Caesar Augustus called a tax census. Everyone had to go to their home towns to register. Mary and Joseph made the difficult ninety mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Mary was great with child, Bethlehem was packed with people and there was no vacancy. So, Mary had to deliver her Child alongside the animals, wrapped the newborn in strips of cloth, and put him down to sleep in an animal's feed box.
At that very moment, the fields of Bethlehem were lit with the glory of God. Angels from heaven appeared to announce the birth. They proclaimed the good news of great joy and praised God who had brought peace to the earth in the form of this tiny infant who is Savior, Christ, and Lord.
The shepherds who heard the angels left their flocks in the fields and went running to Bethlehem to see this baby in a manger. They worshiped Him and became the first evangelists, telling others about Him.
Mary continued to ponder everything in her heart - The shepherds returned to their work, glorifying God.
The story retold year after year in the Christmas carols and pageants and displays. Some of them even give us the theology, if we take the time to look and listen:
“God rest you, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray - O tidings of comfort and joy.”
While the story of the birth of Jesus may be a familiar one, those tidings of comfort and joy are not necessarily at the heart of what the majority of people celebrate at Christmas.
So we do well to gather in this holy place to revisit the true meaning of Christmas as we gather again to hear the story of our Savior.
We celebrate the message that the angels brought to those shepherds who were tending to their flocks that night when our salvation came to us, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
Such good news it is that the gift of the Christ child is not just for some, but for all people.
He has not just come for those who act holy, He is not just for the wealthy nor is He just for the poor, but He has come for all people.
For most people, Christmas is about gifts. Christmas is about gift giving, not about giving toys, jewelry, bikes, cars, kitchen appliances and such but about the greatest gift of all, eternal life.
Who would have thought that these two people that didn’t make a reservation for the natal care suite, would bring forth the gift of the salvation of the world in a stable and lay Him to rest in a feeding box? Yet this babe lying in this box is God Himself who has come to reconcile the world to Himself. This is the greatest gift of all.
Here, lying in the manger, is God's unconditional love for you, His will to save, His desire for you to be His own.
Before you knew to ask for a Savior, God sent One.
Before you knew to ask for a Christ, He gave you One.
Before you knew to ask for a Lord, He came and made Himself your Lord, a Child conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths, is God's gift to you. It is a gift that will outlast all the others.
This little Child in the manger will give to you when you need most to be given to: when you are oppressed with guilt, when you are pressed down by your past, when you are at a loss for who you are and why you exist, when you fear for your life, in the hour of your death.
Sometimes, it is so difficult for us to be given to. We are so proud, so afraid of being humbled, so resistant to receiving.
We don't often want to be given to, we want to get for ourselves. But the baby in the manger pulls the plug on all that kind of talk.
God came when no one asked for Him. He was born where there was no room for Him. Before He was invited, He came in the most humble of ways.
This little One, whose birth we remember this day, is a Savior born to you, to save you from your sins, to deliver you from your death, to redeem you from the condemnation of the Law and the wrath of God.
Our rebellion and sin earned us hell, yet God brings down heaven. We deserve fire and brimstone, yet God sends a baby.
Do not be afraid, says the angel. Look on this child's face, and see the face of God come down to save you.
This Child grew up. He opened the eyes of the blind man. He opened the ears of the deaf. He stilled the storm and raised the dead. He preached the kingdom of God having come in Him. He was nailed to a cross. See the lengths to which God will go to rescue us! He divests Himself of His glory. He removes His royal robes and exchanges them for diapers.
He hides His power and His majesty under the weakness of the infant in the manger, the man on the cross.
So rejoice, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
1.Enthusiasm is contagious: When we are doing expense reports, creating new email lists and campaigns, travel arrangements and finding new congregations to go to and all of the ‘busy work’ we must do to it is difficult to maintain our enthusiasm and focus. When we visit a new congregation and get to know a new community we are revived! The congregation’s energy and genuine enthusiasm for what we are called to do continues to renew both of us. 2.A new respect for the frequent flyers: It is difficult to maintain a sense of normalcy. I often lose track of time thinking I did something last year when it was actually two years ago. 3.Always Keep a sense of Wonder: You often find support in the most surprising and unlikely places. Just keep on doing your footwork! God provides. 4.Delight in the little things: Nothing is permanent. 5.When it comes to packing, less is best but have your essentials: Makeup remover wipes, things in zip lock bags, light rain gear. Bring a belt! 6.Every church building has a story: Beautiful architecture, stained glass windows, alters, crucifixes, statues, paraments and banners. I have seen over 50 sanctuaries. But the best part? Talking to the members and listening to the stories about the beautiful things that I see. 7.Pastors and their wives are amazing people with some amazing stories. 8.I enjoy building relationships:My mom always told people that I liked to collect friends. I do! My collection is one of the best and largest I’ve EVER had!! 9.A working knowledge of Craigslist: I love getting rid of things and get excited thinking about the next thing I want to sell or give away. My poor husband! 10.We really are “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”: Those crazy Lutheran circles. I’m pretty sure I had a connection with someone at almost every church we visited!
my husband and I first were married and as we were merging our households
together I became the owner of a lovely little potted palm tree my husband
affectionately called “Mr. Palmy”. When we moved into our first home in Orange
County, California “Mr. Palmy” was planted into the ground of our tiny
backyard, and there it took root. Another palm tree went into the ground soon
after and as our trees took root, our married lives took root. We added our
shelter dog Rufus to our household as well as a host of new friends into the
circle of our growing marriage. We have many happy memories of our little condo
in Santa Ana.
decided to go back to see our old condo, and as I looked up above the garages
Mr. Palmy was soaring at least fifteen feet higher than our garage! His
‘friend’ had thrived as well, and both of them looked magnificent! It was a
stark reminder of how much time had passed as well as the change and growth
that still happens even when I am not around to witness it.
we were raising support in Southern California for a few months I had a chance
to stay for more than just a “vacation stay”. And like the change I saw in “Mr.
Palmy” Iwitnessed change all around me
every day. The state gone through some changes (more crowded, drought
conditions and a bigger homeless population). Some of my friends had really
changed, some had moved and a couple had passed away while I was gone. My perceptions
had a new twist to them as well. Life
did not stand still while I was away for three years. Change was everywhere,
and as unsettling as it was, I was now a sojourner in a place I used to call
I take a deep breath at the end of the day, and I think about moving to a far
off and foreign land, I am filled with gratitude for a God who does not change.
One of my favorite hymns is “Abide with
Me”. This second verse gives me great comfort: