Jesus is Born
Quarter: Jesus and the Reign of God
Unit 1: God Sends Jesus
Sunday school lesson for the week of Dec. 22, 2013
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 2:1-17
Background scripture: Luke 2:1-20
After two birth announcements made nine months early and songs about two lives yet to be lived, finally Luke tells the story of the One who is savior, Messiah and Lord! (vs.11) Wow! What a plot for the “Greatest Story Ever Told!” Surely the director will use all kinds of special effects, but the most profound is “a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry.” (Sing Hymn 249, United Methodist Hymnal.)
Luke is consistent with his theological history. The powers that be are clueless about what is really happening in the world. Herod, Augustus and Quirinius are unaware that in David’s royal city, one is born whose kingdom transcends time, space, and all of earth’s misplaced priorities. When Luke speaks of a baby who at the same time is Savior, Messiah and Lord, he speaks to the lowest element of the society (so different from Matthew’s three kings!). Why else would shepherds be the first to learn of the moment when God broke into human life? After all, they are among Luke’s last, least, and lost for whom he has such great affinity. Yet, like an earlier shepherd from Bethlehem who became the king of Israel, these shepherds become aware of the wonder of the ways of the Lord being very earthy and ordinary. A baby is born through a mother’s pain, cleaned and wrapped in pieces of cloth, nursed at his mother’s breast, and laid down to sleep in a cattle feeding trough. You can’t get more earthy or ordinary than that!
With all the Christmas pageants with children in bathrobes, we can easily miss the way God has chosen to enter His world. Who hasn’t squirmed when lines are forgotten or misstated! Like in the Nativity pageant when Joseph was arguing with the innkeeper how badly he needed a room. He said, “Can’t you see my wife is going to have a baby?” To which the innkeeper responded, “That’s not my fault!” Joseph replied, “It’s not my fault either!”
As Phillips Brooks wrote in “O Little Town of Bethlehem:”
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
Then and now people are looking for messiahs who will give us the kind of life we want! God gave the Messiah we needed. The Hebrew people had lived subjugated lives for hundreds of years. The Romans were just the latest conquerors. Their scriptures had promised “an anointed one” (Messiah in Hebrew/Christ in Greek). This anointed king would establish an earthly kingdom and, if so, would require driving the Romans out.
On this side of Calvary, we know better, but still we would like a messiah to give us our wants and desires. Every election the campaign promises – regardless of party – appeal to very human wants. How often have you voted based on your desires, your wants, and assumed needs – rather than the greater good? Zealots of every era want to overthrow the present and install a future based on yesterdays perceived to be better. The need for a redeemed life is ignored.
Redeemed lives always precede a change to make the world better. A classic example is John Newton. Newton was captain of a slave ship carrying Africans to the Americas. On the voyage many died, sometimes as many as half. The slaves were chained to wooden slabs four to five high, with only inches between, and with no sanitation or minimum water to sustain life. Newton’s life was changed by a terrific storm that brought him face to face with God. He left the sea, becoming a minister. He wrote a hymn called “Amazing Grace!” He was the pastor of Wilbur Wilberforce, who crusaded in the British Parliament for over 25 years against the slave trade, with Newton’s encouragement. Bethlehem’s Messiah was the bearer of that amazing grace, and neither Roman, nor Jewish, nor modern Zealot has ever understood.
The reversals in Mary’s song have already begun on a rocky hillside outside Bethlehem. Shepherds, not kings, are invited to come see the baby. Good news this baby is to be shared with any who will listen. “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to all with whom He is pleased.” This good news becomes the first Christmas carol and is still sung today. “Gloria in excelsis deo!” The peace of God that passes all human understanding is for all – not just a few –but that peace is based on God’s values, not ours! Those values are centered on what this baby will say and do when grown to manhood. Values of humility, not pride. Of forgiveness, not retaliation. Of giving, not getting. Of inclusiveness, not separation. Of sacrifice and not self-protection. In other words, values consistent with the love of God. Sam loves to sing “the love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell…”
Christiana Rozetti wrote:
Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the God-head, Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token, love be yours and love be mine;
Love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign.
Jesus is born. The Christ has come. Christmas is indeed a word about great joy for all people. Receive the joy! Share the joy! Sing the joy!