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Nativity of Our Lord

Luke 2:1–20

James T. Batchelor

Christmas Eve
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Dec 24, 2014 

Modern culture has very accurate terminology for setting dates and times.  I can say that this is the evening of December 24, 2014.  Pretty much everyone around the world would know what that means.

Ancient cultures did not have something so convenient.  When Luke wrote his gospel account, he had to use a different way to put a date stamp on his writings.  That is why we read all about Quirinius the governor of Syria and the registration decree of Caesar Augustus.  These rulers and activities were familiar to the people of Lukes day.  The early readers of Lukes account would have been able to narrow the time of Christs birth to within a few months.

For a while, modern archeology contradicted Lukes Gospel.  Scholars discovered a time during the reign of Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was the governor of Syria, and the time was way too late to match the other details in the Gospel accounts.  It seemed as though modern scholarship was on the verge of finding a genuine mistake in the Gospel text.

Then archeologists discovered that Quirinius had two terms as governor of Syria.  Up until that discovery, the scholars had been working with the dates of his second term.  His second term was too late, but the dates of his first term were perfectly consistent with Lukes Gospel account.

Lukes attention to the historical and political context of the Gospel informs us that his account is a historical account.  The events in Lukes Gospel account really happened.  The birth of Jesus in a feeding trough in Bethlehem is not a fairy tale or a myth.  It is a real world historical event.

The Holy Spirit inspired the prophet Micah to write: [Micah 5:2] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.  Not only was Jesus born in a real historical context, but that context was also the fulfillment of prophecy.

It is interesting how God the master strategist fulfilled this prophecy.  Mary and Joseph were up in Nazareth of Galilee.  They were several days of hard marching away from Bethlehem.  Never the less, God arranged to fulfill the prophecy using a foreign dictator who had no knowledge of prophecy.  In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  The registration procedure in that time and place called for the man of the house to return to the land of his ancestors.  Since Joseph was a descendant of David, this meant returning to Bethlehem.  It was very natural that Joseph did not want to leave Mary home alone while he registered especially while Mary was pregnant.  So she traveled with him to Bethlehem.  In this way, God used a foreign emperor and an ancient tradition to fulfill the prophecy of old.

She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.  It is very interesting that Mary laid Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.  A manger is a feeding trough.  The name Bethlehem means House of Bread.  Thus we could say that Jesus our savior slept in a feeding trough in the House of Bread.  This is the same Jesus who would grow up to say, [John 6:51] I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Jesus began His mission to become the Bread of Life in a food trough in the House of Bread.

The proper preface for holy week compares the tree of the cross to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might by the tree of the cross be overcome.  In a similar way, it is right to compare the food from the tree of Eden to the food from the tree of Calvary.  The food that hung from the tree of Eden provides us with the food of sin and death.  The food that hung from the tree of Calvary is the Bread of Life from heaven.  You could say that Jesus is the Bread of Life that was baked in the oven of Gods wrath for your sin. 

The Lord who lay in the feeding trough in the House of Bread is the Bread from Heaven.  He gives His flesh to the Sons of Adam so that they may eat their way out of the curse just as they had eaten their way into the curse.  In bread He gives His body for the forgiveness of sins.  This night, Jesus is the Bread of Life from Heaven, born in the House of Bread because Caesar lusted for the temporary bread of this world.

Mary, Joseph, and the baby are not the only ones in the House of Bread that night.  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 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. The city of David Bethlehem the House of Bread This is the place where the shepherds could find the savior Christ the Lord.

The angels message is much more than simple directions.  Yes, the angel pointed the shepherds to a child in a manger, but he also pointed all people forward to the cross.  He identified the child as the savior, who is Christ the Lord.  [Luke 24:46] Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. When the angel identified the child in the feeding trough as the Christ, he identified Him as the one who would suffer and rise from the dead.  So even in the angels announcement of peace on earth, we hear how it is that Jesus is the Bread of Life from Heaven.  He earned the forgiveness of sins for you as He suffered on the cross and now He brings that forgiveness to you.

You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. The angel invited the shepherds to see the Bread of Life from Heaven wrapped in swaddling cloths.  You too have an invitation.  The Bread of Life who died on the cross and rose from the dead invites you into His family.  He sends the Holy Spirit to adopt you into the family of God.  As the Holy Spirit works faith in you, you become an heir with Christ in the inheritance of eternal life the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This registration brought about the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Bread of Life from Heaven would be born in the House of Bread.  You too are registered.  You were registered by the waters of Holy Baptism.  You belong to God.  You eat His body.  You drink His blood.  His name is on you.

Caesar decreed a registration in order to collect taxes the temporary bread of this world.  Unlike Caesars registration, we owe nothing to God.  He gives everything to us.  He gives us life in time and in eternity.  Because Jesus is the Bread of Life from Heaven who died on the cross and rose from the dead, we have peace, not only on this earth, but also forever in the life to come.  Amen

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