Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
INI + AMEN.
This Christmas is wierd, maybe even a bit unsettling. Certain things do change out of love for our neighbor, but there are places in our country where the governing authorities have been saying you can’t get together for Christmas. Upend your holiday traditions. Don’t celebrate, well, at least not together. Pandemic after all.
But oddly enough, as if 2020 couldn’t get any stranger, our Christmas is no stranger than the first Christmas. It’s just in the opposite direction. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree.” Executive order from the Emperor saying that “everyone must be registered in his own city.” Caesar forced families to get back together! Taxes, after all.
So, that’s the stage for Christmas 3BC. Census. Taxation. Imperial, executive order. Poor Joseph has to return to Bethlehem. He had to leave Nazareth, where he had moved to find work. Didn’t seem to be making it as a carpenter in Bethlehem. How much better was he fairing in Nazareth? It doesn’t matter. Edicts are edicts. Taxation is an all important matter to those in charge.
So, he makes the several day journey back to his old stomping grounds, back amongst his relatives, his cousins, his childhood friends. He probably doesn’t want to, not like he is anyway. Well, it’s not about him really. Like Mary is. Engaged but very, very pregnant. And while most pictures of their journey have Mary riding a donkey, that’s not in the text. Very well could’ve been! But that they offered the most meager sacrifice (two pigeons) 40 days later at Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation to God at the Temple, a donkey seems unlikely.
Anyway, Joseph would’ve tried to stay with relatives. But none wanted to help him, to help Mary. “There was no room for them in the inn.” It’s not just that there were no more rooms in the Best Western Bethlehem. They didn’t even have inns or hotels like that back then. Friends, relatives would’ve had guest quarters, guest rooms. “Inn” in Luke 2, same word as “upper room” from the Last Supper in Luke 22. Anyway, it’s not just that there weren’t any rooms left. The text doesn’t say, “There was no more room in the upper room.” It says, “there was no place FOR THEM in the upper room.”
Joseph who couldn’t make a living in Bethlehem had gone off and was now coming back with a pregnant fiancé. (The rumors were true!) But had to at least do something for them. Why? “For so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.” Manger. Feed trough. For cattle. For sheep. For God Himself, the Son of God, Jesus. “Because there was no place for them”—for Him—“in the room.”
Dear friends, this is all for our comfort. Every last detail of the Christmas story comforts us because, well, Jesus FOR YOU is in all the details of the story! There’s no need to find fake comfort in a Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kincaid, picture perfect Christmas. That lasts only as long as you can keep the pose. True comfort, our only comfort this Christmas, every Christmas, everyday of the year, is the Christ child.
It would’ve been a lonely evening that first Christmas. Sure Mary and Joseph had each other, but she was in labor. If there was no room for her in the inn, who would’ve helped her deliver? Probably just Joseph. Lonely. Scary. Dark. Dirty. Dangerous.
Just the sort of place God wants to go. Jesus is the God of the lonely. Jesus, the God of the outcast, the people no one wants around, the sorts of people who have doors slammed in their face. Besides each other, the only other person in that stable, was God Himself. Enthroned in a feed trough. This shows us that when it seems we have no one else, we have Jesus. Jesus comes to dwell with us. For no other reason to save us.
“Peace on earth.” “Goodwill toward men.” “For unto you is born this day in the city of a Savior, which is Christ the LORD.” So it was to shepherds. Not to the high and mighty. Again to the lowly the message comes. Those who dwell in darkness, those not so good in synagogue attendance. To them the light of the Good News comes: Savior for you. Christ, the LORD, unto you, for you. He’s yours. You are His. You want proof? Go see Him: “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in manger.”
God of the outcast. God of the forsaken. God of the lonely. God of the sinner. That’s Jesus. Lonely, dark, dangerous manger previews His lonely, dark, dangerous cross. All for the saving you—that’s Jesus. Born to live in your place. Born to die in your place. Born to come back to life in your place. So that you would live, die, and come back to life His.
He will never leave you nor forsake you. A God who’s born in a place like a barn is a God who won’t turn His back on you when you end up making a sty of your life. He dirties Himself with your sins, “by His wounds you are healed,” forgiven. He is Friend and Savior of sinners. Your Friend, your Savior, your Christ, your Lord. “Good news of great joy for all people!”
He is yours, and you His. Baptized into His death and resurrection, you are now reborn as God’s child. You are more loved by Jesus’ heavenly Father than a newborn is loved by His mother. And you being baptized means Jesus is “with you always even to the end of the age.” His birth in a barn, and the angelic sermon pointing shepherds to Him, means that Jesus was born to bring you out of your darkness, your sins to walk and live in His marvelous light.
It doesn’t matter where you are, what you’ve made of your life. Jesus is for you. Born and placed in a feed trough—God’s throne for as long as Jesus lay there. “The government will be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That’s what He is for you, and if He can carry all that, He’ll carry you through. All the way to end. Past the end! Carry you forever.
INI + AMEN.