(Luke 2: 1-20)
Babies being born in December is not unusual, but if you’ve had a baby in December there is something special about it as the baby shares its birth with the traditional month given for the birth of baby Jesus. Having a daughter born on December 14th I can identify somewhat with what Mary and Joseph were feeling and experiencing. Our first-born brought a never-before experienced joy as we opened our hearts and our home to this little human being who would occupy so much space, physically and emotionally. We shared a hope that she would be a reflection of who we were as parents and people and, in her own way, make a difference in the lives of the people she would interact with in one way or another. And then we had our second child and made even more room in our hearts and home for another blessing. It’s amazing how much room the human heart has if you will just open it up to the possibilities love affords. It’s a home with many rooms.
And making room for Jesus in your lives, in your hearts and homes is what Luke’s birth story is all about. The Apostle Luke was not one of the original twelve disciples. He came along later, after Jesus’ crucifixion and death. He was a close friend of the Apostle Paul and was an early Gentile convert to the Way of Jesus Christ. Luke was reportedly a physician which may explain his attention to detail and is the only know Gentile author in the New Testament. His account of Christ’s birth is not an eyewitness account. But it is no doubt drawn upon his familiarity with Mark’s gospel and his interviews with others who were either eyewitnesses themselves or were intimately familiar with the details of Christ’s life, his ministry, his death, and resurrection. His audience was primarily a Gentile audience who would have been familiar with current world events and the political situations of the times. It is a gospel meant to be read alongside of the other gospels supplementing the other gospel writers providing a more comprehensive understanding of the life of Christ.
In our scripture reading for this evening Luke starts out by setting the stage for what was going on in the Roman Empire, of which Judea and Palestine were an unwilling part. Running an empire that big was costly so we’re told that the current emperor Caesar Augustus declared that the tax rolls should be updated to ensure everyone was paying their “unfair share” as it were. Unfortunately, you couldn’t do it online so, unless you lived in the community in which you were born, you had to make the trip. As Joseph’s family was of the line of David, he and his pregnant fiancé had to make the three-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. He couldn’t call ahead and make reservations at the local Holiday Inn and apparently didn’t have any close relatives he could stay with. He’d have to find a place to stay once they got to Bethlehem. I understand his predicament as I too traveled a great distance with a very pregnant wife also before the internet and advanced booking. Finding suitable lodging for your beloved is a challenge. Luke tells us that once they got to Bethlehem the time came for Mary to have her baby. Luke says: She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. In our sanitized and romanticized version of Christ’s birth we’re told there was no room at the inn and that he was subsequently born in a stable. In all likelihood, the inn was most likely a reception room in a private home or a space at a public shelter, and not some large building with several individual rooms. And the stable was most likely a cave of sorts cut out of the rock wall with a feeding trough for the livestock. Certainly not the sort of sanitary environment we would expect or desire a child to be born in.
Luke goes on to tell us that nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. We’re told that the Lord’s angel stood before them, and the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said: Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. What Luke is taking the time to tell us here is significant. First of all, he’s telling us that the shepherds were essentially homeless as they were living in the fields tending their sheep. And the angel’s announcement to the shepherds is but another example of God choosing to favor the disfavored. Everyone else was expecting the Messiah to be born of royalty in some magnificent palace where he would be tended to by servants and nannies, where he would have his own room that lacked for nothing. But his birth was not announced to the privileged, to those who enjoyed their positions in polite society and would do whatever it took to maintain their preferred status quo. They wanted their leader to be one of them who would, of course, do all within his power to take care of them above all others, even to the exclusion of others. The angel goes on to tell them: This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. And suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God and saying: Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. When the angels returned to heaven the shepherds were left wondering what the meaning of all this was and what they should do. After talking about it amongst themselves they decided to go on down to Bethlehem and check it out for themselves, confirming what the Lord’s angel had told them. So down they went and quickly found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger just as the angel had said. I’m sure Mary and Joseph were surprised to see several scruffy shepherds show up in the middle of the night wanting to see their child. So the shepherds explained their close encounter with the angel of the Lord, putting them at ease. Luke tells us that everyone who heard what the shepherds were recounting were amazed and Mary committed these things to her memory and considered them carefully. Everything she had been told by the angel of the Lord was falling into place and making sense. At that point, the shepherds returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. In Luke’s gospel it is the lowly shepherd who come to worship the newly born Savior, to be one of the first responders to Christ’s birth announcement.
Jesus was not born into the circumstances one would expect of a coming king, a savior to his people. He was born into the very circumstances and surroundings he came to change. And that’s the good news about Jesus. He comes to all, including the plain and ordinary, especially the plain and ordinary. He comes to anyone with a heart humble enough to accept him. He was born homeless and he’s looking for a home within your heart if you have the room. He comes with the promise of peace and God’s goodwill if you will only accept him and let him into your heart. You don’t have to be anybody special. You can be as lowly as a homeless shepherd just getting by as best you can. He accepts you just as you are. The changes will come later. And if you do make the decision to let him into your heart, the works he will do within you will be far more reaching and amazing than anyone could expect or imagine. People will want to know what it is you have that they don’t. He offers us more than temporary political or physical changes. He offers us new and improved hearts, hearts with room for endless and boundless love beyond our comprehension.
So, won’t you make room in your heart for Jesus? Get rid of all the clutter in your life that distracts you and prevents you from living the life you were meant to live. If you let Jesus in, he will guide you and provide all you need, and like Joseph you will be able to live each day by faith, trusting that God is in charge and loving the life you live in service to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Savior of all mankind.
Let us pray.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie; above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy darkness shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Gracious and loving Father, how we praise you for the birth of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and all he means to those of us who have gladly let him into our hearts to dwell within us. Show us how to lead the kind of lives that are pleasing to you, and in harmony with your glorious creation. Move us to accept others into our hearts just as you have unconditionally accepted us so that others can experience your boundless love and join in the chorus praising your name. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel! Amen.