I’ve Got a Secret

(Luke 2: 1-20 & Romans 16: 25-27)


Back in the 1950s and 60s there was a very popular game show called I’ve Got a Secret which was a spin-off of What’s My Line.  The mystery guest was brought in, and their secret was revealed to the studio audience and those watching at home.  The four celebrity panelists then had to try and guess the secret.  Each panelist had thirty seconds to ask questions and then try and guess the secret.  If they couldn’t guess the secret it went to the next celebrity with twenty dollars going to the guest with a potential total prize of eighty dollars.  Can you imagine it if the adult Jesus appeared on the show?  Where were you born?  Bethlehem.  Who are your parents?  Mary and Joseph.  Where are you from?  Nazareth.  Where do you live?  I’m homeless?  What’s your occupation?  Carpenter and Rabbi.  Where is your congregation?  Anywhere two or more are gathered in my name.  Are you a Christian?  No, I’m Jewish.  What do you hope to accomplish?  I hope to bring salvation to the world.  How’s that working out for you?  It appears to be an up-hill battle.  Are you the Messiah?  Yes, yes, I am.  Jesus’ secret is finally revealed.


And that’s the whole point of our two scripture readings for today.  Jesus’ secret has been revealed after thirty years, and some got it, and some didn’t.  Now it’s not like his birth was supposed to be a well-kept secret as the prophets foretold that God’s son, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem, he would be from the royal line of David, and that he would be called a Nazarene.  But he was born in relative obscurity with only some impoverished shepherds as witnesses to his birth.


And that’s where our story picks up.  We’re told that in the days of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus a mandate was issued that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled on the tax lists.  The people in all of Judea lived in relative peace but it was costly.  The occupying Roman Army was expensive to maintain and in order to protect the Roman territories everyone was required to go to their hometowns, the place of their birth, to be enrolled.  So, by the decree of Emperor Augustus, Jesus was born in the very town prophesized for his birth as foretold by the prophet Micah: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Luke’s audience at the time of his writing was primarily Greek and they would have been more interested in and familiar with the political situation of the time, as opposed to Matthew’s Jewish audience who would have been more interested in the lineage of Christ.  Luke reports that everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled and since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth to David’s city, called Bethlehem.  He went with Mary who was promised to him in marriage and was pregnant.  While they were there, 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, or inn as we more commonly remember the story.  All important facts for future Pharisees who would try in vain to bring doubt upon Jesus’ secret as eventually revealed in his ministry thirty years later.


Now we know that both Mary and Joseph knew the significance of the child they were about to have as an angel of the Lord had come to both of them to bring the good news of his birth and what it would mean to a waiting world.   Pretty exciting news but they didn’t send out any birth announcements, keeping it on the down low.  However, Luke tells us that there were some shepherds nearby living in the fields guarding their sheep at night from predators.  We’re told that the Lord’s angel stood before them and the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.  Who wouldn’t be?  The angel then 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.  This is a sign for you:  you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.  And with that a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God and proclaiming: Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.  When the angels departed the shepherds talked amongst themselves and decided to go on down to Bethlehem and see for themselves.  They went quickly and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger just as the angel had told them.  When they saw this, they told Mary and Joseph what they had been told by the angel of the Lord and that Mary committed what they had told her to memory and considered them carefully.  The shepherds then departed glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.  Everything happened just as they had been told.  They were witnesses to the secret Jesus would reveal three decades later.


The greatest event in history had just happened!  The Messiah had been born!  For ages the Jews had waited for this, and when it finally occurred, the announcement came to humble shepherds, not first century elites, not the entitled religious leaders and experts, not born in a royal palace attended to by physicians and nursemaids.  The witnesses to the birth of the King were lowly homeless shepherds living in the fields above Bethlehem.  God chose to reveal the birth of His Son, the future Savior of mankind, to the lowly, the disfavored of society.


Fast forward fifty plus years to when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christian church in Rome where he concludes his letter by proclaiming: May the glory be to God who can strengthen you with my good news and the message that I preach about Jesus Christ.  He can strengthen you with the announcement of the secret that was kept quiet for a long time.  Now that secret is revealed through what the prophets wrote.  It is made known to the Gentiles in order to lead to their faithful obedience based on the command of the eternal God.  May the glory be to God, who alone is wise!  May the glory be to him through Jesus Christ forever!  Amen.  Paul concludes his letter with a soaring doxology, glorying in the eternal God, by whose mysterious plan and through whose powerful command the Gentiles have now joined the people of God.  It is this God to whom the Christians of Rome must look for strength as they face the challenges of this world.  This strength is particularly needed in this pivotal time when the secret that was kept quiet for a long time is now being revealed and the Gentiles are consequently turning to obey the creator God in a way that is energized by faith.  It’s a wonderful time to be alive when the mystery, God’s secret—his way of saving the Gentiles—is becoming known throughout the world.  Yes, yes, yes, it is a wonderful time to be alive, a time when God’s secret, his way of bringing salvation to us, has become known throughout the world.


Although our first picture of Jesus is as a baby in a manger, it must not be our last.  The Christ-child in the manger is the subject of a beautiful Christmas scene that we celebrate with beautifully written songs, and heart-warming nativity scenes, but we must not leave him there.  This tiny, helpless, snugly wrapped baby lived an amazing life, died for us, ascended to heaven, and will return to earth as King of kings.  And that’s the good news about Jesus.  He comes to all, including the plain and ordinary.  He comes to anyone with a heart humble enough to accept him.  Whoever you are, whatever you do, you can have Jesus in your life.  So, don’t think you need extraordinary qualifications.  He accepts you as you are and that’s no secret.


Let us pray.


Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.  Yes, Almighty God, we earnestly await the return of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ born to set us free, to bring us salvation by your grace.  Move us by your Spirit as we enter a new year to live the kind of lives that shows that Jesus lives in our hearts, that we know and understand the secret of salvation and eternal life.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.