This sermon is part of the sermon series "Christmas Stories". See series.
This sermon is part of the “Christmas Stories” sermon series. See the whole series here.
(Read Luke 2:1-20)
How it starts
Listen, my friends, and you will hear
a Christmas story that has no peer.
It's better than Grinches and Scrooges and elves;
it's better than any Christmas book on your shelves.
It's an ancient story but, in 60s terms, "groovy;"
why, it's even better than a Hallmark movie.
It begins not in Nazareth or Bethlehem, no;
it begins higher up, up in heaven, you know.
Where God lives and God reigns and God looks from above
at a sinful people with whom he's in love.
"I must get this fixed. They can't fix it alone.
The time's right to send Jesus: God in flesh and bone."
This was no last second thought on God's part, don't you see?
God knew all along when the right time would be
to send Jesus to save folks like you and like me.
Though Jesus has always existed in heaven,
God didn't send him at age 30 or 20 or 16 or 7.
Jesus didn't come full-grown and in charge;
He came as a baby and one not so large.
Was he six pounds or seven or eight pounds or nine?
We don't know what he weighed, any weight would be fine.
It's the fact that he came, that he crossed the line,
from heaven to earth through normal childbirth.
He came, that's what matters, that's what matters the most.
He came down from heaven to his missionary post.
He came as the God-Man; yes, it's hard to imagine:
fully God, fully man? But it really did happen.
John in his Gospel called Jesus the Word, eternal, forever;
don't think it absurd.
This is Trinity at work: Father, Son, Holy Spirit;
existing as one though each does his thing,
and the Son's thing was to come to the earth and to bring
God down to our level, God down from the sky,
God we could see without having to die.
The Godhead among us, God we could touch, hear, and see;
God with a human family tree:
with ancestors like Abraham, David, and Ruth,
and Adam and Rahab—yes, this is the truth.
How it was foretold
So when the time was just right, God sent word to Mary:
a teenage peasant who found it quite scary
when an angel named Gabriel gave her the news,
news that she first thought she had to refuse:
news that a Savior would come through her womb,
a Savior named Jesus—God's Son and a king?
"Have faith," said the angel, "God can do this thing."
But Mary, you know, she wasn't so sure:
the shock of it all; it all seemed a blur.
So she spoke to the angel, honest and true;
maybe this angel just had no clue.
"I'm a virgin, you know, never been with a man;
you're an angel, so how could you understand?
Things work different down here, down here on the earth;
it's impossible for a virgin girl to give birth."
"It's not up to you," Gabriel said with a smile.
He was kind when he said it; he wasn't hostile.
"The Holy Spirit will do this; don't you see?
He'll overshadow you, and pregnant you'll be.
Don't think it impossible; put away your doubt.
God can do anything; you'll soon find out."
And sure enough Mary became pregnant, all right.
But what to tell Joseph?
This could start a fight.
Joseph was pledged to be married to Mary,
but that day hadn't come and Mary was pregnant,
soon it would show,
and Joseph wasn't ignorant.
He'd figure it out; he'd know right away:
that wasn't his child, no way.
He'd have to assume that Mary had cheated,
had broken the pledge, from her vows had retreated,
She'd found some new man;
poor Joseph felt defeated.
But Joseph was a kind man, he didn't want trouble,
He'd end things with Mary
before people started to mumble and grumble
and gossip and talk
and point and sneer
and go so far as to wreck his career.
He'd end things with Mary; he'd be quiet and discreet.
He'd be respectful and kind; he'd try to be sweet.
So he made up his mind, "Tomorrow, we'll meet."
That night Joseph had trouble going to sleep.
He slept rather fitful; his sleep was not deep.
And part of the reason for his fitful sleep
was a dream with an angel and a promise to keep.
Said the angel to Joseph, "Mary's telling the truth: There's no other man,
And though it seems uncouth,
that's God's Son she's carrying,
God's Son in her womb.
You'll call his name Jesus, and he'll be here soon.
God sent the prophet Isaiah to tell
that the virgin would bear Immanuel.
Mary's carrying that child; his name means 'God with us.'
I'm telling the truth, as God is my witness.
So you marry that girl and be with them too;
be a husband and dad, Joseph, that's God's call for you."
So Joseph got up from his sleep the next morn;
he had to act fast before the baby was born.
He honored his promise, made Mary his wife.
He meant what he said; he married Mary for life.
They were making their plans; getting ready for the boy
when the Romans said something that stole most of their joy.
Caesar Augustus said, "Now is the time for more tax!"
Caesars do that, you know, unaware of the facts
what it costs to raise a family with that burden on their backs.
"Good grief!" said Joseph, "We pay enough tax!"
But it's not just the tax that would make matters worse;
folks had to go to hometowns to sign up for this curse.
And Mary was due, about ready to burst.
Could she make such a journey without mom or a nurse?
The journey to Bethlehem
Bethlehem was Joseph's hometown, and it wasn't next door,
From Nazareth it was at least 70 miles or more.
Getting there would be more than a chore.
But Bethlehem it had to be,
according to the prophet Micah, you see.
Yes, getting to Bethlehem was key:
from David's town this child must come,
so Joseph rolled up sleeves to get the job done.
They didn't have much time, so the packing went quick;
getting there before birth, though, would be the real trick.
"Oh my!" said Mary, "The baby just kicked.
So let's get moving; let's travel with haste.
Let's move rather quickly; let's set a good pace,
Trust me, Joseph, there's no time to waste."
So they traveled as fast as they possibly could,
stopping only for rest and for sleep and for food.
It took a few days but they finally arrived.
It was a hard trip, but all three survived.
By this time in history, King David, you see,
had thousands of descendants in his family tree.
So Bethlehem was bustling with visitors galore,
to register for the tax, to sign up to pay more.
There'd never been such a crowd in Bethlehem before.
They didn't have phones back in that day,
so they couldn't reserve a place they could stay.
Like all who had come, they'd just take their chances,
but it wouldn't be nice; they had no finances.
They entered the town as the sun was just setting.
It wasn't that warm, but Mary was sweating,
and Joseph was betting they'd not be getting
a room soon enough; yes, it was upsetting.
but they weren't forgetting that God was in charge.
So Joseph knocked on the door of the first inn they saw,
while Mary, meanwhile, groaned in labor and all.
"God will have us a room; we're here by his call,"
said Joseph to Mary in the midst of it all,
"and if not a room, how 'bout a cow stall?
Any place will be fine, really, any place at all.
We are poor and humble; we don't need much,
and this I know: God comes through in the clutch."
Well, the inn was all full, but Joe spotted a stable,
"I can clean it up some and then you'll be able
to have Jesus there, right there in that place."
And you should have seen the look on her face.
Between groans she spoke up, "Any place, any place.
The time is now; the baby is coming.
Don't carry me slow; you better be running."
So run Joseph did, and he set Mary down,
then turned his head and looked down with a frown.
"I wish I could do better," he whispered in prayer.
"There's no bed, no mattress, not even a chair.
Just some goats and some lambs and that cow over there.
But, God, I believe that this must be your plan.
You'll take care of us all.
I know that you can."
Christ is born
So Joseph cleaned up a corner of that little stall,
built a fire, fetched some water, got ready and all,
for the baby to come from the womb to the world,
for this large step of God's plan to unfurl.
And unfurl it did as the baby was born,
born in a barn—this is true; it's no yarn;
born in a stall to come save us all
from our sins and our wrongs
and to give us a song of salvation …
for Israel and for every nation.
Though this baby is God, he was just like us too,
with ten fingers and toes and a strong Jewish nose,
and a little dark hair, and, of course, with no clothes.
Then with a gentle thump on his rump, Jesus took a deep breath,
his first on the earth, his first since his birth.
And he sneezed once or twice, and he started to cry;
babies do that, you know, it comes easy as pie.
A cow turned her head, as she chewed on some straw;
from the calm on her face as she stood in her stall
this wasn't the first time she'd heard a baby bawl.
The sheep bleated a little, a donkey did bray
at this bit of commotion in their stable that day.
But things settled down as things always do,
And Joseph got busy and Mary did, too.
Mary cleaned herself up and cleaned Jesus up, too.
Jesus didn't eat much when she tried to feed him;
You could tell that he'd really just rather be sleeping.
So she diapered him up, but he had no pajamas,
so she wrapped him up tight in cloths that she swaddled.
But where would we she lay this Christ-Child, this earth-stranger?
That's where Joseph came in: He fixed up a manger.
He cleaned out a trough, and he fluffed it with hay;
it was better than rocks, it was better than clay.
Though it wasn't a crib; it's the best Joseph could offer.
It wasn't so bad, but he wished it was softer.
So they laid Jesus there, and he went fast asleep,
no cries, no noise, not a sound, not a peep.
Exhausted and weary, they all fell asleep.
Shepherds see a strange sight and meet Jesus
Meanwhile on the outskirts, in Bethlehem's fields,
some shepherds were tending their sheep in those hills.
It was night, it was dark, the sheep were now still;
the shepherds sat by the fire to ward off the night chill.
When suddenly, there was light in the sky:
a light so bright, a light like the sun,
an angel appeared,
the shepherds wanted to run,
if they had had phones they'd have dialed 9-1-1.
This strange sight had them shaking and scared half to death:
one had chest pains,
one had goose bumps,
one had shortness of breath.
"Fear not!" said the angel, now sensing their dread,
"I've got good news to tell you—good news," the angel said.
"Good news of great joy for all people on earth!
Good news, and it comes in the form of a birth.
For born unto you in David's town, Bethlehem,
is the Savior, Christ the Lord, yes, the great I AM.
It's a day of good news, not a time for the blues,
not a time to be scared; it's a time to be shared.
So you go and greet him; this good news for all people,
but don't look for him there under a spire or some steeple.
Don't look at a hospital or some five-star hotel;
don't look in a mansion or the cell of a jail."
Look for the inn, and out back there's a stable;
it's crude and it's humble, and there's no changing table.
So go now: Get moving; you are in no danger.
You'll find the baby swaddled in cloths and laying in a manger.
And quick as a wink, hosts of angels appeared,
and they sang praise to God; they praised and they cheered.
"Glory to God in the highest!" they shouted.
And the shepherds believed; not a single one doubted.
"Peace on earth," sang the angels, "to those with whom God is pleased."
And by now the shepherds were down on their knees.
The whole thing was sudden and shocking and scary,
but they had to move quickly, this was no time to tarry.
The angels left them right there in the night,
they ascended to heaven in glorious flight.
"Did you see what I saw?" one shepherd said to another.
"I sure did," said the other to his good shepherd brother.
"We'd best get going. We better not wait.
The sheep will be fine; we'll trust God with their fate."
So they hurried and scurried; it was almost a sprint.
They ran past some homes, and they raced past some tents.
They made it to Bethlehem's gate pretty fast.
They made it; they made it; they made it at last.
They soon saw the inn, so they looked for the stable.
"I see it," said one, "It's right there; there's the stable.
So they huddled together and quietly crept,
and they stepped and they crept
to where the baby was kept.
"Shhhh," said the leader, "don't be so loud.
Even though we're a crowd, we can't be too loud.
The baby is there, and he may be sleeping,
so don't be so loud even though your heart's leaping."
They arrived at the entrance; they peeked inside.
It was just a small stable, not too long, not too wide.
And Mary and Joseph were there side by side.
The angel had told them the baby they'd find,
so they looked and yes, there it was; there's the manger.
They craned their necks to see over the edge;
they teetered and tottered as if on a ledge,
afraid to get close, afraid they might wake him,
afraid that the sound of their voices would shake him.
Then, Joseph said, "Come," and they inched a bit closer.
"Come closer," said Joseph, and they tip-toed right over.
Jesus awoke in the shuffling around;
he cried a little and made some more sounds,
Joseph gave him to Mary, and she held him near.
Her smile at the shepherds allayed all of their fear.
She was glad they had come, so they told them their story
of angels and their message and all of that glory.
The trace of tear rolled down Mary's cheek,
and a lump in the throat made it quite hard to speak,
so they all sat in silence for a moment or three,
that silence was holy and blessed, you see.
Then Mary did something that caught them off-guard;
it stunned them at first, they were certainly jarred.
"Want to hold him?" she asked the lead shepherd straight out,
"Me? In my arms? Hold that little sprout?"
"It's all right," said Mary, "you'll do no harm."
"But I'm rough and I'm dirty and I smell like a barn."
"Don't we all," said Mary. "Just look where we are."
"Okay," said the shepherd, "I'll give it a try.
I'll try to be gentle. I hope he won't cry."
Mary laid Jesus in that shepherd's arms;
he held the Christ-Child.
He was moved; he was charmed.
The rest of the shepherds wanted in on this act.
They did quite well as a matter of fact.
It should be no surprise they did well to a man,
for shepherds, you see, know how to handle a lamb.
Jesus got restless and a little bit fussy;
it was time for his feeding
and his diaper was messy.
So the shepherds reverently said their goodbyes,
and went back to the field under starry night skies.
On the way to the fields, they told others, a few,
and all of them wondered at this strange sounding news.
And on the way to their camp, they praised God out loud,
gave him glory and worship;
were they ever wowed
that God would invite humble shepherds to visit
the Christ-Child just born,
well, they just didn't get it.
Shouldn't kings get that honor, rich folks, VIPs?
No, Christ came us for all, yes for all, if you please,
the peasant, the poor whom their nickels must squeeze,
the lonely, the hungry with no bread and cheese.
Africans, Arabs, Russians, Chinese.
Americans, Hispanics, and folks from Belize,
and even for you and for me, don't you see?
Mary remembers the story
Meanwhile back at the stable, things quieted down,
a few others looked in, a few from the town.
By now it was late, and you'd think they'd be tired.
They were tired all right, but Mary was wired.
Rest didn't come easy, so much on her mind:
this night, the journey, the angel back at the start.
Yes, she treasured these things,
pondered them in her heart.
So this is the story, a story so true,
of God's love for people like me and like you.
It's the story of how Jesus' work got its start;
it's a story that shows us the depth of God's heart.
Of course, Jesus would grow and mature, be a man.
He would teach, heal, and even raise a man from the dead.
And finally when the time was just exactly right,
Jesus died on the cross without even a fight.
He died for our sins, to give us forgiveness;
to cancel the curse; yes, that was his business.
But he wasn't dead long, for on the third day,
even death couldn't hold him; there was no more to pay.
He rose from the dead; what a glorious day!
Yes, he is the way to eternal life.
But remember it got started with a man and his wife,
who followed God's will; that was their way of life.
It began in David's town when they laid the Christ-Child
in a manger of straw,
and that's the good news, the good news for us all.
God is with us, you see, and he always will be.
So when you're consumed with packages, boxes, and bows,
with trees and cards and whether it snows,
even when Jack Frost is nipping at your nose,
When you forget Jesus while tending holiday business,
remember this story: How the Lord sent Christmas.
John McCallum is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he has served for 22 years.