Travelling over the Christmas season is fraught with excitement, anticipation and sometimes problems. People travel all over the country and all over the world to spend time with family and friends. As I read Luke 2 I see several “Christmas” journeys.
1. Journeying to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5)
In the first 5 verses we read about Joseph and Mary making a journey to Bethlehem. The government declared that a tax should be paid and that people had to return to their home towns. So, Joseph returns to Bethlehem. Why Mary travelled with him is unclear.
In a few historical records we find that the women had to report as part of the census , but they usually only required the men to go.
Perhaps Mary travelled with Joseph for her own benefit. Her pregnancy was not routine, perhaps neighbours had ostracised her for a perceived wrong.
Maybe Mary went to Bethlehem because she knew the prophecy that the Christ would be born there, and so she makes the journey to bring about its fulfilment. She believed by faith that she would give birth to the Messiah and her actions reflected her faith.
Whatever the case maybe, we serve a God who uses the obedience of devout believers and the unwitting actions of Pagan leaders to bring about His purposes.
It is sad that many believers never begin or never finish the journey God puts them on to serve Him. The world may seem to be rushing headlong into rebellion against God, but God will have the victory. As His children, we share in that. We can be confident that God can and is using us for His glory and for His eternal purpose. What a blessing to know that God would use us in such extraordinary ways.
2. The Journey to the Manger (Luke 2:8-14)
The next journey to consider was undertaken by some humble shepherds. The society of the day had come to look down upon this ancient vocation. Shepherds were often treated as outcasts and treated with suspicion. They were not allowed to serve as witnesses in the legal system and were generally not trusted. Because their work kept them busy 7 days a week they rarely could observe the law completely and so the religious groups considered them unclean.
However, we do not need to see these particular shepherds as criminals or look down upon them. All of the witnesses Luke calls are devout believers. Already he has used Zecharias, Elisabeth, Mary and Joseph. Soon Luke would call Simeon and Annas to the stand and use them to point to the Messiah. Why should we see the shepherds in a different way?
The sudden appearance of an angel would have provoked fear enough, but the accompanying “glory of the Lord” terrified them. As with so many other appearances the angel begins by encouraging them to not be afraid.
Then we read one of the most wonderful messages of all time:
“…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
4000 years of darkness was about to be confronted by the birth of Christ. J. C. Ryle says of this night, “The first stone of God’s kingdom was about to be set up.”
Then the single angel is joined by a heavenly host. The armies of God from heaven appeared, not for war, but as heralds and they proclaimed the Messiah’s birth!
As soon as the shepherds received the message they journeyed to find the baby spoken of. They journeyed to find the King and Messiah in a manger.
The Shepherds believed the message, obeyed, went and worshipped and then told others what they had seen.
Many make the journey to the manger at Christmas. They look upon the baby in a manger, but they see nothing more. But Christ is so much more than a baby in a manger. We must celebrate His birth, but we must look beyond the cradle and see the cross.
3. The Journey to the Cross (Luke 2:6-7)
Celebrating the birth of Christ has not always been common in Christianity. In the early centuries celebrating birthdays was considered Pagan. They point to only Pharaoh and Herod celebrating their birthdays in the Bible. Instead, the early church focused on the day of a believer’s martyrdom. However, I believe there is nothing wrong in recognising someone’s birth, especially when we consider the incarnation of the Son of God.
We celebrate the miracle of Christ’s birth. That God Himself would become a man is miraculous in both method and motivation. Christ was born of a virgin and so He is sinless. But I want to think especially of the truth that the infinite God of the universe would take on frail flesh.
We also celebrate the motivation of Christ’s birth. God sent His Son into the world because He loved the world.
The simplicity of the incarnation is striking! Though angels spoke of God’s glory to the shepherds, there seems to have been no heavenly choir at the manger. There certainly was no royal reception worthy of an earthly king, let alone the Son of God. There is simply the birth of a baby. Christ stepped out of eternity and into time and space.
The birth of Jesus Christ was a step in His journey toward the cross. Much would happen in the next 30+ years, but at the end of Jesus’ life always stood the cross.
Many make the journey to visit the baby in the manger, but sadly few follow Him to the cross and realise all that it means.
The death of Christ upon the cross is God’s way of salvation for sinners. You may celebrate the baby in a manger, but salvation only comes when you receive the gift of Christ upon the cross.