Let’s Go to Bethlehem (December 24, 2017)
Let’s Go to Bethlehem
I’m happy to see many different faces gathered here this evening. For some of you, it means you have been traveling! Let’s go to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas. Let’s go visit this family member for Christmas. It’s something that many of us often do for special occasions. We travel. But not only have some of you traveled for this holiday, all of you also made the trip to be here tonight. Let’s go to church for Christmas Eve to hear about our Savior!
And if you haven’t traveled enough already, I’m going to invite you to go with me tonight to Bethlehem. So let’s go to Bethlehem!
A man named Joseph probably spoke those very words long ago. You see, the emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted to make sure that everyone in the Roman Empire was paying their taxes correctly. To do that, everyone in the Empire had to be counted. In the region of Israel, however, they did things a little differently. Israelites had long kept track of their lineages. In many of their own censuses, they would list people according to their tribe and clan. So, for the Israelites, a census meant that everyone would go to the town of their ancestors. For a man named Joseph, it meant saying to his wife, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!”
I wonder if they had worried about God’s promises to them. An angel told Mary that this child was the long-promised Messiah. But didn’t the prophecies say that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? How much thought had they put into this? Did they ever wonder if God would bend his promises a little bit? And if God would break his promise that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, what other promises might he bend or break? And how can we trust him completely?
Sometimes you wonder right. Sometimes you wonder how faithful God is going to be to his promises. God promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). But I’ve had those moments when I wonder if I had slipped out of view of his watchful eye. Or what about the promise that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rm 8:28). That’s a big one right? It’s often heard when life isn’t going so well. How do I know that God keeps his promises? How do I know that God is faithful when my life seems to be taking a turn for the worst?
Let’s go to Bethlehem and see that the promises of old are fulfilled. God indeed kept his promise exactly as it had been made. On their way to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph must have been thinking, “Oh, now it’s all coming together.” God used the pride of an unwitting Emperor to fulfill his heavenly promises down to the last detail. And even though there was no place for them to stay once they finally arrived – even though things didn’t seem to be going so smoothly – they had confidence in God’s promises! Sure enough, “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6-7).
Are we sure that this was the Messiah? Did we hear the angel’s announcement correctly? Is this baby Jesus really who we thought he was? Is he the Christ. Wouldn’t you think that God’s own Son, the Savior of all people should be born in a little better circumstances? Where’s the palace? Where’s the fanfare? Where’s the bed for that matter? Jesus was born in very lowly circumstances, and his ministry would be carried out in a very humble way. In fact, it wasn’t just at his birth. Throughout his life people were wondering the same thing. Is this really our Savior, the Messiah? Is this really Immanuel – God with us, in the flesh? It certainly doesn’t seem like it.
All of this, the humble surroundings and unassuming mother was all part of God’s plan for a very specific reason. The manner of his birth was in keeping with his mission. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). The very reason Jesus came was not to rule over you in unapproachable power and might. He came to serve you. He came to be your Savior. He came to be approachable and welcoming. Who would be afraid to approach a little infant? Who would cower at the sight of a man who in many respects appear like any other, but who had a message of love and peace for you?
So let’s go to Bethlehem where the promises of old are fulfilled, and where the eternal Word is made flesh. Things weren’t so calm and lowly for some unsuspecting shepherds who were grazing their flocks in the fields nearby. For them, the peace and quiet of the night was broken by the frightening sight of an angel who shone with the glory of God. Needless to say, they were terrified! But there was no need for their terror. Actually, quite the opposite. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). Then a great host of angels join in and explain what that means. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). Peace! It means peace! This was a message of hope and joy! Your Savior has come to you. He was already in the world and very soon his work as Savior would be complete! This was the first step of the promise that had been repeated throughout history. Your Savior has come. He will save you from your sins. You have peace with God because he has kept his promise!
The angel also hinted at what the shepherds should do about this great news. “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). Guess what they did when the angels left them? They were already in agreement as they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Lk 2:15). They hurried off and found everything just as they had been told. And naturally, as they returned home, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Lk 2:17).
What do you think those who heard it were saying to one another once they heard the news? What would you have done? In fact, what do we do every Christmas Eve? Let’s Go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened! Because in Bethlehem, that night, the gate of heaven was opened for sinners. Because God didn’t sit in heaven waiting for us to work our way up to him. He came to you as a baby in Bethlehem. He lowered himself into the humblest of situations, coming to you and me and associating with sinners. And eventually he would take the lowest position of all on the cross as a sacrifice for all your sins. Why? Because he desired a relationship with you. Because he loved you. And because he wants you to live with him forever. So God came down to Bethlehem, to be born in the flesh, so that sinners could be forgiven and the gate of heaven opened for you.