What is the first thing most women say about a newborn baby?
I think they usually share what they see as the most important information. They tell everyone the baby’s vital statistics.
You know how it is: “Mary had a baby at 1.29 last night. He is healthy and weighs 7kg.”
There you have it all in a nutshell – health and gender and time of arrival.
God did not think it was important to tell us what time Jesus was born. God did not think it was important to tell us how much he weighed at birth. In fact we do not even know what month or year he was born.
If you want to believe that Jesus was born in July or August, you will be able to find a scholar to agree with you.
Look with me please at Luke chapter two and verse six. It tells us that Jesus was born ‘while they were there’ in the village of Bethlehem. It could have been any number of days after they arrived. We always assume that she arrived heavily pregnant and had hardly gotten off the donkey before she gave birth. I think we have nativity plays to thank for our theology on this point.
Was he at least born at night though? Many babies are born at night, but what does verse seven say. It says ‘She gave birth to her first child’ but it doesn’t mention anything about time of day or weight. We can suppose or infer, but the Bible doesn’t say.
Verse eight says: ‘That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby.’
It doesn’t say the birth was at night, only that there were shepherds in the fields that night. That night an angel terrified them and the solitary angel told them, ‘The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem.’
That was the birth announcement. The crucial information is that the Messiah was born today in Bethlehem. It is announced by one angel to a group of shepherds.
Then the vast angelic host descends and joins the herald angel in a glorious song of praise, before soaring back up into heaven.
The astonished shepherds go down the hill into the village to check out the news.
Reading from verse 16: ‘They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.’
After that it seems that the shepherds went back to work. I suppose they had fulfilled in one night a lifetime of work for God. Much later, some magi arrived. They probably travelled along the silk road, reaching Bethlehem up to two years after the birth of Jesus.
The news of a birth is spread the same way today. Usually the father starts the ball rolling with a call to either his mother or to his mother-in-law. Probably both. That is often enough, because she will then tell everyone under the sun. She will telephone family, call up the local radio station, post on Facebook and KakaoTalk, hang a banner beside the highway and place ads in the newspaper.
When Jesus was born, his father picked up the phone and called … who?
Who got the news first? Was it her parents? How about his parents? They are in the ancestral hometown for a census, so was Joseph’s father somewhere close. Aunts or cousins or other relatives? No and no and no!
Well then how about a midwife, or the innkeeper, or his wife? No!
Jesus’ father makes a shout out to the only people who are actually awake and listening. Jesus’ father, God the almighty, Lord of heaven’s armies, creator of the universe, tells some lowly shepherds.
While the world is asleep in ignorance and darkness, the light comes to those who are awake. They receive the Good News while the world slumbers.
You are like these shepherds. You have heard the Good News while much of the rest of the world is asleep. Or busy with other things.
It was census time in Bethlehem. The small town was packed with Romans to do the counting and the local people to be counted. The religious people were too busy with religious things.
We know what Herod did as soon as he found out about the birth of the Messiah. Herod tried to kill him. God wasn’t about to make the announcement to the ruling classes.
The only people with nothing much to do except stare at the sky were the shepherds. They were poor and despised. They stank of sheep and never went to church. They were busy working on every Sabbath, taking care of sheep.
When God has an important message he seeks the people who will listen and obey. That is how he chose Joseph and Mary. There was nothing else to commend them. When they heard from God they obeyed with total a pure faith. They set the example for us.
Now we see the same thing with the shepherds.
They straight away went down into Bethlehem when the angel told them. As soon as they had confirmed the news, they told everyone.
They went around spreading the Good News until all of Bethlehem knew what had happened.
The Messiah had been born that day in their town. The Lord of all. The saviour.
On this day God himself has come down and God’s glory is not in the temple now but on a hilltop and in a baby.
While other people have been busy chasing a career, while they have been preoccupied with amassing political power and status, we have seen the messiah.
Now we must talk about what we have seen. We must be like the shepherds and tell everyone. Don’t think about how no one will listen to you because you are just a young student. How no one will listen because you are only a shepherd.
Verse 18: ‘All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.’
Let us open our eyes to the truth of God with us, seeing and living in that hope, even when others do not.
Every day we are encouraged to live like the shepherds. We are encouraged to see what others do not see, what they cannot see because they are looking in the wrong direction. And having seen we are to tell them what we have seen.
This Christmas, we see the real story of the baby who was born to save the world. We see the hope and peace and love and joy.
We are called by God directly to tell this story to everyone we meet as we go around our town so that they can be amazed. And we are called by God to maintain this attitude so that all the time we are ready to see what others cannot see and tell them the amazing things they are missing. Our job is to listen to the amazing angel choirs that others cannot hear and tell them what the angels are saying.
They will be astonished. And they will find the Good News. And they will be saved by the baby who was born in an animal shelter two thousand years ago.
We listen all the time so we can tell others. We keep watch so we can announce the arrival of God’s son. Hallelujah!
This Christmas, let’s spread the message given by the angel to the shepherds. There is hope. The future is bright. Peace is possible. The saviour has come.