By Pastor Glenn Pease
When I was a shoeshine boy back in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1945, I remember being down town when suddenly horns began to blow, bells ring, whistles shriek, and people everywhere in the streets, and stores began to sing, hug, laugh, and shout. Paper began flying from the windows all over town. The good news had come that the war was over. It was a message that brought forth an immediate and enthusiastic response of joy. If you took that same message today and read it from the history book to the people in Sioux Falls, or any other city where the same thing happened, they would not respond as they did then. The reason is obvious. It is no longer a message, but only a record of what was a message of good news in the past.
The message of Christmas, however, is so profoundly significant for all time that it can never become a mere record. It is forever a message of good news. It is a continuously contemporary message that is as relevant today as it was when the angels first proclaimed it to the shepherds. Christmas is still the good news that unto you is born a Savior. It is still a message of hope, joy, and peace that causes men to glorify and praise God. Martin Luther said, "To us it is not simply an old story of an event that happened 1500 years ago, it is more than an event that happened once; for it is a gift and a bestowing that endures forever." This past event is a present experience for every generation. We want to enter into the experience of Christmas again as we examine three aspects of Luke's account of this historic and eternal event. First-
I. THE ADVENT OF THE SAVIOR. vv.1-7
The first message that comes to us from the record is The Hope of History. The story of Christmas begins with Augustus Caesar. God used a pagan ruler to fulfill His promise to Israel and the world. There would have been no good reason for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, for she was near her time of delivery. It was no time for going on a trip. But in meetings of the Roman government decisions were being made for an enrollment of all the people for tax purposes. Little did these pagan leaders realize they were passing legislation that would fulfill prophecy, and eventually spell doom for their pagan worship. God was using men with no compulsion of their wills, to accomplish His will. This is more than a record of what God did in the past. It is a message to us that we need not fear the future, regardless of who rules in history, for God's ultimate purpose will be accomplished. The good news of Christmas is God is in control, and there is hope in history.
The second message we see in verse 7 is The Hostility of Man. This is symbolized by the statement there was no room in the inn. You would think that with all the providential guidance of God in this whole story, it would have been no problem for God to have seen to it that there was a room available. God could have, but He did not, and this is significant. He did not make everything convenient for His own. Jesus was born into a world where men were hostile to God. Sin had made men basically self-centered and indifferent to the needs of others. God did not arrange that all of this be bypassed for His Son. He came unto His own and His own received Him not.
It would be easy to denounce the inn keeper at this point and hold him guilty for being a hard-hearted, penny pinching scoundrel. There is not the slightest evidence that any of this is true. If the evidence tells us anything about the inn keeper, it tells us that he had compassion on Mary, and even though he had no rooms left, he at least saw that they were not turned away. He made room for them in the stable. It is not likely they were the only travelers that could not find a room. Others were no doubt turned away completely.
The text says there was no room. It does not say they were refused a room, nor does it imply that the inn keeper should have turned someone else out to make room. Joyce Kilmer, in her poem, even makes a saint of him, "There was a gentle hostler, and blessed be his name! He opened up the stable the night our Lady came. Our Lady and St. Joseph, He gave them food and bed, and Jesus Christ has given him a glory round his head." This is likely going to the opposite extreme, but she certainly has more evidence than those who denounce him.
If we are to see hostility in this statement, it is the hostility of indifference for the individual in the crowd. This is true in every age, and it is true today. There are people all about us with needs, but we are all so busy that other things take up all the room, and these needy people are left in the stable of neglect and indifference.
When I worked for a printing company, the employees decided to have a noon Christmas party. Everyone was so busy they forgot to tell George-a lonely unmarried man who worked in the envelope department in the basement. There he sat in that dingy basement looking at envelope cartons as he ate his lunch. Meanwhile, everyone else was having a joyful time in the lunch room. When they realized he had not been invited, many of them felt terrible. If anyone needed to be at that party, it was George. He had the greatest need yet he was left out, not because of evil design, but just neglect. So also, if anyone needed a comfortable room that night in Bethlehem, it was Mary, but the indifferent crowd took no notice.
The message that comes to us from this record is that we ought to wake up and recognize there are always needy people about us who need someone to take notice. The hostility of man in general is due to being to busy to take notice. There is, of course, plenty of the more active type of hostility as that of Herod. He made the birth of Christ an event of sorrow by his killing of the babies in Bethlehem. We have people yet today that celebrate Christmas by going on a drinking spree, and breaking the hearts of their loved ones, and killing people on the highways. The hostility of man towards others is one of the main reasons God sent His Son into the world. He had to endure it, but He also came to cure it, and to bring peace between men as well as reconcile God and man.
The third thing we see here is The Humility Of God. By being born in a barn, as it were, God made it clear that in His decent to man He went all the way. No one can get the impression that the Savior is exclusive. This might have been the case had He been born in a palace. But His humble birth in a manger demonstrates that He is not willing that any parish, not even the most lowly. Jesus identified Himself with the poorest of men in His birth. This principle was followed by the Moravian missionaries who even became slaves to reach the slaves with the Gospel. Western Christians have often failed to reach men for Christ because they were not willing to humble themselves to the lowly circumstances of the people they tried to reach. God did so humble Himself, and that is why Christmas is a universal celebration, for all men know God's gift was for them.
I know not how that Bethlehem's Babe
Could in the Godhead be;
I only know the Manger Child
Has brought God's life to me.
This is a present experience for millions because of the advent of the Savior. The second aspect of this account we want to look at is-
II. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE ANGELS. vv.8-14
The first thing the angel said is, " do not be afraid". Because man had sinned and had been cut off from fellowship with God, he lost his sense of comfort being in the presence of the spiritual world. Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden. Ever since, man has been afraid to be in the presence of the supernatural. One of the reasons God seldom sends angels to confront us is because He has no pleasure in scaring the wits out of us.
The angel very quickly got past the fear stage by announcing, "I bring you good news of great joy.." The message of Christmas is not a complex philosophy of how to use cosmic forces to change the world. It is a simple message of joy. It is possible for a Christian to get so caught up in complaining about the abuses of Christmas commercialism that they rob themselves of the joy of the season, and thus become part of the problem, and not part of the solution. We are not to be ever saying, look what the world is coming to, but rather, look what has come to the world. Joy to the world the Lord is come.
General Robert E. Lee did not cease to celebrate Christmas after he lost the Civil War. His wife, Mary Custis Lee, had given birth to two children while he was off fighting, and she seldom saw him on Christmas. The first Christmas after the war was their first together in 38 years without military demands. He had been defeated, he was badly crippled with arthritis, and they had little in the way of earthly goods. There was much to be sad about, but they rejoiced. He said, "I am legally still a prisoner of war but I refuse to feel like a prisoner." Instead, he and his family sang Christmas carols and went to church to praise God for the gift that brings joy regardless of negative circumstances.
God is not opposed to our enjoyment of the things of earth. It is a pleasure for Christians to enjoy the presents of this world. Part of the joy of Christmas is in things.
Come Westinghouse, Philco! Come Hotpoint, G.E.!
Come Sunbeam! Come Mixmaster! Come to the tree!
So much for the wardrobe-how shine Daddy's eyes.
As he reaps his Yule harvest of slippers and ties.
As long as we recognize that the joy of things is fleeting, and not to be depended upon, it can be legitimate. But the lasting source of our joy is the good news that unto us a Savior is born.
O Brother mine of birth Divine,
Upon this natal day of thine,
Bear with our stress of happiness
Nor count our reverence less,
Because with glee and jubilee,
Our hearts go singing up to thee.
-James Whitcomb Riley.
Joy does not mean a smile from one ear to the other, but a deep sense of being right with God and grateful for His grace. The third aspect we want to look at is-
III. THE ACTION OF THE SHEPHERDS. vv. 15-20
The shepherds were a lower class people who were often wanderers, and often they did not marry. It is of interest that they were the first to be informed of the birth of one who was to be the Great Shepherd, and who also would never marry, but wander from place to place seeking the lost sheep of the house of Israel. God purposely chose the shepherds to convey the truth that He sent His Son for all men. By so doing He also dignifies the common toils of life. God makes no distinction between the sacred and the secular. His good news is not just for the priestly class, but for all classes of men.
When the angels had left the shepherds they went with haste into Bethlehem. Here is the first Christmas rush. It is no problem to be in a hurry if you are going to fulfill the purpose of God. Man is so often in a hurry to get somewhere that does not matter. Johnstone G Patrick said it in poetry, "Along the pathway of stars-we toil toward the moon and Mars. Good God, it seems we've lost our mind in leaving Bethlehem behind." Men are in a hurry to get materials, and to get to the moon and Mars, but all too seldom are they in a hurry to get to the manger. That is, their priorities are not on the things of God.
The shepherds worshiped the Christ-child, and then they witnessed to others of what they had seen and heard. The best way to witness is to share your personal experience. If we can share the wonder and joy of what Christmas means to us, because we have received God's gift of a Savior, then we can make Christmas a message, and not merely a record of what God has done. Make this your prayer for this Christmas-
O Jesus! Thou bright Christmas glory,
With Christmas grace upon me shine;
Enlighten me to tell the story
Of all Thy love and work Divine:
So teach me in Thy light to go,
That I with Christmas love may glow.