Great Expectations 3

In today’s Advent sermon, David focused on the seeming implausibility of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. He quoted the words of a group of American atheists who wanted to challenge the Christmas story:

YOU KNOW IT’S A MYTH: THIS SEASON CELEBRATE REASON.

David highlighted three aspects of the Christmas story that may seem unreasonable or even totally impossible and yet it is these absurd realities that make the story so captivating, arresting and powerful – so genuinely believable.


1. The Location: Six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, a prophet foretold that it would take place in Bethlehem:

“BUT YOU, BETHLEHEM EPHRATHAH, THOUGH YOU ARE SMALL AMONG THE CLANS OF JUDAH, OUT OF YOU WILL COME FOR ME ONE WHO WILL BE RULER OVER ISRAEL…”

In his gospel account, Luke explains how this actually came about:

IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS ISSUED A DECREE THAT A CENSUS SHOULD BE TAKEN OF THE ENTIRE ROMAN WORLD. (THIS WAS THE FIRST CENSUS THAT TOOK PLACE WHILE QUIRINIUS WAS GOVERNOR OF SYRIA.) AND EVERYONE WENT TO THEIR OWN TOWN TO REGISTER.

Joseph went to his own town – Bethlehem – and Mary went with him, and so Jesus was born in Bethlehem (and not Nazareth). The amazing truth is that both Caesar Augustus and Quirinius were used by God in fulfilling Micah’s prophecy, even though they were totally unaware of this. This is a challenge to us to pray for our political leaders, who may be used by God in ways they do not understand or even realise.


2.  The Recipients: The shepherds, who were despised and at the bottom of the social scale in their day, were first to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth:

AND THERE WERE SHEPHERDS LIVING OUT IN THE FIELDS NEARBY, KEEPING WATCH OVER THEIR FLOCKS AT NIGHT. AN ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO THEM, AND THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHONE AROUND THEM, AND THEY WERE TERRIFIED.

So much of the Christmas story includes these kinds of characters, and yet that is the beauty of it, especially for those of us who don’t feel worthy, who constantly feel inferior to others, who can’t imagine why God might include or use us. The Christmas story, and the people involved, stand as a constant reminder that we must never limit what God can do with, through or in any one of us.
Luke tells us that, after the angels had appeared to them, the shepherds realised it was actually God who was speaking. They said to each other:

“LET’S GO TO BETHLEHEM AND SEE THIS THING THAT HAS HAPPENED, WHICH THE LORD HAS TOLD US ABOUT.”

What did they do in response to God’s call? They heard; they saw; they shared:

SO THEY HURRIED OFF AND FOUND MARY AND JOSEPH, AND THE BABY, WHO WAS LYING IN THE MANGER. WHEN THEY HAD SEEN HIM, THEY SPREAD THE WORD CONCERNING WHAT HAD BEEN TOLD THEM ABOUT THIS CHILD.

3.  The Message: The angels announce the message to the shepherds:

“DO NOT BE AFRAID. I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS THAT WILL CAUSE GREAT JOY FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOUR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS THE MESSIAH, THE LORD.

It is a personal message and yet one that is to be shared. David reminded us that in our generation we are still living in ‘today’ and the message of Jesus as Saviour, Rescuer and Deliverer from sin is still for us and our world today.

Points to Ponder:

  • Do we respond to the good news as the shepherds did: hear, see, share?
  • Let’s reflect on this extract from CS Lewis’s poem Christmas Eve:
    Yet would it not make those carolling angels weep
    To think how incarnate love
    Means such trivial joys to us children of unbelief?
    No, it’s miracle enough If through centuries, clouded and dingy, this Day,
    Can keep Expectation alive.
Dorothy McMillan

Dorothy McMillan

I’m Dorothy and I coordinate the Deep Dives part of the WBC website. I’ve been a member of WBC for over 25 years and have worked as a teacher, playgroup leader and college lecturer. Now that I have retired, I enjoy doing patchwork, reading and spending time with our four wonderful grandchildren.
Dorothy McMillan
I’m Dorothy and I coordinate the Deep Dives part of the WBC website. I’ve been a member of WBC for over 25 years and have worked as a teacher, playgroup leader and college lecturer. Now that I have retired, I enjoy doing patchwork, reading and spending time with our four wonderful grandchildren.