Even as we join with Christians all over the world in celebrating Jesus’ birth we might stop and ponder for a moment that his was one of the lowliest and most obscure of births possible.
God didn’t choose to come to earth fully grown and clothed with great power. God did not come to earth as a Caesar of Rome or King of England or President of the United States. No. Instead, God chose to come to earth as one of the most vulnerable of all creatures, a newborn child.
And God chose to not to come to earth in a place of great power like ancient Rome or London in the heyday of the British Empire or New York City in today’s world dominated by financial power. No. Emmanuel—God on earth—came to earth in one of the most backwater of all places, a poor, out-of-the way village in an insignificant province in the Roman Empire.
And what a set of parents our Lord had! His mother was a peasant and an adolescent about 13 years old. In keeping with the overall theme of humility, she hailed from a remote, hardscrabble village.
His father-to-be matched those modest circumstances. He was not really a skilled carpenter but someone more like a carpenter’s apprentice—and one who was reluctant to marry a blushing bride who was already pregnant with a child he did not help to conceive.
It is hard to imagine set of more humble circumstances for someone’s birth. But God was not done in emphasizing the lowliness and poverty of this joining of heaven to earth.
When the labor pains started and the child was ready to come, the small family was in a stable with barnyard animals as witnesses. There was no room for them anywhere else.
And we only think he was placed in a nice little cradle that we refer to as a manger. Mangers went by another name— food trough. God came to earth and was laid. . . in a food trough.
More signs of lowliness and humility were to come.
The first to celebrate the baby’s birth with the happy parents were a group of shepherds. As our Savior would later experience in his life, shepherds often had no real place to lay their heads. By the nature of their work, they had to sleep with their sheep.
And they weren’t appreciated by the good religious folk of the day. You see, it was the rare shepherd who could conform to Jewish law. It was just impractical. After all, it was a must for shepherds to work on the Sabbath, and they also found many of the other 500 or so laws hard to observe out in the wilderness.
Jesus had one of the lowliest, most obscure births ever. It was as if God was making a point. If heaven was going to meet earth, it would be in the most unimaginable way possible. . . part of and among people who had no status, wealth or power, but who instead were the belittled, rejected, reviled, and marginalized of their day.
Can we just ignore these facts? I don’t think so. They seem to add up to something important. After all, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth led to the circumstances of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. They must affect what we think, say and do in our own lives.
Fortunately, the verses tonight do at least hint at a path for us to follow.
The angel made quite an entrance in appearing to the shepherds that night. Luke tells us that the shepherds were living in the fields, keeping watch over the flock by night. Then, he says, the angel stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
The angel said, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah. . .”
There is one thing about these words that really interested me this year and that might help point the way for us.
It is in that phrase “. . . to you is born this day. . .” Those two words “this day” are really better translated as “today.”
Today. To all is born today. To us is born today. To you is born today. . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Luke knew what he was doing. He wrote the Greek word for “today.” He wrote a word that is always fresh and new, a word that applies in all times and places and to all people. Today, a savior is born to us.
It has often been noted that God gives God’s own self at Christmas. That happens again today.
May this be a gift that we—that you—accept.
But Jesus’ birth bursts with more meaning. One of them is that the circumstances of his birth shows that God’s heart is open to all people.
As we accept the gift of Christ, may we truly determine to also keep our hearts open to God’s people.