Luke 2:1-20 (Common English Bible)
2 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Announcement to shepherds
8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said,14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.
Thoughts on the passage:
When we were getting close to the due date for Bryce’s birth, Marianne made me read a chapter from the book “What to Expect When You Are Expecting.” The chapter talked about developing emergency plans in case you could not get to the hospital immediately when labor began. Being a dutiful husband I read the chapter, but I also found it a bit amusing since we were all of six blocks or so from the hospital and we probably could have coasted in a car all the way down the hill to it. I was struggling to figure out the set of circumstances necessary for us to NOT be able to get there for a delivery.
The reality is however that births never go exactly as you intend them. Bryce for example was the incredible flipping baby, switching in and out of breaching position long after children are supposed to stop turning. Labor was a long series of different minor medical challenges and altered plans. In the end everything went fine and both mother and child were healthy and all of the grandparents were there to welcome their favorite grandson. (Actually I don’t know that he is their favorite, but I just assume it to be true)
There was not a lot that went according to plan when it came to Jesus’ birth, at least from Mary’s perspective. She gets pregnant before getting married. The father of her son is not her husband. The child is not born at home but while they are travelling. They are not even staying in a traditional home when it happens. Then you add in the angels, shepherds, and later on the wise men and you get a very unexpected birth.
When it comes to children, things never really go according to plan. From how they are born to what they want to eat to when they sleep, everything seems to go against our expectations. Even what they grow up into is not always what we imagined for them. It might be that this unexpected element is part of what makes them so wonderful and adorable. If they did exactly what we wanted, we might not love them as much.
When it comes to the birth of Christ, we all bring our own expectations as well. We each come to the manger with our own hopes and dreams for what the birth of Christ will mean for us. The wise men sought a new king to rule over them. The shepherds came seeking a savior like David, who would restore the glory of Israel. We do not know what Mary and Joseph thought when they looked at Jesus, but it is hard to imagine that they really knew what Jesus was going to do when he grew up.
As we listen to the different Christmas carols we hear all sorts of expectations for Jesus. Some are rooted in passages of Old Testament scriptures; others are centered around our modern understandings. Each of them points to different hopes we have for Jesus. As I have been listening to Christmas music over the last month I have been reminded how tempting it is to hear the things we like and ignore the things we do not when it comes to Jesus birth. I like to focus on the joy of Christ’s birth and so I don’t really like the carols that spend time talking about his crucifixion. On the other hand, I love verses like the third verse of “O Holy Night” where it says “chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother.” Lines like that fit my image of a liberating Christ that comes to save us from the problems of the world. They are what I am expecting when it comes to Christ’s birth.
If having a child has taught me anything though, it is to expect the unexpected. It is easy to see the politically liberating image of Jesus in scripture. It starts with statements by Mary in Luke and runs all the way through the Sermon on the Mount and even through Christ’s death and resurrection. At the same time the focus on personal salvation is present in the birth of Jesus and runs through his ministry as well. The problem is when we build up our expectations for one thing we can forget how Jesus comes to challenge us and to change us. The birth of Christ is a reminder that God is working in new ways. God does not come into our life in a planned and ordered fashion just the way we want it. God comes in unexpected ways, appearing in unexpected places, and changing the way we see the world and see ourselves.
As we welcome the Christ Child into our lives, let us remember that Jesus comes to change us. Jesus is the child who changes everything. This change happens in our lives, it happens in our hearts, it happens in our minds. The change that Jesus brings is for all of us. We cannot get locked into our expectations for the way God works. Instead we need to be open like Mary, to all the things God has in store, treasuring the stories of what God is doing in our lives, and being ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. Christ is born!
Questions to Ponder:
What Christmas carols do you love the most and why?
What expectations do you have for God?
When is a time your understanding of God has been changed and what happened to cause that?
Who is someone you know who sees Jesus in a different way than you do? What can you learn from them?
Prayer: God, every year we talk about getting ready for your birth. Every year we try and prepare our homes, hearts, minds and lives for you. Be with us in this season of Advent as we prepare again for your birth. Help us to prepare ourselves that we can be ready to be faithful followers of you. AMEN