In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,* the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
When people think about the birth of Jesus, this is probably the scripture that comes to most everyone’s minds. As the beautiful icon above suggests, all the major players are in place. Animals, baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary, more animals (this was a stable after all), singing angels, and shepherds; they’re all present. Of course the story itself is striking as well. A young, unwed mother and her faithful (and confused) fiancé Joseph are travelling to be counted in a census when “the time” comes. They begin looking for a place to have the baby but, as the story goes, there was no room for them at the local Motel 6. So they go have the baby in a stable. There have been many conjecturers over the years who have tried to bring to light the many intricacies of the story. The context, does, after all, bring a lot to the story. But if we get overwhelmed in trying to figure out how many cows there must have been, where the shepherds stood, what song the angels sang, whether or not the wise men were there yet, or even if they were in a stable at all, we miss the moment. We miss God coming.
Advent builds towards something great and fantastic; the coming of God into the world. We have been preparing through repentance and anticipating with joy the singular moment when God came among us those millennia ago. It’s even bigger than this story though. God has been at work for a long time redeeming humanity. Now is the time when God came among us – incarnation. The culmination of Advent is God’s incarnation – God becoming human. This is when it became very personal for us humans. God incarnate came among us sinful humans. The Apostle Paul recognized this when he wrote to the church at Philippi, “he, being the very nature of God humbled himself and made himself nothing.” God incarnate came among us and lived, performed miracles to show that God’s Kingdom was here, proclaimed good news and hope to the poor and marginalized, was crucified for the scandal of it all, and then resurrected; leaving the tomb empty and death helpless. So while Advent celebrates the beautiful baby in the manger and the oddities of how it got there, it also points to the Savior on the Cross. We will plot points on that journey to the cross with the seasons of Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This story is about incarnation and the grace, glory, sovereignty, and power of God who seeks us this season.
Christmas Eve – 6 pm – Cherokee Springs UMC.