Christmas Day Sermon, 2021

What do we know about Jesus’ birth, specifically, and what do we know, generally, about any birth in the first century?

I don’t mean “Did Mary have a nose ring?”

I mean “What does the Bible tell us about birth, generally?” and “Why is the birth of Christ described the way it is?”

Why is it important that “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1)?

And why should we follow Joseph “from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4a)?

Why give the detail that Joseph “was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4b)?

And why does Mary wrap Jesus in swaddling cloths and lay Him in a manger?

“There was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7), St. Luke writes, but that word doesn’t mean that Motel Bethlehem was flashing a neon “No Vacancy” sign.

The word translated as “inn” in Luke chapter two is used again in Luke chapter twenty-two, when Jesus eats the Passover with His disciples in the guest room (cf. Luke 22:11).

There was no room for them in the guest room of the family house where Joseph and all his kin gathered.

Perhaps this is the type of room the wealthy woman implored her husband to build for Elisha in 2 Kings chapter four. There, she says to her husband, about Elisha, “Behold, now I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there” (2 Kings 4:9-10).

Maybe it’s important that Jesus is treated worse than the prophets.

Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Regardless, simple houses usually had one room and were one story tall. An upper room, or guest room, might be built over part of the building by extending the outer walls upward and adding inner walls.

The point is, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

“And all went to be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3).

Caesar didn’t want anyone to cheat, so he made everyone register in person.

Nowadays, the census comes to you.

Then, you went to the census, to be registered, each to his own town.

Joseph isn’t the only one home for this.

If everyone in your family arrived to the old, familial home, the guest room—the upper room—would be fit to burst.

You would find somewhere else for the baby.

That’s the practical point.

The Bible is full of practical wisdom.

There’s a very practical reason why Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths.

That’s what was done for every single baby.

People came to believe that a tightly swaddled child would grow stronger and healthier than one left free.

That was the practical reason to swaddle a child.

And—Ezekiel gives more details when he writes: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations…’” (Ezekiel 16:1).

What follows is a rebuke of Jerusalem, so this is the opposite of what’s good and right.

In rebuke of Jerusalem, thus says the Lord: “As for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths” (Ezekiel 16:4).

Being a rebuke, the opposite is what normally happened.

Every child’s cord was cut.

Every child was washed with water, to cleanse them.

Every child was rubbed with salt—and they would’ve been rubbed with oil, too.

Every child was wrapped in swaddling cloths.

These details are practically important, because the Bible is historically true, depicting things that actually happened, full of wisdom.

But these details are also theologically important, because God is using history to tell the story of, and win, our salvation.

We see this in Micah, when it’s said of Bethlehem: “From you shall come forth one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient of days…And he shall shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And [the people] shall dwell secure…He shall be their peace” (cf. Micah 5:2-5).

That’s why Jesus is born in Bethlehem—that’s where the king comes from.

And, of course, God has in mind His promise to David. Thus says the Lord: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-14).

Though Joseph is not Jesus’ natural father, he is His guardian. That’s why Luke makes the legally relevant point that Joseph is of the house and lineage of David—that’s where the king comes from.

These details are theologically important, because God is using history to tell the story of, and win, our salvation.

We see this in the sign that’s given.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:9-12).

The sign isn’t the swaddling cloths.

Every child was wrapped in swaddling cloths—that doesn’t narrow it down.

The sign is that the Savior who is Christ the Lord is placed in a manger.

Not a crib, not a crèche but a first century Pack ’n Play made out of limestone, probably.

That the animals ate out of, certainly.

That part—the manger part—is so strange the angels sing out—suddenly—to confirm by angelic chorus what the angel of the Lord proclaimed.

“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest…’” (Luke 2:13-14).

These details are theologically important, because God is using history to tell the story of, and win, our salvation.

These details are given so that we would know God fulfills His Word. Micah prophesied that the king would be born in Bethlehem—and the King is here.

These details are given so that we would rejoice in the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior who saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (cf. Titus 3:4-6).

These details are given so that we would sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest…”

And with that, we should notice this difference:

Luke chapter two verse fourteen, as we heard it today, has it this way: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

But do you recall how we sing those words each week?

How we sang them tonight?

Glory be to God on high: / and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

It might seem right that there’s peace only among those with whom God is pleased.

But that denies the whole reason for the season in the first place.

Not to disagree with myself and what I said last night.

Understand me rightly.

The reason for the season is for our Savior, Christ the Lord to be born—for us to celebrate the fulfillment of God’s Word and Promise—for our King, and God, and Sacrifice to dwell among us—and save us from our sins.

That’s why He’s born: to be crucified. To die. To rise.

And to raise us and all believers in Christ.

When we preach the Gospel, we preach the fact that there is: Peace on earth and mercy mild, / God and sinners reconciled.

Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, God’s good will toward men.

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that is for all people.

On this day, God’s good and gracious will is done.

Christ our Savior is born.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Christmas Day Sermon, 2021
Luke 2:1-20; Micah 5:2-5; Titus 3:4-7
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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