Christmas Day: Not-named Jesus, Angels & Shepherds

I am posting my two morning sermons from Christmas Eve & Day. They don’t particularly overlap (except for the introduction) but the style is similar. I decided to read slowly through Luke’s Gospel telling of the First Christmas and let various aspects fall on me in a new way. I then did some exegesis to unpick some of the ‘new’ aspects.

St M 8:00 P&P
St F 10:00 P&P
Christmas Day

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
may the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

One of the many things that I love about this season is how the story of the first Christmas comes alive. We see it in the pictures on Christmas cards; we hear it in the words of Christmas carols; we see the drama played out in Christingle and Crib services.

Even in the commercialization and secularization of our society the story of that first Christmas does get told – not always in words but in the symbols and pictures; seen if we pay attention to the world around us.

We know that many people who do not normally darken the door come to church for Christmas services. Why is that? Tradition and ritual? Just the done thing?

Maybe – naively on my part – they want to hear the first Christmas story told again in a way that is familiar, comfortable. The church tells the story of that first Christmas through our worship and liturgy.

But sometimes it can be easy to over-look things when we are familiar with the story. As I was preparing for this morning, I came across two aspects of Luke’s account that I want to share with you.

Now this morning we are here to celebrate the of Jesus. Amen!

But I wonder if you noticed that his name is not mentioned anywhere in the Luke reading? I really hadn’t paid attention to this before now. The name Jesus is not said in those first 20 verses of Luke 2. He is there of course – he gets noticed as an unborn child (verse 5); then he is ‘her (Mary’s) child’ and ‘her firstborn son’. The angels tell the shepherds of ‘a Saviour, who is the Messiah.’ Then they go to see ‘this child’ and ‘the child’.

It is interesting (at least to me) that Luke doesn’t use the child’s name – after all he was careful enough to name the Emperor Augustus and the Quirinus the Governor of Syria. Why their names and not the name of Jesus, the name that will go on forever?

One explanation is that by including Augustus and Quirinus the historical evidence is strengthened – to ground the birth of Jesus at a particular point in history.

The name of Jesus will go on forever though! In fairness to Luke, he is the one who for the very first time proclaims our Saviour’s personal name – ever – from the beginning of time. Jesus.

He does that in the first chapter of Luke when Gabriel appears to Mary to give her the news that she will conceive and bear a son whom she will name Jesus.

Jesus. The very name at which one day every knee will bow.

Jesus. The very name at which every tongue will confess.

Jesus. A name with no parallel in any vocabulary.

Jesus. A name with power like no other name?

Gabriel tells Mary ‘He will be great’. Oh yes he is.

This is who and what we are to celebrate this morning. Jesus and his greatness.
It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of this season – there are lots of lovely things happening – don’t get me wrong. But if the focus is not ultimately on Jesus – the true meaning gets lost.

The second aspect that I had overlooked was the three mentions of the manger. Luke very deliberately mentions the manger and the child lying in it in three separate verses. Yes of course he was lying in the manger – no crib for his bed and all that.

Mary laid her firstborn son in a manger.

The angels tell the shepherds about the child lying in a manger.

The shepherds went with haste and found the child lying in the manger.

The manger, appropriately enough, was the sign to the shepherds. It told them which baby they were looking for. It showed them that the angel knew what they were talking about. It was important to give the shepherds their news and their instructions.

Why does this matter? It was the shepherds who were told who this child is. This child – the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.

Yet the manger isn’t important in and of itself. The manger is a signpost – a pointing finger – to the identity of the baby boy who’s lying in it.

The shepherds’ arrival may have helped Mary and Joseph to confirm what had been their own secret up to now. I thought about this in a new way too – what would it have been like for Mary and Joseph as the shepherds arrived? The secret is now out!

I am not sure if you have had the experience of a secret being let out! It can be quite shocking and uncertain – what happens next?! Who knows!? Maybe it was a relief – that all that they had been through – God was faithful to his word.

God is faithful to his word. Always. What a relief that is. In this uncertain world and in uncertain times – we can look to the manger and know that God is faithful!

We also need to look in the manger – not just at it. Many people – Christians too – come to see the manger – but they never look in it. For some Jesus remains the baby forever. A baby that is easily contained in the manger that gets brought out once a year – looked at – and then put away again.

I have a small nephew who asks a lot of questions. Just after he turned 5, he and my sister had the following bedtime conversation:

‘Mom, how old are Great Grandma and Great Grandpa?

My sister replied ‘They are both 90.’
‘Mom, when will they go to heaven?’

My sister replied, ‘I am not sure but Jesus will be waiting to greet them when they go.’

‘Mom, how old is Jesus?’

My sister, ‘well, he was born 2000 years ago but he doesn’t age. He has always been around.’

In a very defiant voice my nephew declared, ‘Mom, Jesus is a baby!’

It is quite easy to take this view whether we are 5 years or not. Jesus is not meant to be contained to the manger. Isaiah 9:6 – For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders. Now I don’t know about you – but I have not heard that said about many newborn babies. A baby may be a good eater sleeper or pooper but has authority rests upon its shoulders?!

Jesus did not just appear one night in Bethlehem as if out of nowhere. He has always been around – part of the Trinity. Always more than a baby!

As we celebrate today – we can spend a little more time at the manger worshipping the baby born to us. The baby who becomes the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I love these names – I can identify with each of them as titles for the Child that has been born to us. He is my Counsellor when I struggle; Mighty when I am weak; Everlasting when unwanted changes come my way; the bringer of Peace when I am distressed.

I hope that you will know and experience the great love God has for you this Christmas.

Not just at Christmas but at every moment of every day of your life – when things are calm and happy but more so when you are stirred up throughout.

I hope that you will know the Lord’s favour upon you.

I hope the name of Jesus falls sweetly on your ears and off your tongue.

The Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace lead you and guide you always.

Author: Sue Lepp

Newly appointed Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches and will start later in January 2021. Time for a new start at the beginning of a new year. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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