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This year, during the Sundays of Advent we prepared to celebrate Christmas by taking a look at the miracles that happened in the days and months before Jesus was born. We heard how an elderly couple was miraculously blessed with a child, a child who would one day prepare the people for the Messiah. A young girl conceived a Son while she was yet still a virgin. Later, it was revealed to that young girl’s husband that her Child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit’s power. Still later, it was revealed to a group of shepherds, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, that a Savior had indeed been born. A Savior who was God’s gift to the world. Each of these events was marked by the appearance of one or more of God’s angel messengers.
And yet, in the actual place where the Savior was born there was no bright light. No miraculous messenger. When the world’s Savior was born, it was a remarkably natural occurrence.
Though we’ve probably heard the account of our Savior’s birth hundreds of times, perhaps we’ve missed this fact. As we read the story again this year, try to hear it with different ears. Try, if you can, to listen to the details of this account like someone who isn’t familiar with the story. Like someone who doesn’t yet know the significance of this Child’s life.
Luke 2:1-7 (NKJV)
2 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
When Caesar Augustus, also known as Gaius Octavius, had the decree published that his empire should undergo a census, he was not thinking of the Savior that God had promised to send the world. Rather, his decree was just one more governmental exercise. If you’re going to tax people, it helps to know how many people are going to need to pay.
This wasn’t the first census ever taken. So, Luke notes that this census was the the first that took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
Instead of sending counters out to the people, in Judea the people were required to travel to certain cities. Cities that matched up with their family’s origin where they would then be registered. Around Christmas time today, the roads are packed with people on their way to buy gifts, or groceries. But at the time of the first Christmas the roads were packed for a different reason. The people had to comply with the emperor’s decree.
When Joseph and Mary left Nazareth, bound for Bethlehem, they probably weren’t thinking about the prophesy that said the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. They were descendants of King David, and so their census city was the one where David had been born—Bethlehem. Like everyone else, they too had to comply with the emperor’s demand.
No flashy miracles here. Just the Governmental red-tape, and the everyday taxation of a nation.
And then the time came for Mary to give birth. The contractions came slowly at first, and gradually increased in intensity and frequency. And with one final push, the little Child that the world had waited so long to see, let out his first cry into the cool air of the Judean night.
There was no lightning. No flash of heavenly glory. Just a tired young Mary, and a beautiful new Child, wriggling and kicking in the dark.
And what did they do with this Child? They did what parents do with newborn children. They wrapped him up tightly to keep him warm and calm. And because poor Mary needed to rest, they laid him down in his first crib. Sure it was a manger, usually used to hold food for animals, but even this detail, though now famous, was not miraculous. They simply used what they had at hand. What else could they do?
No miracle here. Just a poor Judean couple doing their best to care for their newborn Child.
You see, the miracle had happened nine months before, when Mary had conceived this Child without the help of Joseph. When Mary had been overshadowed by the Spirit of God and had received the spark of life that would grow into the very Son of God in her womb. That’s when the miracle happened. At the actual time of Christ’s birth it was all a very common natural occurrence. A child was born.
And there are reasons why the birth of God’s own Son happened in this ordinary way. First of all, back in the Garden of Eden, God had promised that one of Eve’s descendants would crush the power of the devil. And so the Savior had to be HUMAN. God had told Satan…
“15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel”(Genesis 3:15 NKJV).
And so the Seed of Eve was born to Mary, in the same way that every other Child has been born since the beginning of the world.
And though this human Child was also the very Son of God, he would not use his divine power to ease his way in this world. For if he was to be the great stand-in-sacrifice for all sinners, he would have to struggle along like everyone else. And so even in his birth, the Christ refrained from the miraculous, and was born in the ordinary way of physical exertion and pain.
It was necessary for this Child to be truly human for another reason. He had to be able to die. The great redemption of the world could only be accomplished by a great sacrifice. The Messiah must not only live a life of sinless perfection, he must also die a humble death in accordance with prophesy. And so he was born in the same way as every other human child.
One of our lesser known Christmas carols reads like this…
Jesus our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude.
The friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our brother, kind and good.
This Christmas carol points out one last reason why our Savior was born in this common, ordinary way. He was born to be our brother. That phrase, “Jesus our brother” simply means that Jesus was truly one of us, though without sin. Truly human. And that’s the whole reason why he was born like he was. The eternal Son of God became a HUMAN BEING so that he could rescue sinners like you and me from hell.
Jesus became our brother. What a comfort that fact is. He didn’t just APPEAR human like the angels sometimes do when delivering God’s messages. He actually BECAME human.
And so he knows. He knows what our lives are like. He’s experienced it. And even after all the abuse he received in his life, he was still willing to give his life to save mankind. To save you, and me, from all our ugly sins. Jesus our brother, kind and good.
Artists often portray the little Christ Child with beams of light shining from his face as he lays there in Mary’s arms, or in Joseph’s arms, or in the manger. They paint him like this to illustrate the fact that he is true God, the eternal Son.
But today, as we look into the manger, let’s see the OTHER great truth. He was born a human child, that he might save the human race. He was born a human child, that we might believe that he really gets it, he knows our thoughts and dreams, he knows our struggles and problems, and he cares. Jesus our brother, kind and good.
Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, thank you for sending your precious Son to be our brother. The fact that this has happened is mind-boggling and awe-inspiring. Strengthen our faith that we may always hold this truth dear, and look to the Christ Child as our only Savior, and our great King. Fill us with peace at the birth of your Son. And along with your forgiveness, fill our hearts, minds, and mouths with praise for your astounding grace. Amen.