The First Christmas


Sermon Text: Luke 2:1-7
Sermon Series: “Jesus’ Birth” (#4)

Main Points:
I. The old promise
II. The day prepared
III. Apathy toward the Baby
IV. A praise song resounded in the dark

I think this year’s Christmas is unique – we’re wearing mask today and feel awkward with it, especially with singing carols, our joyful praise songs to God. Although this does not diminish or lessen our joy in the birth of the Saviour Jesus, this disturbs our free expression of jubilant heart.

Talking about uniqueness, the very first Christmas day was the most exceptional day in the history of mankind. The Saviour of the world was born on that day.

I want you to try to picture that day in your mind – and guess what might’ve happened in Bethlehem on the most profound day in human history. Imagine in your mind the people who walked on the streets of that city; imagine in your mind the orchestra of noises coming from people and animals as well as various tools and objects in that small ancient city on that day. That first Christmas was extraordinarily unique and special because, on that very day, God’s Son was born, came in flesh!

Having said, I want to talk briefly about the significance of that first Christmas day. By explaining to you in what way the first Christmas was unique and extraordinary, I want you to, firstly, rediscover the true meaning of Christmas and, secondly, be blessed by the Lord as you praise God for sending His Son to us to be our Saviour and Lord.

The first Christmas was amazingly special because an old promise was fulfilled on that day. That old promise was about the coming of the Messiah. This promise was given in its primeval form on the very day Adam and Eve fell in sin. So, this promise for a Saviour was as old as the history of fallen humanity. As soon as the sinful man needed a Saviour, God promised One.

This became clearer at the time of Abraham. God promised to give Abraham a son. Pointing out this ‘son,’ God said in Gen. 12:7 ‘offspring’ in singular form, and Gal. 3:16 interprets that ‘offspring’ as referring to Jesus. The promise given to Abraham was that through this ‘offspring,’ Jesus Christ, all peoples (or families or nations) of the earth will be blessed. Abraham’s hope began with this promise and all Abraham’s descendants joined their ancestor and waited for the promised Messiah to come.

So, it is not surprising at all to find in the OT that this Saviour was the only concern of the prophets. They told Israel in their prophecies who this Saviour would be and what He would achieve. Moreover, they substantiated God’s promise further by revealing some specific information like the sign and place of Messiah’s birth. Just to give you a couple of examples out of many, Isaiah who was active in the 8th century BC said in Isa. 7:4 that the Saviour would be born to a virgin, and He would be called ‘Immanuel,’ that is, ‘God with us.’ Micah was another prophet in Isaiah’s time and, in Micah 5:2, he specified Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.

By the time of Jesus’ birth, every Jew knew well of this promise of a Messiah. It was a common knowledge to them. So, when the wise men from the east came and asked King Herod where the newborn King of the Jews was, the priests and scribes almost readily answered and said that it would be Bethlehem.

The first Christmas was the day this old promise was fulfilled, and the Messiah was born at last! Everyone in Abraham’s lineage had been looking forward to seeing this day. So, what a special day it was!

While the eyes of Israel were fixed on that day of God’s promise, both the Jews and the Gentiles were preparing for the consummation of that day. Lk. 2 proves this by telling us that Caesar Augustus decreed the whole Roman Empire to do a census. So, from top to bottom, all in the Empire began their preparation for the Saviour’s birth. Of course, neither Caesar Augustus nor anyone in the entire empire was aware of what everyone was doing. I don’t think that even Joseph and Mary were aware of that universal preparation for the King’s arrival.

Let’s consider the situation of Mary and Joseph. All circumstances led them to meet and greet the Saviour Jesus as foretold in the Scriptures. Mary was with a child at the time of their trip to Bethlehem. Joseph could’ve gone alone without Mary, but that wasn’t the case. Exactly what caused him to go with Mary, we don’t know. Or, Joseph and Mary could’ve visited the city of their clan and registered either earlier or later to avoid the exact time of child delivery. I don’t believe Joseph deliberately chose this time; rather, it was the only option he had. Whether it was due to any religious or extended family commitment, all things happened to him and Mary led them to go to Bethlehem at this specific point in time. And while they were in Bethlehem, the time for giving birth came.

Apart from the situations of Joseph and Mary, everything that was happening in Bethlehem also contributed to the birth of Jesus. There was no place for these couple to lodge in. The only option for them was to take a spot in a stable and lay the newborn baby Jesus in a manger.

In this way, the whole world prepared the day of the Messiah’s birth. As all the eyes of the OT Jews had been on this day, as the Jewish minds of the time were waiting for a Deliverer from the house of David, Caesar Augustus and all in his empire were, though unconscious of this, working toward the Saviour’s arrival. That was the day of the first Christmas.

But, the entire world was ignorant of the profundity of the day. Except Mary and Joseph, none whatsoever realised what was just taken place. The Son of God was born; God Himself came in flesh; yet absolutely no one was aware of it!

When the wise men from the east entered Herod’s palace probably a year or two after Jesus’ birth and inquired of the birthplace of this true King, Herod and all people of Jerusalem were troubled – let me tell you again, they were ‘troubled,’ not pleased or glad. For up to maximum two years since the birth of the Messiah, Herod and all Jews had no idea of His arrival, let alone His true identity. Hearing of this news from the men of foreign lands, Herod worried about his throne and all in Jerusalem were anxious about possibility of political upheaval. No one grasped the truth of the situation; none was excited about having God in their midst. Total apathy covered the whole world – Jews and Gentiles alike.

While we infer that seeing apathy from the Romans and non-Jews of the time was not strange, it is quite shocking to find Jews’ attitude toward the promised Messiah not much different from that of the Gentiles. How come they were apathetic, indifferent to the promised Messiah?

That’s because the Jews were expecting a Messiah different to the Baby born in a stable in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. They looked for a king with full of splendour and glory clearly visible to the whole world. They were almost ready to give their full praise and submission to a king who would bring them out of their political bondage, giving Israel full political freedom to restore their ancient and ethnic kingdom of David. So, their eyes were on both the palace and the temple in Jerusalem. They would never turn their eyes away from the capital of their nation to look at an insignificant, little city called Bethlehem, let alone a stable, for such a Messiah-King.

The Baby born in Bethlehem was too insignificant to their eyes. His birth was much lower than any normal birth, and there was no glistening, no glory in it at all. So, the birth of this Baby did not fit people’s expectations, thus, caught no glimpse of the world.

What a surprise to see this stark contrast on that first Christmas day – God’s glory revealed in the birth of the true King, yet, no one showed any interest in His arrival!

However, that was not the full picture of the first Christmas day. No one paid attention to this newborn Baby, yet, there was a praise song resounded in the dark! A handful of shepherds came to the Saviour Jesus and, having worshipped Him in awe and wonder, they returned to their sheepfold in the field. On their way, they sang a praise to God the Most High for sending His Son to the world for forgiveness and salvation of sinners.

I personally believe that they sang the praise a multitude of heavenly host earlier sang at their presence in the field. What was the song? As recorded in Lk. 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” ‘Glory to God and peace on earth!’ That praise song resounded the alley they trod, probably leaping with heavenly joy! No one around paid any attention to their praise song, to their joy, but that did not lessen their jubilation.

Why was the shepherds’ visit to the Baby in a manger made at night? To tell us two truths; firstly, everyone in the world dreams one’s own dream like the way the residents of Bethlehem were in that night of the first Christmas. Secondly, the world was and still is in spiritual darkness while a small number of God’s own know the true meaning and blessing of the Saviour’s birth!

So, like the way the shepherds’ praise song resounded the alleys in Bethlehem in the dark, our praise songs resound even now in this corner of the world in the present spiritual darkness. People look for wealth as their saviour which would give them to free them from the toil of daily labour, and good health as another saviour which would enable them to indulge in all their desires in the world. Turning their eyes to Jesus who, as Christians claim, was born 2,000 years ago is a nonsense to their mind. This Jesus is far different from their expectations.

This is a brief sketch of the first Christmas day. Yet, it is a full description of the present generation. The most profound event in human history took place as promised and prophesied; through the most special birth, the Saviour of the world came into the world. Yet, none of the world was aware of it. When it was known, all were apathetic toward Him, the newborn Baby Jesus.

The same is for today; none shows interest in the Saviour Jesus. Yet, like what happened in the night of that first Christmas in Bethlehem, we of the Christ’s Church in the present world of darkness sing praise songs to our newborn Baby Jesus and the Father who sent Him to us! Like those shepherds, we too bow to Him the Lord and worship Him in awe and wonder. Like the shepherds, we’ll return to our homes and streets of this city and bring the good tidings of the Saviour!

Remember this also that, in the midst of all these, God Himself is carrying out His promise for sending His Son to us second time! Like the way Caesar Augustus and all his empire did, the present world is preparing – though unconsciously – for the Son’s glorious appearance. And we’re joyfully working together with the Holy Spirit in our waiting for Him!

Praise to Jesus who was born in a lowly place and laid in a manger to bring us to the highest heaven where He sits now and to lay us in His green pastures! Amen. ***

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