Luke 2:1-20 Sermon Illustrations

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Luke 2:1-20

"The day that set the calendars of the world"

Luke 2:1-20



1. According to The Tampa Tribune, Florida Circuit Court Judge Stephen M. Cohen has outlawed use of the initials "A.D." with any date on any court document. He wrote in an October 29, 1997 memo to Chief Judge Walter Colbath:

"Please be advised that effective December 1, 1997, I will not sign any documents bearing the A.D. designation."

2. "A.D." is an abbreviation for the Latin words Anno Domini which means "the year of our Lord." Certainly it is true that not everyone acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord but still most of the world dates its calendars by the birth of Jesus Christ.

All our letters, every check, every birth certificate, every newspaper, every postmark, every copyright at the end of a movie or sports telecast - - - is dated by the birth of Jesus Christ.

3. Two thousand years ago there probably wasn’t a person in the world who could have imagined that the Jesus’ birthday would set the calendars of the world.

Jesus was only one of many in the Christmas story, some of whom may have seemed far more important at the time. For example, the Christmas story in Luke 2 begins with famous Roman emperor Caesar Augustus - - the man of the month.


I. The man of the month: Caesar Augustus

1. "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world."

2. The Romans took a census every fourteen years. The purpose was two-fold:

1.) for taxation

2.) for compulsory military service.

In many ways their census then was not unlike our census every ten years. It is especially interesting that the United States should have a census in the year 2000 which marks the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus which was also a census year.

3. The census was ordered by Caesar Augustus who was considered the first Roman emperor. His original name was Caius Octavius. He was born in 63 B.C. and died in A.D. 14. He was a grandnephew of Julius Caesar who named him as his successor.

Historically he was a very important figure. He was a powerful military leader who united the empire, established the Pax Romana, built roads and cities and was a patron of the arts. One ancient saying claimed that when he came Rome was a city made of brick and when he left Rome was a city made of marble.

4. In 27 B.C. the Roman Senate gave to him the title "Augustus" which means "consecrated" or "holy." Essentially, the declared their emperor to be a god. At his funeral, Roman citizens comforted themselves with the belief that as a god he was immortal and lived forever.

5. With his new name and title of Caesar Augustus, the Roman Senate further honored him by renaming the month formerly known as Sextilis "August." We have retained his honor for over 2000 years so that every summer we have the thirty-one day month of August named after him. It is an interesting footnote of history that every time we write an August date we honor the month of Caesar Augustus and the year of Jesus Christ.

Ironically, the two men never met.

6. It was the decree of Augustus that set the circumstances for the birth of Jesus. If it were not for his census, there would be no birth in Bethlehem, no manger, no nearby shepherds or so many of the things we associate with the Christmas story.

7. It impresses me that God accomplishes his great purposes through people who don’t even know it. Today the names and titles are different. The famous and powerful persons are President of the United States or heads of Middle Eastern states or CEOs of huge companies. They may not know a thing about Jesus but God still uses their decisions to accomplish his great purposes in history.

8. I assume that Caesar Augustus, the man of the month, died without ever knowing Jesus was born in his empire during his reign.


II. The couple of the year: Joseph and Mary

1. In the much smaller and more parochial setting of Bethlehem, the couple of the year was Joseph and Mary. They were strangers in the village - - - a man and his wife who had walked the 80 miles from their home in Nazareth at the worst possible time in order to register for the census.

2. I phoned Northwest Airlines last Friday to find out if they would accept Mary for travel this Christmas. The company policy was read to me over the telephone. If a woman is within 30 days of delivery she must have a statement signed by her doctor dated within 72 hours of departure indicating her due date and that she probably won’t have the baby on the flight. Women in labor are denied boarding for safety reasons.

Not much has changed in 2000 years. Mary would still have to walk.

3. When they arrived Bethlehem was packed with tourists. There was no vacancy at the local inn. Joseph and Mary were offered space in the courtyard where the animals were bedded and fed. Her baby was coming soon and the story seems to hint that Joseph first registered for the census - - - that way there were two for taxes and not three. Just the opposite of today where a dependent saves on income tax, a dependent might have increased the head tax.

Because the birth was imminent it was too risky to start back to Nazareth - - - that would take several days at a donkey’s pace. So they stayed in the animal courtyard and waiting for the contractions to begin.

4. Because the courtyard was a very public place with people constantly coming and going, young Mary didn’t have the privacy any woman would want to deliver her baby. It may well be that they heard her cries as the contractions intensified. People came to see what was going on. Joseph may have been forced to decide between caring for his wife and chasing away gawkers. It was anything but the best of circumstances.

5. When the baby was born they immediately wrapped him in traditional swaddling cloths. That is a square piece of cloth with a long strip coming from one of the corners. It must have looked a little like a kite with a cloth tail. The square was used like a diaper and the piece of attached cloth was used to wrap him up like a mummy. When all wrapped up he was put down in the feeding trough - - -probably because the ground was dirty and there was nowhere else to put him.

6. Now, what do you think everyone was talking about? Surely, this public birth was the talk of the village. In an otherwise quiet and uneventful place, there were out-of-town tourists with multiple stories and this was probably the best story of the entire year. Joseph and Mary became the couple of the year. Probably the gossip ranged from laughter to pity.



III. The shepherds of the night: names unknown

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

2. Their names are not recorded. That is no surprise since shepherds weren’t very important people. They were looked down on by much of society, especially by the very religious.

The religion of the day was very legalistic, including lots of rituals about cleanliness. However, shepherds lived outside with their sheep and couldn’t keep the rituals. They were outcasts who never measured up.

Like most societies, prejudice ran rampant. Shepherds became despised, were the objects of disdain and probably of ugly degrading humor. They were not allowed to be witnesses in court because they were assumed to be untrustworthy.

3. What happened next was supernatural, spectacular and a great joke. An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds! Not to Caesar Augustus, not to Quirinius the governor, not to the super religious orthodox guys with squeaky clean hands and clothes. The angel came to lowly shepherds nobody had ever heard of. God must have laughed at the irony and fun of his choice.

4. But there may be a subtle secret in the selection of the shepherds. You see, they probably were not ordinary shepherds. In order to keep a continuous supply of unblemished and healthy sheep for Temple sacrifice, special Temple flocks were maintained outside Bethlehem.

Shepherds were still shepherds but these sheep were born for sacrifice in Jerusalem. It is a subtle symbol that the child in Bethlehem was also born to be sacrificed in Jerusalem.



IV. The messengers of the moment: Angels

1. Angels are messengers. In fact, the Greek word for messenger is "angel." The #1 job of an angel is to communicate God’s message.

2. If angels get nervous and breathless, this angel must have been shuddering and panting. And the shepherds were no better, terrified just about to death at the sight of the angel.

This was the most important message the angel would ever deliver. He spoke it word for word the way God wanted it said:

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:10-12)

3. Then the angel was joined by thousands of his buddies who praised God with words in unison. They didn’t sing . . .they said:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Interesting! The peace isn’t for everybody. It’s just for those who believe in Jesus and receive the favor of God. They are those who love and praise God.

4. Whoosh! The angels disappeared as quickly as they came. It seems that angels in the Bible never hang around for very long. They are in and out. Their visits are counted in seconds more than minutes or hours. Perhaps that is because angels are always praising and glorifying and pointing to God - - -they seem to dislike attracting attention to themselves. After all they are merely messengers. God is the one who is important, not the angels.

5. They were merely the messengers of the moment in the Christmas story. The real center of attention was the child of eternity. He was the one to forever reset the calendars of history.


V. The child of eternity: Jesus (Savior, Christ, the Lord)

1. The angels gone, the shepherds still blinking their eyes, they rushed off to nearby Bethlehem to see the baby.

2. There he was, just as the angel had said. Not in a house or a crib, but lying in a manger . . . all wrapped up like a mummy, with Joseph and Mary nearby looking at him.

3. Faithless eyes would have seen nothing but an ordinary newborn baby. But these shepherds saw nothing ordinary. They saw all that had been predicted in God’s message to them. They were dazzled. They were amazed. They told everyone who would listen - - - people actually listened to ordinary shepherds and believed this stunning story they told. They glorified and praised God and couldn’t stop talking about what had happened and who they had seen.

4. Why this child’s birth should become the center point of history’s calendar is explained in three words spoken by the angel: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

"Savior" explains the whole purpose of Jesus’ birth. He came to save us from sin. If we miss that, we miss Jesus. He’s not most about mangers or angels, or holidays, or politics or happiness. He’s most about salvation.
The whole premise of Jesus’ coming is that every human being is a sinner lost from God and heaven. Jesus came to die, pay the penalty for sin, and bring us back to God.
That is why it is so important for every person to decide to accept Jesus as Savior. To merely acknowledge him as a great man of history is not enough. He must be acknowledged and accepted as Savior or we will die forever in our sins.

"Christ" is a title meaning "Messiah." It means that he was anointed or chosen to represent God on earth and accomplish God’s great purposes in history. He is God’s Man. He is the one God promised would come. He is extra special. He is one of a kind. He is the Christ!

"Lord" is the word ancient Jews used to refer to God. This is a most amazing word to be connected to Jesus. He is "the Lord Jesus" - - that means that Jesus is God. Not just from God but God himself. 100% God. When we pray to Jesus, we’re praying to God. When we follow Jesus, we are following God. When we love Jesus, we are loving God.
God came to earth, became human like us in order to save us from sin so that we can be forever with him in heaven.
That is the biggest news of all of history. It is the most amazing and wonderful thing that has ever happened.
The child born in Bethlehem should be the center point of history! All dates before and after his birth should be calculated around him. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.


1. Much has been made about the phenomenon called El Nino. It is the talk of the world. El Nino is a climatic change in the waters of the Pacific Ocean that raises the surface temperature a few degrees and has impact all over the globe. In some places (like Minnesota) it brings warm weather during winter. In other places it brings flooding or drought. The effects are different in different places.

2. El Nino is Spanish for "the Child" and refers to Jesus because the warm waters of El Nino always come around Christmas time.

It is a fitting title, because the coming of Jesus always has had and always will have far-reaching effects. For some his coming is wonderfully good and pleasant and for some it is dangerous and devastating. Depending on how we respond to the Christ child he may bring us peace and salvation and eternal life . . . or judgement and eternity without God.

3. This year the most important El Nino is not the climate but the Christ.

This Christmas may we welcome his warm coming and all the changes he can and will bring to our lives. May his coming not only set the calendars of the world, but may they be the starting point of our eternal lives.

4. "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 El Nino.

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


12/14/97 am Wooddale Church. ęCopyright, Leith Anderson, 1997.

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