Sunday December 24, 2017 | Greg Boyd
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
For most of us the Christmas story is a religious story that has become predictable over the years. But to its 1st century audience the Christmas story was anything but religious and predictable. In this Christmas Eve sermon Greg shares, how the Christmas story was irreligious and unexpected to its original audience and how if we look at the story with fresh eyes we will see a God that pursues us relentlessly at all cost, meeting us right where we are.
Though to many of us today the Christmas story is a nice, religious, predictable story, it was anything but religious and predictable to the original audience. 1st century Jewish people thought the Messiah would be born like a king into wealth, in a palace, safe and secure, and surrounded by holy men and scribes of Israel. Instead, the Messiah is born in a manager, surrounded by animals and shepherds. The scribes and holy men of Israel pay baby Jesus no attention and it is the magi who are pagan Zoroastrian astrologers from Persian that go to Him. Rather than being born into security He is forced to flee from King Herod into Egypt. If all this wasn’t enough Jesus’ mother Mary is pregnant outside of wedlock. The stigma of giving birth before marriage would have followed Mary and Jesus all their lives. In fact, we see hints in the gospels that Jesus faced this judgment into adulthood.
This is a shocking story that turns religion on its head. Almost always in religion God, or gods, fit the standards of the religious narrative. So, if an all holy God is coming into the world, shouldn’t His arrival be holy and fit for a king? It should shock us, because it doesn’t fit our standards.
Jesus’ life fits the pattern of His birth. The Messiah was expected to be supported by the religious establishment. Instead, the religious establishment sets themselves up as opponents of Jesus. Rather than being at home with the religious powers of His day, Jesus is found hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors. This is not what you would expect from the man who claims to be the Jewish Messiah. This pattern climaxes on the cross, with Jesus looking like a God forsaken criminal, becoming our sin, dying a horrifying death.
This is one of the ways we know the story is true. It is utterly shocking. It is not the story that the disciples would make up, nor is a story long, long ago and far, far away, but rather recent.
This story reveals God’s heart to us. He doesn’t look away from our sin. He came an infinite distance to be near to us. With humility, He is born, lives, and dies in irreligious circumstances to be near us.
God, as revealed in the Christmas story, is a God who dives into our mess, unafraid, relentlessly pursuing us. His holiness does not keep Him away from us, but drives Him to us. If there was any doubt for you, the Christmas story should settle it, nothing puts you outside of God’s love.
God is beautifully anti-religion and breaks down all the walls and boundaries that keep us from Him. He graciously meets us where we are to call us into a relationship that lasts forever.