|By Norma Boeckler|
Christmas Readings and Hymns
December 24, 2011 – 7 PM Central
Bethany Lutheran Church
Bella Vista, Arkansas
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Hymn 77:1-6 All My Heart This Night Rejoices 2.25
The Invocation, Confession and Absolution p. 15
The First Gospel
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
KJV Isaiah 40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. 3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. 6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: 7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. 9 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
The Place of Jesus’ Birth
KJV Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
#102 O Come All Ye Faithful 1:7
KJV Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
KJV Isaiah 7:10 Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. 13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
KJV Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
#109 While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks 1:35
KJV Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Sermon – No Modesty about the Truth
Luke’s Account – Sermon Text
KJV Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 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.
No Modesty about the Truth
One of my classmates reminded me of a famous quotation when she wished everyone Merry Christmas, “even though we are not sure exactly when Jesus was born.”
I wrote back, “We know more about the time and place of Jesus’ birth than we do about Obama’s.” I should have added – and more about His Father, too.
In the midst of the various Christmas greetings, one Leftist classmate wrotre, “Merry. Merry.”
I simply added “Christmas” to the next line, because I am tired of people pretending it is not Christmas but just happy-time, or winter, even though no one buys winter presents for anyone. Neither does anyone yell, “Merry Winter” to various strangers and friends.
Needless to say, both of my faux-innocent comments led to dustups, with people offended and admonishing me (not a new experience).
In light of that, Chesterton’s quotation about modesty is appropriate:
“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert-himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason... The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”
― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
There is such a thing as truth, but this basic concept is denied as a foundational assumption. If there is no truth, there is nothing to argue about, especially religion, so “every truth is God’s truth,” as someone cheerfully said in a class I took. The Christian professor said “Amen” with great gusto and fervor.
Christmas has a special claim upon truth, because God became man, and Jesus was born of a Virgin. This is revealed as truth in the Scriptures, but people still want a Christian philosophy of some type that avoids and denies this truth.
All mainline groups (including the Lutheran franchises) deny and oppose the Confessions – especially their own. The greatest energy has been devoted to working with all other denominations and even such heretical churches as the Salvation Army. At the same time, which is even great proof of unbelief, there is a demonic energy for persecuting those who do believe in the basic articles of faith. And this does not matter which denomination, which I have taken great pains to prove.
The Gospel seed is thinly sown, as Luther remarked. The outward trappings often hide the inner apostasy.
Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Governments are good at taxing people and business. They even use taxes to control people, keeping them too busy to rebel against the oppression.
The Roman Empire’s taxation was denied in books that I read in the 1970s, but Lenski knew about supporting evidence decades before. I also read Ramsay in seminary and knew about the astonishing accuracy and precision of Scriptural trivia. This is trivial because the census is not doctrine, but nevertheless the trivial fact is true, showing that God’s Word is accurate in doctrine, history, and geography. Man argues against one or the other because of his unbelief.
Until a few years ago the critics had things pretty much to themselves, and all one could do was to trust to the reliability of Luke. But now a mass of papyri and several inscriptions have reversed the situation. The evidence is now at hand that Augustus did issue the decree of which Luke speaks, that it was a new, epoch-making measure, and that it inaugurated a periodic enrollment in the empire which continued for over two centuries at intervals of fourteen years. See the writings of W. M. Ramsay.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 116.
Like the Star of Bethlehem, the census was one part of the picture. Some would like to set aside the Star of Bethlehem too, but that has worked its way back into the picture, simply because we have the tools to recreate it and to view it exactly as the Wise Men saw it – in planetariums. And the skeptics deeply resent that fact.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
I remember the chortles from the Left. “Now we have Luke in the crosshairs. Cyrenius was not governor then.” He was serving in that capacity. He was governing. When we conquered Japan, McArthur became the military governor of Japan. He carried himself as an emperor, which is what the people expected. He was not a governor in the American sense, far from it, but he governed. That is the point.
Acting in a governing capacity in Syria, and having broader powers than those of the regular governor, Quirinius managed the enrollment also in Herod’s domain.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 118.
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
The fact of the census caused the pathos of the Nativity. With everyone crowding the roads, inns, and homes, there was no room for Joseph and Mary. Homes were tiny then, something we can hardly imagine. If you see photos of crowded busses, ferries, or markets in the Third World, that gives a better impression than imposing our need for space upon the Roman Empire. The ultra-rich had palaces, but everyone else was crowded together.
Here we see that God enters history contrary to man’s expectations. Instead of great pomp and glory – humility and poverty and yieldingness. Joseph and Mary could not even claim a spare room at a relative’s home. Sure there was something available. The problem at the inn is a good indication, because it should have been an alternative.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
As we all know from Christmas pageants, these verses from Luke flow elegantly as phrases in a poem. The best passages to memorize are those which are poetic in form, with simple descriptive phrases. I can imagine this being memorized by children in the earliest congregations, adults reciting it as the narrative of their Savior’s birth.
Not to be missed in the long, uphill climb from the low-lying territory of Galilee to the mountainous Jerusalem. Similar would be the journey from the desert valley of Phoenix to the high country of Flagstaff and beyond. Only we went by auto, not by foot. I keep seeing graphics of Mary on a donkey. There is no beast of burden mentioned in the Scriptures. Even with one, the trip was arduous.
Joseph’s lineage caused him to report to Bethlehem for the census. Therefore, when we read about that shepherd boy, David, in Bethlehem, we already have an inkling of the story of the Savior. Saul was an unfit king, so the reign passed over to David, and David became the example, the ideal of the Messiah – the king anointed with oil.
The prophecies said the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, and the Roman Empire made this happen. This alone shows us how God works in history. The clever philosophers want to divorce a charming story from the facts of history, but believers see how God declared and then fulfilled every promise from the Old Testament.
These Messianic promises are woven into the Scriptures, so that anyone reading them before or after the event could see those details, not as a platform, but as a thread running through the Old Testament books. Where one detail might be overlooked, many more cannot be. The Old Testament is certainly a cradle that holds the baby Jesus. Once the Holy Spirit has opened the eyes of faith, that cannot be missed.
When obstinate rejection closes the eyes of faith, nothing can be seen at all. My apostate Roman Catholic friends came back from a famous lecturer’s talk, happy that all the Old Testament miracles were set aside as “symbolic.” Someone asked, “What about the New Testament miracles?” The man responded, “Oh, those are all true.” This made the two theology students (now professors) furious.
I contacted them as alumni, by email. They found communicating with me difficult, even though I only said hello after all these years – 29 in all.
The Bible is not a cafeteria line where we pick out what we like.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 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.
These verses indicate that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem and were there a period of time before Jesus was born. The Bible is very strict with details, because we do not need to know everything. Compare this to an essay I graded, where a woman took six typed paged to describe her dog’s illness. In fact the story the sinking of a famous ocean liner (Normandie) took up more space in the New York Times than the entire account of the Flood in Genesis.
This concise narrative is good, because we reflect upon the essentials rather than all the other details that intrigue us without edifying us.
Many like to dwell on morbid descriptions of how terrible this was, to give birth in such a way. If anyone suggested it advance to a couple, they would be astonished at the lack rather than the abundance – except for one thing. God would surely take care of His Son’s birth and provide all needed assistance. His angels announced it, so they did not leave the family without help or comfort.
The message here is that they trusted in God to provide what was needed. A German Gerhardt hymn makes that point about all believers. God provides special care, comfort, and protection at all times.
So, as humans, we look at the birth in the animal shelter as the opposite of our wishes for anyone, but God presents it as a scene of peace and joy.
The Gospel comes to the humble and poor, those who hunger for the righteousness of God. The people who consider themselves great intellects are too proud to read the Word of God as a direct revelation. They place themselves above it.
But here we see the Savior born in the midst of the decaying Roman Empire, turmoil everywhere. Hundreds of Old Testament prophecies begin to be revealed in scene after scene, as the true drama of salvation unfolds.
For those who believe the Word of God and trust in its promises, the Bible is a constant source of wonder and wisdom. If someone asks, How can my own sins be forgiven?, he only need to look at the census bringing the Holy Family to Bethlehem, the Wise Men following the Star of Bethlehem, the shepherds told in the fields by angels while King Herod faced the end of his power and life.
#646 Silent Night 4:38
Luke 2: 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
Holy Communion p. 24
The Prayers and Benediction
#87 Joy to the World 1:20