(The reader will note that this lesson was
originally delivered on December 23, 2007, which influences its scope.)
story of the advent of Christ is probably the best known birth ever recorded.
We may begin by looking at its principal players: Mary and Joseph
the “handmaid of the Lord”
all seems so matter of fact, as if it should happen every day. Mary gets the
word; she accepts what is to come for her rather calmly, it seems. In fact,
the bare words do not describe how this child of about thirteen years was
overwhelmed by the announcement:
please, that the angel is named Gabriel – which we presume is the same
angel who interpreted the prophetic visions for Daniel.
We know little else about him, but even to know his name implies power,
for only he and Michael are named in the Old Testament.
see also, for the first time linked explicitly, the Trinity. The matter
is from God the Father; by the Holy Spirit, to give birth to the Christ.
reaction tells you why she was selected: obedience. In the older
versions you will see “handmaid” instead of “servant.” The word is also
translated “bondslave.” It is her reaction to the highest of honor given
to woman. Now you know what makes for greatness in the kingdom.
you wish to upset a man, nothing quite touches the problem as finding his
fiancée pregnant – by somebody else. So angel comes to make the explanation.
Joseph will have much to do with raising this child, so it is not a great
stretch to infer that his character might also be a reason for God’s choice.
is called a righteous man – and that is given as his reason for divorcing
Mary quietly. Righteous? Wouldn’t a righteous man condemn her? Well,
no. Joseph was ready to “do the right thing,” which was to handle the
matter discreetly. He’s a man who first of all does no harm.
angel calls him “Joseph, son of David.” It is a reminder that Jesus’
legal claim to the throne of Israel comes through Joseph. It’s also a
reminder of the one promised to come.
he did as he was commanded. Mary and Joseph share the same blessing:
than French, I know of no language more susceptible to bursts of poetry than
Hebrew. Or any language less so than English. We must remember that the
Psalms were daily fare; so when Mary bursts into poetry it is not as it would
seem in English. It is spontaneous, but full of the Spirit as well. Mary
would understand that man is not supreme, but God. So her words would magnify
God, not Mary:
praises God for his mercy – at long last the promised Messiah is coming,
bringing salvation for his people.
praises God for his might, the great things he has done.
praises God for his faithfulness – keeping his promises over thousands of
story of Christ’s birth is familiar to any child in the church, but we can
still learn from those events.
you missed it, but the careful research of Dr. Luke has pinned down the date of
Christ’s birth. The matter is debated by scholars, but it is certainly between
6 BC and 13 AD. How is this known? We have secular records of who ruled
when. This is not an event “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s a
local event. Many English villages and towns are first listed in the Domesday
book prepared by William the Conqueror; this is a similar purpose. This is
the hard reality of fact.
cannot help notice that the king of kings and lord of lords cannot get a
reservation at a decent motel. Being born in a stable – laid in a manger, or
eating trough – is not the height of social status.
is a fact: angels usually announce themselves with the words, “Do not be
afraid.” Even those angels on the most glorious of nights must calm the fear
of the shepherds. Why shepherds? Perhaps it is because David was a shepherd.
They are definitely not high in social status; so a baby in a manger would not
seem too out of place to them.
the good news, the “gospel” that they received. The poor working stiff is the
first to hear the news; the Messiah has come. Their reaction is just as you
would expect: they drop everything and go see this thing announced to them.
No committee meeting, no plans for a “Welcome, Jesus” banner, no ceremony at
all. Just straight to Jesus. Which is still the right reaction today.
has been written about the Magi. In some circles this event “validates”
astrology, for example. We need to get a little background here that will help
us understand this:
is the same flock of wise men whose leader once was Daniel. You will
remember that he was head of the “wise men” of Babylon.
You will also remember that he was told when the Messiah would arrive. Is
it not likely that this would have been written into the records of the
magi, along with detailed instructions concerning the astronomy of that
wise men were not worshippers of idols. They worshiped “the one true
God”, whose icon was light itself. They are indeed very close to the Jews
in their view of God the Father.
about that star? My opinion is that it was a particular planet showing up in a
particular constellation which would have been computed by Daniel. Other views
include a supernova or a purely miraculous star.
gifts the magi bring have their own meaning. It is clear that they have some
understanding of who Jesus is, as they refer to him as the King of the Jews.
For that monarch they bring three gifts appropriate for him:
– the symbol of eternity, for it never rusts or corrodes.
– the symbol of prayer.
– used for embalming, it is prophetic of the Cross.
of the saddest incidents in the Bible came from these men, indirectly. Herod
would kill this infant king, but needs to know his exact location. The magi
are warned against telling him. The result is the slaughter of the innocents.
in the Temple
sometimes surprises students of the Bible to discover that Jesus was obedient
to the Scriptures as given in the Old Testament. This should not be so
surprising; he is simply obeying his own rules. Mary and Joseph would have
been particular about this. Bethlehem is a short distance from Jerusalem,
about a day’s walk. Mary and Joseph presented the sacrifices of a poor man for
the redemption of their first born son.
Then the unusual happens:
an old man announces that he can leave the planet now. This is a
righteous man, and he has been promised that he would see the Messiah. He
is old, his back hurts in the morning, he might even have asked God to
give him a date. But when the child arrives, Simeon knows. He can say,
not before he pronounces his dark prophecy. This child will reveal the
hearts of many, forcing a decision: just who is this Jesus? He sees the
stone of stumbling, the rock of offense. He also sees the Crucifixion –
and its agony for Mary.
woman of prophecy, Anna, takes up the refrain (so that there might be more
than one witness). It is a fitting reward for this elderly widow, so
faithful to God.
flight to Egypt
might suppose that God could easily have thwarted Herod’s plans – Herod, after
all, dies like the rest of us. But in weakness is the strength of God
revealed; when his people flee, the faith spreads. So it is here; the infant’s
protectors are the poor and weak. He commands them to flee with the baby.
incident points up the inevitable conflict between church and state. Herod has
it quite correct: the child is a menace to his reign. The Child is a menace
to the reign of all governments who consider themselves to be supreme in the
obedience of the citizenry. Please note God’s method: until Christ comes
again, the weapons of Christ wielded by his children are those of flight,
sacrifice and martyrdom.
this passage we see a prophetic fulfillment. It sometimes is criticized in
that regard; after all, the prophecy seems rather obscure – and the fulfillment
somewhat awkward. But it is God who defines prophecy, not us.
obedience to God’s command Joseph does not return to Bethlehem but to
Nazareth. For the next twelve years we know nothing of Christ’s life. We then
have this incident in the Temple.
young man seems to have thought his parents should have known where he would
be. In fact, by his view they are rather thick headed about it all. Which is
true; the Scripture tells us they did not understand. Many a teenager has
thought the same of his parents.
see the model Jesus gives us. Despite the fact that they should have known by
now, he returns to Nazareth with them and is obedient to them. Much of
Christ’s life is exemplary; here is one of his best examples.