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God’s Promised Savior is Born
Winter Quarter: Creation: A Divine Cycle
Unit 1: The Savior Has Been Born
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 25, 2016
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Luke 2: 8-20
Background Scripture: Luke 2: 1-21
Merry Christmas! We trust you and your class can share that wonderful greeting this morning. Sometimes, churches cancel Sunday school on Christmas morning. We understand the practicality of doing so, but followers of Jesus will miss much if this lesson is skipped! We think we know the story. After all, we’ve seen countless pageants and have heard, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”
The intersection in space and time of the reign of the most powerful Caesar, who created the Pax Romana, with the birth of Him who is the Prince of Peace is never to be forgotten! A census had two primary purposes: taxation and military service – the draft! Jews were exempt from service in the Roman legions, but not from taxation. Joseph and Mary made the 80 mile trip by donkey and foot from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem in Judea.
We all know the reason they traveled to Bethlehem, right? Bethlehem means “House of Bread,” but it is also David’s royal city. The One who said, “I am the Bread of Life,” is also King of kings and Lord of lords. Joseph was of the house and lineage of David.
The timing could not have been worse for Mary. Her pregnancy will end, and her motherhood will begin. First, however, they must find housing. Years ago there was a Nativity play in a Charleston church. Joseph is begging the innkeeper for a room. He was told, “There is no room!” Joseph points to Mary’s condition and the innkeeper says, “That’s not my fault!” Joseph replies, “It’s not my fault either!”
The birth occurs where the animals are housed – we know because, after carefully wrapping the infant in warm bands of cloth, He is laid in a manger – the feeding trough! The Savior of the world begins life in the most common of settings.
Appropriately, the scene shifts to a hillside outside Bethlehem, where shepherds are guarding their sheep from the danger of nighttime predators. Perhaps this was the same hillside where David had been keeping the flock of his family when the prophet Samuel came looking for the next king of Israel!
The social status of shepherds was the lowest in that society. They never were “clean” enough to go to Temple. Their word was unacceptable in court. In short, why would the angel choose them to be the first to know of Jesus’ birth? Sam is reminded of what a banker told him when we were buying our first car. “Never loan money to anyone whose occupation begins with the letter ‘P’ – painters, plumbers or preachers!” Profiling is not new to the 21st Century!
Yet, God’s messenger was sent to these very people to make the birth announcement! The scriptures tell us of their reaction – great fear! The angel gives the same message to them given to Mary and Zechariah, “Do not be afraid!”
You will find this admonition is given more often than any other in the Bible. In a recent sermon, our pastor pointed to the fact Jesus used variations of this imperative 21 times – far more than any other! For example, He uses “love God and love neighbor” eight times. Fear can control our thoughts and actions. Certainly these benighted souls were terrified of this extra-terrestrial event that night of nights!
The first Christmas carol rang out that night when the angelic chorus sang, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all on whom His favor rests.” How many rehearsals had they had before they could sing?
The angel declares to them three fantastic facts about this new-born infant: He is Savior, He is Christ, and He is Lord. Never has there been, nor will there ever be, such a birth announcement! Each of those titles carries important information about who this child is, and what He will do.
Savior is “the rescuer” – the One who will reclaim humanity from the alienation separating them from God their Creator. Christ (Messiah in Hebrew) is the “anointed One,” so long expected by the Jews to restore the kingdom to Israel. Lord declares Him to be fully divine – with God and of God! (John 1:1)
Moreover, they are told they will find the baby wrapped, lying in a manger. This specific detail is intriguing.
Luke tells us they hurried to Bethlehem to see for themselves what the angel had said. They did – then they returned to doing their job, but they were changed! These dregs of society became evangelists telling everyone what they had seen and heard. People were amazed at the message and the messengers! Shepherds! Can you believe? This child is for people like us!
Luke gives us a special insight into the heart of Mary using the powerful word “Ponder!” Try to imagine what she felt! She had just given birth to her first child and was weary. She also carried in her heart what Gabriel had said to her. Like every mother, she wondered about the future –what would become of her child?
Luke’s account is not to be dusted off and retold only once a year. The Gospel (Good News) is to be told and lived year round. The Lord’s favor (or grace) is to rest on all who will hear and heed the message of the Savior, Christ the Lord. God’s gift of grace favors the human race in the midst of all the fears of life with the Word of Life.
John Indermark reminds us Christmas beckons with the news of Jesus’ birth, the favor of God, and the kept promise of a Savior. The lowly shepherds give us the example to go and tell. Christ bids us, in the example of His life, to go and live. So graced, so favored, so saved: Go and tell, go and live!
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.