Unto Us a Child is Born
How do you respond to Christmas?
I don’t mean to our culture’s prevalent materialism: advertisements, crowded malls, TV specials, or fake Santa’s;
Or to the seasonal performances: The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or even Handels Messiah; Nor am I asking how you respond to the seasonal religious activities, whether carolling or Christmas Eve services.
But how do you respond to Christmas itself: The story of the birth of Jesus?
While a wide-eyed four-year-old may be responding to the tree lights and the tinsel, the outward manifestations of the season, the challenge for most of us today – adults, teens, and children –
is to recapture that wide-eyed response to the true story of Christmas. So today, as we walk through this story in Luke chapter 2 – this all-too-familiar story for so many of us – put yourself in the place of someone who has never heard it before. Imagine yourself as a traveller in Judea. You hear the story from a shepherd. All is new. All is fresh. The child is born. How do you respond?
Remember that centuries earlier, God had sent his word through his prophets saying that He would raise up a descendant of David to the throne of Israel. This king would usher in an eternal kingdom of righteousness. The Jews have held on to that hope over all these years.
In chapter 1 of Luke, an angel announces to Zechariah that the long wait is over! He and his elderly, barren wife Elizabeth will have a baby, who will be the promised forerunner of the Messiah.
The angel’s words come true; Elizabeth gives birth to John,
and Zechariah praises God for His faithfulness. Then the same angel announces to Mary that she, a young virgin, will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that her child will be the long-awaited Messiah. Mary submits to God’s inconvenient grace; she too praises God for His faithfulness to His people. This brings us to today’s lesson in Luke chapter 2.
Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, commands that all those resident within the Roman Empire must be registered for taxation. Among the Jews, the land was allocated according to ancestral clans. Whenever the Jews conducted a census, they required those being counted to return to the land of their forefathers. The Romans apparently agree to follow this Jewish custom for registration in Judea, probably in an attempt to gain wider compliance. So every Jew returns to the land of his ancestors to register.
Remember that chapter 1 records that Joseph and Mary were living at this time in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. We note that Nazareth was out in the sticks, an unimportant place. Indeed, Nazareth is never even mentioned in the Old Testament.
Joseph hears of Caesar’s decree; so he must travel to Bethlehem to register. Mary, due to give birth, apparently doesn’t want Joseph to be away from her when the child is born. So not knowing how long he will have to be gone, she accompanies him to Bethlehem. Understand: Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem only because of the command of Caesar Augustus. Had the emperor not issued his decree, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth. Why did they go? Why did Mary have to undergo a journey of several days while pregnant? This seems like another of the many inconveniences that Mary had to face.
Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because God had said through His prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born there: Micah 5:2-5. Don’t pass over this incident. Instead, marvel at the sovereignty of God. God uses Caesar Augustus to get Mary to Bethlehem. Augustus had his own reasons for calling for a tax registration. He did what he thought would secure his own reign and build up his power. He thought the only reason for this census was to accomplish his purposes. Augustus had no idea that the most important effect of his decree concerned a coming newborn king who would far surpass him in power and might.
As Proverbs 21:1 says:
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will“. and God turned the heart of Caesar Augustus, in order that Mary might end up in Bethlehem.
Then in verses 6 and 7 we see that …
“… while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn“. Luke 2:6-7
Unlike most popular suppositions, Luke does not say that Mary gave birth that night she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem.
Yet sometime after they arrived, she did give birth.
Isaiah had prophesied this more than 600 years earlier,
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulders.” Isaiah 9:6
Now the child is here. The long-awaited Messiah. The Conquering King.
Yet this magnificent birth takes place in a far from magnificent setting. Jesus is born within the prophesied city, yes,
but not in a palace, not even in a house. Traditionally, Mary gives birth surrounded by animals – “the friendly beasts,” and while animals may have been present, we don’t know that for sure. We do know that they travelled on a Donkey – so I expect he was most certainly there? All we know for sure is what Luke tells us here: There was no room for them in the normal place where travellers would stay, so the couple stayed elsewhere. Either there was an animal’s feeding trough – a manger – where they stayed, or, needing a resting place for the child, Joseph found an unused manger and carried it to where they stayed.
So a young girl, a virgin, gives birth to a tiny, crying baby and puts him in a feeding trough, and wraps him up in “milk rags”? Meanwhile, the emperor gave commands, armies marched, politicians connived. They all thought that they were very important men of action. They all thought the world revolved around them, that the future depended on their actions. But the most important event that day – indeed, the most important event to that point in all of history – took place when a young woman gave birth. The Messiah was born!
God has planned this event since before the beginning of time. And so now He proclaims it, telling others the significance of what just happened. He sends a large number of angelic messengers to announce the birth of the long-awaited Messiah.
· He could have sent them to Caesar Augustus, but He doesn’t;
· He could have sent them to King Herod, but He chose not to;
· He could have sent them to the High Priest or chief priests,
but He ignored them.
Instead, God chooses to send His messengers to a group of ordinary shepherds herding their flocks in the middle of the night. Do you remember how the prophecy I quoted from
Isaiah 9 begins?
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light“. Isaiah 9:2
What will be true figuratively with the coming of the Messiah is fulfilled literally. Picture the scene: How many of you have spent the night in a place where you could see no electric lights, not even far away on the horizon – not even a faint glow of a distant city …and Nights with no moon were pitch black.
Just so for the shepherds. No electricity. No lights. Not even a candle … All is completely dark. The shepherds have gathered their sheep and goats close around a fire, and they keep their ears alert to the sound of a possible predator or thief. But they hear almost nothing. Of course, there is no sound of cars. No sound of trains. Perhaps a dog barks in the distance. A low murmur of conversation among the shepherds. Otherwise, silence.
Then a Flash! A bright light – the glory of God shines on them! An angel, of blazing brightness, mighty in strength, overwhelming in power, appears before them. Pupils dilated by the darkness, they are blinded by the light, and can hardly see anything. In the midst of their surprise and fright, the angel speaks:
“Fear not! For behold, I proclaim to you a good and great joy that will be for all the people“. Luke 2:10.
Why is this news so good, so joyous?
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord.” Luke 2:11.
Here’s a Question: Why did he say, “unto you”? He could have just said, “For a Saviour, Christ, the Lord is born this day.”
But he says, ‘Unto you!”
He uses those words because they describe why the news is so joyous! The child is born unto you! Unto all the people! The child, the saviour is born for the benefit and blessing of all.
Not just to the rich and powerful,
Not just to the Pharisees and Sadducees,
Not just to the chief priests and the scribes,
But to you! To all the people, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, strong and weak. The prophecy had said, “unto us a child is born.” So the angel says, “This child is born unto you! Truly, a good and a great joy.
But who is this child? How does the angel describe Him? With three words: Saviour, Christ (or Messiah) & Lord. Remember
that normal Jewish teaching at this time did not consider the coming Messiah to be divine? He was clearly to be a descendant of David. He would be great and mighty, restoring the kingdom to Israel. He indeed was to be a Saviour, for he would save the nation from their enemies. But most Jews thought this salvation would be from their political enemies, their oppressors. Remember, even Zechariah seems to emphasize this expectation in Luke 1:71: where he says:
“that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us“.
From our perspective, we can look back at his words and realize that “those who hate us” include spiritual as well as human enemies, Satan as well as Augustus. But most likely Zechariah himself was thinking primarily about their human enemies.
So all acknowledged that the Messiah was to be a Saviour. But the Old Testament uses the word “Saviour” in another sense. Often, God Himself is called Saviour, or the “God of my Salvation.” Psalm 27:1 is one example among many: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
A more accurate translation of the Old Testament renders the first phrase, “The Lord is my light and my Saviour.” God Himself is seen as the ultimate Saviour for the Israelites.
He surely saves not only from earthly enemies, but also from spiritual enemies – indeed, from death itself.
So in the Old Testament, we find two strong themes:
The Messiah is Saviour – And God is Saviour.
This is very interesting. The Messiah is Saviour. God is Saviour. The Messiah is Lord. God is Lord. Is the angel then saying that the Messiah is God?
Let’s now go back to the shepherds. These men are overwhelmed with fear and surprise at the angel’s appearance, astounded and confused by the angel’s words. They know they are at the centre of a great event, but their heads are swimming at all that they have heard. Then the angel says something absolutely amazing: “This will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
That might have been the greatest surprise of the night! That these angels would appear to poor shepherds to announce the Messiah’s birth is quite surprising; … but the long-awaited Messiah – wrapped up like a common poor infant,
placed in a feeding-trough?
Mary had said of God that He has “exalted those of humble estate” Luke 1:52 and it would seem that He does that here by choosing a humble place for Jesus’ birth, and by speaking to these shepherds. Although some may argue that the place was not necessarily Gods choice, but that Josephs lateness or delay in getting them to Bethlehem had this consequence.
But as if to underline the statement that this is the greatest news the world has ever heard, to ensure that the shepherds understand that the baby’s location does not diminish His glory, … numerous angels now suddenly appear, praising God:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
Indeed, God is bringing the highest glory, the deepest praise to Himself through the humble birth of His Son. And He promises peace among those with whom He is well pleased. This is not a general command “goodwill toward men” but God’s peace. Peace with God, for those who are His people, for those who are His treasured possession, and for those who are the True Israel.
The child is born unto you! God’s peace is here! God’s glory shines forth! The Messiah, the Saviour, the Lord is with you!
So bearing all this in mind I ask again, what is your response?
The first response to this good news is by the shepherds. They say, “We’ve got to get to Bethlehem, now! We’ve got to see what God has told us about!” So they go as fast as they can.
It must take a while – but where are they to find a baby lying in a feeding trough? In the end they succeed. In some nondescript place, they find Mary, and Joseph, and the infant Jesus. The shepherds excitedly tell Mary and Joseph all that has happened, – all the angel said.
Verse 20 closes the account of the shepherds:
“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them“. Luke 2:20
How did the shepherds respond?
The shepherds respond with joy. With faith. They give glory to God. They spread the news to others – not to make a pound, but
to glorify God for His mighty, faithful work. I recon that Romans 15:13 applies to these shepherds:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope“. This was the shepherds’ response.
What about Mary? Look at verse 21. Like all Jewish babies, Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day. As with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angel gave the baby a name before he was born. Will Mary and Joseph give that name to the child? Or will they name him, “Joseph,” the name most would expect? They do name him “Jesus.” They believe the angel’s words. Mary responds to all these events with quiet faith and obedience.
But there’s more to Mary’s response. Verses 18 and 19 tell us of another category of people: Those who hear the shepherd’s story. Luke contrasts their reaction with Mary’s:
“And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart“. Luke 2:18-19
She took all this to heart, she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She didn’t lose them. She turned them over in her mind. She didn’t understand everything – indeed, more and more she is coming to see that her conception of the Messiah needs to grow. Her question really is, “What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
And that’s your question right now: Who is this child?
Can you respond like a four-year-old – with wide-eyed joy at the good, great news?
Can you respond like the shepherds – with faith and excitement praising God and telling others?
Can you respond like Mary – pondering these truths,
treasuring them up in your heart?
We need to respond in all three ways! This is the joyous news, the great joy! The child Himself can be your peace. This child can be your entryway to God. This child will die to pay the penalty for your sins, if only you believe in Him, if only you see Him for what He is: Your Saviour, your Lord, your Friend, your treasure. Unto you is born this day a Saviour.
God orchestrated all events for centuries so that a Roman emperor would issue a command bringing an unknown young girl from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God enabled her to give birth in humble surroundings, yet sent His majestic angelic army to proclaim, to broadcast the joyous event…. And now the same
God has brought you and I to this day and to this moment of decision. How will we respond?
In today’s world, most are trying to take Jesus out of Christmas. Instead of “Away in a Manger” or “Oh Holy Night” being played continuously in our shopping malls, we hear “frosty the snowman” or “I‘m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Greetings cards now proclaim Happy Holidays, and the Crib has been removed from most of our town and village centres in case it offends those who are not Christian, This is the worlds response, … is it yours? Is there a welcome for Jesus today in your home and heart, or is there still “no room”?
He is born the Saviour, but is he YOUR Saviour?
Think about it … and may God Bless You.