1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to 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. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived.
All over the world this weekend, millions of people will be celebrating Christmas.
Each year the Church appeals to those same people to remember the real reason for the season. Fortunately, in the midst of the candlelight, the carols and the bells and smells of Christmas, the old story will be told again: Gabriel’s visits, the journey to Bethlehem, the arrival of the baby in a barn, the announcement to the shepherds in the night, the star in the East, the mission of the Magi.
The story is familiar – we know it very well, and in a world of great religious diversity where there is great doubt and disbelief about all things Biblical, it is not doubt or disbelief that we Christians need to guard against. The danger we face each year is simply familiarity: knowing the story all too well, so well in fact that we miss its wonder.
Aesop said that familiarity breeds contempt.
When we first turn to Christ, it’s a bit like a honeymoon, but then after a while we tend to take our salvation for granted.
In the beginning we were awed by Him, but today perhaps we are not so amazed. His visits become more routine, more ordinary, more commonplace. The songs we sing become a habit. The Bible we read becomes dry and old. The testimonies of fellow Christians don’t move us like they once did because we’ve seen and heard it all before. And the birth of Christ? The wonder is gone.
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther said that the mystery of the humanity of Jesus, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding. That God who was fully divine took upon Himself a human body to live among us is certainly beyond me, but when you read the Bible you’ll begin to see that His doing so was absolutely necessary for our redemption. There was actually no other alternative.
Today we’re going to look at that same old story, and ponder on some of the things that the birth of Jesus means to us today.
If you look at the first few verses in Luke 2, we see that throughout the Roman Empire people were commanded to return to their ancestral homes to register for a census. Joseph, who was a descendant of King David, took his fiancée, who was pregnant and close to giving birth, and made the long journey to Bethlehem.
So it was no surprise that when they arrived, they couldn’t find any accommodation. Bethlehem was a tiny village, so they ended up in a barn, where Jesus was born.
While this was going on, angels appeared to the shepherds and told them the good news. It was then that they broke out in song giving glory to God. They told the shepherds that the Saviour had been born. They told the men where He was and what to look for when they got to town. When the angels left, the shepherds went into Bethlehem to see for themselves what the angels had said. For hundreds of years this event had been foretold, and now it was taking place before their very eyes. They told everyone what they saw, spreading the wonder concerning the news of a Saviour.
Verse 18 says that “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” On the eighth day Mary and Joseph circumcised the boy, and following the Lord’s instructions they named the baby Jesus.
Some wonderful things happened on that night long ago, and from this passage we can see that Christ’s birth resulted in many different things.
1. The Birth of Christ Resulted in Praise
We can only speculate how much the angels knew about what was about to happen, but there’s no question that they were excited when it finally occurred. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the universe and the angels themselves left the glory of heaven as He made Himself completely vulnerable. There is nothing more helpless and vulnerable than a newborn baby.
So here is their Creator, their Lord and Master who has submitted Himself to this lowly position.
We sing Silent Night, and it might be a wonderful carol, but Revelation 12 tells us this night was far from quiet and peaceful.
There was an all-out war being waged. satan and his demons vehemently opposed this birth. In fact, they had been working since the Garden of Eden to prevent the birth of Christ, and now it has happened and Jesus has shown Himself to be the victor. The angels are singing great praises in the plain sight of the shepherds.
I think that satan is absolutely thrilled when we celebrate Xmas. I think he loves the tinsel and the office parties, because they take our eyes off of Jesus.
Luke 2 tells us that after the shepherds raced to town and saw for themselves what the angels had told them, they also left the stable praising God. Imagine the scene as these men left that place with great joy in their hearts, knowing they had just seen the salvation of Israel, the Promised Messiah, the King of kings before their very eyes! They told everyone what they saw.
C.S. Lewis once said, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”
Praise is vital. Praise is important in your life, and the absence of it should alarm you. We all praise what we delight in and enjoy.
Did you ever know a fisherman who told no one about what he caught?
Did you ever know a golfer who never talked about how he almost got a hole-in-one?
How about our grandparents here today – how many of you told no-one when your grandchildren were born?
We praise the important things in our life, and we communicate to others our love for those things because we delight in them.
The absence of praise should serve as a spiritual indicator in our lives.
If we’re not praising God, we need to ask ourselves why.
Could it be that familiarity has bred contempt?
The birth of Christ resulted in great praise from everyone involved because they delighted in the news they heard and the baby they saw.
When they were given a glimpse of the hand of God at work, they rejoiced and praised God. God’s work in your life should bring praise from your lips.
2. The Birth of Christ Resulted in Great News
The second thing which the birth of Christ brought was good news.
Verses 10 and 11 say, “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 Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”
The angels brought good news of great joy. It was great joy because it had been long anticipated. It was great joy because this was the Messiah, the Saviour. He was finally here! And the great joy didn’t end there. It had to do with the joy He would give to all who called on Him as their Lord and Saviour.
It gives me great joy to know that the all-powerful and all-knowing and omnipresent God of the universe was born into this world for me! Yes, He did it for you and for the entire world, but He also did it for me. He was born for me. He lived for me. He died for me. He rose from the grave for me and today He intercedes for me! That truth could and should bring great joy today knowing what the birth of Christ has done for each of us.
Do you know that great joy as well, or do you, just like the rest of the world regard it as just an added benefit of Xmas?
Not only was there good news of great joy, but this was good news concerning peace. The angel said in verse 14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
In Isaiah 9:6-7 it was prophesied, “To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.”
When Paul wrote about Jesus and the gospel, he called it a gospel of peace. God is called the God of peace. Jesus is called the Prince of peace. The book of Ephesians says He is our peace, that by His blood He made peace, purchased our peace and that He came and preached peace.
Our understanding of peace is very limited. To us, peace means simply that there is no war. Someone once very cynically said that peacetime merely gives us a chance to reload.
If the peace you’re looking for is peace and quiet and a life without troubles, then Jesus is not for you.
The Bible says that in our natural sinful condition you and I are at enmity with God. We’re out of sorts with Him, but Jesus came to change all that. He came to remove that enmity and reconcile us to God.
The greatest peace a man can have is to have peace with God: to know that he is right with His Creator and that when it is all said and done here on earth that something even better waits for us on the other side of death.
Have you ever wondered why so many people who have absolutely no connection with God so often turn to Him when they face the reality that their life might be coming to an end?
As Christians we are often very critical of people like that. We hear of death row prisoners turning to Jesus and we don’t rejoice, because we think they have some nerve, don’t we?
The thing is though, that they are simply obeying their deepest instinct – to be at peace with God.
Ask yourself this question – why am I a Christian? Have you ever asked yourself that question before? Look down deep within yourself, and you might be surprised at the answer. I think you’ll find that the answer to the question ‘Why am I a Christian?’ is because you know how desperately you need to be at peace with God.
How can you have peace with God?
Romans 5:1 says, “We have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In other words, when you place your faith in Jesus Christ - when you finally admit that you have no hope of eternal life without Him and that nothing you can do will earn you favour with God, when you stop trusting yourself and your ability to please Him and simply trust the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for your sins, when you place your faith in Jesus, God declares you to be forgiven for your sins and He gives you the righteousness of His Son.
When you do your part (exercise faith in Jesus), God does His part (forgives you and gives you His righteousness), then you have the peace that Jesus came to offer.
That is why the angel could say that he brought good news of great joy, because to you and I was born that day in the city of David a Saviour - not a politician, not a doctor, not a military commander, but a Saviour, Christ the Lord!
3. The Birth of Christ Resulted in Glory
Jesus’ birth was glorious in its fulfillment. Daniel told us about when He would be born. Isaiah said that a virgin would conceive.
The prophet Micah told us where He’d would be born. Jeremiah prophesied the killing of all the innocent babies.
The life of Jesus Christ is an amazing testament to the glory of God in that over and over God put His name on the line by giving us exact details about the birth, life and death of Jesus. Who else but God can say what will happen tomorrow with exactness? I can tell you what I think the weather might do. I can tell you what I hope to achieve this week. I can tell you that I think this or that will happen, but only God is glorious enough to see tomorrow just as clearly as He sees yesterday and today!
Jesus’ birth is glorious in its wonder. The whole story of the incarnation is full of wonder. God promised Eve a son who would crush the head of satan. The entire Old Testament is the story of God preparing the way for Jesus. The virgin birth is a wonder.
That the King of kings would be born in a smelly shed with donkeys and cows is a wonder.
That He would sleep and be nursed in a food trough is a wonder.
It is a wonder to me that God would choose to do what He did the way He did it!
When you stop to actually think about all the wonders surrounding the birth of Jesus: the angels, the shepherds, the star of Bethlehem, the journey of the Magi to see Him; you cannot help but marvel at the glory of God.
But here is another reason why Jesus Christ’s birth results in glory to God. It is because we can experience it personally.
Can you imagine how those shepherds must have felt? The angels didn’t appear to royalty. They didn’t announce the birth even to the Magi. They appeared to these shepherds, common men who did a common, menial job.
But they were given an uncommon experience. They were told, then they went to see.
That can be your experience too. Today the Holy Spirit gives you that same invitation. You too can see with eyes of faith the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is not in a manger today, nor is He on a cross on Calvary, but today He sits at the right hand of the throne of God waiting for His Father’s command to return to earth and finish the work He began long ago.
You see, the incarnation of Christ, His birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago was only the first of two visits Jesus will make to earth. On that first visit He came to purchase your salvation. He came to live and die and rise from the grave to pay for your sins.
He came to offer to you and me eternal life. His invitation is for you to be reconciled to God. God will forgive you for your sins and will regard you as if you had never sinned when you place your faith in Jesus Christ.
That is the wonder of the Christmas story. It may be an old story that you’ve heard many times. It may even have become a little stale because you’ve heard it so often. But your familiarity with the story of Emmanuel, God with us, does not diminish in its wonder and glory, just because you’ve become so used to it.
Just pause for a moment and consider what God has done for you. Look at the manger as it stands in the shadow of the cross. He did all of this for you. Don’t make the mistake of missing the good news of Jesus.
Last Sunday was the 114th anniversary of the first aeroplane flight. After many attempts, Orville and Wilbur Wright were finally successful in getting their flying machine off the ground.
Of course, they were thrilled, so they sent this telegram to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.”
Katherine rushed off to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and famously said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He completely missed the good news.
Don’t miss the wonder of the birth of Jesus. Don’t allow the familiarity of Christmas to rob you of the joys that God has for you.
He is worthy of your praise today. His birth is the greatest news in the world! Everything about His birth is about the glory of God.
So – my appeal to you today, as you prepare to celebrate Christmas with millions of people all over the world – just take in the wonder of it all once more, and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.