The Nativity of our Lord
December 25, 2017
“Come to Bethlehem; Go Home a Different Way”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Everyone heads toward Bethlehem, that’s what we see. Mary and Joseph who lived in Nazareth, a good 80-90 miles from Bethlehem; shepherds tending their sheep in the hill country outside of David’s city; and Magi, or wise men, who came from the east, a great distance from Bethlehem were all heading to that little town.
The wise men saw a star the night that Jesus was born and they followed it. After a number of months they ended up in Jerusalem to learn that the King of Jews was to be born in Bethlehem just as the prophet Micah had said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are 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.” (Micah 5:2)
After the angels gave news to the shepherds of what had happened in a manger with ‘swaddling clothes’, “they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger”. (Luke 2:16) They had to go to Bethlehem.
And you know how the account begins in Luke, “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 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, 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… (Luke 2:1,4-5) They had to go to Bethlehem. They all had to go there – parents, shepherds, wise men because Jesus was making His entrance into the world.
Did you know that you have to come to Bethlehem, too? Come to Bethlehem and you will find God’s great heart opened to you. Come to Bethlehem and you will see every good thing that God has planned for your eternity. Come to Bethlehem and see the hope that God brings to life through the gift of His only Son. When you come to Bethlehem you will see Jesus, the light of the world.
We are told “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) In Bethlehem a rescuer had come for us. In Bethlehem the Christ, the Messiah would come. In Bethlehem the Lord would come. You just have to come to Bethlehem and see this Child.
And when you come to Bethlehem you see God coming in humility, coming to our level, understanding our struggles and difficulties and temptations and life. In Bethlehem you are able to see Immanuel, God with us. You can see a God by our side, holding us and supporting us and giving life new strength.
You just have to come to Bethlehem – Jesus our Savior and Lord and Master was born so we would have life. Our humble Lord would be the Lord by our side every step, every day, through any difficulty. Come to Bethlehem.
But you must go home a different way. That is what happened with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the wise men and it must happen for me and you. Mary and Joseph were told to leave Bethlehem and go to Egypt because the life of Jesus was in danger – Herod had issued the decree that the boys in Bethlehem and the vicinity two years and younger were to be killed. The shepherds returned home a different way, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told to them.” (Luke 2:20) This was a new way to go back to caring for sheep. And of the wise men, “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:12) They all went home a different way.
Isn’t that what must happen for us? For anyone who celebrates the great joy and the deep redemption of Christmas, for everyone who truly has come to Bethlehem, they have to go home a different way. A man had just had his annual physical exam and was waiting for the doctor’s initial report. After a few minutes the doctor came in with his charts in his hand and said, “There’s no reason why you can’t live a completely normal life as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.” If you have come to Bethlehem now you can start living a normal life and truly enjoy it.
Go home a different way. If you have not known peace in your soul and cleansing from your sin go home a different way. If you didn’t know that God was truly on your side and has great plans for your life you have to go home a different way. Come to Bethlehem, see God’s answer for sin and hell and death and then go home a different way.
Bruce Lieske tells a story about the Christmas traditions in his home when he was just a boy. He writes, “In our home we had ‘brownies’, elves that were the forerunners of Santa. They made their presence known in our household about a week before Christmas. My brother and I carefully hung our stockings on the mantle and hoped each morning that the ‘brownies’ would leave a small toy, a package of gum, or some other goody. But we were solemnly warned that if our behavior was bad during the day the ‘brownies’ would not hesitate to put a lump of coal in our stocking.”
“I never believed this would happen to me. Perhaps somebody else would get the coal, but not me. Then it happened. In my memory is a photographic image of myself, with tear-stained face, showing my mother the horrid piece of coal. My mother calmly explained that I had received what I deserved. As Christmas grew nearer my six-year-old mind began to dwell on that old familiar song, ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’. Would disaster strike again? The words did say, “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout…he’s making a list, checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty and nice…’” Christmas grew closer and his fear grew greater.
Lieske speaks about the joy of receiving presents that year not because he had deserved them but because he was shown great love.
After going to Bethlehem we go home a new way amazed at God’s love and righteousness given to us sinners. We receive presents from God not because we have earned them but because God has been gracious to us.
This different way also tells us of a new way to live. Go on a new route after seeing how much God wants you to be His. There is a new and better way for each of us to live. If you have seen improvement in your life over the past few weeks don’t go back to the old ways and the old you!
A whiIe back I watched from my rear view mirror a father who was taking his kids to school. He was running late and I wondered if he would make it to their school safely. He was right behind me and the windshield in his mini-van was iced over and fogged up. Evidently he did not have enough time to warm up the van or scrape the windows before getting everybody in their seats. I assumed the defroster was on high because the windshield wipers were moving back and forth in a frenzied fashion all the way to school even though it was not raining or snowing. Pretty soon there was a little opening for his eyes and I could see the breakfast burrito in hand. It was about 7:30 in the morning and we were both driving east into a blinding sun. I could see that he didn’t quite know where the lines of the road were or exactly where the turn down the road was to begin, but he made it. The kids got to school, well fed and only a few minutes late! And I was happy he didn’t end up plowed into my backside.
That’s us, isn’t it? We can’t see where we are going and have the sun in our eyes and can be unprepared for all that we are called to do. But the different way that we get home is now directed by His word and empowered by God’s mighty Holy Spirit. God desires us to be people guided by Him with the brilliance of His truth.
Come to Bethlehem but go home a different way. You don’t have to wait for the New Year for new beginnings in life. And this different and better way does not need to end on Christmas. Since Thanksgiving I have been listening to KOSI (FM). I like Christmas music and they have been playing Christmas music over the past month. But they have been telling me that the day after Christmas it all returns to “KOSI Classics” and “KOSI favorites”. When Christmas ends so does the music.
Going home a different way after being in Bethlehem means that we don’t stop our celebration of Immanuel, God with us, so soon. It means that we rejoice in the Savior, our Redeemer for all time not just at Christmas. Going home a different way means a new and clear direction in life.
Come to Bethlehem – it is the place of life and joy and salvation; and then go home a different way. Amen
(This sermon, most recently was preached at Ascension, just three years ago, on December 25, 2014)