What Matters Most

Bible Text: Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 9:2-7 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Non-Series | Christmas Eve. Arguably one of the most important days in the life of the Church. The night we celebrate the coming birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, the long-awaited Messiah. It should be a time of joy and excitement. But that is not always the case I have come to learn. I have found through many conversations with other pastors and spiritual leaders that many do not like to preach on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and in fact many choose not to.

Instead of preaching on either the liturgical text chosen for this day, or maybe following through with a sermon series, many choose to stick with Scripture readings, hymns, and maybe some theatrical performance perhaps. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but have you ever wondered why this happens?

Well I can only offer you my own insight and share with you my own experience I had while working on this message. I found myself stuck for a little bit to be perfectly honest. And not because this is a busy time for me, but it came down to what could I say. What could I possibly talk about that might be new, or inspired? I mean, this story is one of the oldest ever told. The Gospel of Luke is thought to be have written somewhere between 80 and 100 A.D.

So, as I sat in front of my keyboard I wondered what I could possibly talk about tonight that would be worth saying. Many people already know the story, even people who don’t attend church every week and even non-Christians. It is a story that has dominated our world for centuries. In 2019 what could I offer about this story that hasn’t already been said.

But then I sat back and remembered that I am never alone when I am writing these messages. The Holy Spirit guides me in this process and I just needed to take a few moments, try to block out all of the other distractions around me, and pray, asking for guidance and help.

And I believe that it came to me. I believe that the Holy Spirit touched my heart and opened my eyes. Now I do not claim what I am about to talk about tonight to be any great revelation. I am not going to be shaking the foundations of the Christian faith tonight. But I do believe that I have been shown a perspective on something that is worth sharing.

So, as I began to work, I went to several commentaries looking at what biblical scholars had written. I looked to see what those who had come before me had said about these twenty verses of Scripture from the Gospel of Luke. And I began to notice a common thread among them. Each of these authors and scholars seemed to be focused on offering some type of proof, either about the circumstances of Jesus birth or the historical storyline.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean by that. Some scholars have pointed out that Luke sets the events of Jesus’ birth against the background of world history. They talk about how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, David’s city, and registered under the house of David to provide a royal lineage back to David.

There are some who argue about the census that is mentioned in the opening verse. They offer that a census of this magnitude would have never been demanded, and that what is being described could actually have been the processes and rules of a census conducted under the leadership of the local Jewish leaders and not the Romans. But then there are those who instead insist that the census was likely ordered by Herod at the director of Augustus because Herod was very old and it was likely that Rome would take over at least some of, if not all of, the area Herod ruled over once he had passed on.
Then there is significant argument over who was the Roman governor at the time of Jesus birth. Luke writes that it was P. Sulpicius Quirinius, but historical records indicate that Quirinius did not come to power until Jesus was around 10 years old. The historical records actually indicate that the Roman governor at the time of Jesus birth would most likely have been P. Quintilius Varus.

Or how about the debate about why Mary would have needed to tag along for this census. Typically, these kinds of things were only concerned with the heads of households and even then likely only those who owned land or property. On top of that, some people question given how soon Jesus was born after they arrived, why would Mary and Joseph have risked Mary’s health and the health of the unborn Jesus by taking this journey in the first place. Some though make the claim that health concerns at the time of Jesus’ birth vary greatly than what they might be today with modern medicine and technology.
Another issue for debate has been just what kind of place did Mary and Joseph go to looking for shelter and where did they ultimately end up. Some translations indicate it was an inn, like some kind of public lodging. But some scholars argue that Bethlehem not being along a major road or very large, would not have had such lodgings and the original texts actually translates to meaning a private residence and that there was no room for them in the guest room of the home.

Then there is the popular debate over whether Mary and Joseph stayed in some kind of room inside a home where the animals would have been kept, which goes along with the idea of a private lodging, or some kind of outdoor barn or stable, or if in fact it was actually more of a cave in the side of a hill or mountain.

And those are just some of the arguments you can find when you look at the writings of biblical scholars and other biblical authorities. There seems to be such a strong focus on proving that this event of Jesus birth happened and exactly how it happened. Now I do understand this from the perspective that the early Christians wanted to show proof to give legitimacy to the claim that Jesus was this special person, the Son of God and the Messiah. So, providing a historical timeline of his birth would help with this.

And for the biblical scholars of the past and even today, this same proof is important in the debates between those who hold this Gospel to be true and those who might look to try to poke holes in the story and somehow claim that all of this never happened and it all just made up. Humans are always looking for tangible proof for things in this world, especially for things or events we have not personally witnessed.

And while I greatly appreciate the work of the scholars and other authorities with these passages, I wonder sometimes if we aren’t focusing so much on these proofs that we miss the story itself. Do we get so obsessed with proving something wrong or right that we forget about the actual message that is being shared? Do we get caught up in minor details that may not really matter in light of that message and it’s greater meaning?

In our world right now today, does it really matter who was the Roman governor when Jesus was born? On this night right now, do we really need to know exactly how the census was ordered or what was required of each person in regard to fulfilling it? In this very moment does it make a difference if Mary and Joseph couldn’t find shelter in a public lodging location or a private home? Does it matter if Jesus was born in a room in a private residence where the animals were kept, in a barn outside, or in a cave on the side of a hill?

I’m not sure it does. I am not saying that all of this irrelevant, or the work of the scholars is wasted. Not at all. That information helps us to better understand the historical perspective of what was going on in the world when Jesus born. That work helps us to better understand our world throughout time. But does it become a stumbling block to us when we focus more on that information than on what this story is really about?

This story is about the birth of Jesus, our Savior, the Messiah who had come to save the world. This story tells about this miracle and the announcement to the world. Remember that the angels go to the shepherds, not the chief priests, to announce the birth of Jesus. The patriarchs of the Old Testament, like Moses and David, were also shepherds who were brought news by one of God’s messengers. Both Moses and David started as shepherds and were called to lead and rule God’s people.

And we see how Jesus was born in humble surroundings, whatever they may have exactly been, to a family of “regular people” and not to human royalty. After his birth, he is wrapped in swaddling clothes, just like any other human child at that time. This, along with these humble surroundings, helps to further illustrate the humanity of Jesus.

This story is so much more than the historical pieces that help to legitimize it to others. It is a story about the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of a Savior. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. God had become both human and divine in this tiny child so that the world might be saved from death and an eternity without God. This event was the surest sign of God’s love for God’s creation.

And you know I look around at our world today, especially right now, during all of these politically charged arguments and spectacles, and I think we have the same problem. I think we as a world have become so obsessed with proof and trying to prove someone else wrong and nitpick over the smallest threads that we have lost the real meaning of this season.

Advent and Christmas aren’t about things like presents and decorations. This time of year isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. This is a time for anticipation and celebration. The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus is really one of the simplest ones that there is at its core. While the Gospel of John does not have the birth narrative in it the way Matthew, Mark, and Luke do, I believe that it does offer the meaning of this story and this season.

John 3:16 and 17 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” That’s the Good News and we find it beginning through the birth of Jesus, growing through his ministry on earth, and everything culminating during Lent and Easter when he dies and resurrects to fulfill this promise.

But it all starts with this little baby. It all starts with a small family. It all starts with God’s love and grace, freely given to all the world. Jesus didn’t come just for me or for the people in this space tonight. Jesus came to save the world. Remember the words of the angels that we read in this passage, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” May this Christmas Eve bring you the same joy, excitement, anticipation, and feeling of love that was felt that night so long ago. Christ is born, God is with us, and God’s promise will be fulfilled through Jesus. This is the beginning of the Good News. Amen.