2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that
all the world should be registered. This was the first
registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went
from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of
David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house
and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom
he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were
there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave
birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and
laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the
inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord
stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be
afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all
the people: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you
will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a
manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the
highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds
said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this
thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child
lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had
been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed
at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these
words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it
had been told them. The Gospel of the Lord.
"I can't believe it's Christmas Eve!" At least this
has been my thought as I have prayed over what words to
speak this evening. Maybe I am not alone in this
sentiment . . . .
Christmas Eve has always been a time when last minute, hurried
preparations have been our dominant reaction to this Most Special
Night for our Families and in our Faith Journey.
So many gifts to wrap, last minute stocking stuffers to
purchase, meals to prepare, clothing to be ironed and children to
be fed and dressed before church!! So Many Family members and
close friends to write to and extra favors or good deeds to be
done on behalf of the poor. Christmas Eve comes quickly!!
No one knew this better than Mary and Joseph as they sought a
place to stay on this night so long ago. Tonight we remember their
journey and the One who would be Born . . . we settle into the
special reality that this is a Hollowed Night, a Holy Evening –
and we want to linger here together and spend some time reflecting
on – the meaning of it all -- Jesus Christ is born of Mary in
As we have heard in the lessons tonight . . . there is much
meaning for us to grasp. The lesson from Titus is particularly
instructive for us about our response to the Savior's birth, "the
Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all." Therefore,
since we have been called into being the people under this Savior,
we ought to live our lives as a reflection of God's grace and
salvation at work in us -- we are called to be about Good Works in
From Luke's Gospel, we take note that, "Out of the ordinary
events of life, God's Overarching WILL has always been at work in
Thus, we hear that Emperor Caesar Augustus made a decree that
"all the world should be registered." And because the Emperor made
this mandate for all the people, Joseph and Mary are caught up in
the historical drama, they must return to Bethlehem, the City of
David . . . . where Mary will give birth to her firstborn Son,
Jesus. And in introducing this information, Luke wants us to know
that even the highest authority of the world, the Emperor, is
ultimately under the control of God's plan. The ancient promise
that "King David's house will be restored" is going to come to
fulfillment as the reigning authority of the Roman Empire makes a
decree . . . God is at work, the Christ Child will be born in
Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah's prophecy, "But you O Bethlehem
. . . who are one of the little clans of Judah" from you will come
the Savior of All!
The Lesson tells us that God is at Work to bring the Savior
into the world.
For Mary and Joseph, preparations for the birth of their Son
began with the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We have always
believed that a Donkey provided the means of transport for Mary
while Joseph walked along beside her, perhaps more than once when
the burro bobbed its head to get at a fly or stumbled on a stump,
Joseph reached up to hold Mary in order that she would not fall
off. Perhaps for the traveling couple, in spite of the hardship
for Mary, there was an element of excitement for them in their
Surely, there must have been many sights and sounds and scents
that made them think of home back in Nazareth. Maybe when they
stopped for water in a village, Joseph saw other men like himself,
who were carpenters, building homes or carving various kinds of
furniture out of wood – the fresh smell of wood shavings would
remind him of his "unfinished work" back in Nazareth, jobs that
would have to wait until they returned home from this Census
business. Perhaps Mary saw other women riding in caravans with
much more elaborate gowns or blankets or other worldly goods that
sparkled and shimmered compared with what she and Joseph could
afford, but Mary did not allow these "tempting thoughts" to hinder
her determination to remain open to what God was doing in her life
. . . or in some divine plan that she did not yet fully
In Mary and Joseph, and the yet unborn Christ as they journeyed
to Bethlehem, we have pictured an image of faithfulness . . . in
the family's determination, God has revealed concern for all who
find themselves on unfamiliar roads and in unfamiliar places.
As they came nearer to Bethlehem, Mary knew that the time was
near for her to give birth. Joseph must have been frantic with
worry, "Where they would stay?" Can you sense the couples
apprehension?? Can you identify with Mary's increasing knowledge
at what her body is telling her?? The Baby is coming!!
Mary and Joseph and a Donkey . . . . Darkness approaches, no
room can be found for them to stay. The means by which God
accomplishes God's coming into the world makes little impression
on an overburdened and overly busy world. And yet the Savior
comes, an infant child is to be born.
And from this time forth, this child leaves an everlasting
impression on us ALL . . .
Perhaps when they saw the flicker of an oil lamp placed in the
window of a home, they hoped it would be a sign of welcome and
hospitality. But not every light burning in the night bids a
stranger welcome. Is it any different for a destitute couple
The couple has journeyed some 50 miles from Nazareth to
Bethlehem, only to discover that there is no place for them to
lodge, let alone, no one to extend some compassion or caring. Not
an adequate place for Mary to give birth to her firstborn Son.
The unfolding of God's plan of entrance into the world
surprises us with danger as we consider the child . . . being born
in a stable. We fear for Mary's well being, and the health of the
child – was it sanitary??
At this point, we have joined Mary in the aspect of her
"pondering all these things in her heart" and we are awakening to
the reality of Jesus' birth. No ambulance carried Mary to a
Hospital, no doctor was at hand with expertise, not even the
traditional mid-wife was available or at the ready. There was no
abundance of hot water or towls. BUT . . .
There was a STABLE, a place where the animals were kept safe
and close by someone's home. Perhaps there was clean straw, maybe
some fresh water was nearby for Joseph to fetch and help Mary to
clean the Baby Jesus, and to wash herself. We know there were
strips of cloth that Jesus was wrapped with. Did Mary prepare
these as they journeyed south from Nazareth? Did she purchase some
special linens or spices for the Christ Child?
The story gives us permission to wonder: How did the animals
behave when Mary cried out in the midst of her labor? Did they
look up from chewing the cud? Does the cry of a human mother
giving birth have a certain resonance with all creatures in God's
creation who experience live birth? Did the livestock sense that
the newborn baby boy was equally divine? Perhaps they stood and
came toward the child with both curiosity and adoration.
This night we must give ourselves to contemplating these
thoughts, because we want to understand the way in which our Lord,
the King of all Creation, entered into the creation with such
On This Night of Nights we remember the coming of the Holy One.
He comes to bring God's Light into our lives and into the world.
May we find our way by that light and may Christ so illumine our
lives that we become guides to others – leading them to safety and
salvation, now and forevermore.
more writings of Pastor Jon