258) God’s Perspective on the First Christmas

From ‘ Sermon for Christmas Day’; Text: Luke 2:1-14; by Martin Luther (1483-1546) 

     …Behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven.  On earth it occurs in this way:  Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth; she is not highly esteemed, but is of the humblest citizens of the village.  No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears.  She is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town.  She starts out with her husband Joseph, obliged to leave their home.  They probably owned a donkey, upon which Mary rode, although the Gospel does not mention it, and so it is possible that they went on foot.  Imagine how she was despised at the inns along on the way, although she was worthy to ride in a chariot of gold.  There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of prominent men at that time who lived in fine apartments and great splendor, while the mother of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying circumstances.  What distinctions there are in the world!

     When they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, and had to take refuge in a stable.  They had to share lodging, table, and bed with the cattle, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord.  No one noticed or was aware of what God was doing in that stable.  See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has, or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has, and does.  This shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, its best actions are wrong, and its greatest treasures are misfortunes.  What did Bethlehem have when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

     But the birth itself is still more pitiful.  There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night.  There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at such times.  Every thing is in a commotion in the inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, and no one thinks of this poor woman.  Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?

     Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised by men.  The angels did not find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news, but the most humble people upon earth.  Could they not have addressed the high priests who supposedly knew so much concerning God and the angels?  No, God chose poor shepherds, who, though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were in heaven regarded as worthy of such great grace and honor.  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty worldly honor, as if we had no honor to seek in heaven.

     Every one should ponder this for himself.  As we see, it is the purpose of the divine Word to teach us to know God and his work, and to see that this life is nothing.  For Jesus did not have possessions, nor temporal honor and power.  He shows no interest in them, but he works in opposition to these temporal things, and looks with favor upon that which the world despises.  He goes to that from which the world flees and takes up that which it discards.  And although we may not want to receive blessings, honor, and life in this way, God does not change his purposes or ways.  We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself to us.  In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the humble and despised of earth than through this birth in poverty, over which the angels made known to none but to poor shepherds?

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As I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.  –Philip Yancey

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Luke 1:52 — He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Luke 2:6-7 — And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Philippians 2:5-7  —  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

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A CHRISTMAS PRAYER:  The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.  Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wisemen.  Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world.  Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.  Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.  May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.   –Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)