Posted on Dec 24, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). Whether you are a person that attends church regularly, or you are a person attends church rarely, or if you are a person that has come to church for the first time tonight, my guess is that if I walked up to you on the street and read this first verse to you, that you would have been able to tell me this was about the birth of Jesus. This reading from Luke is read every year on Christmas in churches and it is often recited on TV shows, and in other Christmas programs. It is the way we start to tell the story of the birth of Jesus. And for many of us this verse brings a smile to our face, because we know it is part of the Christmas story, but that news of the census didn’t bring a smile to Joseph and Mary. In fact, I would bet those words caused them to be afraid, because such a census could only mean more control by the Romans in their lives. It could only mean more taxes and the list goes on.
And of course, we all know what comes next. Because of the census, Mary and Joseph had to go to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, but when they got there, it was so crowded that the only place the young couple could find to stay was an inn keeper’s barn. Most likely it wasn’t the tidiest of places and most likely there were animals in it, although Luke doesn’t tell us that, but it was what, today, we might call a barn. And although Luke doesn’t tell us anything else, my guess is that the young couple was not thrilled about sleeping in a dirty, smelly barn.
And who could blame them for not liking this place? In fact I wonder what Mary said to Joseph when he walked out of the inn and said, well I have bad news and good news. The bad news in there are no rooms left, but the good news is, the Inn Keeper said we could stay in his barn. Well, I had something similar happen to me about 25 years ago. Our kids were little and we were on a road trip. It was late at night in the Los Angeles area and most of the motels we were driving by had their “No Vacancy” sign lit up. But, suddenly, I noted there was a place right off the highway that had the “Vacancy” sign lit. So, I pulled off, went up to the outdoor window and got a room. Now, it wasn’t a barn, but suffice it to say, Jill wasn’t very happy with me. The room was dirty, there were police cars parked right outside our room all night and, well, suffice it to say that the other guests weren’t staying very long. Jill was scared all night and we didn’t sleep very well. But, it many ways it was small blessing that we at least had a place to for a little while.
And you know what, my guess is when Mary went into labor that night, all thoughts of it being a crummy place to have to stay went out the window. It might have been dirty, it might have been smelly and it may have been filled with animals, but they had a roof over their heads, they were out of the elements and they had a place to lay their baby to keep him safe. It was truly a small blessing that they at least had a place for her to lay and have her baby.
Now, as the story goes on, there some other folks in this story who were not in a safe place that night, the Shepherds. The job of the shepherds was to care for the flocks out in the fields. They stayed outdoors with their flocks to protect them. Their job was not only to keep them from wondering away, but also to keep the predators away. It was a dirty, smelly, dangerous job, but it was their job, but my guess is, in a world filled with poverty and violence, those shepherds felt blessed in some small way to have a job.
But, on this special night, their whole world was about to change. As they watched over their flocks, Luke says, “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). Can you blame them for being afraid? It was nighttime. It was supposed to be dark, but in the midst of the darkness, “the glory of God” lit up the night. From darkness to light in an instant, that would scare us, too. But the first words of the angel were, “Do not be afraid…” (2:10). Now, I know that is an overused phrase, but in this case, I believe as the angel continued talking, the fears and terror that had filled those shepherds dissipated. Why? Because of the good news that the angel brought to them!
Into that dark, violent, dangerous world in which Mary and Joseph and those shepherds lived, God came and brought them a small gift, a baby boy that would be the Messiah. This news meant that Mary and Joseph, and those shepherds, and all people, no longer needed to live in fear. All because of a small blessing, named Jesus.
Today, we gather here and with people all over the world because this ancient story, is our story. Tonight we are reminded that God loves us so much that God was willing to become human. Tonight we are reminded of that small blessing offered to us in those words of the angel, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (2:10-12). A small blessing that would change the world.
But, the more I think about it, when it comes to this incredible story tonight, I am reminded that it comes to God, there are no small blessings. God may have sent a baby into this world, but it was a baby filled with God’s love, God’s wisdom and God’s Spirit. This was no small blessing. No, the birth of Jesus is a blessing like no other. It is God’s way of saying that you, each of you are loved so much that God is willing to come to you. God loves you so much that God will live among you and that you are loved so much, that God will do whatever it takes to stay with you, God will even die for you.
That is good news of great joy for all of us and tonight my prayer is that each of you, no matter what is happening in your lives that you may come to believe that you are loved, you are worthy and you belong to this Christ child that was no small blessing! Amen.