Christmas According to Luke
(Preached at First Southern Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA on 12/20/15)
Main Idea: Christmas is about God’s plans, not ours, God’s Son, not us, and God’s praise, not our gifts.
I. Christmas Plans: Who’s in Control? (2.1-5)
A. Caesar Augustus’ Christmas Plans (2.1-3)
B. Our Christmas Plans
C. God’s Christmas Plans (2.4-5)
II. Christmas Meaning: What’s this About? (2.6-14)
A. The Baby’s Birth (2.6-7)
B. The Good News Declared (2.8-14)
III. Christmas Spirit: What’s Our Response? (2.15-20)
A. Exploration (2.15-16)
B. Proclamation (2.17-18)
C. Meditation (2.19)
D. Exaltation (2.20)
Christmas is a wonderful time of year for many people in our country today. It’s good for business and the economy since there is a lot of spending and working due to the exchanging of gifts. It’s a time filled with wonder for children as well. It was always my favorite time of year growing up in the sheltered home God blessed me with. There are traditional songs, stories, and symbols.
What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Is it Silent Night? Away in a Manger? Joy to the World? Hark, the Herald Angels Sing? O Holy Night? That last one is mine though O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is rising up the list!
Then we have Christmas stories. Scrooged was one of my favorite movies playing off of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. There are stories of Santa Claus and the North Pole. Then there are family stories of Christmas we share from previous times together.
What about Christmas symbols? There’s the Christmas tree, Christmas lights, mistletoe, stockings, and more.
There are three themes in Christmas conversations regularly discussed. (1) What are your Christmas plans? (2) What does Christmas mean to you? And (3) How can I have more Christmas spirit?
So, what is Christmas really about? We’ll look at the Bible, which Christians believe is the Word of God, to answer this question. Let’s look at the gospel according to Luke, chapter 2, verses 1-20. Dr. Luke was a Christian in the early church. He knew people who knew Jesus personally before his death. He likely even had a chance to talk to Mary, the mother of Jesus as he did his research for writing this book.
Luke tells us that the emperor decreed a registration for the Roman Empire, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to give birth to the baby, angels came to shepherds in the field nearby and told them the good news, the shepherds went into town to see the baby, they told others what they heard and saw, Mary pondered all of it, and the shepherds left praising and glorifying God. That’s the story.
Here is the main idea from this passage: Christmas is about God’s plans, not ours, God’s Son, not us, and God’s praise, not our gifts.
Christmas Plans: Who’s in Control?
Caesar Augustus’ Christmas Plans (Luke 2.1-3)
Ceasar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, commands all people everywhere to go to their hometown for registration. This man wants to know how big and vast his empire is. He wanted to know, among other things, how powerful he had become. He was in control. He was in command. By his personal decree, everyone living in the Roman Empire had to make sure they were in their hometown for the registration. What a display of power. What a demonstration of control.
Our Christmas Plans
What are your plans this Christmas? Is it fair to say that you have experienced frustrations in your Christmas planning in some way? Maybe you didn’t get the gift you wanted to buy for a loved one. Perhaps you’re not able to see a particular loved one due to death, distance, or a breakdown in relationships.
We all have Christmas plans, even if the plan is to stay home by ourselves and have no other plans. Don’t our plans show us that things don’t go according to our plans? Doesn’t our frustration shout out how powerless we really are in this world? We are not in control of this world. We can’t even control our Christmas plans.
God’s Christmas Plans (Luke 2.4-5)
Caesar Augustus wasn’t the only one who was a ruler with authority. Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary go from Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David (v. 4). He went with Mary, his fiancee. It was God’s plan that they go to this city for the birth of their son. God promised this 700 years before Caesar Augustus made his decree: “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity” (Micah 5.2). God planned the location of the baby’s birth. God’s Christmas plan was perfectly executed.
Joseph is of the family line of David (v. 4). David was the greatest king in Israel. And if your in the line of the king, then you yourself are an heir to the throne. Joseph was along the kingly line and would have been the king of Israel if the dynasty lasted. But the dynasty was cut down and they were not ruling over the nation of Israel or Judah. Like a tree, it was cut to its stump. Aha! Doesn’t the prophet write, “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11.1)? And since Joseph is the legal father of this baby boy who would be born, this baby boy is also in the kingly line. God planned the ancestry of the baby that was born. God’s Christmas plan was perfectly executed.
Thirdly, this baby was born to Mary who was engaged and pregnant. She wasn’t married yet. This would normally be due to sexual immorality (fornication), but not this time. This was part of God’s plan promised in Isaiah 7.14 that a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son. So the angel said to Mary, “Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1.31-33). God planned the virgin conception and eventual birth of this special baby. God’s Christmas plan was perfectly executed.
God is reminding us that we are not in control of our lives, our destiny, nor our plans this season. We are limited. But God is not limited by what limits us. He is in control. And the good news for Christians this Christmas is that God is in control so we don’t have to be. He is for us in Christ and not against us.
Christmas Meaning: What’s this About?
For many people this holiday is confusing. Christmas is about love, Santa Claus, goodwill, kindness, gift giving, family, taking work off, romance, Star Wars and whatever else people want to say it’s about. But that’s not what God says. God says Christmas is about the baby born and the message of the baby’s life.
The Baby’s Birth (Luke 2.6-7)
The baby was born to Mary. She gave birth to a son and laid him in a feeding trough. Here we have the son of Mary who is at the same time the son of David and at the same time the Son of God. Listen to the angel’s words: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1.35). Mary will conceive by God’s power and the human born will be called God’s Son.
The title “Son of God” in the first instance points to the baby being the King of Israel, David’s son, who would be called God’s Son (2 Samuel 7.14). But it’s more than this. In verse 11 he is identified as, “Messiah (Christ) the Lord.” Now “Lord” can simply mean master or king. But in verse 15 the shepherds use the same word “Lord” to identify God who spoke to them through the angels. So the Lord born is also the Lord of the universe. He is the Son of God who shares the same nature as God. He is himself fully God. That’s why Jews wanted to kill him in John 5 because in calling God his Father he was making himself equal with God (John 5.18).
Here’s what Christmas means firstly, Christmas means God became a human to serve, redeem, and identify with us. The creator of the universe has become a creature. The Lord of all who gives life to all is not dependent on a young mother who he himself created less than 19 years before. The blessed God came to the cursed Earth. Bernard of Clairvaux called it, “The kiss of God.” Why? Michael Reeves writes, “For here the Word or mouth of God comes to meet us in love.” Listen to Paul explaining the meaning of God being born as a man:
who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross (Philippians 2.6-8).
The Good News Declared (Luke 2.8-14)
This is really good news. It is “good news of great joy.” It’s for all people. The invitation is open to all who will hear and consider the message. The good news is that all who believe will have peace on earth (v. 14). Verse 14 literally says, “peace on earth to people of favor” or “people of pleasure.” The best way to understand that is people who God has favor on or sets his pleasure on.
The good news is that the Savior was born. He came to save his people from their sins and God’s wrath that we all deserve. This Savior is the Christ, the Messiah. The Messiah is the anointed one who would be the priest making the sacrifice for God’s people and mediating God’s reconciled relationship to humans. As the anointed king Jesus is the one who rules over the world, rules over us, and frees us from the tyranny of being ruled by sin, Satan, and ourselves. We are not good rulers of our own lives. We make terrible kings of our lives and our universe. The good news is that Jesus saves us and was sent to rule over us for us.
He is the Savior which means he saves us. He saves us by 5 major saving acts: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and consummation. The crucifixion is his death in our place for our sins as a substitute who takes our penalty. His resurrection is God’s declaration of victory over sin, death, and Satan. His ascension is his taking his throne and ruling from heaven sending his Spirit to build his church. His return is the consummation where he finally saves us from all sin and traces of the curse in the New Earth. Christmas focuses on the incarnation. The word means, “in-fleshing.” His incarnation is where God becomes a man, taking on human flesh, to be our head as a new humanity the way Adam was head of the old humanity (Romans 5.12-21).
The good news this Christmas is that God became a man, Jesus Christ, so that he could be gracious to us in our sins, forgiving and accepting us. God is gracious in Jesus the Messiah so we don’t have to prove ourselves to God or others. We simply truth in God’s Son who became a man to save us from our sins.
Our Christmas season can be more hurtful than happy because of the tragedies we experienced or are experiencing this very moment. The good news is also that in Christ Jesus there can be great joy for you not in spite of the pain and loss but even in the pain and loss because his incarnation leads ultimately to his return where he will bring in the New Earth and exchange every ounce of suffering for megatons of joy, gladness, and reward (2 Corinthians 4.17).
Christmas Spirit: What’s Our Response?
So how should we respond to the true meaning of Christmas? What does the Christmas spirit look like in our lives? Luke points us to 4 actions.
Exploration (Luke 2.15-16)
The shepherds were surrounded by the angels and told the sign would be a baby. So they went into town to explore and verify the sign. They found what they were told.
If you’re not a Christian, I’m calling you to explore the Christmas story. Verify it. Ask questions. As a Christian let me tell you that we are not scared of investigation because we believe we have the truth. Don’t reject Jesus and Christmas out of a confused mind. Ask your questions. Seek answers. Do you have any desire to know if these things are true? If God is real? If Jesus is who the Bible says he is? If you have any desire to find out understand this: that is a gift from God today that is not guaranteed tomorrow. So if you’re not a Christian the best way you can live in the true Christmas spirit is to be like a shepherd who explores and seeks to verify what he has heard.
Proclamation (Luke 2.17-18)
After the shepherds saw the child and Mary, “they reported the message they were told about this child and all who heard it were amazed” (vv. 17-18). They spoke up and spoke out. They told other shepherds, others in the town, Mary and Joseph too. They couldn’t hold it in. Not only because it was true but because it was good. God has not abandoned us. He has not abandoned this cursed world. He has come. He is fulfilling all of his promises and plan for humanity in Jesus the Messiah.
So tell others about Jesus. At your Christmas parties. At work. Online. After the service over lunch. Proclaim what you have seen and heard and do it with the joy and enthusiasm of one who has tasted the best food ever that it’s not a burden to talk about it, it’s a burden not to.
Meditation (Luke 2.19)
What did Mary do when she heard the story of the shepherds? She treasured the words and meditated on them. She carefully thought about them. She pondered them. She didn’t rush over the story and think, “That’s all you saw? I had an angel visit me personally one on one! And so did Joseph! And I got pregnant miraculously! You’re story pales in comparison to what I’ve seen!”
That’s not how followers of Jesus talk. That’s not how humans who love and depend on Jesus think. At least not when they are in their right minds. We must understand that any revelation from God is a precious gift from God. Don’t let simple truths bore you. Don’t let familiar stories float by as you miss the fresh opportunity to draw closer to the Almighty. Hear and read God’s Word from the mouths and pens of others. Hear the familiar Christmas story again. Be stunned that God became a man. A man! Think. Meditate. Ponder. Journal. Discuss. That’s the Christmas spirit.
But it must not stop there. Fourthly,
Exaltation (Luke 2.20)
Exalt God. The shepherds were glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. It’s not enough to merely explore and think about. It must lead to the goal of it all, exalting God. Praising God out of the sheer excitement and wonder of who he is as he has revealed himself to you again. So praise him. Sing to him. Sing about him. Talk to him. Thank him directly. Praise him to other woshipers. Praise him before those who reject him. Stand and wonder and let the wonder work worship in your soul.
God’s Christmas plan was to get his Messiah to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy and take his place as the King of God’s people. It wasn’t Caesar who was ultimately in control. We’re not in control this season either. And that’s good.
God tells us Christmas means that God became a man to identify with us and to represent us to God as our Savior and King. Jesus became a man, lived for us, died for us, rose for us, ascended for us, and is coming back again for us. Christmas means “incarnation for salvation.”
And so we seek to feed the Christmas spirit. We’re exhorted to explore the claims, proclaim the gospel, meditate on the words and events, and exalt God in our hearts, minds, mouths, and feet. That’s the Christmas spirit: exploration, proclamation, meditation, and exaltation.
Reflect and Discuss
What did God say to you from this passage and message?
The preacher claimed that Christmas means, “Incarnation for salvation.” What does he mean by that? Why is the incarnation crucial to the gospel message?
Which of the 4 exhortations (exploration, proclamation, meditation, exaltation) to the Christmas spirit does God want you to focus on at this specific point in your life? How will you cultivate the Christmas spirit this season?
What is God saying to the world and non-Christians from this passage?
What is God saying to the church from this passage?
What is God saying to Christians from this passage if it adds to your answer to #1?
What questions remain as you reflect on the message?
 Michael Reeves, Christ Our Life, (Paternoster: Milton Keynes, U.K., 2014), 22. In the U. S. the book is published under the title Rejoicing in Christ.