GOT ROOM FOR YOU?
A number of years ago a couple traveled to the offices of an Adoption Society in England to receive a baby. They had been on the waiting list a long time. They had been interviewed and carefully scrutinized. Now at last their dreams were to be fulfilled. But their day of happiness was another's pain. Arriving at the offices of the Society they were led up a flight of stairs to a waiting room. After a few minutes they heard someone else climbing the stairs. It was the young student mother whose baby was to be adopted. She was met by the lady responsible for the adoption arrangements and taken into another room. Our friends heard a muffled conversation and a few minutes later footsteps on the stairs as the young mother left. They heard her convulsive sobbing until the front door of the office was closed. Then, there was silence.
The lady in charge then conducted them next door. In a little crib was a six week old baby boy. On a chair beside it was a brown paper bag containing a change of clothes and two letters. One of these, addressed to the new parents, thanked them for providing a home for her baby and acknowledged that under the terms of the adoption each would never know the other's identity. Then the young mother added one request. Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his eighteenth birthday? She assured them that she had not included any information about her identity. The couple entrusted that letter to a lawyer and one day the young man will read the message which his mother wrote on the day when with breaking heart, she parted with him.
I wonder what she wrote, don’t you? If you had to condense all you feel about life and love into a few precious words what would you say? I don’t know about you, but I would have no time for trivia, politics, or games. At such a time as that, I think I would want to dwell on the most important things. The eternally significant things. That which is absolutely essential. And in our passages of Scripture today, that’s exactly what God did too. Turn with me to Luke 2:1–6. Verse one reads, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
I find it interesting that the first person mentioned in Luke’s familiar story of Christmas was neither Mary, nor Joseph, nor shepherd, nor sorcerer wiseman. In fact, it doesn’t seem he should really have anything to do with the story, for he was the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. And yet, it was his decision, fifteen hundred miles away in Rome, that started the train of events that finally culminated in the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem.
I like that. Just when you think you know all the characters in the Christmas story, God goes and adds another one. This one from far far away. One who’s not even Christian. When Caesar died in 14 AD, Jesus was a 16 year old teenager. Working as an apprentice carpenter in Nazareth. Caesar had probably never heard of Him. But Jesus still had a powerful impact on his life. Which is point number one. Jesus always makes an impact on those far and near. Caesar would have been astounded that people later on would assign his own death to the year 14 AD, in the year of the Lord, rather than the Roman date 767 AUC, abbreviated “ab urbe condita” meaning, “from the founding of the city [Rome]” all because 1500 miles away Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Caesar’s jaw would’ve dropped if someone had told him that Christians around the world for generations to come would wish one another a “merry Christmas” rather than “lo Saturalia” in honor of the great end of the year festival in Rome. But here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as a good or bad time or place for Jesus to make an impact on your life. You don’t have to be somewhere special. You just have to be wherever you are. Caesar was 1500 miles away. Had no clue about Christ. Or the amazing love God had for him. But Jesus still made an impact on his life. Or at least his legacy. Which leads me to point number two this week:
Point number one: Jesus always makes an impact. Point number two: On your life or your legacy. Whether you’re near or far from God. Young or old. Affluent or dirt poor. History testifies to this. Whatever you think of Jesus, He always makes an impact. The only question up for grabs is whether His impact will be on your life. When you’re alive. Or your legacy. When you die. Some of you already know that. Growing numbers of people outside these walls do not.
I’m reading this really interesting book called Unchristian right now. It’s a book all about the groundbreaking research into the perceptions of emerging generations of Americans. Thousands of interviews and countless hours asking non Christian young people what they think about the church. One of the sobering realities the research proves is that more and more people in each successive generation are getting farther from God. In the United States that number of people has gone from 12 million [for those 60 years or older] to 34 million [for those 18-41]. You don’t have to know that. Or even agree with that to realize if we want to make an impact in the lives of emerging generations like Jesus, we have to pay attention to this growing number of people far from God. These are the Acts 15 Gentiles of the 21 st century. These are who we need to be making it easier for them to come a little closer to God. And the good news is God helps us! Because He never stopped pursuing them!
He was in hot pursuit of Balaam and the wise men sorcerers and He’s in hot pursuit of everyone else too. He’s determined to make an impact in their lives. And He’s determined to make an impact in yours as well. And because He’s God, He will. The only question is: will the impact He makes be in their life or their legacy? When they’re alive. Or after they’re dead?
Just so we know this event actually took place and is not a figment of Madison avenue’s creative imaginations, doctor Luke more so than any other gospel writer, likes to fix secular historical pillars within his accounts to anchor them within the pages of history. Luke 2:2,3 states, “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register.” But despite the presence of historical pillars like the emperor of Rome and the governor of Syria, some Bible scholars doubt that this trip ever happened. They don’t think a very pregnant young lady like Mary could have ever endured the rigors of this 80 mile journey on the back of a donkey clipety clopping their way from (northern) Nazareth down to David’s city, the sleepy little town of Bethlehem in the Judean hills southwest of Jerusalem. But they don’t stop there. They also claim that Rome never required her subjects to return to their original homes for such a census. She couldn’t. Nobody else did. Therefore, the Bible must be wrong! The Christmas story, they say, is nothing more than coincidence at best or fairy tale at worst.
But recently, as historians like Paul Maier in his book In the Fullness of Time, have noted, these unscholarly scholars have seen their opinions and assumptions detonated in front of their very eyes. Scientists have discovered a Roman census edict from 104 AD in neighboring Egypt in which tax payers who were living elsewhere were ordered to return to their original homes for registration. In another, a papyrus fragment from 119 AD describes how a 48 year old guy named Horos from the village of Bacchias traveled home to register his household for a house to house census in the 2 nd year of Hadrian Caesar his Lord. So you don’t even have to be Christian to know that other people were still traveling home for a census approximately 100 years after Joseph and Mary did. Even though it wasn’t easy.
The Romans required such censuses every 14 years. And because Palestine, conquered 60 years earlier by the Roman general Pompey, was still under Rome’s control ruled by a local puppet king Herod the Great, Joseph and Mary trudged their way to Bethlehem. Verses 4-6 says, “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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” Galations 4:4,5 says it this way, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons and daughters of God.” Most Christians think that is good news right?
But I can’t help thinking that Mary, also struggling with timing and birthing issues similar to the young lady in the beginning of my sermon, might have felt differently than Paul describes in Galations. She may have felt that the time had not yet “fully come.” Why? Because her marriage was not yet finalized. The birth of her child would be in shame and a reproach the rest of their lives. A shameful public divorce was a real possibility and in addition to the gossip and social rejection, she also faced the possibility of the death penalty if Joseph did not accept her and the truth regarding her pregnancy. The census had totally disrupted all their plans. And to top it all off, there were no room in the upper room when they got there. But as we learned in the 1 st sermon in our 2007 Christmas series, God can turn anything bad that happens to you into something good. All things may not be good. But all things will work together for good. Which is why Pastor Nathan is right when he says, “It’s all good in God’s hood.”
Rumor, hardship, and social rejection cannot stop God. Or those humbly following God. Why? Because God can turn anything bad into something good! The prophets of the Old Testament predicted such things. Messiah would be born of a woman and come as a seed to crush the serpent’s head and strike his heel as Genesis 3:15 describes. Messiah would come from the sons of Israel, from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David. Genesis 49:1,2, and 11 states, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” God through the prophet Nathan, speaking to King David in 2 Samuel 7:12 and 16 adds “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” Isaiah 7:14 says “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Micah 5:2 said He’d be born in Bethlehem “though it is small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” The Bible even says in Isaiah 60:3–9 and Psalm 72:10 that wise men and shepherds would make their cameo appearances.
But the ultimate reminder than God can turn bad things good is that God sent Jesus. And Jesus came. Phillip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew p.28 describes his arrival aptly, and perhaps uncomfortably: “The God who roared, who could order armies and empires like pawns on a chessboard, this God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food and love.”
Isn’t that an amazing description? And yet is is accurate. Why did this happen? Why did the Omnipotent one become so vulnerable? Probably for a bunch of reasons. But one we can be sure of is because God wants to make an impact in your life not just your legacy. Point number one: Jesus always makes an impact on those far and near. On their life or their legacy point number two. So point number three: Choose life!
According to the writers of Scripture, God wants to have an intimate relationship with us. He wants to know us. He doesn’t just love us. He actually likes us! He wants to be with us. He misses us when we’re far from Him. And He wants to draw us closer. Not scare us closer. He came as a baby to draw us closer to Him. So we would want to want Him. So we would want to know Him. So we would know the risk, for God, was worth the reward. High pressure sales pitches and threats are not how God invites you. Jesus said in Matthew 10:8, “Freely you have received, freely give.” A young Christian from India says it this way, “If God had given us merely a glimpse of his power, we would have feared Him. If God had given us a glimpse of his brilliance, we would have admired Him. If God had given us a glimpse of his immensity, we would have been awestruck. He has done all these things. But God also desires to give us a glimpse of his generosity and love—by becoming vulnerable, defenseless, and dependent so that we understand that we can relate to Him without fear. Nothing is as vulnerable as a human baby.” Ajoy Varghese, 12/5/05, in “God Little” director of training of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Chennai, India.
Point number one: Jesus always makes an impact on those far and near. And on their life or legacy point number two. So point number three: Choose life! Though he did miracles to heal people of physical and spiritual ailments, he steadfastly refused to use them for his own benefit. He often instructed those who were healed to keep the matter to themselves. Even when he was insulted, tortured, stripped and crucified, he refused to draw on his power and respond in like manner; he chose to surrender. The one at whose spoken words hard-nosed and well-trained soldiers fell back restrained himself from reacting to the hecklers who tried to provoke him to prove himself. Even today, he refuses to frighten us by appearing to us as the living, all-powerful Christ but chooses to knock on the door of our hearts as Revelation 3:19 describes so that those who want to relate to him freely and intimately might do so. So choose life! Choosing to accept and follow Jesus will mess up your life. But in a good way. The risk is so worth the reward. And besides, what have we got to lose? He’s going to make an impact in your life either way. He can’t help it. He’s God. The only questions this Christmas is whether we’ll let him make the impact in our lives or in our legacies. If you or someone you love wants to make that decision, here’s what to do.
Ask Jesus to make an impact in your life. That gives Him permission to come in. Revelation 3:20 says, “20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” If you don’t ask Jesus to come into your life, the only impact He’ll make is in your legacy.
Believe the truth about yourself and Jesus. That you’re a mess. Just like us. And need a Savior who not only loves you but likes you!!! Some folks think God shouldn’t get any extra credit for loving us because that’s what they’ve heard from Christians their entire lives. Yeah, yeah, God loves me. God is love. And that’s true. But what’s also true is God also likes you. Flaws and all. He misses you. He created you. He wants to be near you. We’re family. And if you ask Jesus to make an impact in your life, He will! John 1:12 says, “12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Ask him to make the impact in your life not your legacy. Believe the truth about yourself and about God. And then confess your need of Him. 1 John 1:9 says, “9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
In the movie Bruce Almighty, Bruce Nolan (played by Jim Carrey) is granted the powers of God for a few days. In spite of his supernatural abilities that enable him to settle some scores, he realizes that the thing that matters most to him is the love of his girlfriend, Grace. As he lives and loves and learns, he discovers her love cannot be manipulated or coerced, but must be freely given by her and gained by him. Unable to force his way into her heart, he continues to woo her and wait. The process is painful and confusing and slower than he’d like. But love is like that sometimes. And it’s worth the wait.
In the birth of Jesus, which we joyfully celebrate this time of year, God courageously and without reservation bares his heart so that He can win ours. God woos and waits. Coming not as God in all his immensity, but in the vulnerable life of a baby. Not with a bunch of words and fanfare, but with the simplicity of a life worth loving. At such a time as this, His birth reminds us that Jesus always makes an impact on those far and near. And on their life or legacy. So choose life. He has a room for you. Shortly before Gethsemane, before he died on the cross for our sins, Jesus said this in an upper room. “2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that where I am, there you may be.” Jesus has room for them. Jesus has room for you. No wonder the angels sing.
If you want Jesus to make an impact in the life of someone far from God, would you please stand? Maybe it’s someone you love. Maybe it’s someone you don’t even know. They may live with you. Or 1500 miles away. But if there is anyone here in that boat would you please stand?
If you want Jesus to make an impact in the life of someone near to God. Perhaps your own life. Would you please stand?
If you’re our guest here today and have no idea what you were getting into by coming here today, and are just thinking, when is this going to be over so I can go eat in the fellowship room right after this service is over, would you please stand? I invite you to bow your heads with me. While I ask God’s blessing on us all.
Our Father in Heaven, when Jesus became a tiny baby in Bethlehem in poverty and simplicity, you changed our world. You made an impact in our lives not just our legacies. And we are eternally grateful you did. But Father, we have loved ones and friends and children of yours whom we desperately want to know you too. Would you please make an impact in their lives as well? Even if they’re miles away? We believe the truth about ourselves. But we also believe the truth about you. Which fills our hearts with joy this Christmas. We confess our need of you again here today. And thank you in advance for making room for all of us. If we want it. And now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Now and until we meet again. Amen.