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  • Adam Schell

Jesus




There’s a story that brought us all here today. It’s a story that unfolded more than 2,000 years ago, and it’s a story that’s been told every year since. This story has been called the greatest story ever told. And this is the way the Gospel of Luke – or Luke’s biography of Jesus – tells this story, Luke writes:


1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.


4 So Joseph also 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. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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.


Luke 2:1-7 (New International Version)


Because this story has brought us all here today, because this story unfolded more than 2,000 years ago, because this story has been told every year since, because this story has been called the greatest story ever told; we know this story is important. We know that something big happens in this story. We know that this story changes everything.

This story changes everything.

But even if you just heard this story for the very first time, you still know that it’s important, you still know that something big happens, and you still know that everything has changed…at least for one family who spent the first Christmas Day in the little town of Bethlehem. And you know that because, at its most basic level, this story is the story of a woman and a man welcoming a child into this world.


And anyone who has welcomed a child into this world knows how important that is. Anyone who has welcomed a child into the world knows how big of a deal that is. Anyone who has welcomed a child into this world knows how life-changing that is.


And if you don’t believe me, then just ask someone who has recently had a baby. They’ll explain how  they vaguely remember a thing called “free time.” But now they spend most of their waking hours changing diapers, washing bottles, or rolling around on the floor during tummy time. They’ll talk about their sound sleep being disrupted by the urgent cries of their child, and the frustration they’ve had when clean outfits – both theirs and their kids – have gotten ruined before they could even walk out the front door. They’ll talk about how they’ve learned to distinguish between cries, how they lit up the first time they saw their baby smile, and how they were brought to tears the first time they heard the two syllables of “da-da” or “ma-ma.”


It’s been more than eleven years since my daughter was born but I still remember all of these changes…and over the last eleven years of my life, I’ve experienced a lot more. I’ve gone from changing diapers to watching my daughter get herself dressed to see her start to care about what clothes she’s going to wear each day. I’ve gone from preparing bottles to explaining why she can’t eat mac and cheese for the third straight meal to seeing her take the occasional bite of salad and actually enjoy it. I’ve gone from playing on the floor with her to helping her dress Barbie dolls to seeing her almost outgrow toys altogether…which is weird because I still haven’t outgrown toys.


I still get woken in the middle of the night from time to time when my daughter isn’t feeling well, and I can testify that clothes can still get ruined by spilled cereal or a drop of toothpaste before you walk out of the house. But I can also tell you that having your child hug you is even better than seeing them smile, and hearing your tween say “I love you” beats a two-syllable “da-da” any day.


And plenty of you worshiping with us right now have been parents longer than I have. So you could talk about how much your life has changed now that you have to argue about dress codes or curfews, or how much you worry when your kid is out driving alone. You can explain that you never imagined you’d have to have the talk about the birds and the bees, or that you’d have to tell them the news that one of their grandparents died. You could tell us that you used to have a little extra money at the end of the month until your child decided to go to a private college, or how much things changed when you walked your little girl down the aisle. 


Having a child is a life-changing event because you are now responsible for the life and well-being of another human being. If you forget to pick up formula when you’re at the grocery store, your child doesn’t eat. If you’re too busy to change a diaper, then your child sits in their mess. If you don’t change their clothes, no one else will. If you don’t make baby talk, and urge them to say “da-da” or “ma-ma,” then they may never say a word.


But we didn’t come here today – less than 24 hours before most of us start one of the busiest days of the year – because a couple that we’ve never met, had a baby in a part of the world we’ve never been to, centuries before any of us were born. So there has to be more to this baby that makes us celebrate Christmas.

There has to be more to this baby that makes us celebrate Christmas.

And believe it or not, Luke actually told us there was at the very beginning of this story. Let me read it to you again.


1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.


Luke 2:1-2 (New International Version)


Now like I said at the beginning of this sermon, this story has been called the greatest story ever told, so I’m guessing that you’ve heard this story before. Many of us have heard this story hundreds – if not thousands – of times before, some of us can recite it verbatim. But have you ever stopped to wonder why this story begins the way it does?


Have you ever stopped to wonder why Luke begins his story of the birth of Jesus Christ by talking about Caesar Augustus and some guy named Quirinius? I mean doesn’t it seem a little strange to start a biography about Jesus by talking about somebody else?


To me it does, so I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last few weeks as I’ve worked on this sermon series. I’ve wondered, why Luke started his biography of Jesus by talking about Caesar and Quirinius. 


Now you may have just assumed that all Luke is doing with this introduction is providing us with a date – or at the very least a year – when Jesus was born. After all, we’ve seen other places in the Bible where we’re told a certain event took place while a certain person was on the throne.


Let me give you an example to show you what I mean. The book of Daniel – which is an Old Testament Book (a book that was written centuries before Jesus was born) – starts like this: 


In the third year of the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim…


Daniel 1:1 (New International Version)


And just from that introduction, we know exactly when the story of Daniel takes place. Modern scholars can tell us that Jehoiakim was the King of Judah from 609 BC to 598 BC. So if the story of Daniel takes place during his third year as King, then it happened in 606 BC.


So when we hear Luke tell us that the birth of Jesus took place, “In those days [when] Caesar Augustus issued a decree…” it doesn’t sound that different from the way the book of Daniel began. But here’s the thing, although you have probably never heard of Jehoiakim before, he was a king that the people of Israel knew something about. So saying that an event took place while he was king would be like us saying, “All of this happened when FDR was president.” Now I wasn’t alive when FDR was president but I know that his presidency began during the Great Depression and ended a month before World War II did. So if I say that something took place while FDR was president, you have a pretty good idea of what the world was like then.


So when the book of Daniel begins by talking about Jehoiakim, everyone is going to remember that while he was king, Israel was invaded and conquered. And that sets the backdrop for the rest of Daniel’s story.


And the same thing is going to happen when people in the first century hear that Jesus was born, “In those days [when] Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)”


The people who first heard this story would know something about Caesar Augustus and the people who first heard this story would know something about Quirinius. And all of that would set the backdrop for the birth of Jesus.


So that leads us to this question: What do we know about Caesar Augustus and Quirinius?


Let’s start with Quirinius. And the only thing most of us know about Quirinius is that he was governor of Syria around the time that Jesus was born. But when you dig a little deeper you’ll learn that while Quirinius was governor, there was a major rebellion that broke out in Syria as a result of a government census. Because a government census wasn’t just conducted for tax purposes, they were also conducted to conscript men into military service. And let’s just say that the idea of being forced into military service didn’t sit very well with the Jews living in Syria at the time. So when people heard Quirinius’ name, they thought about this rebellion and the violent lengths Rome went to to stop it.


And then you have Caesar Augustus, the greatest emperor in the history of Rome, the man who sat on the throne during the Pax Romana – the golden era of the empire. And because things went so well when Augustus ruled over Rome, he was often heralded as the great king of peace – the one ruler who would finally bring an end to violence and warfare in the empire.


But if you know much about Augustus’ actual rule, you know he maintained peace at the point of the sword. The truth is he fought as many wars and ended as many lives as any other ruler in Rome’s history.


And this is the world that Jesus was born into. It wasn’t quaint and cozy. There was violence, warfare, oppression, and injustice. There was fear, chaos, sorrow, and despair. And it was far from the silent night that we often picture in our heads.


But that’s what Christmas really looks like because Jesus didn’t come to a perfect world…Jesus came to the real world.

Jesus didn’t come to a perfect world, Jesus came to the real world.

Jesus came into a world with violence, warfare, oppression, and injustice. Jesus came into a world with fear, chaos, sorrow, and despair. Jesus came into a world where people were getting ready for their first family gatherings after a loved one passed…like some of you are doing this Christmas. Jesus came into a world where people were worried about money, and where people weren’t sure how they would make ends meet…like some of you are feeling after you bought a small mountain of presents that are now sitting under your tree. Jesus came into a world with strained relationships…like the ones you have with some of the people you’ll be exchanging gifts with tomorrow morning.


And that’s why we came here today. It wasn’t to hear a story about a couple we never met, having a baby in a part of the world we’ve never been to, centuries before we were born. We came here today to hear the story of God becoming one of us, the story of God coming into our real world.


And we came here tonight because we want to know that it makes a difference that Jesus came.


That’s why Luke doesn’t end his story with a newborn baby lying in a manger. He continues by letting us hear messengers from heaven, who tell us what this birth means. So let’s listen to more of the story starting Luke 2:8, it says:


8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”


13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among all mankind, with whom his favor rests.”


Luke 2:8-14 (New International Version)


Notice what the angel of God doesn’t say. The angel doesn’t say, “a Savior has been born.” The angel says, “a Savior has been born to you.”

A Savior has been born to you.

That “to you” is so important. Because this story does us absolutely no good if it’s just a 2,000-year-old story. This story only matters if it speaks to you today. This story doesn’t matter if Jesus was simply born 2,000 years ago, it only matters if Jesus continues to work in our lives and in our world today.


And the angel tells us that he does. Jesus came to you and Jesus came for you. Jesus came to bring you peace. Jesus came to bring you peace in the middle of violence, warfare, oppression, and injustice. Jesus came to bring you peace in the middle of fear, chaos, sorrow, and despair.


Jesus came to bring you peace because he knows you need it…especially this time of year. But more importantly, Jesus came to bring you peace because God’s favor rests on you, God is pleased with you, and God loves you.


So when life feels a little – or a lot – chaotic, remember that Christmas shows us that Jesus came to bring us peace.

Christmas shows us that Jesus came to bring us peace.

And if Jesus could bring peace to a world ruled by Caesar Augustus and Quirinius, and if Jesus could bring peace to a young couple whose lives were turned upside down, Jesus can bring peace to you as well.


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