Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes from the Christmas Eve Message; Based on Isaiah 9:27; Luke 2:1, 3-20; Matthew 2:1-12

Here are the readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12

You can read them here: NIV2010

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Christmas Eve is a night that is full of personal memories and meaning. It is also a night that is full of traditions, expectations and nostalgia. There is a magic and wonder in the air even for those of us who are well past magic and wonder. I am talking about:

  • Houses decorated with lights.

  • Church decorated for Christmas

  • Christmas Carols being sung in church

  • Special Christmas programs

  • Putting up the tree and hanging the ornaments, (AND each ornament is a memory in itself.)

  • Smell of Christmas cookies,

  • Getting together with family,

  • Exchanging gifts

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In addition to personal memories and meaning this day, Christmas Eve is packed with 2000 years of traditions and memories of Christians who lived before us. These traditions and memories reverberate through all of our beings, they are a part of who we are, they are in our blood and in our psyche, they play a major part of defining who we are as individuals and who we are as a community.

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We long to make the event commemorating the birth of Jesus a grand event.  But the accounts from Scripture do not talk about a grand event.  It was a lowly and humble birth — no glowing radiance – no angels singing by the manger.  We casually recognize that Mary and Joseph were in a barn and that the animals were there, but rarely do we stop and think about the smells and the sounds in a barn full of animals. We do not think about the vermin and fleas.  I cannot wait until someone comes up with an authentic scratch and sniff nativity book.  We do not like to think about the smells, the dirt, the bugs, the pain, the blood, and the fear THE FEAR of giving birth in a stranger’s barn far away from everything and everybody who Mary knew and loved. It was not a pretty sight. 

So today, I want to look at the birth of Jesus as it is described in the Bible; which may or may not be a different account than we see in our mind’s eye.

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Through the years the Christmas story has been told and retold countless times and to countless generations. It has fascinated children and adults alike and it is a wonderful story full of meaning and significance for our lives and in our culture. All of us have heard this story and in our mind’s eye we have seen this story many times, and we know every minute detail of the story.

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We hear about Joseph and a very pregnant Mary trekking through the Judean countryside because they had to register for the census in Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem. In our mind’s eye we see the tranquil and composed Mary riding on the back of a donkey enduring the hardships of a dusty road with perseverance, displaying a joyfully pensive and radiant smile on her face. We see a mean-looking innkeeper, a “Walter-Mathau / Grumpy-Old-Man” type, telling Mary and Joseph that there is no room at the inn, and we want to scream at the dude, “Don’t you know who you are talking with?” We see and we hear a multitude of angels bringing tidings of joy to the shepherds. We rejoice with the shepherds as we visit the newborn Christ child and we are filled with awe and wonder as we witness three kings bringing their gifts from faraway lands to the newborn king.

As I said earlier, all of us have heard this story many times and we think that we know every detail of the story. However, as time has passed, in an effort to relay the story to others, we have taken some creative license with the events of the Nativity.

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Did Mary and Joseph go to the city of Bethlehem? Absolutely.

NIV2010 Luke 2: 4 So Joseph … went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

The Bible does not say anything about the mode of transportation that Mary and Joseph used. If we look at a map, the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is approximately sixty miles. The road connecting these two places would have been stony, dusty and treacherous. We also know from other Biblical accounts that Samaria was between Galilee and Judea and Jews avoided Samaria at all costs. Joseph and Mary would have to cross the Jordan River, trek through the trans-Jordanian desert and then cross back into Judea. That would make their journey every bit of 120 miles of stony, dusty, treacherous and bandit infested roads. At the end of the journey, both of them were tired because it probably took them at least ten to twelve days of trekking by foot to reach their destination. I very much doubt that Mary looked tranquil and composed during this journey. I very much doubt that she projected the joyfully pensive and radiant smile on her face a la “Mona Lisa” that we see in our minds eye.

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So they came to Bethlehem, and there we meet the villain of the story: the innkeeper. We see him turning Mary and Joseph away with the famous words, “there is no room at the inn.” The truth is that the Bible does not mention anything about the innkeeper.

NIV2010 Luke 2:7 … 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.

I suspect (and I emphasize the word S-U-S-P-E-C-T, we have no Biblical account) that when the “innkeeper” saw that Mary was ready to have a baby, he took the family into the stables because there was more room there for Mary to stretch and for the women who undoubtedly helped Mary during childbirth to move around. So the grumpy old innkeeper kindda goes into the oblivion.

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Luke tells us that the Angel of the Lord appeared to the Shepherds along with the company of the heavenly host to tell them about the birth of the Christ child. We know that the shepherds went to visit the newborn king. But the Bible does not say anything about Angels being present at the Nativity (Luke 2:9-16).

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That leaves us with three kings that brought gifts to the baby.

NIV2010 Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem …

….NIV2010 Matthew 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of {1} gold, {2} frankincense and {3} myrrh.

Notice the Bible does not say how many “kings” came to visit the baby. The Bible says only that they brought three gifts. The Bible also does not say anything about “kings” as in “royalty.” The Bible talks about Magi, wise-men as in “college-professor-types”, coming to visit Jesus, not kings.

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So what about our nativity scenes that are displayed in our homes, in our front yards, in our imaginations?

The truth is that we are simply not sure of many details about the birth of Jesus. Although we do not have many details, we have many traditions that arose around the birth of Jesus. Christmas Eve is packed with 2000 years of traditions and memories of Christians who lived before us. These traditions and memories reverberate through all of our beings, they are a part of who we are, they are in our blood and in our psyche, they play a major part of defining who we are as individuals and who we are as a community.

But when we remove all the man-made traditions from the story the eternal TRUTHS remain:

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  • Mode of transportation notwithstanding, God safely brought the Holy family to Bethlehem, to the place that was prophesied to be the birthplace of Christ

NIV2010 Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

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  • Whether there was an innkeeper or not, God provided warm shelter for the Holy Family when the time came for Jesus to be born.

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  • Whether they were kings or wise men, whether there were three or three thousands of them, God called – AND STILL CALLS – men and women to bear witness and testimony to the birth of Jesus.

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  • Whatever the circumstances there was a historical event of birth; a baby boy born to a virgin woman and an earthly adoptive father in Bethlehem. That baby is Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior.

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  • That Christmas night was a prelude – magnificent in its simplicity prelude – to a life that serves as an example of what our own lives could be if we learn to love and to respect each other.

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  • Without the stillness of that night, there would be no anguish of the Cross and there would be no triumphal resurrection on Easter morning; in other words – there would be no salvation and no eternal life for you and me.

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Christmas is about letting God into our lives. And we do that by taking ourselves, our heads AND our hearts to the stall in a stable in Bethlehem where Jesus lays in a manger and spending some quiet time with Him. Neither MapQuest nor your GPS have directions for how to get there. We can only get there if we help each other to remember – TO REMEMBER – that it is not the parties or the cookies or the gifts under the tree that make Christmas special. What makes Christmas special is that baby laying in the manger at Bethlehem, and the promise that this baby brings to us. What makes Christmas special is our connection to each other, our love and respect for each other and our fellowship with each other. That promise, that connection, that love and that fellowship give us a glimpse of the fullness of life that Jesus came to give us.

These are the truths of Christmas.

May this Christmas fill every corner of your soul with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the wise men, and the peace of that silent night when Jesus was born!

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