Three lessons from the birth of Jesus

nativiI preached this sermon Sunday morning December 28 (2014) at the Maraisburg (South Africa) Church of the Nazarene.

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TEXT: Luke 2:1-20 (Common English Bible)

I.  INTRODUCTION

Have you heard the expression “familiarity breeds contempt”? The saying means that we no longer value what we think we know very well. Luke 2:1-20 may be one of those passages where we think we’ve “been there, done that.” As a boy, I recall on Christmas morning seeing the presents under the tree and wanting to open them up right away. But first we had to eat breakfast (so Mom insisted), then our tradition dictated that my Dad read Luke 2:1-20, the Christmas story, and that we pray before any gifts were exchanged.

And so even now as an adult, I must concentrate on what God is trying to say in this passage. It’s not “Let’s hurry up and get this over so we can get to the good stuff, the presents.” Rather, I understand that the best gift is hidden right here in the Bible passage. So let’s talk this morning about three lessons from the story of Jesus’ birth.

II.  FIRST LESSON: GOD DELIGHTS IN SIMPLE PEOPLE WHO LOVE HIM.

The first lesson is this: God delights in simple people who love Him.

Remember Mary? She was a simple maiden living in Nazareth, an out-of-the-way town in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire. Most experts think she was only 14 or 15 years old, too young to have had sexual contact within her strict Jewish setting. Yet in Luke 1:38, once she has heard the news from the angel telling her that she had been chosen to carry the Christ child, her simple love for God shines through in her response:

I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.

Or how about Joseph? Matthew 1:18-24 shows a man ready to break off his engagement with Mary. Why? Because she is pregnant and Joseph knows the child is not his. How many of us men would be willing to accept the angel’s explanation in a dream, that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit? We have no recorded verbal response from Joseph, but the simplicity of his faith is proven by his actions. Matthew 1:24 says: “When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife.”

Mary and Joseph, Joseph and Mary – together, they teach us a lesson: God delights in simple people who love Him. And what about us? Loving God does not exclude the educated or the wealthy, but it also embraces simple folks from humble circumstances. If God could use two humble individuals like Mary and Joseph, surely he can use people like you and people like me. The only question is: Are we available?

III.  SECOND LESSON: BIG THINGS OFTEN START SMALL.

Yet not only do we learn that God delights in simple people that love Him. There is a second lesson tucked away in this story: Big things often start small.

Sometimes we see this in the corporate world. Steve Jobs began a company in 1976 out of the garage of his parents’ home in Los Altos, California. You may recognize the name of the company he founded: Apple Computers. In 2013, the value of Apple’s outstanding shares was $ 460 billion USD.

But if big things often start small in the business world, this is equally true when it comes to the Story of God. When Joseph and Mary laid the baby Jesus in an animal feed trough in the tiny village of Bethlehem, little could they fathom what a difference this child would make. In 2,000 years, the message preached by Jesus now echoes around the world, with as of 2010 more than 2 billion Christians living in virtually every country on Earth. Big things often start small.

I wonder: In 2015, is there something small but important that God wants you to do? Perhaps this is the year that you will discover your purpose. Don’t say: “No, it can’t be that. That’s unimportant.” God has a way of taking seemingly small things and using them in big ways. Just make sure it’s for God’s glory and not yours.

IV.  THIRD LESSON: WHEN GOD SAYS OBEY, DO IT QUICKLY.

A Turkish shepherdess
A Turkish shepherdess

There’s a third lesson for us today from the story of Jesus’ birth. This lesson comes from the shepherds, that group of men (possible even some women included) who were watching their sheep at night. Luke tells us that the angels gave an impromptu concert of praise, announcing the birth of Jesus. I love the shepherds’ response once the angels were gone: Verse 15 – “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened.” Lesson? When God says obey, do it quickly. The command was implied in the words of the angel, in v. 12:

“This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger…”

It’s fun to think about the excuses the shepherds could have used. They could have said:

– “We can’t leave these sheep here. Someone else will have to find the Christ child.”

– “Don’t those angels know that Bethlehem is quite a walk from here? It’s the middle of the night. Let’s get some shut-eye.”

– “They said we’d find the baby, but they didn’t specify tonight. We can always go tomorrow.”

But the shepherds didn’t find ways to wiggle out of their duty. They went right away, so right away they found Joseph and Mary and the baby lying in the manger. Because they obeyed God’s instructions right away, they received the blessing of their obedience right away. Verse 20:

“The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.”

And what about you and me? What has God been telling us to do but we have been stalling? Obedience delayed has another name: disobedience. Let us not miss out on God’s blessing. When God says obey, let’s do it quickly.

V.  CONCLUSION

Every Christmas present has been unwrapped. The Christmas tree and decorations will soon be stored away, yet three lessons remain from the story of Jesus’ birth. First, God delights in simple people who love Him. Secondly, big things often start small. Thirdly, when God says obey, do it quickly.

Benediction – Jude 24

“To the one who is able to protect you from falling, and to present you blameless and rejoicing before his glorious presence, to the only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, belong glory, majesty, power and authority, before all time, now and forever. AMEN.”

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Image credits:

manger scene – Nextara.org

shepherdess – Habetrot

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