Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Why do we begin our celebration of Jesus' birth on the night before Christmas? In some parts of the world, Christians gather at midnight. In the first place, the Jews count their days from sunset until the next sunset, not from sunrise to sunrise. Moreover, our text says, "And there were shepherds in the same land, who kept watch and kept the vigils of the night over their flocks. That is to say, the day of Jesus' birth included Saturday night. Like chickens, sheep need much care, so the shepherds guarded their sheep in the field against wolves and other dangers. And they stayed in the fields around about the city of Bethlehem.
The Gospel according to Luke is very precise in regard to dates and places in the history of Jesus Christ. And it came to pass in those days that an edict was issued by Augustus Caesar, that all the land should be numbered. This census was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, every one to his city.
The Roman Empire dominated the countries around the Mediterranean Sea at that time. The empire extended from the British Isles in the West to Iraq in the East, from Germany in the North to North Africa, Tunisia and Egypt, in the South. It also included the land of Palestine. Augustus Caesar was the first emperor of Rome, after many centuries as a republic. He ordered a census of the population under the authority of Rome to calculate taxes. Palestine was considered part of the region of Syria where Cyrenius was the governor.
Syria still exists, according to the latest news, there is a war in Syria at this time. Israel still exists as a nation as well. The world at that time in many ways was not much different from the world today. There were wars, conflicts and politics.
Then all went to be registered, each to his city. All went to the city of their ancestors. According to the Evangelists Matthew and Luke, both Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David, but because of Joseph, the couple traveled to Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. Bethlehem exists today, a cut distance from Jerusalem. The events of Scripture did not occur in an imaginary world, such as that of the Hobbit.
Bethlehem was filled with the descendants of David, so there was no place for them in the inn. Therefore, Mary was fulfilled on the days when she was to give birth and gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger in a stall.
In the field with the shepherds, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the brightness of God surrounded them with brightness; And they were greatly afraid. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is CHRIST the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly armies, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men. }
The shepherds went to Bethlehem, they found the Baby Jesus in the manger and they worshiped him, because the angel told them this child is the Messiah, the Promised One of Israel, the Savior of the world, King of kings and Lord of lords. And that Child grew to suffer and die for us on the cross and gain eternal life for us in His resurrection. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the cause of the joy of Christmas.
Every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection, but now we take time to celebrate the beginning of the life of Christ, the first stage of his humiliation. He left his throne in the heavens to be born of Mary in humble circumstances. And who paid attention to this most important event in the history of the world? Almost nobody. Only the shepherds and then the wise men. The Savior of the world was not born in a palace, his birth was not featured on television or newspapers. The story was written many years later by the four evangelists.
Everything else in Bethlehem was concerned with the edict of Augustus Caesar. Where is the Roman Empire today? It fell as all empires fall. Where is Augustus Caesar? He died like all men. But Christ is still with us. In many respects, the world has not changed. We celebrate tonight the first coming of the Son of God, but this chapel is not full. People have other priorities.
Like the shepherds, we are a small group gathered to worship Christ. No matter the number, this event is important for me, for you and for everyone. In the celebration that we started tonight, we have the true joy of Christmas that the world has forgotten. Not only is it a season of gifts, feasts and goodwill among men, but it is the celebration of the coming of Him that made peace between God and men. That is why we have peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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