This text describes some tough times. First, it was tax time. Time to pay those infamous taxes that make the middle class and the poor cringe. It was tax time. And in order to pay the tax, Joseph and Mary had to travel all the way back to Bethlehem, the city of David the place of their inheritance. It was the place where all the deeds to the family property were held in store; the place where their wealth could be assessed with all the proper documentation readily available for verification. It was tax time. Second, it was winter. This was to be no ordinary journey. Mary who was almost eight months pregnant and ready to deliver had to take this journey in freezing temperatures with no hospitals along the way. Thieves and bandits would lie in wait on this journey to deceive and rob unsuspecting travelers. Thieves and robbers would take advantage of travelers unaware of the road and its turns and crooks. It was cold; it was dangerous; it was mandatory. Thirdly, it was crowded. Taxpayers filled the roads going to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. It was like going from Manchester to Atlanta on I-85 in the middle of the day and then having to drive thru downtown Atlanta during rush hour. It was crowded; it was frustrating; it was hectic. Still Joseph and Mary had to persevere.
Then having finally arrived in Bethlehem, they found themselves one-room short of having a place to stay. When they reached the front desk to Hotel Bethlehem, the clerk said, “We just sold our last room. There is no more room here or anywhere else in town.” Imagine traveling a great distance in the freezing cold winter climate to pay taxes and upon arrival the desk clerk saying, “We have no more rooms available.” Imagine that on top of all this, you were almost nine months pregnant, even with money in your husband’s pocket; money couldn’t fix your situation. Imagine how you would feel.
Moreover, imagine how you would feel if told the only place you could lodge would be a small courtyard where the animals had been housed. Imagine wrapping your baby in swaddling clothes and laying him in a manger. Now swaddling clothes were customary, no big deal. Swaddling clothes were just a bunch of bandages or clothes that Mary used to wrap the baby’s arms and legs to keep him from moving. But a manger, the place where the animals’ food was placed. These three-foot long, eighteen inches wide, and two feet deep, troughs were cold and hard. Imagine that. I guarantee you that this was not Mary’s idea of a bed for her first child. Yet, Jesus, our Savior was born in an animal courtyard and Mary made his first bed out of an animal’s feeding trough. Isn’t that the mark of a good mother? She uses what she has to make the best environment she can for her children. Hallelujah!
Notwithstanding their personal struggles, Joseph and Mary lived in austere time. There were political, social, religious and economic hardships that the people of God had to live through.. Politically, they had just experienced the Maccabean revolts against the Greek General Alexander and his sons, the Ptolemy. Then, the Romans came, occupied their lands and confiscated their treasures. Roman taxation had nearly robbed the temple treasury and caused countless Jews to loose their land and valuables. They just could not afford the taxes and through a government process, lost all that they had worked hard to maintain. Socially, the Jews were broken down into the poor, middle class, upper class, and elitist – or what we call “the haves and the have nots.” There was racial division among brethren and social taboos that society dared people to cross. In other words, captivity had produced a strain on familial relationships that caused many squabbles and clashes between brothers. Religiously, there were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. The Pharisees were legalistically superior in their external religious observance, while the Sadducees were more concerned with prosperity and position in the world. Meanwhile, the Zealots were frequently causing revolutions among the populace that always threatened the existence of the other Jews. Yet, for all these the majority of the people disowned membership in any of these groups. They were the simple people who mixed a little prosperity with a little religion to help fuel a little protest every now and then. They were the cosmopolitan – heard to utter – “can’t we all just get along.”
Economically, times were tough. It was hard for the common person just to make ends meet. The updraft would catch the common person because of the political upheavals and the religious tyranny. Loyalties to the Romans could produce suits in the courts against family members who refused to play along. It could also cause family members to become jobless and the authorities could strip them of their land, livelihood, and status overnight. These were indeed tough and perilous times.
To top all this off, God was angry with the people. They had disobeyed his laws, trampled over his commandments, disgraced his rituals, and taken advantage of his grace. These people had been obstinate, stubborn, and incorrigible toward God. God, who had successfully led them out of bondage in Egypt, into the Promised Land, and through numerous hardships looked and saw how the people had totally denied his existence and taken him for granted. He had every right to be furious at them, yet he loved them more than life itself. God could not envision abandoning them; he could not envision life without his beloved people. Therefore, after more than 430 years of silence, God spoke.
In the toughest of tough times, God speaks. He did not speak to condemn humanity. He did not deal out justice against their sinful nature. He did not add insult to injury. Rather, God spoke a word of grace. He sent his angels in the midst of those tough times and this is what they said, 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. They broke out singing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
What an awesome word! What a change of heart. God who had every right to be angry and to mete out justice on the world, spoke a word of love and forgiveness. God spoke of a Savior, a deliverer, a person who would save his people from their sins. Hallelujah!
And what of you this Christmas morning. Do you know anyone who deserves your wrath? Yet, you will impute your love and forgiveness to them. Do you know someone with whom you have every right to be angry? Yet, you have chosen to give that person love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of wrath.
Do you know how tough it can be to have everything in your life going wrong, and experience the anger of God as well? That’s what these people were experiencing. If it had not been the Lord move in their favor, they would not have made it. Moreover, some of you, right now, hold in your hands the key to someone’s release into their destiny. God wants you to give them the greatest gift they could ever receive this holiday – love and forgiveness.
This was truly good news in tough times. This was news that made the difference in their lives. This was news that despite what had happened to them as a family, politically, socially, or economically, God was with them. God was no longer angry with them. God did not want to inflame their misery; he wanted to ignite their passion to excel above their misfortunes. Beloved, whatever you are going through right now, God wants to inspire your creativity to reach above it. Do not let your tough times defeat you. Receive the word of God this morning. There is good news for your tough time! You are greater than your misfortune; you are stronger than your trouble; you are a child of Gold, rejoice in Him!
Move 4 (Celebration)
The good news is that Jesus Christ was born. He came that you might have life and that more abundantly. He came so that you would no longer be a stranger in the household of faith. He came so that you would no longer be an alien and stranger to your covenant with God. He came so that you would embrace God as God has embraced you. This is the good news this morning – Jesus Christ has come! Hallelujah!
You can achieve; you can succeed; you can be free from the burdens of life because Jesus Christ is come! You can receive God’s love and forgiveness this holiday season. You can experience his grace in your life right now. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, you can rise up from the pit of despair and put on the joy of hope that springs eternal. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, trouble can make you better rather than bitter. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, there is strength for the weary and power for the faint. The good news is that you are not alone any more, Jesus Christ has come, and if you will receive him this morning, he will make a difference in your life. Hallelujah!