For Detective Joe Friday, there was only one thing that he wanted: “Just the facts, ma’am.” That is what Luke lays out for us in our Gospel reading this evening, just the facts. Because of Luke’s description, we can be certain that what follows is factual and historical.
From the facts we gather the following: Caesar Augustus was emperor of Rome at the time. He issued a decree that a census should be conducted. The governor of Syria was Quirinius. The Census of Quirinius refers to the enrollment of the Roman Provinces of Syria and Judea for tax purposes. From this we have a date and time in history, showing to us that this not a story of fiction, but rather an historical account.
People from all over were on their way from their current place of residence back to Judea to be counted for the census. Luke records for us one such couple who were on their way to Judea: Joseph and his betrothed, Mary, who was with child. The journey from Nazareth to Judea was about 80 miles. The trip would be about four days for the average person, but with a pregnant woman, the trip could have taken nearly a week.
During their time in Judea, it was time for Mary to give birth to her child. A birth at this time would have been primitive, compared to modern means. There were no nice, sterile hospitals. There would have been no epidural shot for the expectant mother to help ease the pain. Ideally, the birth would take place in your own home. However, for Joseph and Mary, they were far from home.
Upon their arrival, trying to find a room was next to impossible because of the increase in population due to the census. The only place available for them to stay was nothing more than a barn of an innkeeper, the same place where the animals would eat and sleep. This was not the Hilton by any means. In fact, your cheapest budget motel would be a step up from where they were.
There, in an innkeeper’s barn, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. With no crib for a bed, she used the next best thing available to her, what we call a manger; in reality, probably nothing more than a feeding trough. This is the bed of the Savior. It is not lavish. It is not plush. It is rough. It is crude. It is demeaning to say the least. We would never imagine placing our newborn child in anything short of a nice warm bed and yet we see the Savior in anything but that.
All in all, not a glorious welcome for the Savior: a long journey for His pregnant mother, no room for the parents, no proper place for the Savior to be born. This is not how everything is to happen, is it? Is this how the Savior was to make His grand entrance into humanity?
Why shouldn’t the Savior enter the world like this? The world that He entered isn’t one that is nice and neat. It isn’t one that has everything in good order according to God’s Word. This world is just as rough and crude, if not more, than the manger that Christ was born into. Our Lord wasn’t born into a perfect world. He was born into an imperfect world in order to make it perfect. Mankind’s salvation depended on this little Child that was born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough. The manner of His birth was in keeping with His mission: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There would be no posh palace on earth for this King. His reign on earth would be marked by humility, from start to finish.
This announcement of Jesus’ birth was not one that was meant to be kept to those in the immediate area. The angel made an announcement to the shepherds in the fields, heralding Jesus’ birth. In reality, the angel’s announcement was a bit of an understatement. The angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is not good news. This is the greatest news that one could ever receive! This is the news that humanity has been waiting for since God had promised a Savior all the way back in the Garden of Eden. This has been a long time coming, as in thousands of years and now, God’s promise has been fulfilled.
What a truly spectacular sight to behold, an angel of the Lord appearing and delivering such good news. But the evening’s events aren’t over yet. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”” This song of the angels has a double focus: in the highest heavens there is resounding glorious praise to God for His generous gift of a Savior; on earth, there is peace for people on whom God’s favor rests.
It is unsure how many constituted the multitude of which Luke speaks of, but one thing that we can be certain of is this: this was truly a remarkable and awe-inspiring scene to behold. It was so inspiring that the shepherds left their flocks and immediately made their way to Bethlehem in order to see this Child that the angels had spoken of. Very few people in Bethlehem were aware of the Baby lying in the manger; only Mary and Joseph were in on the secret of His divine origin. All of that changes as God goes public with the good news. The shepherds are the first to hear the good news. King David has been a shepherd out in the same fields as these shepherds and now news of the birth of one greater than David is broadcast to the shepherds. They could not keep this news to themselves. Luke says,
The message that the shepherds spread was not so much about the baby in a manger; rather they shared the angel’s message that the Savior is born. They shared the message that the prophecies of old had now been fulfilled and that the long-expected Messiah was now here.
The promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament is now fulfilled. The Word was made flesh in the form of an infant, and that Word made flesh died so that the gates of heaven would be opened for us sinners. Here is Jesus, our Savior, the Anointed One and our Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.