Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
INI + AMEN.
“It happened.” That’s how the Christmas story begins in the Gospel. “It happened.” It’s just so matter-of-fact and ordinary that most translations—like ours today—leave it out. Normally reporters don’t have to say, “It happened.” But when the event has been turned into a pretty little myth, a pretense for gift giving, for reindeer games, and an elf on the shelf, then it’s important to hear, “It happened.”
It’s really not even an attractive story! The government wanted more taxes. What’s new? That’s the world—2,000 years ago and today. Only two certain things: death and taxes. To do taxes, a census was taken. People and property would be listed, and the tax was calculated. That’s what’s happening in our text.
Caesar had nothing to fear from Joseph and Mary, a woman in her third trimester. What difference could this couple make to mighty Caesar Augustus, ruler of the world? What would Caesar care? His job was statistics and taxes, law and order. But we remember him and Quirinius, because the new tax law unknowingly brought Joseph and his very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. The most powerful man in the world and an insignificant carpenter, without their choice, were instruments to bring Jesus to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was hometown for “the house and lineage of David.” While they were there, Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and laid him in a manger.” So, a baby was born: a boy. Poor little guy in a manger. Who cares? Mary and Joseph. Nobody else. That’s all there was to see. But that’s not all that happened. What happened you couldn’t know by looking. You had to be told. Some near Bethlehem were told, by those who knew, those who bring messages from God.
Now, you might think God would give His message to those who’d understand it: theologians, priests, or scribes. No, He gives it to shepherds. Nothing very promising about them, a rough bunch, and notorious for their bad church attendance. They were scared stiff. “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” How could they protect themselves from God? Would He given them a talking to or worse? He wasn’t there to reward them for their stellar behavior. Everything depended on Him, and they were defenseless, exposed. Whatever He’d give, they’d take. No other way.
The angel speaks, “Fear not.” Good news. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Here’s why all Caesar’s stuff happened: So these shepherds would know that the Good News happened. The angel doesn’t discuss God’s attributes, that they just need to do their best, that they’re basically good people. No, the angel’s message is simply what happened—a birth—and who was born—“a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Impossible? No, “it happened.” A Savior born, Christ the Lord.
They go to Bethlehem and find out it’s true, and, even though all babies pretty much look alike, they find the right child. No mistaking it. They were given a sign: “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” They found that one. That’s all we’re told. That’s all that matters, and the shepherds carried that message. What could they say? A baby’s a baby. But they told all that “had been told them concerning this child.” A baby. A Savior. Christ the Lord.
Impossible? Not with God. Almighty God can do whatever He likes. But can a holy God love us so much, so that He puts Himself into our messed-up lot to be our Savior? The heart of unbelief is to refuse to be loved so much. God can love others perhaps, but not me. Or we may think we deserve God’s love. Another way of refusing His love. We would have God deal with us another way: not with undeserved love, but in a way where we still have some small part to play.
Not so the shepherds. They feared God above all, and from Him came His Good News. What He said had happened, and they believed that this birth, was for them. For them and for you, yes, for you. That is how much God loves you. “It happened,” all of it: Bethlehem, Calvary, Easter, and you have been told.
The shepherds went proclaiming but still back to their flocks—same old sheep but not same old shepherds. Joseph went to carpentry, and Mary to caring for her Child and her home. They all knew that what God had done and said was for them: “a Savior, Christ the Lord.”
The Word concerning Mary’s Baby is spoken to you, too. To you is born a Savior, Christ the Lord. He’s your God. Fear Him above all and from Him hear the message. Nothing comes ahead of that; nothing is more certain than that. Everything else comes after that, fits in with that, is illumined by that. You have it on the highest authority that Christ has been born. “It happened.” God is pleased with us; He loves us. If we fully believed that, our hearts would burst. “Be born in us today,” dear Lord.
Then we go back to what we have to do—like shepherds to sheep, Joseph to carpentry, Mary to Child and home. Same tasks, but different. There we carry the message and carry out our calling. God will do things through us that are beyond our knowing and planning, as He did through shepherds, Mary and Joseph, even Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. We’re not super heroes. That gets in His way. “I will do a Quirinius.” “I will do a Mary.” No, God wants to do with you a Michael or a Bethany. We let Him be the Lord.
You came to hear the story again, bringing along the parts of you that still say no, the parts from a world of death and taxes and all the things that threaten to wear away your life or make it meaningless. Today is the rock bottom of what happened, and we build on that, fitting in all the pieces and layers of our lives, the hard things and happy things, too. We can let them be the happy things they are—family, home, friends, gifts, food, drink, and all the fun and games of Christmas—for they are freed from having to cover us and our empty heart. Now, our heart is fixed where true joy is found. “A Savior, Christ the Lord.”
“It happened,” and the Word has brought Him to you, bread and wine, too. Then return, proclaiming Him, back to your sheep. While tending them, your Lord will have things to do with you that you’ve not planned.
INI + AMEN.