Pastor Bruce Simpkins Renewal Community Church Caldwell, ID Preached: December 24, 2011 1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. 2. King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord of lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food. 3. Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way, as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence. Silence is one of the most profound signs of reverence and honor one can show. Many years ago I was a choir director. There were several occasions when the choir would sing a song that had a powerful message or was a particularly moving arrangement of a song. I always knew if it had been honoring to God, because when we sang the last note there would be a long silence. No one wanted to break the spirit of the song . . . There is a profound reverence in silence.
If you remember from our study of Revelation in chapter 8 when the last seal was broken, there was silence in heaven for half an hour. We also took a practical look at how slowly time passes when there is absolute silence. We timed 30 seconds of silence and even that felt uncomfortable. We don’t like silence in our world. When there is silence, it is natural to try and fill it by turning on music or TV or even some white noise like a dishwasher or a dryer.
When you stand before God at the last judgment, you will be silent in His presence because everything will be completely revealed and there will be no excuses for your sins. Only hope. The hope that comes from Jesus, God in the flesh, the one who was The Word in heaven and became flesh and dwelt among us. He redeems us. He is our redeemer.
There is a story about a boy who saved and saved to buy a toy sailboat that he could take to a nearby lake and float it. But when he did it got caught in a current that took it to a stream exiting the lake and he lost it. A few weeks later he saw it in a pawn shop window. He saved and saved again and redeemed the boat that he once had lost but then regained.
Jesus wants to redeem those He has lost in life. He had to pay with His life, but it was worth it to Him because He loved us so much. When we think about the fleshly birth of Jesus, we must always remember the fleshly death of Jesus. He was in the beginning before the earth was created, and He was on the earth, and He went back to heaven after redeeming the lost.
I have here with me a large nail, called the Christmas nail. When you hang it on your Christmas tree it is a reminder that there was another tree that Jesus was crucified on.
If you are looking for a family Christmas tradition, this would be a good one to start. You can buy one of these at the Christian book store in Caldwell called “For Heaven’s Sake”.
So on this Christmas eve, I would like to read just the beginning of the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus and make a few observations for us to consider. Then tomorrow on Christmas morning, we will look at the rest of the passage.
I have to warn you, that the true biblical story may shake some of the church paradigms that you have learned over the years. Jesus birth was glorious for the angels and the shepherds, but for Joseph and Mary, it was a beginning with a glorious shame attached to it. Let’s read:
2:1 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 his 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 room for them in the inn. 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 of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Do you know how big the town of Bethlehem was? Here is a clue from a song “O little town of Bethlehem”. It was NOT a thriving metropolis. It was a little town. It is estimated to have about 2000 people including women and children. When it says there was no room in the inn that is literally THE inn. Not lots of inns, one.
Let me explode another picture you may have developed. They did not have inns in the same way we have inns in our culture. Archaeologists tell us that these inns were round stone hedgerows roughly four feet tall and 40 – 60 feet in diameter. It was just a circular walled space open to the sky. It was really only meant for commercial, rough and tumble rogues on a trade route to sell their goods. It was mostly just for scoundrels and gentiles passing through.
If you were a Jew, you would never stay there. The custom in that day if you were a Jew was to go to the temple or some other gathering place and find someone who would let you stay in their guest room. ALL Jews living in the town would have a guest room to house Jewish strangers passing through. It was a requirement of the Jewish law.
That is why the writer to the Hebrews wrote: Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Everyone was required to house Jews passing through. So why didn’t Joseph and Mary stay in a guest room? Because Mary was pregnant and Joseph did not have a certificate of marriage. He would be required to show it when he registered for the census. They were Jewish outcasts living in shame. NO ONE actually believed Mary’s conception was by God Himself and word about them would have traveled far and wide as rumors have tendency to do. They would not be welcome in a Jewish home because they were considered unclean. The only place left was the inn, but that was full of rogues and travelers. Not really a place appropriate for a woman who just gave birth to a baby anyway.
Here is another paradigm breaker. The bible says they were already there when it came time for the baby to arrive. They weren’t frantically looking for a place while she was in labor. Someone had enough compassion on them to let them stay where they kept their animals. Usually a small cave like stone cutout. That way the person could keep the law but still show a little concern for them.
Can you see the shame attached to Jesus birth? And it gets worse, because the only people who came to acknowledge who Jesus really was were shepherds. Shepherd’s were by definition considered law breakers and thieves. They were unable to tithe on the grass their sheep ate, so the Pharisees called them thieves and by definition made them shameful people and unclean. So the only people that came to Jesus when He was born were the shameful and unclean. And we didn’t read verse 19 of the scripture, but it says that when Mary heard what the shepherds told her, Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
There was much for her to ponder over. Such as, “Why shepherds? Why an animal pen? Why all the shame?” Someone once said that the greatest burden in life is to be misunderstood and realize there is nothing you can do about it. Mary must have felt like that. She held the Redeemer of the World in her arms and pondered how God would accomplish His purposes in an impossible and unpredictable way.
Jesus was born in shame, acknowledged by shameful people, and Jesus died in shame. But no one in all of history has made a bigger impact on the world.
Each of us must speak the truth about Jesus to our circle of influence. You don’t have to shout it from your roof top, just let your little light shine to the people around you.
We have symbolically set up a community of people represented by each candle on this table. If you would like to let your little light shine in the darkness of this world, would come up and light a candle as a commitment to the Lord?