Sermon on Luke 2:1-7 – “A Christmas Message to Remember”
Sermon for Friday, December 24th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Luk 2:1-7 ESV] 1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
We all have a Christmas that we look back upon fondly. I imagine that for many of us it is about when we were age 5 and very excited to open presents. For others, your most fondly remembered Christmas may be when your children were about that age and you got to watch them open presents.
There are lots of memories when it comes to Christmas. I recall, each year, thirty or so of us piling into Grandma and Grandpa old house with all the eclectic antiques grandpa had collected through the years; the intrigue of which kept us kids occupied for half a day at a time. In addition to the known close relatives there were those STRANGE distant relatives that would show up from places unknown to pile their plates high with food. In a little den sat the uncles watching football and throughout the house scattered the cousin as we all patiently waited for presents and hoped grandpa would remember to generously dig into his stash of silver dollars. And it was the one time a year that we got to talk on the phone LONG DISTANCE with our uncle in North Carolina. Those are fond memories.
Perhaps you have some similar memories of your Christmas’s past.
I. The First Christmas Remembered
If we have each retained such memories, no doubt those who were there at the first Christmas retained memory of it all their lives.
When the Gospels had been written it had been a few decades since the birth of Christ. And so the critics want us to believe that the disciples made up the story of Jesus’ birth in a manger in Bethlehem because no one knew otherwise and they wanted him to fulfill prophecies of old. But the critics are wrong. Births are remembered. And especially was this birth remembered.
If you ask anyone today about which days in their lives are most remembered, they’ll perhaps say their wedding first, but right on its heels is the birth of a child. It the day that everything changes for parents. It cannot be forgotten.
With Jesus’ birth, not only did everything change for Joseph and Mary, but everything changed for the whole world. The savior was born in Bethlehem.
The story is recounted in both Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel. And nowhere in the New Testament or early church is the account given otherwise.
Jesus’ birth was remembered.
If the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were written in the 50s or 60s AD as some conservative scholars believe, then it is possible (and even likely) that the Matthew and Luke had spoken with Mary herself and heard the account directly from her. And if not from Mary, then certainly the story would have been known to Jesus’ brothers—James, Joseph, Jude and Simon—who were yet living.
If the Gospels were written after 70 AD—perhaps even into the 80s AD—as some scholars suggest, then we merely need to point out the power of memory, for in these very accounts we first have genealogies of Jesus going all the way back to Abraham (in Matthew’s gospel) and all the way back to Adam (in Luke’s Gospel). In cultures like that of the Jews we have what one might call “long memory.” That is, accounts are spread by word of mouth and well known among all the people, retaining the story even for generations. So if the genealogies could be maintained and trustworthy for centuries, Jesus birth narrative could certainly be maintained for the years it that went by until it was written in the gospels.
Jesus’ birth was remembered. The first Christmas was fondly remembered.
And in our text we see that it is real historical event. It says that his birth occurred in the days of Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Historians, for lack of sufficient materials, have some confusion over when Quirinius was governor. And so some of them question the Biblical account at this point. But there is no reason to doubt Luke. Luke fears God and so does not venture lying, he is close in time to the events recorded, and he tells us that he did much investigative journalist and learned the truth of all events before he recorded them. And the historians have just one other reference to a registration in the time of Quirinius, and that may be a separate census as Luke says that this “was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Apparently there was a second one at some later point.
II. Why was it remembered?
The birth of Jesus is not just a neat story. His birth is remembered because he is the savior of the world.
And the prophecies of the Old Testament laid the groundwork for Christ’s birth to be noticed and remembered.
Specifically in our text we find that Joseph and Mary leave Galilee and go to Bethlehem for the census. In God’s plan he caused them to travel to the city which was prophesied to be the place of the birth of the messiah.
The prophet Micah said:
[Mic 5:2 ESV] 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
And so it was that Christ was born in Bethlehem and this was taken note of and remembered.
The prophecy was fulfilled, though later opposition to the Christ would discount the prophecy.
There is a very interesting quote from a 3rd century Christian named Origen regarding this. He wrote:
Origen (3rd century Christian):
“I am of opinion that, before the advent of Christ, the chief priests and scribes of the people, on account of the distinctness and clearness of this prophecy, taught that in Bethlehem the Christ was to be born. And this opinion had prevailed also extensively among the Jews; for which reason it is related that Herod, on inquiring at the chief priests and scribes of the people, heard from them that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea, “whence David was.” It is stated also in the Gospel according to John, that the Jews declared that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, “whence David was.” But after our Lord’s coming, those who busied themselves with overthrowing the belief that the place of His birth had been the subject of prophecy from the beginning, withheld such teaching from the people.”
So, according to Origen, all the Jews believed this prophecy. Until some rejected Christ. This is why I often say it is not Christianity that emerged out of Judaism, but Judaism that emerged when the long-promised messiah of the true religion was rejected by the Jews.
Another prophecy that was remembered was Christ’s birth to a virgin.
The prophecy comes from Isaiah:
[Isa 7:14 ESV] 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
In Luke’s Gospel this was fulfilled when Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered here “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
This prophecy too was debated between the Jews and the Christians in the centuries that followed. The Jews argued that Isaiah had only been speaking about a young woman, not a virgin, giving birth. But the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr well-pointed out the absurdity of the Jewish view, because in Isaiah it says “the Lord himself will give you a sign” and merely the birth of a child to a young woman is not much of a sign for that happens almost every day. But the birth of a child to a virgin, now that is a sign.
The Old Testament was remembered, and so the people were looking for the messiah.
Also in our text from Luke’s Gospel we find that Joseph was of the lineage of David. And this is the reason why they’ve gone back to Bethlehem, for they were to be registered in their ancestral homes. From the genealogies it is apparent also that Mary was a descendant of David. And we know Jesus’ birth in the line of David is the fulfillment also of the prophecy to that end. So our text notes this as well. And the astute reader of the first century would have been aware of the prophecy and understanding of Luke’s claim in it that Jesus was the promised messiah.
Now, this prophecy, that the Christ would be born in the line of King David, is one that could be (and was) fulfilled in Christ’s time. But the Jews look in vain today for the messiah, for they do not any longer know who is of the line of David. They are unable therefore to test the claim of any Messianic claimant. Fortunately, for us, the prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, and the window is now closed. No longer can any other claim to be the messiah, for they cannot fulfill the prophecies.
So it is that the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels were written to show that the prophecies were fulfilled. And as Luke wrote he remembered to include those details.
Luke then says of the birth of Jesus:
6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 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.
This, no doubt, adds to the point in the New Testament that Jesus was a real man. He was not some spirit or phantom, but truly took flesh upon himself, became man and dwelt among His people. And, no doubt, the humbleness of Christ’s birth in a manger points to his humility in life. For while Christ is King of Kings, he is also the advocate of the great reversal – seeing humility as strength, meekness a virtue, and servanthood as godly. For Christ came not to rule over man, but to serve man and be the savior of his people.
All of this Luke remembered to include in his account of the birth of Christ.
But ultimately that first Christmas was remembered because of the message that it sent, and still sends. That is the Gospel message. A message of Good News. A message of good tidings of great joy.
III. The Message to Be Remembered
This is the Christmas message to be remembered. The good news of the gospel.
This is a message that was not invented by man, but came from an angel of God who explained f the meaning of what was occurring.
[Luk 2:10-11 ESV] 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
A savior is born this day!
That is why there is joy. That is why we celebrate. For we would be lost if not Jesus Christ.
We’d be sheep with out a shepherd.
We’d be sinners without savior.
If our God had not remembered us.
But God remembers his people. Throughout the Bible it is said that God remembers his people as he remembers his covenant promises.
[Gen 8:1 ESV] 1 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
[Lev 26:42 ESV] 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
[Psa 98:3 ESV] 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
As we remember the birth of Christ, we see in this birth that God has remembered us. He has not let us wallow in our own despair, but has pulled us out of the pit with a Savior, Jesus Christ. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raise him from the dead, know that your sins are forgiven.
[Psa 136:23 ESV] 23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever;
In whatever you are struggling with, in whatever you are going through this Christmas season, know that God remembers you. He has remembered you in His covenant promise.
This is the message of the Gospel, the message of Christmas to be remembered every day: God sent His son to this world to die for the sins of His people. And He draws His people to Himself and never lets go. He always remembers.
So I hope and pray that this is a Christmas you remember.
This is a title used for many movies (and books) — A Christmas to Remember — and while I didn’t watch them all (or frankly of them) you can bet that the special thing, the answer in the movies, is not Christ but some goodness in man. The first Christmas is not remembered. Hallmark doesn’t preach the gospel. Hallmark doesn’t preach that which is truly worth remembering or that which brings true joy. All else fades away but the word of the Lord is forever.
I hope that this Christmas you make great memories with family and with church. And ultimately that you remember this message: that the Lord loves you and remembered his Covenant. Therefore, joy. Joy in the season, for our joy is in Jesus who was born in Bethlehem to reconcile us with God that we may have eternal joy. Remember that God remembers you. Amen.
Sermon on Luke 2:8-21 – “Announced by Angels”
Sermon for Sunday, December 26th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Gen 22:9-19 ESV] 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” 15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
New Testament reading:
[Act 12:6-11 ESV] 6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
[Luk 2:8-21 ESV] 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Whenever angels announce something, you listen. You listen because they are messengers of God. That is literally what the word angel means, in Greek “angellos” or “one who is sent.”
And throughout the Scriptures God send his angels to give important messages.
Angels came to Hagar, to Abraham, Moses, Balaam, Israel, Gideon, and Manoah among others. And always with an important message.
God continues to send angels as messengers in the New Testament. And in fact, the life of Jesus Christ is bookended by visits from angels. We have in our text one of the announcements of his birth. And then, recall that after Christ’s death it is angels who, at the tomb, announce that he who the women are looking for is risen. So it is that angels tell of his birth and of his resurrection; his rebirth, coming back to life.
In regards to Jesus’ birth angels actually make visits TWICE.
The fact that angels arrive on two occasions tells us something about the message God is sending. It is a very important message. The birth of the savior is upon them.
The first angel appearance before the birth of Christ was when the angel Gabriel came to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
From the first chapter of Luke, we read:
[Luk 1:26-35 ESV] 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.
The angel that came to Mary also announced that her cousin Elizabeth would soon give birth, and that child would be John the Baptist. But the angel came primarily to announce to Mary her own pregnancy and the coming birth of the messiah.
In no other case in the Bible is the birth of a child announced by angels. That shows us how Jesus is more than just a common man or even more than a special man. He is truly the Son of God.
And this make sense to us that the angel would come to Mary, for she was to be the mother of Jesus.
But in our text from Luke 2 we have an angel coming to the shepherds out in the field. These are unnamed shepherds, certainly not central figures in the story.
And so we might ask, why did God sent an angel to them?
Well, it is explained in verse 10:
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
The news of Jesus’ brith was not just something for Mary and the immediate family. It was for all the people. And the shepherds are a good representation of the common people. These are people working even at night. Shepherding has never been a profession of the rich and famous. It was hard work, and historically it was often the work of young men like David or of slaves like St. Patrick if the stories of him are true.
What then was the message of the angels who came to the shepherds? What was the message from God that these angels carried?
They said this:
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Then, more angels arrive. Even a multitude.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
While angels are messengers of God, it seems their primary occupation is worshipping God, giving him glory.
In John’s vision of heaven in his apocalypse he says:
[Rev 7:11 ESV] 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
And in the book of Hebrew’s we read:
“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:6)
So it is no surprise that they say to the Shepherds “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.”
And then they say “On earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, announced by angels is the Prince of Peace.
But he came not to bring peace between men.
[Mat 10:34-36 ESV] 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
There is a great division in the world over Jesus Christ. We who believe in him know that he is our savior, our only hope, and our advocate with the Father. Those who reject Jesus or ignore him do so at their own peril. And when they reject Christ they reject also those who follow Christ. So they hate Christians whose very presence reminds them of their sinfulness before God.
And feeling guilty over sin, the unbeliever is quick to say that Christians sin, that they are hypocrites. Well indeed we are. No Christian, rightly bearing that name, believes he is without sin or “holier than thou.” True Christians lament their own sins—are bothered by their own sins—far more than they are bothered by the sins of others. And true Christians look not to themselves for righteousness but depend on Christ in whom we have been declared righteous despite our sins.
And we pray for those even that hate us. But enmity remains.
So it is that the peace spoken of by the angel to the shepherds is not peace between man and man but peace between God and man. Jesus Christ reconciles God and His people. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace we have in knowing that our sins are forgiven. This is the message worthy of God announcing it via angels.
We now have the message of Christ in the Scriptures. While angels are not announcing Christ’s birth each year, ministers of Christ proclaim the message from pulpits all over the world. For it is a message of peace for the whole world. Jew and Gentile, yes. Barbarian, Scythian, Slave, and Free indeed. But ultimately a message for sinners of all stripes.
It is a message of peace with God for those who have angrily had their disagreements with family.
It is a message of peace with God for those have failed to trust in God’s timing.
It is a message of peace with God for those who have sinned in some horrendous way years ago and still have the burden on their mind.
Whatever you have done, and whatever you have left undone, there is peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is never too late, and never too early, to hear the call of the Gospel and join in the angel chorus giving praise to God, singing,
Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.
So the shepherds have heard the message. What are they to do? What should they do? And what should we do?
We continue in our text:
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The shepherds then did two things.
1. They went and found Jesus.
2. They glorified and praised God.
And you might guess then what it is we should do:
1. Find Jesus
2. Glorify God
Now, technically God finds us. We are lost, not him! You might recall the line in Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan asks him, “Have you found Jesus” and he says “I didn’t know he was missing” or “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.”
So God finds us. But the languages “I’ve found Jesus” isn’t all that bad as long as we understand that it means “I have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ” and not “I did it” or “I accomplished this.”
We once were lost, but now am found. We were blind, but now we see. All because of the work of God in Jesus Christ.
And so we are to glorify God.
The Shepherds had it right. They heard the announcement from the angels and they, by the power of the Lord, acted on it.
That too is our prerogative. You have heard the message of the Lord. Now you are to act on it. If you do not believe in the Lord, the command is for you to repent and believe. To come to Him for the forgiveness of sins; to take that burden from you. And if you do believe in Jesus Christ, the command is for you to grow closer to the Lord through increased knowledge of him by reading the word of God, praying to Him, and participating in His Church.
In either event, you are to glorify God in all that you do, for the chief end of man is to Glorify God and enjoy him forever. Everything else fails in comparison. We are to do in our actions just as we say in our singing: “Glory to God in the highest.” And in doing so—in knowing the love of the Lord and living it out—all of God’s people have peace even while yet on the Earth.
The angel’s announcement was a profound one.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Praise be to God.