Listen, my friends, and you will hear a Christmas story that has no peer. It's better than Grinches and Scrooges and elves. It's better than any Christmas book on your shelves. It's an ancient story but, in 60s terms, "groovy;" why, it's even better than a Hallmark movie. It begins not in Nazareth or Bethlehem, no; it begins higher up, up in heaven, you know. Where God lives and God reigns and God looks from above at a sinful people with whom He's in love. "I must get this fixed. They can't fix it alone. The time's right to send Jesus: God in flesh and bone." This was no last second thought on God's part, don't you see? God knew all along when the right time would be to send Jesus to save folks like you and like me. Though Jesus has always existed in Heaven, God didn't send him at age 30 or 20 or 16 or 7. Jesus didn't come full- grown and in charge. He came as a baby and one not so large. Was he six pounds or seven or eight pounds or nine? We don't know what he weighed, any weight would be fine. It's the fact that he came, that he crossed the line, from heaven to earth through normal childbirth. He came, that's what matters, that's what matters the most. He came down from heaven to his missionary post. He came as the God-Man; yes, it's hard to imagine: fully God, fully man? But it really did happen. John in his Gospel called Jesus the Word, eternal, forever; don't think it absurd. This is the Trinity at work: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; existing as one though each does his thing. And the Son's thing was to come to the earth and to bring God down to our level, God down from the sky, God we could see without having to die. The Godhead among us, God we could touch, hear, and see; God with a human family tree: with ancestors like Abraham, David, and Ruth, and Adam and Rahab—yes, this is the truth. So when the time was just right, God sent word to Mary: a teenage peasant who found it quite scary when an angel named Gabriel gave her the news; news that her first thought she had; was to refuse: news that a Savior would come through her womb, a Savior named Jesus—God's Son and a king? "Have faith," said the angel, "God can do this thing. "But Mary, you know, she wasn't so sure: the shock of it all; it all seemed like a blur. So she spoke to the angel, honest and true; maybe this angel just had no clue. "I'm a virgin, you know, never been with a man; you're an angel, so how could you understand? Things work differently down here on the earth; it's impossible for a virgin girl to give birth." "It's not up to you," Gabriel said with a smile. He was kind when he said it; he wasn't hostile. "The Holy Spirit will do this; don't you see?He'll overshadow you, and pregnant you'll be.Don't think it impossible; put away your doubt. God can do anything; you'll soon find out." And sure enough Mary became pregnant, all right. But what to tell Joseph? This could start a fight. Joseph was pledged to be married to Mary, but that day hadn't come and Mary was pregnant, soon it would show, and Joseph wasn't ignorant. He'd figure it out; he'd know right away: that this wasn't his child, no way. He'd have to assume that Mary had cheated, had broken the pledge, from her vows had retreated; She'd found some new man; poor Joseph felt defeated. But Joseph was a kind man, he didn't want trouble, He'd end things with Mary before people started to mumble and grumble and gossip and talk and point and sneer and go so far as to wreck his career. He'd end things with Mary; he'd be quiet and discreet. He'd be respectful and kind; he'd try to be sweet. So he made up his mind, "Tomorrow, we'll meet." That night Joseph had trouble going to sleep. He slept rather fitfully; his sleep was not deep. And part of the reason for his fitful sleep was a dream with an angel and a promise to keep. The angel said to Joseph, "Mary's telling the truth: There's no other man, And though it seems uncouth, that's God's Son she's carrying, God's Son in her womb. You'll call his name Jesus, and he'll be here soon. God sent the prophet Isaiah to tell that the virgin would bear Immanuel. Mary's carrying that child; his name means 'God with us.' I'm telling the truth, as God is my witness. So you marry that girl and be with them too; be a husband and dad, Joseph, that's God's call for you." So Joseph got up from his sleep the next morning; he had to act fast before the baby was born. He honored his promise, and made Mary his wife. He meant what he said; he married Mary for life. They were making their plans; getting ready for the boy; when the Romans said something that stole most of their joy. Caesar Augustus said, "Now is the time for more tax!" Caesars do that, you know, unaware of the facts what it costs to raise a family with that burden on their backs. "Good grief!" said Joseph, "We pay enough tax!" But it's not just the tax that would make matters worse; folks had to go to hometowns to sign up for this curse. And Mary was due, about ready to burst. Could she make such a journey without mom or a nurse?
Bethlehem was Joseph's hometown, and it wasn't next door, from Nazareth it was at least 70 miles or more. Getting there would be more than a chore. But Bethlehem it had to be, according to the prophet Micah, you see. Yes, getting to Bethlehem was key: from David's town this child must come, so Joseph rolled up sleeves to get the job done. They didn't have much time, so the packing went quick; getting there before birth, though, would be the real trick."Oh my!" said Mary, "The baby just kicked. So let's get moving; let's travel with haste. Let's move rather quickly; let's set a good pace, Trust me, Joseph, there's no time to waste." So they traveled as fast as they possibly could, stopping only for rest and for sleep and for food. It took a few days but they finally arrived. It was a hard trip, but all three survived.
By this time in history, King David, you see, had thousands of descendants in his family tree. So Bethlehem was bustling with visitors galore, to register for the tax, to sign up to pay more. There'd never been such a crowd in Bethlehem before. They didn't have phones back in the day, so they couldn't reserve a place they could stay. Like all who had come, they'd just take their chances, but it wouldn't be nice; they had no finances. They entered the town as the sun was just setting. It wasn't that warm, but Mary was sweating, and Joseph was betting they'd not be getting a room soon enough; yes, it was upsetting. But they weren't forgetting that God was in charge. So Joseph knocked on the door of the first inn they saw, while Mary, meanwhile, groaned in labor and all. "God will have us a room; we're here by his call," said Joseph to Mary in the midst of it all," and if not a room, how 'bout a cow stall? Any place will be fine, really, any place at all. We are poor and humble; we don't need much, and this I know: God comes through in the clutch." Well, the inn was all full, but Joseph spotted a stable, "I can clean it up some and then you'll be able to have Jesus there, right there in that place." And you should have seen the look on her face. Between groans she spoke up, "Any place, any place. The time is now; the baby is coming. Don't carry me slow; you better be running" So Joseph ran, and he set Mary down, then turned his head and looked down with a frown. "I wish I could do better," he whispered in prayer. "There's no bed, no mattress, not even a chair. Just some goats and some lambs and that cow over there. But, God, I believe that this must be your plan. You'll take care of us all. I know that you can." So Joseph cleaned up a corner of that little stall, built a fire, fetched some water, got ready for the baby to come from the womb to the world, for this large step of God's plan to unfold. And unfold it did as the baby was born in a barn—this is true. Born in a stall to come save us all from our sins and our wrongs and to give us a song of salvation Ðfor Israel and for every nation.
Though this baby is God, he was just like us too, with ten fingers and toes and a strong Jewish nose,
and a little dark hair, and, of course, with no clothes.
Then with a gentle thump on his rump, Jesus took a deep breath, his first on the earth, his first since his birth. And he sneezed once or twice, and he started to cry. Babies do that, you know, it comes easy as pie. A cow turned her head, as she chewed on some straw. From the calm on her face as she stood in her stall; this wasn't the first time she'd heard a baby bawl. The sheep bleated a little, a donkey did bray
at this bit of commotion in their stable that day.But things settled down as things always do. Then Joseph got busy and Mary did too. Mary cleaned herself up and cleaned Jesus up, too. Jesus didn't eat much when she tried to feed him. You could tell that he'd really just rather be sleeping. So she diapered him up, but he had no pajamas, so she wrapped him up tight in clothes that she swaddled. But where would she lay this Christ-Child, this earth-stranger?That's where Joseph came in: He fixed up a manger.He cleaned out a trough, and he fluffed it with hay. It was better than rocks, it was better than clay. Though it wasn't a crib; it's the best Joseph could offer. It wasn't so bad, but he wished it was softer. So they laid Jesus there, and he went fast asleep. No cries, no noise, not a sound, not a peep. Exhausted and weary, they all fell asleep.