Born According to His Purpose / Luke 2:1–20 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 24th 2023 / Christmas Eve / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 24th 2023: Christmas Eve / Luke 2:1–20 “Born According to His Purpose”
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with Child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you Good News of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” God often uses the unexpected for His purposes. The Emperor of the Roman Empire would not have been aware that his desire to do a head count of his people in the Roman Province of Palestine would have anything to do with the fulfilment the LORD’s promise that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. I mean how could he? It’s very unlikely that Caesar Augustus knew much of anything about the prophetic promises of God concerning the birth of the long expected Messiah and Saviour. Later Saint Paul would write, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Look, would it be easier to have stayed behind and had the baby in Nazareth in Galilee? Sure, but unwittingly the Roman Emperor was being used by God for purposes beyond his knowing and prompted by the Holy Spirit the Virgin Mary traveled with Joseph down to Bethlehem.
Now I checked and by car it’s not that far using the modern roads currently available. According to Google maps the 151km trip would take about an hour and 46 minutes; on foot however it would take longer, about 36 hours. Then the question is how many hours can you walk in a day? How many hours could you walk if you were around 9 months pregnant? Here we like the idea of a donkey as a mode of transportation sounds great but Saint Luke who was very careful about details doesn’t provide any information about a donkey (which if that was the case he would have because it would go nicely with Jesus’ triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey at the beginning of Holy Week). Regardless Mary was moved to go with her betrothed Joseph and make the trip putting her in the right place at the right time for the promise of God to unfold the way it was foretold. It’s like that for you too. Odds are a number of things had to line up for you to be here tonight, for some of you it was long expected because you were here last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, but for others of you if someone had asked you where you’d be celebrating Christmas Eve on the evening of December the 24th you may not have answered Mount Olive Lutheran Church. Ponder the various things both mundane and spiritual that brought you here tonight. The Holy Spirit works through all of these things.
When the day came for Jesus, the promised Christ Child, to be born in Bethlehem Saint Luke tells us how, “in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night,” but certainly that morning they had no expectations of seeing or hearing angles in the night sky or that they would find themselves away from the shepherd’s fields over in Bethlehem looking upon Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. We, like they, can be surprised by the Lord, in fact for some of your brothers and sisters in Christ, maybe even you—especially if you were brought to faith later in life—it will have come as a surprise that you believed. One morning you woke up believing one thing and then at the close of the day you had more to chew on than expected, somehow faith entered in and your perspective changed. Even for those who have always believed as far back as you can remember there was likely a time when your faith was challenged and it caused you to wrestle with the promises of God. Maybe that’s you today. Take comfort in Saint Paul’s words, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” You dear ones are called according to His purpose and tonight you are called again to hear the account of the birth of the Son of God, this Jesus who came to us as a “baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Now if you’re in the fight of your life physically, mentally, spiritually how much can a baby help you? Will He make a little baby fist to punch your opponent in the face? Will an infant speak to you words of wisdom to calm your troubled mind? Will a baby pray prayers for you when your prayers falter? This is not the way we experience babies in our life, but we gather around together tonight to hear the account of this promised baby’s birth knowing that He doesn’t stay a baby; He grows into a man of prayer and gives us the prayer to top all prayers, The Lord’s Prayer; He speaks words of wisdom teaching “as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them,” as a man He makes no fist to fight your enemies of Sin, Death, the Devil and the World but shows Himself to be one who’s ultimate strength is displayed in humility allowing His arms to be outstretched and nailed to the Wood of His Good Friday Cross. The feet of this baby boy wrapped in swaddling cloths in would in adulthood kick off the linen shroud of death and walk out of His Easter Morning Tomb proving Him to be exactly what the angles sang that He would be, our “Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
In the days that followed Jesus’ birth there would be people like Anna and Simeon in the Temple, and the Wise Men (the Magi from the East) who would eventually arrive who would recognize this infant Jesus for who He truly is, for who He would grow to be, but most people probably paid Him no mind. To most He would look like any baby in the arms of a young mother, if Caesar Augustus had been wandering the streets of Bethlehem that night would he have recognized this Child as the Christ, the Saviour of mankind: probably not. Certainly that night of His Birth the Holy Spirit used the angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased,” to point the shepherds in the right direction, and it would certainly have been the Holy Spirit again who would have given them eyes to see the truth of who this Jesus was to be. This is not different for you or I. Unless we are clued in we would be clueless. The Holy Spirit keeps the ball rolling: By the mouth of angles He calls and sends the shepherds and then from the foot of the manger He sends them again out into the world because Saint Luke tells us that “when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child.” That is they went out with the account of all that had happened that night and with all the knowledge that had been gifted to them to spread this Good News to others. And here’s where Saint Luke says a very insightful thing about how that all went down, Saint Luke writes, “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” ... and all who hear this news of the angels and the birth of Jesus “wondered at what the shepherds told them.” When you go out on a limb and talk to someone you know about Jesus it won’t be much different for you. Whoever it is, they will likely “wonder at what [you tell] them.” Don’t worry about it, and don’t let the worry of that shut up your mouth. It is the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens” that part is not up to you. Remember, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
You like Joseph and the Virgin Mary may have a reasonable idea of how your life will unfold and where you might go day by day and what you might be doing in the foreseeable future and who you might be doing things with but it doesn’t take long in life to also realise that there will be the unexpected. They certainly experienced this. You will find this for yourself, if you haven’t already, and before you know it you will find yourself where you didn’t expect to be, talking with people you didn’t expect to speak with about things you weren’t expecting to talk about. Don’t be troubled by this. The Holy Spirit well may be setting you where He most desires you to be so that as a Christian you will be in the right place and the right time for someone who needs Jesus in their lives, just as you need Him in yours. Or like a beach they may come to you like items adrift on the sea and brought ashore by the tide. So whether you run into them, or they run into you either way opportunities can present themselves in the most unexpected of ways: a new job, a new house or home, a new town, a new circle of friends, a new church however it turns out don’t fail to consider that if the Lord can use something as mundane and boring or inconvenient as a government census to fulfil what He desires most—your salvation and redemption— than He can likewise be at work behind the seemingly mundane and boring or inconvenient things in life to bring about the fulfilment of His purposes in Christ Jesus, for “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Tonight and tomorrow and through the season of Christmas we celebrate a very good thing, the birth of Jesus: This Jesus is “the grace of God” and He “has [, in His birth,] appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” ... all people includes you. Amen
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Romans 8:28
 Luke 6:31
 Titus 2:11
Photo Credit: Main Photo Mother with Child from freepik.