Luke 2:6-7 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 24, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is taken from the Christmas Gospel recorded in Luke 2:
Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to give birth, and she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the guest room.
When you hear the words “guest room,” what come to mind? Modern hotels have “guest rooms,” temporary lodging places for the hotel’s guests who are traveling on business or on vacation. In a similar vein, Bed and Breakfasts have guest rooms, usually quite fewer rooms than hotels. Private homes sometimes have permanent guest rooms that are set up when family and friends stay over. Much of the time, however, we turn a room in our homes into a guest room when the need arises.
As we examine Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus it is most likely this last understanding of “guest room” that the Gospel-writer has in mind. There were not many commercial inns around in the first century, places for the reception of strangers like a hotel that we would know. In our text, Luke uses a word that is more commonly understood as “guest room” rather than a hotel-like commercial establishment. In fact, it’s the same word Jesus uses in Luke 22 when He gives His disciples instructions regarding their Passover celebration, “Tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” (Lk. 22:11 ESV). This was not a banquet or meeting room in the Holiday Inn—Jerusalem. It was a room most likely in the home of John Mark (the Gospel author) where Jesus and the Twelve ate the final Passover meal before Jesus’ Passion.
The same would then be true in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would have more than likely been guests of family, especially extended family, or of friends. This would have been a modest dwelling where family members and animals often slept in one enclosed space, the animals located on a lower level or perhaps in one of the numerous caves that surrounded the village of Bethlehem located behind the house in which, because of the Roman Census, was so overcrowded that any and all guest space was taken up.
Luke tells us that these guests, Mary and Joseph, had already arrived in Bethlehem and were settling in to their temporary lodging situation for Caesar’s census when the big moment arrived. “While they were there,” debunks any pious embellishment of them arriving in town just in the nick of time, scrambling to find a place for this “special delivery,” and heartless innkeepers turning them away until one of them lets them use his stable. So during their visit to Bethlehem Mary gave birth. There was no place in the guest room so Jesus’ first bed was a manger, a feed trough for the cows.
There is no drama in how Luke records the account of Jesus’ birth. Mary safely gives birth to Jesus and lays Him in a manger. In view of THIS birth’s significance, it is ironic that the Son-of-God-Made-Flesh would come to this world with such humble surroundings. But He had already humbled Himself in His Incarnation, taking to His divine person a true human nature and flesh. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth, then, are quite in keeping with this theme that Paul illustrates in Philippians 2, “Though [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself” (Phil. 2:6-8 ESV).
To fulfill all of the Triune God’s promises, for all of the promises of God find their “Yes” in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20), God the Son was “conceived by the Holy Spirit” and was “born of the Virgin Mary.” God had once again visited His people and walked in their midst as He had once done in Eden’s Garden so long ago. He came not in the fire and smoke and earthquake as He did at Mt. Sinai when He gave the Law to Moses. He didn’t come in a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night as He did when He led the Israelites in the desert those forty years. He came not as “the angel of Yahweh,” as He frequently did in the pages of the Old Testament. No, God the Son came among us with a human nature and human flesh. Jesus came as “guest.”
The word “guest” communicates to us something of a more temporary nature then, let’s say, the word “resident.” Christmas guests come for a little while and we enjoy their company and fellowship, but then they return to their homes and to their vocations. When we are guests, we do the same—the vacation comes to an end, the holiday trip is over. We bid our farewells, sometimes with tears, looking forward to the next visit. So it is with Jesus as humanity’s guest. His coming among us was for a short, temporary time, about 33 years; His purpose, to save His people from their sins.
The Christmas Gospel from John 1:14 reminds us of this: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14 ESV). That word “dwelt” is the same word that we get “tabernacle” or “tent” from. The Son of God, Jesus, became flesh and pitched His tent among us, He encamped among us. Staying in tents is a temporary thing. Tents are not typically designed to be permanent shelters. When King David wanted to build a permanent Temple in Jerusalem for the Lord, God told Him, “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling” (2 Sam. 7:6 ESV). Beautifully enough, the Greek translation of God’s Word uses “guest room,” as the Lord says “I was moving about in a guest room, even in a tent.”
Without belaboring the point, it certainly helps to make a connection from the Old to the New Testament. God was with the people of Israel as “guest” in a temporary Tabernacle. Now, God had come in the person of His one-of-a-kind Son to be a guest of all humanity in flesh and blood in order to be the Savior of the world. This work of salvation He accomplished during His earthly life “dwelling among us.”
Martin Luther in stanza 8 of his Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” prays:
Welcome to earth, O noble Guest, / Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery / That You might share Your joy with me.
Jesus came to be our guest for a short time so that you and I and all people who should believe in Him might be His residents forever. In that Upper Room guest area at His last Passover with His disciples, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:2 ESV). That word “rooms” is not a guest room or a tent or any sort of temporary shelter. It is a place of permanence, a place where you “stay in place,” a place of residence.
Jesus, true God and true Man, came among humanity to live a perfect life for us as our substitute and to suffer the hell and the punishment of death that everyone deserves because of our sins. God has credited all people with Christ’s perfect righteousness. All our sins and guilt are taken away from us through Jesus’ cleansing blood. You are forgiven. Titus 2:14, Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Jesus’ death on the cross and the shedding of His blood has saved you and all people from their sins. His resurrection from the dead guarantees your bodily resurrection on the day when the Lord Jesus comes again in glory to bring all believers into the residence He has prepared for us. Because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, you can be absolutely certain that, by grace through faith in Him, you are forgiven. You have a place right now, a home, a place to stay with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in heaven. When you should close your eyes in death, immediately you will open them in the presence of the Lord and will be escorted to the place Jesus has made ready just for you. But the story doesn’t end there. On that glorious day when Jesus comes in power and great glory, your body will be raised from the grave and you, in resurrected body and soul will enter into a new heaven and a new earth where you will be forever with God, permanently. It will be Eden restored where you and all the people of God who lived and died with faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior will reside with God and will live with Him as He resides right there with us—Emmanuel, God with us forever and ever.
Jesus, God the Son, came to be our guest in order that you and I might become residents of heaven. He is the guest, God-made-flesh, who lived among us for a time, who suffered and died on a cross to save you from your sins by winning your forgiveness and everlasting life. He rose again from the dead on the third day. Jesus lives and reigns to all eternity. And He will come again, having prepared a place for you. He will make a new creation so that you and all the people of His Church throughout the centuries should live permanently with Him in glory.
That is why on this Christmas Eve, we rejoice and pray:
Welcome to earth, O noble Guest, / Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery / That You might share Your joy with me. (LSB 358:8) Amen.