A Walk through the Christmas Story

Asbury Free Methodist – By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett

December 19, 2021

Luke 2:1-14

            Last week we looked at the story before the story. Jesus existed before he was born. Today I want to take you into the Christmas story. I am hoping that I can help you see it from a new perspective.

            I was looking at a sermon I preached about this in 1995. That sermon is almost irrelevant now. I talked about Christmas cards – which I get comparatively few of. With the advent of Facebook and Instagram, we keep up with how people are doing already. Sending Christmas cards has become expensive.

            I talked about the commercialization of Christmas. Back then, there seemed to be a war between Santa and the manger scene. The war is over – Santa won. Other than churches and the homes of Christ-followers, you are unlikely to see any reference to Christmas story in outdoor Christmas decorations. Christmas trees are good. Giving is good. Family is good. But most people don’t care that Jesus is the reason for the season.

            Back then, there was a big debate going on in society as to whether or not you should wish someone a Merry Christmas or wish them a happy holiday. Nobody cares about that debate anymore. Wishing someone a Merry Christmas is no longer a faux pas.

            Back in 1995, the Christmas story was familiar to a lot of people. If nothing else, they heard it in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I think the story is less familiar today. I want to walk you through the Christmas story in Luke and just make some observations about it. I am hoping that you might find it helpful.

Luke 2:1–3 (NIV)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

            This is Luke’s attempt to tell us when Jesus was born and why he was born in Bethlehem. I say attempt because we have lost the record of the census and don’t really know when Quirinius was governor of Syria. The best scholarship puts the birth of Jesus around 4 B.C. which is kind of ironic because B.C. stands for Before Christ. Let’s just say that Pope Gregory counted wrong – but we still use the Gregorian Calendar today.

Luke 2:4–5 (NIV)

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

            Now the census would have been for tax purposes. And given that it was a male-dominated society, there would have been no need for Mary to have made the trip – which makes us wonder why she was there.

            Were things difficult in Nazareth for an engaged, unwed, obviously pregnant woman? Did Joseph feel like he couldn’t trust anyone in Nazareth to take of Mary the way he could? We don’t know what was going on in their mind. We do know that because she made the trip, prophecy was fulfilled that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But to say this pregnancy was an inconvenience would be an understatement.

Malcolm Muggeridge observed that if Jesus was born in our day, with family-planning clinics offering convenient ways to correct “mistakes” that might disgrace a family name, Jesus probably never would have been born. Muggeridge said,

It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all.  Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus, our generation, needing a Saviour more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born.”

But Mary’s response was different than the likely modern-day response. When Gabriel made his announcement about her conceiving by the Holy Spirit, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She dealt with it.

Philip Yancey said, “Oftentimes the work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in Mary’s matter of fact response she embraced both.” (Yancey, pg 32)

Luke 2:6–7 (NIV)

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 , and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

            I want you to note what is not in the story. There is no donkey, although every Christmas pageant seems to have Mary riding one. But I think even more importantly, there is no innkeeper. Bethlehem probably wasn’t big enough to warrant an inn.

            Yet “many of us have seen a Christmas program that features a hard-hearted innkeeper turning away the holy family and banishing them into the chilly night.  It is a popular Christmas myth, but, of course, the Bible says nothing about an innkeeper.  There *might* have been an innkeeper, but he or she is never mentioned in the Scriptures.

            Joseph probably knocked at a door of a private home searching for lodging in that home’s guest quarters. It would have been more like the upper room Jesus reserved to celebrate Passover with his disciples. Bethlehem was an unlikely spot to have had a full-blown hotel-like inn as found in the good Samaritan parable.  But even if there was the ancient equivalent of a Bed and Breakfast, there is no Scriptural basis for making the innkeeper a villain.  If he did exist, what did he do wrong?

But we like the innkeeper myth.  A hard-hearted secular inn keeper better fits our bias.   We, of course, fancy that we’d have given up our own bed for the holy family.  We think all this as we happily drive past a car full of immigrants with a flat tire, or as we scurry off to Christmas shopping, we wonder why homeless people don’t ‘go get a job.’ 

We like the hard-hearted innkeeper, for he is our symbol of the worldling — hard-hearted people with no room for the Saviour… or even time to help a young family in need.  We consider ourselves to be compassionate, caring, and full of mercy.  We believe unsaved people are selfish, hard-hearted, and uncaring.  Grading the world low enough, we mark ourselves on a curve and look pretty good.” (Durry, Tue. Col December 18, 1995)

The innkeeper myth keeps up the “us and them mentality.” We have room for Jesus – they don’t. We are compassionate – they aren’t.

But the story of Christmas is that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son. God loved the innkeeper if there was one, as much as he loved the shepherds. The question is not how much does God love us? For he loves us with his whole being. With all of who he is, for God is love. The question is how we will respond to God’s love.

            My hope is that Asbury would love innkeepers as much as shepherds. We hope that we will love those who are who don’t open their doors to Christ – because we know that God does.

            On with our story.

Luke 2:8 (NIV)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

            There are a couple of things that are noteworthy about this verse. Shepherds in Israel tended to be out in the fields in the spring, summer and fall. We have no idea of the date of the actual birth of Jesus, but it is really unlikely it took place in December.

            I actually see this as helpful. We celebrate Christmas on December 25 not because it happened on that day, but what happened is worth celebrating. God stepped into our world. We value what happened. The date itself is inconsequential. There are a lot of things where the reality of what happened is more important than the minutia.

            It is more important that you know that you are a child of God than it is to know the actual date on which it happened. Some of you can remember when you gave your heart to the Lord clearly. Others of you know that you were once lost and are now found. You know that you are in Christ and Christ is in you. It is far more important for the reality of conversion to have taken place than it is to know the date.

            I could go on, but I won’t because I want to bring you back to the shepherds. If I was going to be in a Christmas pageant, I would want to play the role of the Shepherd. They are always the cutest (other than the sheep), But here is what we miss.

            We have a way of romanticizing the occupation of shepherds. But shepherds in the first century were seen as being dishonest. The Talmud, which is a Jewish commentary by famous Rabbis of the time, actually put Shepherds in the same category as tax collectors. According to the standards of the law, they were unclean. They were some of the outcasts of society.

            I love the fact that it was the social and religious outcast that became the first people to hear the good news. You hear Jesus say that he came to seek and to save the lost. But this shows you that this is the very heart of God.


            You have heard me say it over and over again, “I love living in Perth.” The beautiful buildings, the picturesque parks, the wonderful people all make this a great place to live.

            But there is another side that I rarely see. A couple of weeks ago, there were four people who died in one day between Smith Falls and here from either a drug overdose or suicide. There are a lot of people who are homeless in our area, but for the most part, they go unseen and unnoticed. According to our health unit, almost 10 percent of the people in our area cannot afford nutritious food, and some of these people miss a lot of meals because they don’t have enough money.


Luke 2:8 (NIV)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

I would say to you, there are people like the social outcasts’ shepherds living nearby.

Luke 2:9 (NIV)

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  

I get it. An angel appears. The glory of God lights up the sky. I know why they are terrified. When an angel appeared to Mary in chapter 1:34, she was greatly troubled. But when the glory of God shows up the shepherds were terrified.

            Mary was highly favoured with God. The shepherds were social and spiritual outcasts. They encounter an angel, and the responses are a little different.

            When a person who is far away from God encounters the power of the Holy Spirit, they are often afraid as well. I have had people tell me that they couldn’t come to church because they were afraid lightning would strike them.

            It is the natural response of people like shepherds to shy away from God. But look what the angel said.

Luke 2:10–11 (NIV)

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

            There is good news for all people, even those who are apart from God. A saviour has been born. He is the Messiah. He is the Lord. God was saying to the shepherds, the social outcasts of the day – I know you are outcasts amongst people, but you are loved by me. This is good news for everyone. Sometimes you can be an angel to another person and tell them, don’t be afraid. I bring you good news.

Luke 2:12–15 (NIV)

12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

            God often gives directions. He gave the shepherds these directions – you are going to find a baby lying in a manger. That is odd. He is going to be wrapped in cloth. Can you imagine them going into Bethlehem? There were no signs that said, Jesus this way.

            They would have had to search all the stables of the village for a baby lying in a manger. But they found him.

            There are some of you who have been given general directions, but you are going to have to go search. My encouragement to you is to search until you find him.

            The shepherds had just got used to one angel, and then all of a sudden, there was a great company of angels praising God. They heard the words. They were no longer terrified.

            I love the fact that these shepherds were the first people to get a glimpse into what was happening in heaven. For years, all of heaven wondered how God would do it. How would he save this dark world where Satan was the prince of the power of the air?

            Then they saw it. Jesus, who was in very nature God, entered into time and space. They saw the plan of God unfolding in front of them, and there was a party in heaven.

Luke 2:15 (NIV)

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

            The shepherds did say, wow, this has been a wonderful experience. Let’s just sit here and bask in the glory of what we have experienced. No, in response to the word of God, they went to Bethlehem.

            When God speaks to you, there is often a follow-up action that is required.

Luke 2:16–18 (NIV)

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

            They were told about the child, they sought out the child; They found the child; When they found the child, they told their story, so Mary and Joseph heard about the angels. Then they told everybody they met.

Luke 2:19–20 (NIV)

19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

            Mary stored these things in her heart. We store things in our hearts because there may come a time when you need them.

            Let me lay one more verse on your mind

John 3:16 (NIV)  

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

            The story we have just walked through is a love story. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. It is a gift the requires a response. I want to invite you to respond by believing in him. Because, just like the angels showed up for the shepherds, God wants to show up for you.