I’m going to tell you a story. It’s one that you know, I think.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them—and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.’ And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (Lk. 2:1-20 KJV).
It’s an old story, or at least part of the old, old story that began with God at the dawn of creation… that began with the Word. And though it is an old story, it’s a story that never seems to wear out, no matter how often we retell it. It’s the story of how God created the heavens and the earth, and every thing that lives therein… a story that helps us understand the immeasurable goodness of God. And it’s the story of God in the Garden searching for his beloved children who had fallen into sin… we hear God’s anguished cry, “Where are you?” It’s the story of Cain and Abel… of humankind’s willful detour from the path God had set before them… to a path that led them into the wilderness of sin: the road to perdition. And it’s the story of Noah… of God’s enduring faithfulness and of how he will guide and protect us if we’ll only listen. You know this story.
You know about the first Covenant: how God led Abraham to the land of Canaan, where he and his family could live in abundance… and about how the nation that sprung from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob failed to trust God’s Providence, and so eventually found themselves living as slaves in Egypt. You know about God sending Moses to Egypt to bring his people home to the land of milk and honey he had set aside for them… and you know about the second Covenant that God made with the Hebrews on top of Mount Sinai: of the Ten Commandments… and the golden calf. You know about Joshua and the series of judges and kings that led Israel, sometimes poorly, through the years leading up to the Babylonian Captivity… and you know about the “new thing” that God promised through the prophet Isaiah: to “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (43:19)… living water to sustain his lost children as they struggled to return to the path of righteousness and find their way home out of the wilderness of sin. This is the story of us.
Why does this story never wear out? Maybe it’s because the story of Jesus’ birth is the story of a God so immeasurably awesome and good, so infinitely loving that he will never give up on us… no matter how we resist his movement and purpose in our lives. We need to hear that story over and over… we need to know that story by heart. And so we are met at this time and place to commemorate and celebrate the birth of the New Covenant: Immanuel, God with us… a promise that reminds us that that we can run, but we can’t hide from God. No matter how far we wander into the valley of the Shadow of Death, rest assured: God will be with us… even if it means sending his only Son to walk beside us prodigals as we struggle to find our way home. God will come after us. God will always come after us. And that my brothers and sisters is Good News, indeed!
Recalling again the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: [we who] dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon [us has] the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Is. 9:2, 6-7a KJV).