This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on December 15th, 2013. To listen to the audio just click on this link – Luke 2.
God is At Work to Heal The Restlessness of the World.
Vs.1-7 – Luke’s Picture of the Restless Nature of Man: “In those days 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.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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.”
This is certainly a picture of the power and dominance of Rome. A census meant that Rome was counting citizens for its army and for tax revenue. The passage tells us that the “whole world” was being counted and taxed – and has become like an ants nest with crowds of people shifting all over the earth to go back to their homelands to fulfill Rome’s demands. Joseph and Mary are caught up in this as well – into an expensive and difficult journey.
The irony of these verses is that all of this busyness and restless movement is not what is really happening – not the real story. Quirinus, governor of Syria disappears into history. Caesar is assassinated, Rome as the world dominating nation will cease to be. The real story is this quiet subjected couple – powerless – who are treated as unimportant so that Mary has to have her baby in a food trough.
The Restless Nature of People: What Luke points out through this contrast is something about the nature of the world and the nature of people. People are restless – discontent – longing – striving – trying to achieve something of importance in this brief life. The description of this way of life is found back in Genesis 4:12 – “…you will be a restless wanderer o the earth.” After God says this to Cain, he goes out from the presence of God and begins a line of people distinguished for their accomplishments: “Jabal” who becomes the father of nomads who keep livestock, “Jubal” who becomes the first musician, “Tubal-cain” who forges tools and weapons out of bronze and iron. They are representatives of business/trade, the arts and war.
The nature of human beings is, in part, this restlessness, We are driven by the desire to achieve, to possess, to impress, to overcome. When we see people who want nothing but to sit in inactivity and do nothing we feel concern – something is wrong. And yet restlessness, even the word, suggests that it is a painful state – the lack of something which we need but don’t have.
And Luke gives us a picture of God quietly at work in the midst of our restlessness.
God Inaugurates Peace in a Restless World.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
The angels appear and proclaim, not their own message, but the message of God. God is entering into the restless world in a very specific way.
Jesus Will Inaugurate a Kingdom of Peace: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…’.” We looked at this some last week. Jesus – the Messiah – the Branch – is inaugurating a new world order. The announcement of the angels means the beginning of world peace. This will end by nature itself being changed – The lion will lay down with the lamb – nothing will hurt or destroy on all of God’s holy mountain.
But this new world order is not going to look like Rome’s restlessness to dominate. Even by his birth it is clear that what Jesus is starting here is going to be a very different looking kingdom – because the kingdoms of this world do not create peace on earth. Instead that kingdom is going to look like Mary and Joseph quietly going to Bethlehem – because Rome said so – and yet accomplishing there the birth of the Messiah. That kingdom is going to look like Jesus dying on the cross – but rising again. That kingdom is going to look like the church.
God Gives a Sign to a Restless World.
The Sign of God that Points to Peace: This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
So here are the angels announcing this world-changing kingdom to shepherds – who, of all people, have no influence – and we have to wonder what it is the shepherds are supposed to do about ushering in this kingdom. And this is the twist – the surprise ending/ beginning to the story – that this world changing kingdom is not going to shift around masses of people with its power – like Rome – but it is going to deal with people one at a time – individually by means of a person – Jesus.
The shepherds are given a sign – a baby will be born like a shepherd child – in a food trough. The point of the sign is two-fold.
- That the kingdom is going to be in the hands of a person (this baby), and
- That they have a personal connection with this baby – he has been born like a shepherd.
This person who has been called “Christ”, and “The Lord” – and yet who is a shepherd, will inaugurate (begin the governing program of) peace in this way that the world would never suspect. Jesus is going to be God with us – Emanuel. That is not just another fancy title, it means that God has come to connect- to understand our lives, our pressures, our restlessness – and to make personal connection with us. And this is the way that Christ inaugurates peace in all of our lives – individually – personally – supernaturally.
And this is what the message of Luke 2 comes down to – that we need peace. We are restless, not capable of being at peace – often even with our own families. We are anxious, angry, discontent people. We do not know how to make peace – despite our attempts and strategies – we are like Rome – restless.
But God has sent Jesus, Emanuel – God with us – to make peace…
- To Confront Our Restlessness – our “peace-less-ness”, which we cannot overcome.
- To Show Us that Peace and Rest Come from Being at Peace with God – receiving his favor.
- To Announce the Kingdom of Peace, and Call Us to Submit Our Lives to His Rule of Peace – become willing to trust the rule of Jesus. Jesus, Emanuel alone can inaugurate in us a life of peace and create in us a permanent, vital love for God that will change our whole orientation towards God and our lives.