Today we are going to be looking at Luke 2, the story of the birth of Jesus. Usually this passage is read and preached at, obviously, Christmas. It’s kind of nice to preach it a bit earlier this year, and without the distraction of preaching it on Christmas Eve perspective, maybe we can see some things in this passage that we wouldn’t ordinarily see.
So instead of preaching this passage with Christmas in mind, I guess that I’m looking at it through the lens of another Holiday that my country is currently celebrating – no not thanksgiving. I’m speaking of course of Black Friday. The weekend of sales. Products to be purchased. Tis the season for marketers and product strategists. Already this fall we’ve seen some high profile product launches. The iPad mini. Windows 8. The Wii U. some of these product launches hit it out of the ballpark with consumers lining up on the day of release. Others products fail to register at all. A great launch can make all of the difference.
Perhaps it would be fun this morning to approach this text through the eyes of a marketing expert, to evaluate the “product” launch of Jesus, Son of God, World’s Savior. After all, God the Father had unlimited resources, personnel, and wisdom as to make the greatest product launch in history, and the product that he was launching was something that we all desperately need. If anyone could pull off the greatest product launch in history, don’t you think God could? And isn’t this what your non-Christian friends say they want – God, if He’s really there, to open heaven and announce his presence? How does God do on his one chance to launch a truly revolutionary product?
Product placement: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 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, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 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.
We’ve all heard the real estate mantra: “Location, location, location!” It works in marketing as well: are you getting your product out there to be seen? If we look closely at how Luke tells the story, we see that the birth of Jesus massively underwhelmed. Of these first 7 verses, 5 of them focus on the census issued by Caesar Augustus and the birth of the Son of God is almost relegated to a footnote. Caesar has the power. Caesar speaks and the world bends to his will. Caesar issues a decree in Rome and the fate of families in the Palestinian countryside are altered. Caesar was the one refeered to as the Lord Almighty and the Son of God. Caesar is named. Even Quirinius is named. Yet the baby is still unnamed. Luke’s focus in these verses is not to that Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem because it would fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born there. No, Luke focus is that this peasant family is being forced from their home by the imperial government to travel to a town in which they were strangers and outsiders. To add insult to injury none of their relatives were willing or able to bring them into the guestrooms of their homes, so that the only shelter they could find was to lodge with the animals, ultimately requiring them to lay their newborn baby in a feeding trough. There is perhaps literally in the entire Roman Empire at this time no one more overlooked or pushed to the margins than this peasant baby.
Product Placement: 0 out of 5 stars
Presentation: 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. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Skipping for a moment over verse 8, let’s go to the presentation. Yes, the angels are a nice touch. You can’t miss them! This is what I’m talking about! This is a launch! The Angle of the Lord makes the announcement (good spokesman!), the Glory of the Lord shone all around him (nice special effects). The proclamation is good news! Great joy! (very positive words!) All the people! The Savior! Christ the Lord! And then the rest of the angels, a whole host of them all fill the sky and sing! This is a launch! This is how the birth of the son of God should be announced! This is what your non-Christian friends want – the sky to open up and Jesus proclaimed as Lord. Who would doubt? All the world would turn to him.
Presentation: 5 out of 5 stars
Early Adapters: Yet you pan the camera out. To whom is this exciting announcement being made? To Caesar – that the true Son of God has come to challenge his ascendency? To Herod the Great – that the true King of the Jews has been born? To the priesthood, that the true mediator between God and man and the substance of all their shadowy religion has finally arrived? To the rich? To the powerful? Who are going to be the early adaptors to take this news to the masses? Verse 8: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
No. To a handful of shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. As absurd as the announcement is – that Christ the Lord is born is a manger, the absurdity is only eclipsed by the absurdity of to whom the announcement comes. To shepherds. Shepherds were not powerful, famous, rich well-respected by any means. The only authority they possessed was over their flocks. "The shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations. Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them as very common people" (Barclay). No one is going to listen to a group of shepherds! In Matthews gospels the maji come, at least leaving us with the catchy slogan “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” What does Luke give us? “Smelly Men Still Seek Him!”
Early Adapters: 0 out of 5 stars
Worst. Launch. Ever. So what is God doing? His one time to really get the launch right to really blow us away, and it seems that He is doing everything possible to make this event as low-key as possible and as doomed to obscurity as possible.
1. For God to Lift the Lowest, He Must Become the Lowest. Mary had already prophesied that in the selection of herself as the one to bear God’s son, the Lord had “shown strength with his arm; … scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts... brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate... filled the hungry with good things, and the rich … sent away empty.” There is in Christ a reversal of the social hierarchy of the world in which the lowly are raised up and the high are brought low. And it seems that the mystery of the incarnation, the “enfleshing” of God, is that in order to save the lowly, God the Son became the lowest. Gregory of Nazianzus put it this way “What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .” It is not simply that Jesus took on the full extant of our human nature, it is also that he took on the full experience of human suffering. He would not come as king, he came as pauper; pushed to the side, destitute and humiliated. The one you pass by on the street, huddled in blankets trying to keep warm? Jesus suffered their humiliation. The kid at school who gets made fun of because they wear the same shirt everyday because his single mom can’t afford new clothes? That was Jesus. The family in your neighborhood that is choosing between heat and food? Joseph and Mary made the same type of choices for Jesus’ family. Few of us in this room have ever been so shamed, or lived such a life. God has. The highest was made to be the lowest, that the lowly might be lifted up.
2. The Lowly One Must Be Sought by those of Low Esteem. 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.
There is another instance in the book of Luke in which a shepherd leaves his flock to search for a little one, finds it and returns home rejoicing. In Luke 15:4 and following Jesus told this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
In the parable, the shepherd is Christ himself, who has gone into the world to seek and save sinners like us who had lost our way. The emphasis is on God’s search, God’s initiating of a relationship. In the parable the sheep does nothing other than be found – he in fact is carried back of one the good shepherds arms. The emphasis is on God’s rejoicing in heaven. Salvation is from God, it is of God, it is by God, and it is for God.
On the hillside outside of Bethlehem, God is still initiating by sending the angels to announce the heavenly good news. God is still the center of the good as He himself is the baby born. Salvation is from God. Yet these shepherds must respond to the God’s word; they need to leave their flocks and seek for the lamb of God, the baby in the manger, they will tell of the word of God that came to them, and they will go home rejoicing glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
There is a response required for the coming of God’s Son. In selecting the shepherds to be the initial target audience of the good news, God is perhaps revealing to us that it will be the despised, the rejected, the poor and the lowly among whom he will find the most positive reception.
The apostle Paul certainly found this to be the case in Corinth at least.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20–31 ESV)
• The Highest has been made to be the Lowest, yet we also must lower ourselves to find him.
• You may find that the gospel will take among the marginalized. This has implications for our evangelism.