Away In A Manger

My weekend was devoted to one thing: preparing for and preaching two messages. On Sunday morning I preached Part II of a message entitled, “The Tragedy of Spiritual Decline” from Judges 1:1-2:5. In the evening service I preached “The Birth of the Messiah” from Luke 2:1-20.  It’s harder to preach two messages in one day than I thought! But God has given me grace and continued to give me strength, for which I am thankful. Here is a summary of my second message, “The Birth of the Messiah”.

One of the most famous Christmas carrols is “Away in a Manger”. There is truth in this song, but unfortunately it does not accurately convey the events that took place the night that Jesus was born. For example, one of the lines goes like this: “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes. I love thee Lord Jesus, look down by my side, and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.”

Jesus was God. But he was also human too! He cried, he needed his diaper changed, he needed to be fed, and he probably spit up! I doubt that Jesus went through his first night and did not cry. He was a real baby. This example serves to illustrate how prone we are to have our conception of Jesus’ birth marred by cultural traditions. It is very important for us to make sure that our understanding of Jesus is biblical. We need to get the story right.

So in this message we will examine three events surrounding the birth of Jesus from Luke 2:1-20.

Event #1: It Was Ordained By God

Verses 1-2 present the historical background of Jesus’ birth. Ceasar Augustus (also known as Octavius) came to the throne in 27 B.C. after defeating Mark Antony at the battle of Actium. He ruled for the next 44 years. It was one of the most peaceful eras in Roman history. It was during this reign of peace that the decree went forth for a census of all the inhabited earth. The purpose of the census was to prepare for taxation. Quirinius, who is mentioned in verse 2, was the administrative authority that actually conducted the census. So Ceaser decreed it, and Qurinius administered it.

Roman procedure required that people must be at home for a census. But this was not customary for the Jews, who normally traveled to their home towns to participate in a census (2 Sam 24). And Octavius, being the kind Caesar that he was, allowed the Jews to keep this national custom. So in verse 3 there is a mass movement of Hebrews heading to their home towns.

Enter Joseph. Now the scene gets more specific. Joseph (who was first introduced in 1:27) was a resident of a small town called Nazareth, located in the region of Galilee. However, he was from the house and family of David. So, when the census came, he heads back to Bethlehem, his home city. But notice in vs. 5 he is not alone. He is “engaged” to Mary who was with child (Greek, “big with child”). By using the term “engaged” Luke is not saying they were not married. He is saying that they had not consumated their union. Thus, the child that she was bearing did not come from Joseph; he came from God.

Verses 6-7 are very simple. The time came, and she gave birth to a son. The text doesn’t give any lag time at all, so this may even have happened as soon as they came into the city. She gave birth, wrapped him in swaddling clothes (i.e., she took clothes and wrapped them around Jesus to keep his limbs straight). And one other small note: she laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. A manger is a feeding trough. It stinks. It smells. It’s gross. And that was Jesus’ first crib. Why did she do that? Because there was no room for them in the public shelter. The fact that they used a manger suggests Jesus was born in a barn of some sort.

Consider the events up to this point. Octavius just happens to come to the throne in 27 B.C. He just happens to be one of the most peaceful emperors in all of Roman history. He just happens to institute a sensus, and oh by the way, because he is peaceful he just happens to allow the Jews to go back to their home town according to their custom. Is this coincidence? I don’t think so. Octavius is kind enough to let the Jews return to their homeland, so Joseph just happens to be of the tribe of David, from the city of Bethlehem, which just happens to be the exact same city of King David (see Micah 5:2). And Mary, his wife, just happens to be pregnant, and just happens to have the baby right as they enter into town. Coincidence? Not likely. The birth of Christ was ordained by the Sovereignty of God!

Event #2: It Was Proclaimed By Angels

In verse 8 we have another humble scene. Shepherds are watching their flocks. Nothing abnormal here. Until vs. 9. All of a sudden the angel of the Lord shows up! Immense brightness completely surrounds them. The glory of the Lord mentioned here is not just brightness. The glory of the Lord in the scripture means that God is present! The angels, understandaly so, were “terribly frightened” (literally, “they feared a great fear”). In vs. 10-11 the angel responds with an amazing statement: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

For the first time in history, man can be in the presence of God and not afraid. This is grace! In fact, the news that the angel announces results in the exact opposite emotion, namely, great joy. In essence he says, “I have glad tidings to proclaim, good news! News that won’t make you fearful but news that will make you overwhelmingly joyful!” This news is intended for all the people, that is, for all the people in the nation of Israel. In other words, Jesus came to fulfill the Davidic promise.

Verse 11 is salvation. This is it! This is salvation! A savior has been born for you! He is the Christ and He is the Lord! Salvation is found in Christ alone (Acts 4:12). It is not found any where else except in the person of Jesus Christ.

Verses 13-14 are even more shocking. The angels have been worshipping the pre-incarnate Christ from all eternity past. And now, for one final last time, they join together to publicly sing his praises. Based on their own confession, these angels recognize that the greatest manifestation of the glory of God is now lying in a feeding trough. And, they recognize the amazing grace of God to bring salvation to mankind. God himself has made himself known. This begs the question: Do you know Him?

Event #3: It Was Recieved By The Humble

The immediate response of the shepherds is to run to Bethlehem and check this thing out. In vs. 15 it is as if they say, “Come on! Get up! Let’s go! Right now!” They made a b-line to Bethlehem.  So vs. 16 says, “They came in a hurry”. They were moving! They wasted no time to run to Christ! The humble receive the message of Christ! What about you? How do you respond to Christ? Are you lethargic? Or do you humbly receive the message and run to Him for salvation?

“Oh I like the Christmas story. It’s so sweet.” The point of the Christmas story is not to make you admire a sweet story! The point of the Christmas story is to compel you to run to Christ! Run to him! Don’t waste any time! Be like these shepherds and hurry! God has entered the world and he is making himself known, he is extending grace, he is offering salvation to the world! Now the question is, what are you going to do about it? Will you sit there? Or will you run to him? Humble people see their need; and they run to Christ.

As soon as they arrive they report what they saw. Imagine it: “We were just sitting there like we do every night, watching our sheep. And all of a sudden we were blinded by this bright light and we couldn’t see anything! And then this angel appeared and said…” Imagine how they recounted their experience with passion and conviction! In vs. 18 it says that everyone was amazed at what they said. They marveled at the report. What about you? If you are a Christian, are you faithful to tell others the good news of Christ?

Luke also records Mary’s response. She treasured all of these things in her heart. She thought about them again and again and again. Do you treasure the things of Christ in your heart? Do you think about Him again and again and again? If Christ is not your treasure you do not have Him at all.

The story closes in verse 20 with the shepherds praising and glorifying God for all they had seen and heard. Humble people hear the revelation of God, recieve it in faith, and rejoice in the salvaiton that has been given them. They yield humbly to Jesus, and recieve Him as Lord (2:11). That is what the shepherds did. And that is what you must do as well. Otherwise, the Christmas story will be nothing more to you than a sweet story that completely misses the point. He offers great joy. But only if you will recieve Him as Lord.


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