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In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Real Christmas Surprise
I’m telling you, for most of us there aren’t many surprises here.
Or at least, that’s what we think, and so if we’re serious about the Bible, we move on to more challenging passages, and if we’re not, we check out what’s on either Spike or Me TV, depending on our personal taste. But you know, before we move on, I think we should take a little time and reread the story, because if we don’t, we just might miss some pretty dramatic stuff in these verses, and I’m talking about some surprises that can change our assumptions about real, life things, you know, like political and economic and social power. Let me show you what I mean.
And I’ll tell you why I think it’s important for us to remember. Sometimes I think we both fear and trust political power way too much. I mean, since the election, there’s one group of Americans who are happy and feel incredibly hopeful while there’s another group who are depressed and feel absolute despair. Of course, in 2008 and 2012, the two groups were reversed. Remember how we were suppose to be under Sharia law by now? Well, the groups were reversed again in 2000 and 2004, again in 1992 and 1996, and again in 1980, 1984 and 1988. And during those thirty-six years, in spite of what a lot of people said, we’ve neither seen the destruction of the republic nor the dawning the God’s kingdom. You see, whether you’re talking about emperors and kings or presidents and prime ministers, political power is limited, but that’s not the case with God. And I’ll tell you, if given the choice between trusting the limited or the unlimited, the finite or the infinite, the temporal or the eternal, well, that would seem to be a no brainer. I mean, dah. But this is something we might miss if overlook the surprise Luke offers right at the beginning of his story.
And you know, the same kind of thing can occur if we assume that we know all we need to know about what happened in Bethlehem. Now remember that Luke tells us that Joseph was from the House of David and that’s why he needed to go to Bethlehem in Judea. In other words, he was royalty and Bethlehem was his home town. Now I think that may certainly infer some economic clout. But even if he was a poor relation, it would seem doubtful that he didn’t have some contact back home. At the very least, he could have dropped the name David into the right ear. Now that’s what Luke sort of leads us to consider by offering Joseph’s lineage. But then he spins us around by telling us that not only was Joseph not wealthy but there was no place for them to stay except a stable. The Lord, the Christ, the Son of God was laid in a feeding trough because there was no where else for him to be born. Let’s just say, he was on one of the lower rungs of the economic ladder. In a word, man, he was poor with a capital “P”.
And because of that, maybe we should take a half step back the next time we feel intimidated by somebody’s education and social position. I mean, if God can announce the birth of his son to shepherds, it’s reasonable to assume that, in his kingdom, we all have a role to play, regardless of how we’re seen by the society that surrounds us. And again, this we might miss, if we were not sensitive to what really is another surprise in this passage.
And you know, because of that, maybe this really is the right story to read this time of year. I mean, given the fact that we tend to wrap everything in sight and that Santa can deliver so many toys in such a short time and that some people stationed overseas will continue to find their way onto talk shows, why shouldn’t we also have a story with more than a few twists and turns, one that reminds us that the ultimate king will grow up as the son of a pretty average couple and that his birth will have more to do with those who are down and out then with the well to do and that those who first came will be the socially challenged rather than the cultural elite. You see, the fact that God chose to enter human space in this way, well, that I think that may be the real Christmas surprise.