The Unexpected Jesus

Heritage Presbyterian Church

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021

Scripture: Luke 2:1-7

A big part of the advent season is based on getting ready, being  prepared, getting our hearts right.  But there is SO much to do, so much that we expect to happen that it can interfere with this preparation.

We expect crowded malls, decorated yards and houses and sometimes even occasionally decorated pets.  We expect the ringing of the Salvation Army bells outside the stores.  We expect friends, relatives, and families coming together for the holidays.  We expect slightly more crowded worship services in church, and we expect that the church leaders are DELIGHTED with that!  

We expect Christmas specials on TV and goofy commercials in between them.  We expect lots of red, green, glitter, and color.  

We expect all that and much more.

If look at the world at the time of Jesus’ birth, we would also see much that would be expected.  The familiar reading from Luke, that expected Christmas Eve reading from the Bible, gives us hints at the expected events in the world of Jesus’ time.

First, let’s talk about which names were expected.  We hear the name Caesar Augustus, who was the most powerful leader of the world at that time.  He also ruled for more than 40 years, and he consolidated his power very efficiently over all areas of the Roman Empire, especially that troublesome Jewish area called Judea.  Augustus was the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, so this was the expected ruler of Rome.  With it came unbelievable power that was also expected.

Next, we have Quirinius, governor of Syria.  This man had been currying favor with Augustus and his family members and even his military rulers for years.  So, when it came time to collect taxes for Rome, who was sent to do it in Syria but Quirinius?  He was an honored official with an important job.  The fact that he took care of the census – and its tax collection – was expected by all.

Finally, we have King Herod the Great.  This man also curried favor with the Romans, but he did it as a problem-solver for their troublesome Jewish problem.  Herod would handle the Jewish problems, and he would work with the Romans to keep order.  In return, the Romans proclaimed him King of the Jews – which was the expected title for this megalomaniac.  Like Augustus, Herod ruled for more than 40 years and consolidated his own power base with the Jewish religious leaders, as well as with the Romans.  The King of the Jews was the expected religious ruler over the Jews of Jesus’ day.

But there is an unexpected point that also appears, an unexpected name.  It is “David.”  King David had been dead for more than 1000 years, and yet it is still expected that the coming Messiah would be born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem.  The expectation was described by the prophet Micah:

“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, who origins are from old, from ancient times.” 

So, the name of the ancient and glorious King, the one who also consolidated his power, the one who reigned for years and years, but the one who was faithful to God is raised unexpectedly. 

Next is the location for Jesus.  It could be expected that he would arrive in Rome.  After all, that was the center of the empire and arguably the most important, the most powerful city in the world; in other words, an expected location for the birth of Jesus.  

Or perhaps, Jerusalem with the temple that Herod built on the ruins of the ancient temple built by David’s son, Solomon; Jerusalem, with its cultural and religious importance; Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life and worship; again, an expected location for the birth of Jesus.

Or maybe Nazareth.  After all, Jesus was known as a Nazarene.  He grew up there, he lived there.  Yet when one of his apostles, Nathanael, heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, he remarked, “Nazareth?  Can anything good come from there?”  Nazareth was more important than Bethlehem.  It was at a major crossroads in the Roman Empire where Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Syrians all traveled doing business.  An important place…an expected location for the birth of Jesus.

But Bethlehem?  The site of an ancient king’s hometown?  I know David was great…but seriously?  He had been dead for 1000 years!  

Did the people and the religious leaders and even King Herod seriously think that the Messiah – the newborn King of the Jews – would be born there?  Even 1000 years after David’s birth, Bethlehem was still a one-horse town.  Micah said it would happen that way – but Micah was a minor prophet!  Jesus born in Bethlehem…totally unexpected. 

And now let’s look at the area between Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Assuming that Joseph and Mary were both law-abiding citizens, they would not have wanted to travel between those two towns.  To do so, they would have to travel across Samaria.  That area was known for lawless marauders; even Herod and the Romans were virtually powerless to stop the highway robbers.  And Mary being “great with child,” that journey would have been a dangerous struggle for her.  It would have put her unborn child at risk.  Joseph could have gone alone and left Mary with relatives if the law ordered him to go.  That would have been the expected thing.  Yet Joseph and Mary traveled the distance anyway.

And, as we might expect, when they arrived in tiny Bethlehem, they found that there was no room for them at the inn.  Now we’ve all seen the plays and movies and TV programs showing them arriving too late for a room and the kindly inn keeper cannot offer them a room, so they will have to camp out in the town square.  Yet Mary is about to deliver, so the inn keeper directs Joseph to the stable – or perhaps a small cave for animals – where they will be safe.  I often wonder what the inn keeper would have done if he had known that a young pregnant woman would appear at his door that evening.  Would he expect them and prepare for them properly – or would he do the same thing?  After all, he was so busy with all the other travelers.  It was an important day in the business of Bethlehem…emperor’s ordered census…taxes to be levied, rooms to get ready, guests to attend to…

Finally, we get to the birth itself.  When we hear on the news of a baby being delivered in a taxi or by the side of the road or at home by a cop or a fireman or a paramedic, we all catch our breath – as one might expect.  Then we listen for the rest of the story – did they make it to the hospital later?  Was the cop or the cab driver or the paramedic or the fireman given a medal for delivering the baby?  Was the baby okay?  Was the mom okay?  WHY didn’t they go sooner?  What if something happened?  Thank goodness it all worked out!  Yet, in most of the world, in most of the births of most of the world’s babies, the birth is not in a hospital or an inn or a palace or any other place that we Americans might expect it to occur.  Think about it…most births throughout the world occur in a quiet, safe place and many times the delivery is done by the father.  That is expected in many places…certainly in first century Bethlehem, it was expected that Joseph would deliver the child himself – and he did.  We think of it as unexpected because that is what it would be for most of us.

That was the unexpected Jesus of that day and time.  

What about the unexpected Jesus of OUR day and time?

Do we expect Jesus to be with us when we are in trouble?  

Or do we lash out and demand to know why life is difficult, unfair, and sometimes cruel?

Do we expect Jesus to help us when we do absolutely nothing to help ourselves except to pray? 

When we refuse to pray with our feet and go and do something?

Do we expect Jesus in the grand places, the wonderful places, the lovely peaceful places? 

Or do we even bother to look for his face in the lowly places – like Bethlehem, the awful places – like a barn full of animals, the loud and dirty places – like a crowded inn with harried inn keepers?  

Or perhaps in today’s homeless shelters?

Do we expect Jesus to bring peace when we think of no other solutions other than anger and blustering and threats and war?

Do we expect to honor the baby in the manger when so many babies are born to drug-addicted mothers, not given proper medical care, not fed proper food, and therefore become nothing more than a “burden” or a “statistic” or a “drain on society?”

And finally, do we honestly expect Jesus to come into our hearts if this holiday season consists only of presents, decorations, and crowds of people at the malls?

The unexpected Jesus gets our attention – despite the busy world around us.

The unexpected Jesus touches our souls with love for one another – and not just on one chilly evening in late December.

The unexpected Jesus whispers in our hearts to do something to help those around us – especially those that do not ever expect Jesus at all.

The unexpected Jesus arrived with no room for him or his family at the inn – but all the room we will allow in our hearts for his love.

The unexpected Jesus brings us a gift that is also unexpected, a gift that is given and received a million times each day – the gift of Jesus himself.

So, gather around that manger.  

Worship that child in your hearts.  

And know that the Jesus you expect has arrived!