“The Baby and the Birth Announcement” (Luke 2:1-14)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Thursday, December 24, 2009

“The Baby and the Birth Announcement” (Luke 2:1-14)

The birth of a baby is a joyous event, but only if you know about it. With the birth of the baby, you need a birth announcement, in order to know what kind of child it is, when it came, and so on. Only then can you rejoice, when you know what has happened. If that is true with ordinary births of ordinary babies, how much more is it true of the birth of a certain child in Bethlehem so long ago, the most extraordinary birth of the most extraordinary baby ever born. The miracle of Christmas is both “The Baby and the Birth Announcement,” and it is only with both that we can have a merry, joyous Christmas.

It’s a familiar story but let’s revisit it nonetheless. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” This registration was for the purpose of taxation, of course; that’s what governments do. Imagine that, the government passing a huge tax increase just in time for Christmas! So there’s this couple that has to travel from the place where they’re living, in Nazareth, to the ancestral hometown, where their family comes from, the little town of Bethlehem. No big deal, very little to take note of, except for the fact that Bethlehem happened to be the hometown of Israel’s greatest king from centuries earlier, King David. Joseph, the husband, is a many-generation descendant of King David, but again, that in itself would be no big deal, since the monarchy had been vacant for centuries, and there were lots and lots of folks descended from the Davidic line.

About this couple traveling to Bethlehem–well, the wife is pregnant, very pregnant, about due to give birth any time now. Maybe the child will be born with a Bethlehem birth certificate instead of a Nazareth one. Now wait a minute–having the right birth certificate could qualify one for a certain office. Davidic descent, born in Bethlehem–hmm, certain prophecies come to mind. Naah, must be just a coincidence. After all, this is just an ordinary couple, nobody special.

And look, this couple is so low-ranking they can’t even score a deal on a room when they get to town. The Holiday Inn is full up. Some desk clerk, though, has pity on the poor guy with the pregnant wife and at least lets them stay in the garage for the night. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the baby chooses to arrive! So there they are, Joseph, Mary, and the little newborn, out back with the animals, nowhere to put the little bundle of joy other than in an unused feed trough. Really, it’s hard to find a more obscure and lowly birth than this. This would not have rated a notice in the Daily Journal, much less a scrawling message on the Holiday Inn signboard. A less than ordinary birth, in a strange town, stuck out back in a shed. Nobody knows about it, and there’s nobody around to share the joy, except maybe a few donkeys and sheep.

Speaking of sheep, there are shepherds out that night, maybe a couple miles away, camping out with the flocks they’re tending. Shepherd is kind of a lowly occupation, not much honor or esteem, sort of a blue-collar, menial job. Shepherds are men with rough hands and weather-beaten faces. Nobody special. And they wouldn’t have cared about some baby being born in town that night. Big deal.

So all in all, so far this adds up to a pretty ho-hum story. Transients having to make do in difficult circumstances. An inconvenient birth that nobody knows about. Some low-class night-workers out on the job. Whoop-de-doo. Nice for that couple, but other than that, who cares?

But now comes the birth announcement, and it turns our reading of the story completely upside-down–or rightside-up, as the case may be. All of a sudden, out in the middle of nowhere, an angel appears, appears to those nobody shepherds. Now this is really out of the ordinary! Angels don’t show up just any old time, you know. This only happens when there is something very special going on in God’s dealings with mankind. Something new is happening in salvation history, and God sends an angel to announce it. That’s typically how it goes, when there’s nothing typical about it! God is doing something, something big. A very big deal indeed! Everything about this story looks ordinary, lowly, humble even. But God is doing a big work, mighty and miraculous and full of joy.

The first thing angels have to do when they appear to men is to calm their fears. Seeing an angel is a very scary thing. Usually the first words out of an angel’s mouth are “Fear not”–“don’t worry I’m not here to torch you”–and that’s the case here. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Good news! Great joy! For all the people! This must be something extraordinary God wants us to know!

It is. The angel continues, and this is the big announcement: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is huge! This is the best news of the greatest joy that truly is for all the people, not just the people of Israel, but by extension, for all people everywhere, including you here tonight. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It starts in the context of Israel and the ancient prophecies, of course. The big event happens in “the city of David.” The angel could have just said “Bethlehem,” but by calling it “the city of David” our attention is drawn to those prophecies about a coming Son of David, the Messiah, the great King who would bring in God’s ultimate kingdom of blessing and setting things right. That’s who is born on this night.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This Messiah, this Christ, this anointed one, the end-time deliverer–he is a Savior, born for you. Me? What do I need saving from? Hey, I’m just an ordinary shepherd; don’t drag me into this religious business. OK, but you still need a Savior. You know how to take care of sheep and save them, don’t you, when they run into danger? Same thing for you. You need someone to save you, someone stronger than you, when you get into trouble you can’t handle. And here’s some trouble you can’t handle, whether you are a shepherd or a king or a desk clerk. You can’t handle your own sins, digging your way out of that hole. You can’t handle death, that great unknown, the yawning chasm lying before you. You can’t handle God’s judgment, because God doesn’t grade on a curve, and you don’t pass the Final Exam with its Ten Tough Questions. No, this stuff you can’t deal with, it’s too much for you. You need a Savior who can.

That’s who this newborn is, the baby born in the city of David: The Savior. The Christ. The Lord. God come in the flesh, to do the job we can’t do. He is the most extraordinary child, come to do the most extraordinary and exciting and necessary work, to be the Savior of mankind. Yet he comes in the most humble of circumstances. That should give us a clue as to how he will accomplish his work: in a lowly, humble manner, totally unlike the way we would expect for the King of kings and Lord of lords. But that’s what it would take to do the job: God taking on himself our sin and our suffering, our death and the judgment we deserve. A lowly king, a humble birth, a death in shame and dishonor. A manger. A cross. Not the kind of place you would expect.

But that’s how God works. He does great things, saving things, though humble means. That’s what happens here in this church. Kind of a backwater little town, Bonne Terre is. We’ve got this little old church building, not a golden palace by any means. Shepherds and truck drivers, auto mechanics and car salesmen, beauticians and housewives, retired printers and retired policemen–these are the kind of people who hang out here. And then there’s that guy with the collar and the funny robe–doesn’t look too much like an angel in my book. Nevertheless, he’s got the same good news from God to deliver that the angel had. It’s the good news of great joy that lasts for all time. It’s the good news of great joy for all of you. Yes, this is the good news of great joy about your Savior, Christ the Lord. Good news, great joy, in humble surroundings. That’s how God works.

Well, if all that is not enough, here comes the choir: “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 among those with whom he is pleased!’” This news is so good and the joy is so great, that there has to be some singing. What is happening with the arrival of the little Savior is the biggest deal of all, and it rates the greatest worship anyone has ever heard. “Glory to God in the highest.” The heavens are ringing out with praise to God for the Savior he is sending. “And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The Savior sent from heaven makes peace for us on earth. Peace between God and man, forever established in the coming of this child who would go to the cross for us. This is God’s good pleasure, his good will toward us, that he does this. It’s pure grace, a gift. And now, having received that peace, made through the cross of Christ–now our worship, our Gloria in Excelsis, echoes that of the angels. Good news! Great joy! Heaven and earth join in the singing.

The miracle of Christmas, the great and mighty wonder, has to do with both “The Baby and the Birth Announcement.” It takes both. You’ve got both! And a merry, joyous Christmas to you!

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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