SUMMER REBOOT – this podcast was originally published in Advent, on 21 December 2018.
Hello, welcome to the final Foundations Podcast of this – the final week of Advent. Christmas is so close now! I don’t know about you but the excitement is certainly building to a crescendo! Our near three-year-old, Naomi, may well explode!
All week, we’ve been reflecting on the opening to Luke’s Gospel account – the Christmas story. Today’s final reading is Luke 2:1-20 which is, of course, the birth of Jesus.
We’ve used the term ‘story’ quite a lot this week but it’s worth us remembering that this isn’t a work of fiction. All of these events are grounded in history. Luke doesn’t begin this account by saying ‘Once upon a time…’. This is no fairy tale. The extraordinary miracle that is the birth of Jesus was at a particular God appointed moment in the history of the world. Today’s reading opens by telling us about a decree issued from Caesar Augustus that people go and register in their home town. This is why Joseph ends up travelling with a heavily pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
The Christmas story, as we’ve discovered this week, reveals to us many things about God and his desire for relationship with us, and we conclude our thoughts this week by considering this word: hope. The Christmas story offers us hope.
Here are today’s focus verses:
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. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Last Sunday, we had our Nativity here at STC. It was great fun; loads of people packed into the place. We had children dressed in all the traditional fare. I think there may have even been a superhero in there too! My own daughter – the angel Gabriel – got to carry in the baby Jesus in (because that’s how it happened!) My son was a cow. We took the obligatory family selfie in front of tree. It was wonderful. The thing is though, when we look at the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, we aren’t presented with this perfect picture postcard Nativity scene. We see something much rawer. Much rougher round the edges. Picture a different scene.
Mary, she’s maybe 14 at the time. Pregnant, not yet married, far away from home. Things are difficult for her.
Joseph, he’s maybe 15. He’s in his hometown but where are his family – they aren’t there. There’s doubt about who the father is of this new born child is. This girl he’s with isn’t yet his wife. As we’ve talked about already this week – both Mary and Joseph were probably disgraced by this, shunned, cast out. This wasn’t in either of their plans.
The shepherds appear after being invited by the angels. Men who were considered too uncouth, too unfit for the temple. Yet here they are witnessing the birth of God’s son. There’s animals – donkeys, sheep too – it’s messy in every sense of the word.
And into the middle of that mess and all that’s wrapped up in the emotions of those in that stable that night in Bethlehem, God chooses to birth his son, Jesus, our Immanuel. God with us,
And if we really stop, as we have been trying to do this week, and really reflect on what’s happening it should shock us. It should stagger us. The risk that God takes in doing this – it’s immense. But it’s because he does that, that we can have hope.
When God showed up in Jesus Christ, he was not a pillar of fire or a roaring wind as we see in the Old Testament, but a baby. And having nurtured new born babies, I know that they love nothing more than to be held, cuddled, kissed, sung to. They cling to you. Because they desire connection. That’s why God came as he did – in this way, in this form. He came not to judge us, but to connect with us. To take away the barrier between us and God so that we can be together. God is with us.
And that brings us hope. So that like Mary, when we feel a sense of shame, we have hope because we know God looks at us and says, ‘You are my handiwork, you’re my masterpiece.’ He sings songs over us. Like Joseph when we feel a sense of confusion, of frustration – ‘This isn’t how I planned it’ – we have hope and know that God is faithful. That he works all things for his good. Like the Shepherds, when we feel like an outsider, like we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t worthy or holy enough – we know that through Jesus we are forgiven, we are enough, and we are welcomed in.
Christmas says we have hope because God came to us in Jesus. He knows we could never climb up to him so he has come down to us.
The Christmas story is above all else a message of hope. We pray that this Christmas we would know and receive his hope afresh into our lives and that we would be emboldened and inspired to take that same message of hope out to the places around us where, in these days and these time, it is so desperately needed.
We end this week with these words from a famous carol. And may they be our prayer as we consider Jesus coming again, in our lives and into our world, this Christmas.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
READING: 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 near by, 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. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
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.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.