Sermon 12.24.18 Christmas Eve Vespers

Luke 2:1-20                                                                                                                                                                        Rev. Kenneth Frey
Christmas Eve Vespers                                                                                                                                                                     12/24/18
 
Luke 2:1-20  In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 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 that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor 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.
 
A Savior is born for you
1.  The historical facts
2.  The lowly circumstances
3.  He is Christ, the Lord
4.  The great joy this brings
 
A Roman decree sent families scurrying back to their ancestral homes to register.  This registration is taxation without representation.  It is oppressive.  It is tyranny.  The families who go to register are an oppressed people who live under bitter Roman rule.  And God was silent.  He didn’t seem to care. 
Day by day, week after week, year after year, decade following decade, century fading into century – for 400 years there has been no voice of a prophet, no word of the Lord, no new revelation.  Heaven was silent.  There had been no deliverance.
But on this night a poor peasant couple returning to their ancestral home to register takes shelter among the livestock of the household.  There the woman labors.  She pants and groans.  Sometimes sharp cries escape her lips with the intensity of her contractions.  The man waits anxious and dutiful, watching, praying, doing all he can do to help the midwife and comfort his wife.  A little, rough-hewn trough used to feed the donkey just a few hours ago now stands filled with hay, ready to receive the child.  This is Christmas.
In the dark of night, a baby cries, out back in the stable.  There’s a flutter of wings over the fields and shepherds, huddling in the dark cold, are terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy!  A Savior is born for you.”  This is Christmas!
Bethlehem, where Christ was born, is no mythological city.  Luke didn’t begin by saying, “Once upon a time in a land far, far away . . .”  No, he places the birth of Jesus in a real and historic town at a specific time.
Luke tells us that the events of the chapter happened during the time of Augustus.  But he gets even more specific.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  There was a census about every 14 years in the Roman Empire.  This was probably the second of those censuses.  The point is that this happened in a real place at a real point in time.  It’s not fantasy.
How did Luke know this?   But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.   Mary was the source of most of the Christmas story.  Mary made a point of remembering the details because she knew the importance of what was happening. Did she keep a journal?  Not out of the question.
And the fact that we celebrate Christmas on December 25th may have its roots in Mary’s recollections.  The date of December 25th for Christmas was stated as early as Hyppolytus who lived around the turn of the second century (J. Hampton Keathley III at Bible.org) which would suggest some sort of remembrance or observance. 
If you start reading Luke’s gospel with chapter two, you would see clearly the impact of Rome’s dominance and power.  Caesar speaks and half the population is moving to ancestral homes.  But if you start reading Luke’s gospel at chapter one you see that the story doesn’t begin with Rome; it begins with God.  It begins with an angel of God speaking to Zechariah, foretelling a birth.  From the start of Luke’s story, one thing is clear:  it may be a Roman world, but it is God’s universe.  God was in control.  And God acted in our history for our salvation. 
But how God acted in our history is not what we would expect.  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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 
Because of the King James Version, we wrongly think of an inn, a hotel with a snarly owner who sends them to the animals.  The translation, “guest room,” is better.  It’s the same word used by Luke to describe where Jesus and his disciples would eat his last Passover.  It was probably a relative’s home that had a guest room, but other relatives were there already because of the census. 
But what jumps out at us and what Mary wanted people to know is this was not the way the Son of God should be welcomed into the world.  He chose a lowly birth to a humble couple in a backwater town because he was coming not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.  He became the babe of the cradle so that he might be the man of the cross. 
That’s why we are here tonight.  Because in this humble birth of Jesus, we see the extraordinary love of God for sinners.  Here in the manger we see that God so loved the world.  A Savior is born for you.
But in those lowliest of circumstances, we don’t want to forget who that Savior truly is.  To the shepherds the angels announced, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  He is not only Messiah, Christ, the fulfillment of prophecies; He is the Lord. “Lord” is used seventeen times in the first chapter of Luke.  Every single time it is beyond question a name for God.  In the first eleven verses of chapter two, “Lord” is used three times.  The first two times it is clearly a name for God.  The third time it is used, it’s here in our text to speak of the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger.  Not only is he Savior and Christ; he is Lord.  He is our God. 
How does God come to the world?  He was born.  What a paradox!  He who was and is eternal God, was also born.  He became flesh, fully human.  Here is the foundation of our faith.  God put himself in the balance.  God himself did what we could not.  God himself loved us and cared about us so much, he took on sin and death himself.  God himself became our Savior. 
There are two little words in the angel’s announcement that we don’t want to miss:  to you.  In the Greek, those words are in an emphatic position.  This child, the Lord God, was born for you.  He didn’t come just because he had to.  He’s God; he doesn’t have to do anything.  He did it for you.  He came in order to save you from sin. 
Do you have a Christmas tree?  Do you have presents under that tree?  How sad it would be for you if you didn’t have a Christmas present under the tree with your name on it.  Martin Luther once said, “Of what benefit would it be to me if Jesus would have been born a thousand times and it would have been sung daily in my ears that Jesus Christ as born, but that I was never to hear that Jesus Christ was born for me?”  When you finally realize that Christ is your very own, not only for all the world, not only for all the shepherds, not only for all the angels, but when you realize that Christ is your very own, you will have peace.  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
What does that peace mean to you?  The shepherds came and saw.  And what did they do?  They went away rejoicing and telling others. 
The news all around us is anything but good.  We see a hurting world.  Amidst the glitter of the Christmas season, there is emptiness for many.  So many fail to see any purpose in life and they lack true peace.  We have a world that needs the glorious news of the birth of the Savior.  May the gift of a Savior – for you – give us peace, joy and a passion for sharing this good news. 
It was a cry of a fragile little baby breaking upon history’s scene.  Strips of cloth are wrapped around his tiny body.  His mother nuzzles him close for warmth and nourishment.  Does the wonder of the picture still amaze you or have you gone through so many Christmases that you have become deadened to the mystery?  In the fragility of a tiny baby crying at his mother’s breast, where livestock nervously move about, and a weary peasant leans against the wall pondering how he will care for his family, the hope of the world comes.  This is Christmas.  A Savior is born for you.