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:
Like many in the area, our family took a trip one to night to see the Celebrate the Light show put on to raise funds for the Salvation Army. To get in the mood, Marianne and I were pointing out other Christmas lights to the kids as we drove. At one point, Bryce remarked that he wanted a flashlight so he could see better. We tried to explain that a flashlight would not help. After all, on a dark night, in a car, all the light would do was create more glare and make it harder to see, not easier.
During the season of Advent, we have been looking at the expectations that people had for Jesus: priest, prophet, savior, and king. In each instance, the reality is that Christ does not comes in the ways we expect but instead comes in a new and unexpected way. Perhaps the most unexpected way of all is that he comes as a child, born not to royalty but to an unwed woman. He is born, not in Rome or Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem. So unexpected was his birth that it was missed by many who should have seen it, but seen by others, including sages from far off lands and shepherds living at the margins of society.
One of the central images of the Christmas story is that of a star, and I think that this star is helpful in understanding why so many missed the birth of Christ. In many ways, they were looking for a star, a celebrity, someone born into privilege, power, and fame. Instead what they got was a star, the light of the world, a single point of light shining in the darkness. It is easy to see a celebrity star, they attract attention and are hard to miss. A star shining in the darkness is easy to miss, not because of the darkness, but because of our own light that blinds us.
Just like my son, who wanted to turn on a flashlight in a dark car, we create our own light that can blind us. This sort of light can keep us from seeing the stars in the sky, which we call light pollution. It can also act like a flashlight in the car, causing us to just see our own reflection. When looking for Jesus, sometimes our own reflection is the hardest thing to get past. We think we know what Christ should look like and where Christ should be found and so our own knowledge, our own light, keeps us from seeing the truth.
The light of Christ is so bright that the darkness cannot overcome it, yet we miss it. This can seem so vexing. If Christ’s birth is so important, how does it escape the notice of so many people, many of whom were watching and waiting for a messiah to save them? To see the Christmas star, we need to turn out all the lights in our life so that the light of Christ can shine in. We need to stop what we are doing so that we can see what God is doing. The light of Christ can overcome the darkness, but we need to make sure it does not have to overcome our light too.
When trying to see the stars, we take steps to reduce light pollution. Cities do this by changing the types of lights they use, by not having too much unnecessary light, and by focusing the light towards earth (where it is needed to see things like the street) and not away from the ground and into space, where it blocks out the stars.
There is a lot we can do in our own life to dim and redirect the lights and distractions. Think about your week. How is your time spent? When in your schedule do you make room to listen to God and see Christ? Think about your bank account. How is your money spent? Is it spent to take care of your needs, or spent trying to buy happiness, security, or love? Take a look under your Christmas tree? Are the gifts there help to develop relationships with your loved ones, or keep driving us a part as we chase after happiness that we believe can be found in objects?
Yes, I know that for a Christmas Eve message this is all a bit heavy, but the reality is if our own lights, our own needs, our wants, and our egos are too bright, then we can never hope to see the star that has been born this Christmas. If we are not willing to find ways to reduce ourselves, to think less about ourselves and to turn our focus outwards, we will miss the good news that is to all people that Christ the Savior is born.
Questions to Ponder:
What distractions or “light pollution” make it harder for you to see God?
What is something you can do to turn down the lights in your own life?
When is a time where you have experienced God in an unexpected way?
God, fill us once again with the hope and joy of Christmas morning. Help us to turn off the lights and distractions in our own lives so that we can experience the glory and wonder that is the light of Christ. Bless us this Christmas that we might know the peace and love that is represented in your Son. Amen