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The Arrival of the Baby

Date: Nov. 28, 2021

Author: Michael Mark

Luke 2:1-20

Key Verse: Luke 2:11

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Today is the first day of Advent 2021, and as many of you may know, it begins from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, leading up to Christmas Day.  The word “Advent” means arrival, and it is a season where we reflect on the first coming of our Lord, and stir up anticipation for His second coming.  This year our theme is Arrivals (note the plural, as we are referring to both Advents), so if you will notice the graphic it looks like an airport sign.  Each week we will focus on a different aspect of Christ’s Arrival, and what it means to us.  You will see a different title here every week as well.  Travelling has been opening up gradually, but we hope to take you on a spiritual journey as we learn about Jesus Christ who has arrived from heaven.  For this first week, the topic is “The Arrival of the Baby,” and we will be looking at the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and what that can teach us about preparing his arrivals.

My family is expecting the arrival of a baby boy, due in early December.  When a baby arrives, it is life changing, and there is always a lot of preparation involved with bringing in this new life.  There is a lot of anticipation, excitement, and sometimes, worry and fear, but a new baby is something that cannot be ignored.  The parents decide on names with some expectations or hopes on what the child will be like.  New furniture is bought to make accommodations for the little one.  Some couples will attend new parents classes, birth classes, breastfeeding classes, and read up on as much literature as they can on how to take care of a newborn baby.  And celebratory events, like gender reveals, baby showers, or maybe a weekly social media baby bump update is posted.  There is so much preparation around welcoming and being ready for the new baby, and when the baby arrives there is so much love, joy and excitement. 

Advent is a season of preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ.  The more we prepare, the more meaningful Christmas Day becomes, but this preparation also stirs up our expectation and anticipation of Jesus’ second coming.  How do you feel when it’s Christmas?  How do you think you will feel when Jesus comes again?  I pray that in this season of preparation, Christmas Day will bring you joy and peace, and the thought of Jesus coming again will give you hope and anticipation.  We will see how the preparation of some shepherd’s hearts led them to rejoice at the good news of Christ’s birth, and learn some things about preparing our own hearts.  As we progress through the passage, we will first look at God’s due date for salvation, then observe the arrival of the Baby, and see what manner of child this is, and lastly draw some practical ways we can prepare for Christ’s arrivals.

First, let’s look at God’s due date for salvation.  The arrival of Christ was not a random or accidental event.  Peter tells us that Jesus was chosen before the creation of the world (1 Pet 1:20).  Paul tells us when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son to redeem his people (Gal 4:4).  Now let’s look at the time period in which this took place – look at v.1, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census be taken of the entire Roman world.”  Caesar Augustus was the first emperor of the Roman Empire and reigned from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.  He was considered one of the history’s most effective leaders, and led Rome into a golden age of peace and prosperity that would last around 200 years.  He laid the foundation for what is called the “Pax Romana,” or the “Roman Peace,” which basically put an end to civil wars within the Empire.

The irony is that this peace was an external or superficial type of peace.  Rome still expanded greatly under this policy, and required territories to pay a tribute and come under Roman military control in order to maintain this peace.  A well known Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote “While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief and envy.  He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace.”  This tribute was the main reason this census was taken, and at this point it seems like it is the first time that the Jews had to register to be counted for taxes.  The Jews always had a longing in their hearts to stand out among nations, to be God’s people and under no other authority – but here they were forced to be subject to Rome.  Taxes are never popular, even today, if you are getting a nice Christmas bonus check at work, expect the IRS to take a 22% chunk of that off the top.  The Jewish people already had to pay a Temple tax, but now, under Roman rule, they would have to pay taxes to Rome on top of that.  While the financial cost was burdensome, what really offended the Jews was the downgrade of their identity as an independent nation, so that even tax collectors were considered traitors and sinners.

It seemed like times were getting worse and darker for the Jews, it looked as if God had failed on his promises to lift them up and make them his chosen people.  But it was in this backdrop that the longing and yearning for a Savior and Messiah began to intensify.  It is only behind the scenes that you can see God working for his glory, and that he is doing exactly what he planned to do.  You see, 700 years before this census, the prophet Micah wrote that out of Bethlehem will come one who will be ruler over Israel (Micah 5:2).  Joseph and Mary, the parents of this ruler, were in Nazareth, around 70 miles away.  With Mary being in her third trimester, she would not likely have gone unless she had to.  They did not have cars back then, so they would have had to make the journey on foot.  This could have taken 5 days or more.  It would be a risky, exhaustive, and expensive travel.  Doctors today don’t even recommend women in their 3rd trimester travel anywhere far from home.

How bad was it in Judea?  You only need to look at the circumstances of Jesus’ birth to get an idea.  V.6-7 say, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”  The town of Bethlehem was pretty small at that time, maybe around 1,000 people.  But it might have been filled with travelers due to the census.  Still, can’t a pregnant lady get some help?  Here in Chicago, there are signs on the public transportation that tell us to give our seat to the elderly or pregnant women.  But it was so sad here, for whatever reason, Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger.  The scene was crude and mean.  Tradition says that Jesus was born in a cave nearby that was used as a stable, and he was laid in a feeding trough for animals.  It’s like meeting a couple behind a building in an alley, with their baby laid down in some crate or carton because there was just no more room in town.  It’s not a pretty sight, but God had a purpose in all of this, and part of the reason is to give us peace and encouragement to trust him in even the darkest times.

When things are getting progressively worse, how can we have hope and peace?  When it seems like violence is increasing in society, prices for food and gas are going up, evil doers are not held accountable, and the innocent are punished; when it seems that people are becoming more divided and you can’t say certain things without being judged for what you think, when people care more about their virtual friends than their real friends, when it businesses and communities are shut down due to a stray virus, how can you have peace?  Israel may have been going through the same struggles.  Their tax burdens heavily increased and situations so difficult that a pregnant woman cannot be adequately cared for, and they are governed by tyrannical rulers who can make murder a policy.  We can have peace when we see what God is doing.  God is causing people to cry out for a Savior, to cry out for real peace and real love, all the while he is setting things up behind the scenes to deliver.  It was God who moved Caesar to issue the census, so that Joseph and Mary could go to Bethlehem and fulfill his promise.  It is God who controls the most powerful person in the world, and it is God who guides the steps of everyone on this earth to fulfill his plans.  Prov 16:9 says “Human hearts plan their course, but the Lord establishes our steps.”  And it is God who comforts.  If you think you have it rough, if you think your life is bad and that no one understand or knows – then look again at the baby in the manger in Bethlehem.  Why was Jesus born in this way under such mean circumstances?  It’s so that God can say I am with you, and I want to be with you, even in your toughest, hardest situations, I know and I understand, because I’ve been there.  But I have good news.  See this baby in a manger?  It’s the due date for salvation.  I have come to save you.

So now, let us observe the arrival of the Baby, and see what manner of child this is.  Out in the fields of Bethlehem nearby, there were some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  Just imagine that.  Your minding your sheep, protecting them from thieves and predators, and the only light you have is the light of the moon, and maybe a lantern.  But then Boom, Flash!  An angel appears and it is brighter than the day.  Your first reaction, at least I don’t think – your first reaction wouldn’t be “Awesome!”  You’d probably say what in the world is going on…  You might even pee your pants.  Look at v.10, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’”  Phew, luckily, the angel calms you down, with those blessed words: “Do not be afraid.”  Do not be afraid.  The angel is a messenger of God, and the first preacher of the gospel.  He says he has good news that will cause great joy for everyone.  This good news is for the shepherds, the people in Bethlehem, for me, for you, for everyone.  It will cause joy.  So what is this joy?  What is the cause of this joy?

This is the source of that joy, in v.11.  Can we all please read v.11, the key verse together:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  And can we also read v.12, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Remember that picture of Mary and Joseph in some cave, with the baby in an animal’s feeding trough.  It is not a pretty sight, and some might even find it offensive.  But the angel told them – this is exactly what you will be looking for, and will find.  If you find the baby in a manger, then what I have said is true.  It’s interesting, because no one would have guessed that this baby in a manger was significant – except for those who hear and believe the word of God.  So in this way, God shuns and disdains the wisdom and glory of this world, so that we will not put our trust and hope in it, but to put our trust in the words of God.  1 Cor 1:27 says, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,” so that no one may boast.  God did not first give the good news to the elders, the chief priests and leaders of Israel – but to some lowly shepherds, who were considered outcasts of society.  But also, if the baby was housed in some expensive home in the nicest part of town, the shepherds might not even be able to get in.  So the baby, being out there in the open, is God’s invitation to say come, all of you, come, just as you are.

So what was this baby all about?  Who is this baby in a manger?  The angels gave him 3 titles: he is the Savior, and Messiah, and Lord.  This baby is the Savior; he is the author of our salvation; he is the one who brings salvation.  We all have sin, we all have fear, and we all will die some day.  He saves us from all of that.  It was well known that the animals used for the Temple sacrifice were taken care of in Bethlehem, about 6 miles away from Jerusalem.  These shepherds were most likely caring for sheep that would be slaughtered for the atonement of sins.  But they were also the first to hear about the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  Notice again in v.11, the angels say “a Savior has been born to you.”  Jesus came to save you.  Jesus came to take away your sins.  Jesus came to save you from the judgment of God.  Jesus came to reconcile you to God, so that you may freely enter into a new relationship with God your Father.

How is Jesus able to save you?  The other titles that the angel gives tell us.  The angel also says Jesus is the Messiah.  Remember that the angel is talking to Hebrew shepherds, and they would understand what the Messiah meant.  The Messiah means an anointed one, and Kings would be anointed with oil to identify them as such.  But the title Messiah refers specifically to the One that God has chosen, and has anointed.  To the Jews, the Messiah was the King who was chosen by God to save Israel and bring them into visible glory.  Jesus was chosen by God, and therefore he is able to save, because he and he alone was acceptable to God.

Third the angel says He is the Lord.  The Lord, as Hebrews understood it, referred to God.  In the Old Testament, instead of writing God’s name, Jehovah, which they considered to holy to even write, they would substitute the word for Lord.  And this is the primary reason that Jesus can save – because He is God.  The angels here equated him with God, and made him equal to God by giving him this same designation.  So we see that this baby is God, He is the Son of God, incarnate, in the flesh, lying there in a manger. Isn’t it amazing how Jesus, who ruled and reigned with God in the highest heavens, descended to the lowest place on earth?  And why – it is so that we can be saved, and be reborn into the kingdom of God.

You see this child is no ordinary child.  Look at how the angels testified, in v.13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”  This again is the scene outside of Bethlehem where the shepherds were.  Next to the angel their eyes were opened to see thousands upon thousands of God’s angels.  Luke calls them the heavenly host – this is the Lord’s army.  It is an innumerable multitude of angel soldiers, giving allegiance, glory and honor to their Commander, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So you see, what have you to fear?  This baby in a manger is the Commander of the Lord’s army, and they all testify to it.

The first line they say is “Glory to God in the highest.”  They all praised God in unison.  And then they say, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.  This is the true peace that we want.  This is true and everlasting peace; it is a sustainable peace that can be refreshed.  It is not like the Pax Romana, an external, temporary peace, that is only maintained through oppression.  No, rather, the peace that Jesus gives is peace in your heart.  Jesus says this in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Jesus solves the problem of the troubles in the world.  The troubles all stem from sin.  They stem from an unbelieving and ungrateful heart toward God, and lead to all other troubles between each other.  But since Jesus has reconciled you to God, he has shown you more mercy than you could ever show to others, and he has shown you more forgiveness than you can show to others.  He has shown you more love than you can give to others, by giving his own life for you.  So then, we have peace with God, and this is a rock solid, foundational peace.  And because of this, we can show mercy to others, creating peace and harmony between one another. 

My heart was troubled a couple of days ago.  I was upset because I got mad at my daughter, and blew up at her, and my wife got mad at me, and consequently, I got angry at her.  And it was the day after Thanksgiving, when we were trying to put together a Christmas tree as a family.  And I had to work on this gracious advent message.  I felt much time lost for message preparation because of taking care of my daughter.  But how could I write, with such bitterness in my heart?  So I went down to my room, and tried to pray, by first opening up my daily bread devotional, and starting with God’s word.  The key verse was 2 Tim 1:14, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”  I know this didn’t directly speak to my issue, but I realized something.  I realized that I was being selfish, that I did not show mercy to my wife, and I am not serving her as the Lord commanded me to do.  Instead, I wanted to serve myself, and my agenda.  I realized I was not pleasing God by keeping my anger.  So I repented, and resolved to love Mary as Christ loved me, and to show her the mercy that Jesus showed to me, and to die to my self, by his grace.  It was then I received peace and trusted that God would help me, and that my priorities in this season of my life is to care first for my pregnant wife and my cute daughter.

So now we have seen how God prepared for the advent of his Son, by sending him on the due date of salvation.  We have learned that this baby is the Savior, the Messiah and the Lord.  We have seen how the angels celebrated his birth, and very briefly soon, how the shepherds celebrated, and also Mary’s response.  From these examples, we will draw some practical ways that we can prepare for Jesus’ Arrivals:

First is to repent and believe the gospel.  When the shepherds heard the message, they immediately went to see what the angel had told them.  They believed, and did not doubt.  Now angels might not speak to you, but in your hands you hold the Bible, the Holy Word of God.  Believe in this word – that “Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  To you, a Savior has been born.  For you, a Savior came.  That is what Christmas is all about.

Next – keep watch.  Maybe the easiest way to describe this is to keep watch over your own heart.  When you are weary and troubled, or anxious, the Lord is saying you need a Savior.  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Keep watch also while you are working.  Notice, the shepherds were called when they were at work.  Moses was called also when he was shepherding.  In all you do, do it to please God.  Do it for the glory of God.  Even if it’s non-religious activity, dedicate your actions to God, so when he comes, he will find you working.  He doesn’t have to find you praying, or in the middle of a Bible study, nothing wrong with those, but if he finds you studying hard for his glory, he will be pleased.

Third – ponder God’s words.  Look at v.19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Mary’s circumstance was tough.  She walked 70 miles while pregnant, and had to give birth to hear precious firstborn in an animal stable.  But she saw the reverence of the shepherds.  She heard from them the message from the angel.  And she looked at this child with wonder and amazement.  God’s words gave her peace.  Find a good devotional to give you a good diet of daily bread.  I use UBF’s daily bread, but I’d also recommend Charles Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook, or his Morning and Evening devotional.  But there are many other great authors you can find.  You can also meditate on what you learned Sundays, and look back into the passages – what did you learn about God, and how amazing is that?

Last – is to praise and thank God.  The whole host of heavenly angels did this, and the shepherds did this, and Mary did this in her heart.  There is always at least one thing you can thank God for every day, even the air you breathe.

We make lots of preparations for new babies, so it seems proper that we should also prepare our hearts to receive this baby in a manger, who is the Savior of the world.  Believe, watch, ponder and praise, may God grant you peace and joy through Christmas Day and give you anticipation and expectation of his second arrival.

Jesus said he will come again.  He said this to his disciples in John 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” 

How do we know this is true?  Remember what the angels said: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  If you take this to heart, and believe, that yes, indeed, the baby arrived in Bethlehem, then the Savior will arrive and take you to heaven.

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