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."
In Jesus’ name... Amen