These days in our nation are difficult. We have come out of a serious recession, people all over our country have lost their homes, and are in serious debt. We have been at war as a country. Our federal government is in debt. Our state government is in financial crisis and the jobless rate is unsteady. Rape and domestic violence has risen and people are facing loss of home and country--there is difficulty all over our world. There is no one person powerful enough to rescue us. We are still a world in desperate need of a savior.
The world within which Jesus arrived was also in need of a savior. Times were even worse than now. Economically, the poor which were most of the people, were struggling to get enough to eat. The nation was in tension with some of God’s people adopting Roman ways and traditions while others were holding on to the ways of Israel. The result was tension. It was not a good time to be a woman who could be taken captive by Romans, raped or abandoned.
The nation of Israel was a conquered nation under occupation by their enemy Rome headed by the emperor Ceasar Augustus. In that day, a conquered nation was dominated in two ways, they were either gathered up and taken captive to the conquering nation or they were allowed to live in their own land but were taxed and governed by foreign rulers. The latter was the case. Israel at the time of Christ’s birth was governed and taxed by a foreign ruler, Rome.
According to NT Wright, this ruler was often worshipped as a god and spoken of as Savior.
God’s people remembered the words of the prophet promising a deliverer like Moses… they were watching and waiting for the Savior, the Lord who would rescue them and liberate them from the domination of Rome. It is into this messy world that God came as a tiny child to a poor couple, he was laid in a simple feeding trough and worshipped by nameless shepherds in the town of Bethleham.
There are a couple of ideas that really strike me in this passage that may have some relevance for us today.
God did not come among kings and wealth but to a poor, unknown, scandal-ridden couple from Nazareth.
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
In contrast to a powerful conquering Ceasar of Rome, Mary and Joseph were humble peasants, poor and powerless.
It is said that Mary would not have needed to go to Bethleham as only the heads of families needed to register. But Joseph took her it is thought, because leaving her would have been very difficult in her circumstances. And what were her circumstances? She was with child and no one knew who the father was. He took her as his wife but scandal yet surrounded her.
Isn’t it interesting that God chose to come this way? Actually I think it is quite ingenius.
Who would trust if God came through a power-ridden Ceasar? Or a blood-thirsty Herod?
No God came in humble circumstances among humble people to redeem them.
Sometimes I look for God to come through the powerful people of this world. I expect him to rescue me or validate me through people who seem to have power to make things happen. But that almost never happens. More often I see God working through normal, average, folk… the little people of the world.
Could it possibly be that God comes most often through everyday people, normal folk, even poor folk?
How have you noticed God at work in your world this Christmas? In MN, I used to serve at a Food Bank called Harvest Outreach who gave food bags to those who needed food. Each month, some of the youth and I would go and be part of the food line distributing food as people came by with their containers. Afterwards, we would gather for dinner and debrief about where we saw God at work? He was there, present through the givers and the receivers and each of us sensed in some way the presence of God in the goodness that prevailed. Ordinary people that God used to help those in need.
Second, The Good news is for everyday people
..like shepherds and farmers and mechanics and moms and school teachers and mail carriers and factory workers and kids.
Notice that the good news did not come to the News Media announced on primetime. The good news came to a group of shepherds guarding their flocks of sheep.
Shepherds were the no-bodies of the world. They were everyday folk who worked hard and got their hands dirty and fought the predators who would harm the sheep. (any wonder that Christ is depicted as the good shepherd who would guard the sheep from the predators).
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
I sometimes wonder if the good news has become so common place in our own lives that it fails to bring wonder. Or perhaps life is so busy that we don’t have time to notice that God’s good news is really real and that there are people experiencing God and his transforming love. I see this in people who really have a need for God and who are aware of their own brokenness.
The good news offers real hope.
The shepherds were told that the promised one had been born, the savior—the real savior of the world. Not a pseudo savior who would conquer through power and military might but the genuine Savior who had been promised long ago. He would conquer differently… not by power but through justice, love, and giving.
In our world we still live under the myth of redemptive violence a hallmark of the sin system, believing that somehow more weapons, more power and more military might will save us from our enemies. But Jesus did not come as a violent reformer who would use such methods—his ways are different. Jesus is a stark contrast to how our world normally functions.
The sin system undergirding the present (and the 1st century) our world runs on fear, power and control. God invites the opposite… he ask us to trust, surrender and follow him. It is a different way of being that really does liberate us from the system that governs in our current world.
I am struck by the mention of the vast host of angelic beings and the armies of heaven praising God.
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
I think this massive display of God’s worshipping armies is significant. If I were a poor, humble shepherd, I would be overwhelmed by the massive choir of angels, the armies of heaven as the New Living says. If I had been a witness of this, I think I would have walked away with the sense of how big and powerful and mighty God was compared to the armies and powers of Rome. I would have felt reassured that while Rome seemed mighty, the God of heaven was mightier still—with the coming of Christ, worship broke out because the foe would soon be conquored.
God is powerful and above all worldly power and might. He is able to save and heal.
The Good news is carried by everyday people
This struck me this week in a new way…
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
The shepherds were so inspired by the good news, what they saw and heard that they just had to tell people. They were the first preachers of the gospel. I am intrigued and comforted that this news was entrusted to the humble ones of this world.
I am often intimidated by those with powerful gifts and attractive charisma. But clearly, God didn’t choose the mighty and charismatic to carry his message. He revealed himself and inspired a group of everyday shepherds, the no-bodies of the world and sent them to tell the good news.
The most excited people are usually the ones who have encountered God for themselves. In their passion, they are the ones who tell everyone about their experience. I am struck that the shepherds didn’t attend seminary, go to a class on evangelism or attend a revitalization seminar before they were sanctioned to share the good news…
They had a direct, life-changing encounter with the living God and they over-flowed with their own story of how they saw God at work.
This Christmas we remember that God came as a Savior… unlike would be saviors of this world—his way is different. He alone has the power to save and deliver and bring life. His way is unlike the ways of this world. He sneaks in like an innocent babe and grows up among us--reveals and communicates God and the way of God.