December 23, 2011 David Balzer

Luke 2:1-20: Who Would Have Thought?

In 1809 the whole world was watching the campaigns of Napoleon. Everywhere, there was talk of marches and invasions, of battles and bloodshed. As the French dictator pushed his way through Europe.

Who cared about the birth of babies? Tiny, helpless, insignificant. But in 1809 babies were born whose lives would shape humanity. Babies were being born who would one day make people take notice. And leave an impression on the world even greater than that of Napoleon.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

In 1809. William Gladstone was born in Liverpool. He was destined to become one of the greatest POLITICIANS England ever produced. He fought the cause of the poor, introducing many bills that improved life for the poor and needy.

In that same year Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife in Summersby, England. Tennyson became one of the most popular poets in the English language.

In 1809, Edgar Allen Poe was also born in America. His life was eventful and tragic, but he became a highly successful author and poet.

Same year, on the other side of the world, an English doctor named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And it’s debatable whether anyone has had a bigger impact on the SCIENTIFIC world than Charles Darwin.

And again, 1809, across in Europe, the great COMPOSER Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany.

And back in America, ALSO in 1809 the cries of a new-born infant could be heard from a rugged log cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky.  The baby’s name?  Abraham Lincoln. Who shaped the United States politically and socially like no one else. Arguably the free world as well.

Music, politics, literature, poetry, science.

Everyone thought the destiny of the world was being shaped on battlefields in Europe by Napoleon Bonaparte.

But was it? The reality was history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England, Germany and America. Young mothers held in their arms the movers and shakers of the future. People who’d bring new insights. New freedoms. New organisations and institutions.

1809 was, in fact, THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

And it was no different the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

No one in the entire Roman Empire could have cared less about the birth of that Jewish infant. Rome ruled. It was consolidating its position at the end of a spear all across the known world. That’s where history was being made!

Or was it?

Bethlehem was too busy with the political helter skelter of the Roman census. The inn-keeper, too busy with his important customers to find Mary and Joseph a bed.

The soldiers were too busy keeping the peace. Dealing with all those frustrated and tired travellers.

The Bethlehem crowds had NO IDEA the infinite Son of God – God with skin – was asleep in their little town. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

What seemed to be a lowly, unimportant, everyday event turned into THE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD! WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

And it’s this strange contrast between the way things APPEAR to be. And their TRUE importance. That we see in Luke 2.

Whose kingdom ruled?

a. Rome:

First up, WHOSE KINGDOM RULED? If it was a multiple choice quiz, most people, including the Jews would tick A. Rome.

It was Rome who’d organised a census. Probably to calculate taxes and military service. The biggest event in a decade. And everything else paled into insignificance. Even expectant mothers. V1.

(Luke 2:1-3 NIV)  “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. {2} (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) {3} And everyone went to his own town to register.”

And while Caesar thought HE was bossing people around. It was actually GOD moving the chess pieces. Working things for HIS purposes. Because even though Joseph was from Nazareth. Bethlehem was his home town, and so that’s where he travelled.

Bethlehem. The VERY TOWN Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born. Micah 5:2

(Micah 5:2 NIV)  “”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.””

While it may have APPEARED Rome was in control, it was actually all part of GOD’S plan. God was working out the fulfilment of his promises. His promises to provide a Saviour, a Messiah, a king from the line of King David, to be born in David’s town, Bethlehem.

b. The Kingdom of God:

And while, from the OUTSIDE, the kingdom of ROME ruled. The focus is really on the Kingdom of GOD. And it begins humbly and insignificantly. A lot different from the power and pomp of Rome. Look at v6.

(Luke 2:6-7 NIV)  “While they were there, the time came for THE BABY TO BE BORN, {7} and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

What a trivial, easily-overlooked beginning!

Abraham Lincoln started life in a tiny backwoods cabin. And rose to the White House. But at least he was born in a ROOM! Not a manger!

But what appeared humble, quickly showed its true character. God wasn’t going to let such a earth-shattering event pass COMPLETELY un-noticed. V8.

(Luke 2:8-14 NIV)  “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. {9} An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. {10} But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. {11} Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. {12} This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” {13} Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, {14} “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.””

What had appeared so inconsequential was seen for what it really was – a glorious, heavenly, miraculous, perfectly-wise plan for salvation.

The one who’d appeared to be just a baby was really the KING of a kingdom. A kingdom much greater than either Israel or Rome.

Who would have thought?

And look at what this king will be like. Jesus was given three titles by the angel;

SAVIOUR. A title the Jews used for God, and God alone. All through history it was GOD who saved his people. This new baby was connected to God.

Secondly, CHRIST. MESSIAH. “Chosen one”. God’s anointed. God’s instrument, fulfilling God’s purposes.

And third. LORD: This title is really the most staggering. Already in little more than a chapter, Luke’s used this title of “Lord” nearly twenty times to refer to God! Here he uses the same word to refer to Jesus!

Saviour, Christ, Lord.

All three titles reveal THIS IS GOD HIMSELF, lying in the animal food trough. God with skin. The all-powerful Creator of the Universe  completely helpless and dependent on his mother. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

Reactions to Jesus

And look at the different REACTIONS to Jesus.

Angels

Firstly, the PRAISE of the angels. A great company of the heavenly host praising God and saying, {14} “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

What a sound and light show THAT would have been! The glory of the Lord shining all around the shepherds. A huge heavenly choir singing “Glory”. Better than any fireworks display, or Carols in the Domain.

And look at what ELSE the angels say. They declare PEACE. Peace to those on whom God’s favour rests.

And that works on a few levels. Jesus comes to bring peace with GOD. Changes us from ENEMIES to FRIENDS.

And once that’s happened, he gives us an INTERNAL peace. A serenity and tranquillity with the circumstances and trials of life.

And as Jesus works in people, he often brings peace BETWEEN people. Between families, and races, and nations.

And it’s more than just a PART-TIME PEACE. How often have you heard the phrase, “Christmas is that time of the year when we all need to try and get along, the time when we need to spread a little Christmas cheer”

But once Christmas is over, we’re back to our normal selfish behaviour. I think that’s why it’s called Boxing Day!!

The peace Jesus brings is a strong, consistent, concentrated, eternal peace. A peace that doesn’t come from any other source!

The Romans enforced peace at the end of a spear. The PAX ROMANA – the Roman peace – was the Roman LAW. Crucifixion and whipping. Tough justice. Rebels were rapidly quashed. Individual nations and states were encouraged to come under the umbrella of Roman law.

And yet it was only a shadow of GENUINE peace. The APPEARANCE of peace.

Because it wasn’t GENUINE peace. Nations and individuals still hated. They just kept their tongues. For fear of punishment.

Yet it was into the midst of this Roman peace that Jesus was born. The TRUE peace-maker.

The one who brings peace between us and God NOW. And who will, one day, bring peace between people everywhere.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

Shepherds

And then there’s the SHEPHERDS. They went off to see Jesus, and when they’d MET him (v17), they spread the word about what they’d head and seen.

It’s incredible news. That Jesus didn’t just come to be a BABY. But to be a Saviour. To be King. To be LORD.

That’s the message of Christmas we need to proclaim.

And, for the shepherds, it didn’t stop with the events of that first Christmas. V20.

20 The shepherds RETURNED, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

They were CHANGED. Life had a new direction and priority. They lived to glorify God. Who’d brought things about just as he’d promised.

And that’s OUR response too. To find God FAITHFUL and RELIABLE in all things. To recognise that, in the MANGER, God has proved faithful.

We may not see it in the confusion and struggles of the day to day. But God IS working out his purposes in our lives. Because he HAS worked them out ALREADY in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Our life NOW finds its significance and orientation from HIM.

Mary

And finally, there was the reaction of MARY. There in v19.

19 But Mary TREASURED up all these things and PONDERED them in her heart.

Angel visits, a miraculous conception, shepherds, dreams and prophecies. What would life hold for this helpless little baby?

She had SOME idea. But we know MUCH MORE. Do WE TREASURE these things? PONDER them? Or are they quickly dismissed in the rush to get into Christmas lunch?

Out of all the significant events that have happened this year. Bushfires, wars, bombings. Elections, Dictators thrown down.

Nothing is MORE important than remembering the birth of a Jewish baby to working-class parents in a smelly stable halfway around the world.

The world dismisses it as sentimental fable, or irrelevant historical trivia, or an unthreatening helpless baby.

But we know better. This baby is our SAVIOUR, our MESSIAH, our LORD. He’s our treasure. The one we love and worship and serve. The one we trust our lives and our eternity to.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

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