This past Sunday, Toomsuba Presbyterian Church (Presbytery of Mississippi) in Lauderdale County (1.5 hours east of Jackson) gave the congregation a look at Luke 2:1-20, arguably the most famous Christmas passage in the Bible.
I. The burden of the blessing
Rev. Lane Townsend said that the familiarity of the story sometimes causes us to gloss over important information. The tendency is to wax sentimental when reading the Christmas story, focusing on the baby asleep, and forgetting the hardship surrounding his birth. Townsend paints a bleak picture:
1. Think of going 90 miles walking or riding a donkey while nine months pregnant.
2. To add insult to injury, they were going to Bethlehem not on vacation, but to register to pay a tax to a foreign power.
3. Temporarily, Mary and Joseph were homeless. They had no place to go while in Bethlehem, so they placed Christ in a manger—a cattle trough.
Ironically, months before Mary had been told by Gabriel that she was the most favored woman in the world. Circumstances certainly didn’t seem to match this. “We can’t see the pieces of the puzzle,” he said. “The pieces fit together beautifully in God’s plan.”
Though in our lives, we often compartmentalize blessings and burdens, Townsend pointed out that for Mary the two were intertwined. “The burden was the blessing of giving birth to Christ.”
II. The good news goes to the lowest and the least
Angels come and announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds, men whose social status was, as Townsend said, “the bottom of the bottom.” Though God could’ve picked anyone as his witnesses, he chose shepherds—a group so looked down on that they weren’t even allowed to testify in court.
Townsend drew attention to the angels’ wording of the announcement: “Unto you is born a Savior.” This was for them personally, the left out.
III. True God and true Man
The Christmas story graphically illustrates the truth that Christ is both God and Man. “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,” to use the words of Charles Wesley. “He’s Christ the Lord, but where is he?” Townsend asked. “In a cattle trough—in a manger.”
Because Christ is Man, we can take comfort in knowing that all of the emotions we’ve been through, he too has been through. He knows what it’s like to be rejected by friends, to be tired, to be lonely, to do without necessities, to be sad. Christ came as a man so he could redeem us from sin. “He took our sin debt on the cross and he rose,” Townsend said.
In the end, what should the Christmas story have on us? Christ is coming to us now, looking to reside in repentant hearts. “He’s coming to us again,” Townsend said. “Will there room for him in our hearts? Or will he be turned away again?”
· Little known fact : When the Roman emperor originally decreed the tax which we read about in Luke 2:1, King Herod knew it would be unpopular in his region, so he personally traveled to Rome to protest it. This caused a delay, and when the tax finally was implemented, two years had passed. Had the tax been enforced earlier, Mary wouldn’t have been in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. God was orchestrating it all. Merry Christmas, Jackson, from Jackson Presbyterian Examiner!