Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Luke 2:1-20
This Advent season we are going through several themes that are part of each of the smaller stories of the Nativity. Last week we considered the journeys – it seems that everyone was in motion, going somewhere. The question we considered was our own journey, and where we are going. I tried to encourage us to grab hold of that destination that God grabbed hold of us for. We were created for something, and that is the direction we want to be moving if we really want life to make sense.
Today is about the buddy stories. The second theme I considered as I looked at the nativity is that no one was really alone. This is different from the Easter story where you see everyone running off afraid, and so much loneliness in their despair. But here at the birth, at the start of the incarnation, we see people are not alone – they are in clusters and groups. Let’s consider them:
Mary and Elizabeth – Here is a young woman, life has been turned upside down by the angel’s visitation. What does she do? She does seek solitude to work through her emotions, she doesn’t go to Europe to find herself – technically she may already be in Europe… No. What she does is go visit a trusted relative, someone she knows who is spiritually mature. Elizabeth has found a way to live in spite of barrenness, living with a mark on your life that says you are not good enough. Elizabeth’s ability to find her place in spite of her difficulties allow her to be used of God not just to be the mother of John the Baptist, but a mentor to the mother of Jesus. Her baby confirmed the Messiah growing in Mary, and confirmed to Mary again what the angel had told her. Do you have a mentor? Are you a mentor to someone else? Have you grown up in the lord so you can be used in this way? Look for this relationship this season and consider the challenge before you.
Mary and Joseph – Her are a young couple, tied by culture and circumstance. Marriage partners in difficult circumstances. Not everyone gets married, and that is okay, but if we do get married before God, we need to go all the way. Life is difficult, even in today’s society with all the resources at hand. There are all kinds of stats about the Fatherless generation before us, and all kinds of stats about men being absent from the father and husband role. Joseph stepped up to the plate of life and delivered. Once he did, God confirmed what He was doing in Joseph and Mary’s life, and began to talk to Joseph himself about life and what to do- it was to Joseph that God revealed they needed to go to Egypt. Mary had her plate full being pregnant and doing what needed to be done for the family to be. Joseph needed to come in and support and help move everyone ahead. Too often the failure of men is that they focus on themselves – they only end up doing what they want and fail to provide what their spouses and children need. The strength has gone out of men. God created the male to fulfill this position and heaven knows how desperately real men are needed today.
My commitment to Bonnie when we got married was to help her achieve her goals – help her become all that she wanted to be, what God wanted her to be. How could I pursue anything less when she is so much more than just a friend or a partner? When Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself, He meant that we start with those closest to us – our family. How useless is it when we spend our time helping everyone except those we have the most responsibility for. This Christmas, make sure that your family is getting all of you.
Then there’s the shepherds. It wasn’t just one guy, but a group of them, going about doing their work. Suddenly God breaks in, interrupting their shepherding and giving them a wonderful message to share. They weren’t told what to do with the message, but they went with one another and checked it out. Their testimony made others sit up and take notice. We read that it was a confirmation to Mary, a part of the puzzle to understand what God was doing in and through her son. These guys were a band of brothers – they worked together, experienced life together. They talked about faith together. This is part of what church is about. We come Sunday mornings to look at the Word, and we walk this part of our spiritual journey together. We are partners in ministry. We have all heard from God and He has given us something wonderful to share. So we go out from here together and check to see the work of God, to testify to what we have seen in our own lives. That is the challenge of the shepherds, is to go and testify what God has done.
Take the shepherds one step further and you have the Magi. These are guys who weren’t just working together, they moved because of their encounter with God. They left home and familiar setting and went out into the unknown to find God. Today, these are the ones who go overseas and to the inner city to minister grace and peace. Jesus said, “When you do these good things, feed the poor, visit the sick, help the homeless, you do these things to Me!” So people go to the poor, people like Mother Theresa, because that is one place you find Jesus. Forge Canada encourages people in churches to move into one neighbourhood so together they can reach neighbors for Jesus. Consider not working just to make a living, or working not just for the money, but working in the kingdom of God – living and organizing your life around the vision that God has given you. What has He called you too? Maybe this season you need to follow the star to see where it will lead you.
Consider all the people as a tableau – they are all part of the one story of the incarnation. Even an individual action is part of the larger picture. What you do today is the same. You have your family, your life outside of this building, yet it is all part of this big picture we call church, because you are here and part of this community. You and I are part of the nativity today, the latest chapter in the greatest story ever told.