I am not sure there is another passage in Scripture that dredges up so much within me as does our passage today about the birth of Christ. I was just doing the math in my head, and it is now 48 years of Christmas programs and celebrations that I’ve been a part of since the first one when I was in 9th grade. That year was a sort of coming-out season for me musically, as I was assigned one of the lead parts in the annual church Christmas cantata. My mother was thrilled … not sure about everyone else.
One thing led to another, and in college I was singing lead parts in Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio along with the school’s orchestra. Next it was directing such programs at our large Dallas church. Then it was on to other Christmas concerts in New Jersey, TSF Christmas shows, etc.
All of these programs have lyrics drawn extensively from this Luke 2 nativity passage. Simply reading through it sets off a cacophony of melodies in my mind like a jukebox gone haywire! As I write this, the contrapuntal harmonies and flowing lines of Handel’s chorus “Glory to God” are pounding through my brain.
Beyond the accumulation of songs, there is also the mental pile-up of decades of sermons preached on this passage. Within them I’ve gone deeply into the Roman decrees for taxation, the travel complications these demands wrought for Joseph and Mary, the awkward nature of their betrothal situation, the stellar character each displayed, the outcast Bethlehem shepherds who raised the sheep for sacrifice in the temple, and the splendor of the angelic hosts … to name a few themes. I shamefully confess to growing weary of these rehearsals, and I project upon the hearers a weariness that in fact may not be there(?).
But at the end of the day, at the end of another Christmas season, I do walk away most especially blessed by one major theme – the simplicity of the people God chose, both to do His work and to hear of it. The stars of this story are not the elite of the world in places of power, nor were they the religious leadership mega-stars of that time. Rather, God used simple people like Joseph and Mary, announcing the news also to those among the most socially outcast of society – the shepherds.
At a time in history where ordinary church folks in Hagerstown can feel rather far down the ladder of life, being a part of the odious Christian faith that is so out of favor near and far, there is comfort in this story. Our faith is bolstered by the realization that it has always been true that such commonplace folks as ourselves have always been the target to receive this truth. And at this juncture the tune rings again through the jukebox of the mind that “to meek soul who receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
Luke 2:1 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 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.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 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.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.