, and instead of just staying up there, he came down here. Born in a humble manger, not in a palace. Born in the dirt.
This is our God. This is Jesus, God with us, the Incarnation.
And that is why Christmas is important. It’s not just angels and wise men. It’s God choosing to come down from heaven to be one of us. And that is the miracle of