What’s So Significant 12-24-13

This is my sermon from Christmas Eve. It focuses on the typical birth narrative found in Luke 2:1-20. You can listen to the sermon here.


You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Christmas is upon us! Unless your name is Ebenezer Scrooge, this is probably a joyful thing. Many people love Christmas right? It is truly a wonderful time of year. Many people celebrate in different ways, sticking with their own traditions. As I am getting to know you, I’ve started to hear about some of those traditions…and I certainly have a few of my own that happen year after year.
One that really comes to mind is a tradition that I married into. Christmas morning at my wife’s parents house. Before we start opening presents, we say a prayer and we sing happy birthday to Jesus. Now apparently traditions must make an impact because about a few years ago, my son Jack made a comment based on this tradition, and that comment has stuck with me. We’d been talking about Jesus living in our heart and while sitting at the kitchen table, the whole family got started talking about His birthday coming up. Jack stopped eating, looked down at his chest and said “Did you hear that Jesus…on your birthday, you’re gonna get cake.” Kids certainly say the strangest things don’t they? But it is not without a certain truth. After all Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus isn’t it?
The birth of a person, is really pretty important when you stop and think about it isn’t it? After all, if a person isn’t born, they don’t have a life do they? Without a birth, they simply cease to be…or more accurately, they never were…but that being said, how often do we really place importance on someone’s birth?
Think about it for a minute. How many “births” do you really remember or care about?  I can think of two. One of them occurred on January 15th, 2004. The second one on July 26th, 2006.  Can anyone guess who was born on those two days?  (wait for answers).  Yep…my kids, Jack and Ava.
Now, I could go into a long story, recounting every detail of those two days. I remember them well, but if I did, two things would likely happen. One, Emily would roll her eyes at me and probably slug me after the service, and two, many of you would probably also roll your eyes and promptly forget nearly every single detail within about 3 minutes.
Have you ever had someone drone on and on about the birth of their kids? Be honest? Its one of those conversations that you wish you didn’t have to experience isn’t it? Because do you care? Honestly? Probably not.
As I think about the birth of my son and daughter, there are probably about 3 groups of people that really care and really want the details. Emily and I as their parents. Our parents, because I’m told that becoming a grandparent is the greatest thing on earth…and the last one…the doctor, because he got paid for it right?
Its true isn’t it? There are very few births outside of our own family that we really care about.
Considering the apparent lack of enthusiasm that we have regarding the details about someone’s birth, we have to ask the question of just why Luke chose to include it. Look at the other gospels. Mark doesn’t talk about it at all. John simply tells us that the word became flesh. Matthew goes a little farther along, but even he only mentions it in passing…but Luke…he really goes into detail, doesn’t he?
Luke gives us a reference for the time period, telling us that Augustus was the emperor of Rome and Quirinius was governor of Syria. There was a census happening. We see a road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the part of Joseph and Mary. Jesus is born in a barn because the entire town was full. Nearby shepherds get an eyeful of angels and then come running into town to check it out. Honestly, Luke really heaps on the details.
But why? What is so significant about the birth of Jesus? Why start the story here. Not much else seemed to happen before Jesus was 30. Why not gloss over the whole thing like Mark does and start with the important stuff? Does he expect anyone to really remember this humble birth…one of countless babies born that same day. From a historical perspective, people are much more likely to remember Caesar and or the governor.
Additionally, if we look at the importance of the people involved, the information that we receive from Luke in the previous chapter indicates that John the Baptist probably should have been more important. His birth was foretold within the temple and he was born to a priest. Jesus, on the other hand, is foretold only to his mother, a simple girl, engaged to a carpenter. No one of significance.
His birth itself…again, very humble…born in a barn. Now, you may picture in your heads a cozy manger scene. Brightly lit with soft gleaming straw lining the floor…but my friends, I’ve seen a barn in the middle of a winter night…filled with a bunch of animals that have slept there. Its loud…its humid…and it smells like…well…let’s just say it smells pretty bad. (pause) Its nothing special…in fact, its probably about as humble as you can get.
But perhaps this is exactly why Luke chose to include it. God is choosing what seems to be the lowliest circumstances to enter into humanity. This is no simple prophet being born. It is no ordinary person. This is God himself, becoming human…becoming like us to experience life as we do. This is…a very big deal.
We all know who Jesus becomes don’t we? The savior of all mankind. The angel even tells us this. “Born to you this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah.” Certainly, this is significant enough that it needs to be proclaimed to the entire world right? Well yes but…not quite yet.
So who gets the message? Who hears this angelic proclamation? A bunch of shepherds.  A batch of guys, just out doing what they do. Hanging out with their sheep. And they are the first ones to hear about the greatest birth in the history of mankind? Why?  Why them? What was so significant about the shepherds?
Why not send the angels to proclaim this heavenly message in the temple or among the streets of Jerusalem. Certainly the center of the Jewish culture, only 6 miles away from Bethlehem, would have been a better place with better witnesses right? Announce it to the priests, or the Pharisees. Surely it would make more sense for them to witness the Christ child. More people would believe their message. Because they have credibility.
You see, in the Jewish culture, a person’s occupation went a long way in establishing their credibility as a witness. As shepherds, these men would were pretty much the bottom of the barrel. They were considered riff-raff…shady at best. If they were called into court to testify, very few would count their testimony as valid.
But despite that, it’s THESE men that get the message. THESE men…are chosen to hear the good news in a divine fashion. Luke tells us that they are terrified, but yet they go and see. They follow the calling and witness firsthand the newborn messiah.
And then, what do they do? (pause) Luke tells us that they left the manger and made known what they had seen and heard.  They testified. They told the good news of the messiah born in Bethlehem…and all who heard it were amazed.
Right here…in this simple act, we are given an important lesson. The shepherds…simple men…insignificant men were given a call…they answered it, scary as it was for them…they went and saw…they experienced Jesus Christ…God here on Earth…and then they went out and testified about it…telling everyone that they encountered.
So today…consider yourself a shepherd. Here today…you have received the heavenly message. God has entered into humanity…He has taken on flesh and he has done it for you because he loves you. We cannot hear this wonderful message…I mean really hear it…without being changed. As scary as it is…we are called to be a witness to what we have seen and heard.
Regardless of who we are, when we believe in Jesus Christ as our lord and savior…when the Holy Spirit nestles right down within us and gives us that saving faith in Christ…at that moment…we are called to testify to that good news.  The shepherds were simply the first people to do it…and regardless of their insignificance…they followed their calling…Will you?
In a moment we will sing a well-known Christmas song that I believe is very fitting. (sing) Go tell it on the mountain, over the fields and everywhere…Go tell it on the mountain…that Jesus Christ is born…
People of God, this is our calling…it is universal. The good news of Jesus Christ begins again today. It begins with many insignificant details…An insignificant girl…an insignificant birthplace…insignificant witnesses…yet utterly significant results.
Go Tell It On The Mountain…That Jesus Christ Is Born…Amen

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