Imperfect Christmas (Luke 2:1-5)

MOTIVATE

Every year starts with the greatest of intentions.

  • Perfect decorations – done in advance, but not too soon!
  • Perfectly decorated tree.
  • Perfect family pictures for sending Christmas cards.
  • Perfect plans with multiple events for both sides of family, and seeing friends.
  • Perfect menus for dinner and get togethers… with the perfect desserts (do Christmas calories count?!?)
  • Perfect gifts with perfect on-time shipping, and perfectly wrapped (who are we kidding?).
  • Perfect church service – great music, not too long sermon… ahem!
  • Perfect weather – winter chill with some snow flakes and a warm inside fire.
  • Perfect Christmas and perfect celebrations… until reality sets in.

This has been an imperfect year.

  • Imperfect pictures with absence’s and losses.
  • Imperfect decorations bc many are blue.
  • Imperfect gifts as many deal with overwhelming financial impact of businesses and work in a pandemic.
  • Imperfect plans with uncertainties, transitions, and fear surrounding our world.
  • Imperfect Christmas… but, we must not forget we have a perfect Christ.

Christmas is the whisper that God loves to work with imperfection. In earthly eyes, there was nothing perfect about the Christmas narrative. Yet, in the chaos and confusion, God spoke calm to fear. God revealed good news to a bad news world. Jesus entered a world at the exactly right time – when it was dark, desperate, and imperfect.

Our series today and next few weeks will explore the imperfections of the Christmas narrative.

  • Dec 6 Imperfect World (Luke 2:1-5)
  • Dec 13 Imperfect Family (Lke 2:4-5; Mt 1)
  • Dec 20 Imperfect Wrappings (Luke 2:6-7)
  • Dec 23/24 Imperfect Guests (Luke 2:8-20)

EXAMINE          

Luke 2:1-5
1  In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

4  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Luke does not start his gospel writing once upon a time, nor about a galaxy far far away, nor an unknown land named Narnia or Middle Earth. Instead, Luke writes to confirm the historical accuracy of Jesus’s birth and life (cf. Luke 1:1-3) with a specific setting.

  • We can have confidence in Scripture as eyewitnesses wrote about factual events. 
    2Peter 1:16 “For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
    1John 1:1-2 “what we have heard… seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands… we testify and declare to you”
    1Corinthians 15:3 “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received…”
  • We can have contentment in seeing God’s fulfillment of prophecy throughout history, knowing God is faithful to all His promises. Like being able to step back or from an elevated perspective over a scenic view to appreciate the fullness of all that exists, we can appreciate the whole of Scripture testifying to God’s trustworthiness.[1] 

Jesus enters during a time of social imperfection.

Luke mentions “in those days” without a specific calendar date. For us today, we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 as a means of tradition. Yet, the truth is we are fairly certain Jesus was not actually born on this date. Biblically speaking, the mention of shepherds in the open fields hints more at a spring season than winter time (Lk 2:8).[2] Beyond this, Scripture gives no indication of recognition or celebration of any specific days. This stands in contrast to the early traditions surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, where we know Jesus was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday; and this was commemorated by Christians gathering on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:2).

The extrabiblical evidence is equally spare, with no mention of birth celebrations in the early Christian writings. Around 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria references common understanding of Christ’s birth on May 20.[3] Yet, the earliest mention of Dec 25 comes from ~400AD, with Jan 6 celebrated Epiphany, the day the wise men arrived, and thus giving us the 12 days of Christmas. So, how did these winter dates become attached to the birth of Christ, in contrast to the spring date?

Tradition tells us that the Romans celebrated their mid-winter festival to worship a feast of birth of the pagan gods (Sol Invictus – Sun Unconquered) on Dec 25. Christians chose this same date to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, and to spread the message of Christ rather than a pagan holiday (holy day). The church father Ambrose described Christ as the true sun, who outshined the fallen gods of the old order.

  • We do not know Jesus’ birthday for certain, so we can celebrate Christmas any and every day!

Luke names the time of Caesar Augustus (Octavian). “Caesar” was the Roman title or office for emperor, and “Augustus” means “holy or revered,” and was usually reserved for the gods; and Caesars were even worshipped as “Savior” and believed that Roman gods don’t die.[4] Further, the Roman empire was filled not only with strength but evil violence. The Roman government may have been reputable but it was not upright and moral. Undoubtedly, Jesus was born into a world of God’s people in despair and danger.

Ultimately, Luke is not just communicating the historical accuracy of Jesus’s birth event but is also making a theological point that there is only one true Savior and Resurrected King.

Our world is filled with social imperfection.

  • Humanity has far too often lost basic civility. Decency and integrity are lacking.
  • Humanity views each other with competition. Differences and diversity are viewed with hostility.
  • Authorities and governments are rife with conspiracy. We don’t know who we can trust, which news is true. The core values and foundational principles that started our nation are being attacked and undermined with increasing fire power and established resources. 
  • Paul said, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:1-5).

The social imperfections of our world are at the very least ripe for the good news of Jesus, if not the return of Jesus.

So, what is a Christian to do in a world of social imperfection? Joseph & Mary are an example to Christians today.

  • Persevere in faith. In the 9-month time between the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy and delivery, we see an unshaken and unyielding faith. Joseph had every reason to divorce Mary and start a different plan, but instead together they chose God’s plan. Their faith wasn’t without challenges or conflict, but a tested faith proves the genuineness of it – that its “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7).   
    If you’re in a season where God is testing you, don’t give up. Mary said, “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37) and she magnified the Savior more than her struggles (Lk 1:46,ff).
  • Persevere in family. While the world’s standards pushed against Joseph and Mary, they pressed back. Throughout the Bible there is a close connection between family breakdown and spiritual breakdown. As goes the family, so goes the community, the church, and the nation. The renewal of our churches and our nation will only be accomplished with the renewal of biblical families. The way of discipleship is for parents to train their children, for older men and women to mentor younger men and women. Growing godly generations is what will truly make our nation great.
    – – – > If we care about biblical families then we will look to make a difference on the issues that pull families apart. “We need to be a John 3:16 people in a John 4:16 world [go call your adulterous husband].”[5] Some issues we can address: mental health, money stewardship, marriage enrichment, parental equipping. 
  • Prioritize God’s kingdom. When we see social problems, we are tempted to offer quick solutions. Sometimes the quickest solution looks like political power to enforce policy. Christians must remember that politics is downstream from culture, and the way we shape culture is with a God-centered perspective in every domain of life – from art/entertainment, business, education, environment, government, health, justice, science/technology, etc. We must let God’s word have authority over our life so that we do not seek shortcuts to an earthly kingdom.

Jesus enters during a time of circumstantial imperfection.

Luke mentions a time of registration – a census by Roman decree. A census was done for two essential reasons:
1) Military. Rome wanted to know how many fighting men were available. Rome was known for taking fighters from all the conquered lands and reposition them to fight in their own army.
2) Money. The Roman government wanted to tax every citizen. Rome did provide its citizens with benefits:

  • Text Box: Side Note: Historians (Josephus) report census before and after Quirinius, that complicate Luke’s report. Two interpretations to resolve accuracy 
1) Some scholars believe Quirinius had a prior governorship, which links the census to Herod who died 4BC; and/or more likely 2) Some scholars believe the translation πρῶτος can range syntax to mean first/while/ or even before. 
So, there is no doubt of historic accuracy.
peaceful land – Pax Romana (forced),
  • prosperity – military pensions of land and money; education class; sophisticated roads kept trade routes open; engineering such as aqueducts (plumbing) and buildings were innovative for time; these produced clean water, food, medicine for healthy lives and greater life span

While Rome did not necessarily care where you took the census, Jewish custom was to keep accurate genealogical records from one’s place of birth.[6] The circumstantial imperfection is that the Messiah would have been born in Nazareth, contrasting prophecy of Micah 5:2. However, Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and thus the line of King David is emphasized in the birth of Jesus.

Further, the couple traveled approximately ninety miles to Bethlehem, where they were left without a place to stay. Their stay at an inn was not as a modern-day hotel but likely a public or private place for the traveling poor. Again, imperfect circumstances of excessive travel during a stressful pregnancy, staying in an unfamiliar place (thanks Joseph!), and an unsanitary bed for their newborn. The circumstances were not convenient, yet Jesus entered anyway.

In our striving for perfect circumstances or a perfect Christmas season, we often forget that God is looking for the imperfect.

So, where are the places you are striving to clear away and clean up before you let Jesus in your life? The reality is, that Jesus is looking to enter the untouchable and impaired places of our life. It is likely we do not have to look very far in our 2020 season to find a place where Jesus wants to bring healing to our upheaval and peace to our uncertainties.

What makes Jesus unique is that His voice surprises us. Just when we think God will speak with the shout of supremacy, He communicates with the cry of a newborn baby. God works in our circumstances in ways that challenge and shape our character.

In this season – this imperfect season – Jesus is waiting for us to embrace current realities and invite Him to enter with His help and hope.

  • Practical way to invite Christ into your circumstances is to participate in Advent – daily readings pointing us to the Christ of Christmas. People get upset about the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “Xmas” not realizing that both phrases imply a “holy day” and “X” = first letter “chi” in the name “Christos.”[7] That X has a long and sacred history pointing us to Christ and His purpose for entering the world, ultimately to die on a cross. When we read Scripture in a systematic way, then we can gain a greater perspective for life. Don’t miss the good news because you’re so focused on the globe’s news; global news needs the good news that Christ has come.   
    It’s easy to have the mindset, “look what the world has come to” vs “look who has come into the world.” As Christians, we set our minds on things above (Col 3:1-2; Mt 6:33).

  • Another practical way to invite Christ into your imperfection is to purge perfectionism. Yes, God calls us to perfection, but perfectionism is the poison of attempting holiness in your own power. Christ calls us to die to self, take up His cross, embrace His righteousness by grace through faith – and then we are made new.
    – Ex. The other day I went to the Keurig machine to make coffee. I put water in top, placed cup in bottom with just a spoon of chocolate powder (no sugar). However, I forgot to put the coffee pod in the Keurig! My girls looked out for me saying, “Dad, the water going in your cup is clear not coffee.” My mistake resulted in their gain. I added a little more chocolate powder and sprayed whipped cream on top and said, “Girls, here’s your hot chocolate!”
    God calls us to be transparent about our mistakes and confess our shortcomings. The gospel gives us the perfect Savior and complete solution for our sin – the grace of Jesus Christ.

APPLY/THINK

Respond by bringing your flaws and failures with the Father in Heaven. Christmas would be wonderful time to celebrate not just the birth of Christ but your new birth – Christ in you.

Respond with renewed freedom from imperfections and impossibilities impeding your faith. With God, all things are possible. Jesus is with us in our clutter and confusion and calls us to focus our faith in His grace and power.


[1] Thought inspired from David Jeremiah, Why The Nativity, pp.1-5.

[2] This and the following information comes from: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/how-december-25-became-christmas/

[3] Clement, Stromateis 1.21.145.

[4] Raymond E. Brown as quoted in Preaching The Word, Kent Hughes, Luke 2:1.

[5] Russell Moore, Onward, p.184.

[6] Edwards, J. R. (2015). Pillar Commentary: Luke 2:3.

[7] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2016/11/25/the-x-in-christmas-and-happy-holidays/

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