First Timothy 1:15
The Meaning Of Christ's Birth
1. Upon entering Advent, the children have decorated our Christmas tree for us. Along with the youth they have applied lights onto the frame of the evergreen tree. They decked the entrance way with a wreath. We've got candles set up in the sanctuary and upfront we've got Christmas decorations done up. Even our church web site has entered Advent and has been freshened up. I think some of you have been there to see it, it has a pretty Christmas design. Snow even falls in it. On the Christmas information page "Silent Night" is streamed in by organ.
2. But, even though we make our decorations pretty like we do and make preparations for Christmas services, we must not forget but one thing. It's that the event on the day of Christ's birth, which the Bible tells us about, was not at all a bright and beautiful event in all its reality. If we were to forget that, the decorations we put up would be no different to say the least than the Christmas sales decorations in town.
Christ Came Amongst Sin
3. It tells us that on that day Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judah. Both Mary the mother of Jesus and Joseph who was considered his father did not live in Bethlehem. In spite of the fact that they were separated from the place of their every day living and worse that Mary was pregnant, the reason they could not avoid by any means traveling to Bethlehem was that an imperial order for resident registration had been put out by Caesar Augustus, (Luke 2:1). They say its purpose was to impose a poll tax to find out the number of all the residents including slaves. It must have resulted in placing quite a heavy load on the backs of the people, the poor in particular. In the first place, the very act itself of being separated from one's place of daily living and being forced to travel meant that many people's lives were threatened. The powerless had their lives threatened by one human being with authority. They were driven from their peaceful places of living. The weak often had to quietly obey orders. It was so unreasonable. But, it is a scene from the way people really live in this world that is hardly strange.
4. But wait, this is not just [something that went on] between the ruling authorities and the masses. You would think oppressed people had the same mind when bearing an illness or lived by sharing and helping each other, but actually they don't. They scramble among themselves too for a place. People have always lived pushing and shoving each other out.
5. The Bible plainly spells out the events of that day like this, "However, while they were in Bethlehem, Mary came to full term, gave birth to her first son, and laid him in a manger wrapped in linen; for, there was no place for them to stay in the inn," (Luke 2:6-7). In having the Bible speak so plainly as it does, we sense its indescribably disconsolate nature.
6. In a place where not one thing needed was ready, the infant was laid to sleep in an unclean manger, which probably was outright unserviceable for even the baby's first bath. At his side there was Mary so dead tired from the extreme strain and fatigue after finishing her risky delivery, and similarly there was Joseph also exhausted from the strain on his nerves. When the shepherds came on that day it must have been the most miserable spectacle in the world that they had seen.
7. Luke writes that, "For, there was no place for them to stay in the inn." Was that really so? There really wasn't any room for them to stay? Was it only that there was no one who would set a place for them? We expect it was plain before everyone's eyes that Mary was pregnant. No one would think she would give birth to a baby in a stable for cattle, not where there were horses and cows. Even the densest of people should have known that if someone gave birth it would involve a life and death situation. But, everyone was totally into their own things. They were taken up with their own business. And one's own business is indeed quite important to a person so much so.
8. The ones truly in need of a warm place were driven from the inn and driven to a cattle stable type place. It may come in different forms, but this indeed is really the way the real world we live in is. Whose problem is it? Was it the emperor [Caesar's]? Was it the politicians? Was it that the social structures were at root full of various evils? No, it wasn't only their problem. The bizarre ugliness and darkness we see in this scene is the ugliness of human sin and is the darkness of sin and nothing but that. The reason the infant was sleeping in a manger was due to human sin.
9. Indeed, the darkness of that first Christmas was not just that alone. We see in Luke who recorded it what became of the child who was laid to sleep in the manger. The pitiable infant in the manger stood for the infant who would fulfill a miserable death one day on the cross. Though his birth and upbringing were poor and miserable, later it would become blessed. In growing up he would be respected by others. When it comes to tales of this type, there are plenty of them in this world, but this story is different. When he was born, things were miserable. And at the end he was hated by others, abandoned, crucified, and died. That's the kind of infant he was lying there. Isn't that a very horrible story?
10. In the Christmas narrative the dark shadow of the cross falls. "For, there was no place for them to stay in the inn." But, it wasn't just the inn. There wasn't any place on this earth for Christ. Ultimately, he was lifted up off the earth, hung up on a cross, and killed. The shouts of the people to "Let's crucify him. Let's crucify that man," echo. On Golgotha's hill they reviled Christ on the cross and their scoffing voices echoed out on down. He who loved God the Father and loved people was driven to and upon a cross.
11. A person who tries to practice the will of God is often driven to sufferings or death. I think that's the way it really is in this world, though it may come in different forms. As you know for sure, he was ultimately crucified under imperial Roman authority. But it wasn't only the Roman emperor or the Jewish leaders who drove him to the cross. The bizarre ugliness and darkness we see at the scene of the cross was nothing but the ugliness of human sin and the darkness of sin. Human sin drove him to the cross.
12. But we don't always see things in the darkness of sin like it really is. In Bethlehem the people who went all out to ensure their own dwellings must never have thought that living for themselves as they did would drive a pregnant woman into a horse barn. When we claim our due rights and live thinking that we will enjoy exactly what is rightly ours to enjoy, this way of thinking will intensify the misery of those immediately around us and drive them to desperation and the edge of death. This kind of thing happens a lot. But the said persons don't realize it.
13. That's how it is in the cross scene. When the people were shouting, "Let's crucify him," I don't think they ever thought in the slightest that they were sinful. Instead, many of them were shouting driven by a sense of justice. Or at the least, they might have been shouting so as to justify their own conduct. The very deep darkness of human sin is right there where one does not even realize one's sin. Or else it lies right there where they refuse to realize, [that is,] even if they had realized it they would not admit it. These very events, which took place in the midst of this deep darkness of sin, made up the birth of Christ. It was hardly a bright and beautiful occurrence.
Christ Came To Save Sinners
14. But, nevertheless, we do all kinds of decorating for that day, light up candles, freshen up our home pages at that, and celebrate with joy. Why is that?
15. In the scripture passage we read today the answer to that is written, "Christ Jesus came into the world in order to save sinners," (First Timothy 1:15). The Christmas event does not just mean that Christ was born into a world of sin. It is an event that means he came into the world in order to save sinners. A sinner no longer is a being that is cast away and in sin without hope. This world is no longer one that will only be destroyed due to sin; for, Christ came in order to save none less than sinners. And Paul himself who wrote this says, "I am the worst of sinners."
16. Just before I stated that "The very deep darkness of human sin is right there where one does not even realize one's sin." This even applied to Paul. He was originally recognized by himself and others as "a righteous man." In another epistle he states, "I was without reproach as far as the righteousness of the law was concerned," (Philippians 3:5). Originally he was a persecutor of the church, but that was done based on his sense of justice. When Stephen the first martyr of the church was stoned and killed, young Paul attended his punishment in possibly a position with some responsibility for it. Even though he kept a close watch on a man who was stoned and slaughtered to death, he felt no shame whatsoever about his consenting to the killing. The Bible bears witness in the following way to Paul's actions after this. "Saul (that is, Paul) approved of the killing of Stephen. That day a great persecution rose up against the church at Jerusalem, all the other disciples fled to the regions of Judea and Samaria. But, the faithful buried Stephen and suffered great pain in thinking of him. On the other hand, Saul pushed his way in from house to house and laid the churches waste, and without interrogating the men or the women he hauled them off and sent them to jail," (8:1-3).
17. This is the man who became a missionary in the service of Christ. Why [did he become a missionary]? The circumstances leading up to his conversion are given in detail in chapter nine of The Acts Of The Apostles. And it is given twice in the form of Paul's own testimony in chapters twenty-two and twenty-six. According to those accounts, we are told that while Paul was on the way to Damascus to further the hand of persecution, all of a sudden, he was illuminated by a light from heaven, knocked down to the ground, and heard the voice of Christ saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" We don't clearly understand what actually happened there and then. It must have been that Paul himself most likely wasn't able to explain it sufficiently in his own words.
18. But, at least two things are certain. First is that Paul realized his own sinfulness at that time. [He found out] that he was wrong about thinking that he was righteous, and he was overwhelmed as he came to see how awful was his sin in acting the way he did in ignorance. Until then he had been a person who judged others and made rulings even unto death, but now he realized that he stood before the Lord as a sinner worthy of judgment himself.
19. And secondly is that as Paul knew his own sin he did not then meet a Christ that was just going to condemn and damn him for his sin, but he met a Christ who wanted to save him from his sin and grant him life. He was not touched by the wrath of the Lord, he was touched by the mercy and compassion of the Lord. Through this compassion he had his sins forgiven, was saved and began living a new life as a servant of Christ.
20. It is precisely because Paul was like this that he spoke the following with such conviction, "The message that 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' is true and is worth receiving just as it is. I am the worst of sinners." Christ came. He came into a world of sin. He came into this miserable world so darkened by sin. He became a babe put into a manger to sleep and he became a prisoner condemned to death and was crucified. This was the way the sinless Son of God really was as he bore the sin of this world on his back. The reason the son of God was the way he was and took this form was so that we sinners might be saved and be brought to life. It was not so that we might be judged and destroyed, but so that we might be forgiven, saved, and brought to life. Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.
21. This temporary world is not now a world that has been abandoned and determined by God for destruction. There is no such thing as a sinner to whom God's mercy cannot be extended. Therefore, we celebrate that ugly and dark event that took place in Bethlehem. We put up decorations, we light up candles, and we celebrate with joy overflowing; [and we do that] because since the light has come, the darkness is no longer the darkness it was.