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“The time came for Mary to have her baby”

December 23, 2022

Daily Scripture

Luke 2:1-7

1 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Did You Know?
Over centuries, Christian imagination has filled the Christmas story with details Luke never wrote. For instance, Luke did not say how Mary got to Bethlehem. The first text to mention a donkey was the “Protoevangelium of James,” written 150 years later. Luke also didn’t say Mary gave birth on the night they got to Bethlehem. He simply said, “while they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Luke showed the birth of a child whose life moved the world away from the Roman emperor’s values. Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol showed how that baby, from a minor Roman province, has changed lives: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world.” *

  • Luke’s story showed God’s Great Reversal. The Caesar (his birth name was Octavian—he gave himself the imposing title “Augustus”), a human who thought he was a god, forced Joseph and pregnant Mary to make a hard trip with just a decree. That night Jesus, God become human, was just a helpless baby born to two poor peasants in Bethlehem. How can grasping the stunning meaning(s) and impact of Jesus’ birth open your heart to deeper praise, love and compassion?
  • It certainly never occurred to self-important Octavian that a baby born to poor parents in distant Judea would attract followers (“Christians”) who would refuse to accept his claim to be a god. Instead of “Caesar is Lord” (Greek kaisar kurios), the Roman “pledge of allegiance,” the Christians served only one kurios, one Lord—Jesus (cf. Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3). Have you made Jesus, born in Bethlehem, your Lord above all earthly “Caesars”?

Lord Jesus, your birth was just the start of an amazing story that is reshaping and uplifting my life today. Be born anew in my heart this Christmas. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of  Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe & his wife, Doris, first met in a Resurrection Single Adult Sunday School class in 1997 & were married in what is now the Student Center. They are empty nesters with 2 college-aged sons, Matthew & Jacob. Darren serves as a Couples Small Group co-leader & Men's Group Leader, while volunteering in a variety of other capacities at Resurrection.

With Christmas nearly at hand, I thought we might look at the legend of Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Bear in mind there is very little documented history of our friend, Nicholas, so with that cautionary note let’s jump in. (We are so used to taking this particular Insight with a grain of salt, that we now have to monitor our sodium levels – Editor.)

Our story begins around 250 A.D. in Myra, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea, in what is now Turkey. Nicholas is born into a family of Christians that lives in the midst of a culture that worships pagan gods. They didn’t have a church to attend, so they met in neighbors’ homes. Nicholas’ parents were well-to-do merchants who emphasized that serving the less fortunate was the best way to honor God.

Aside: One year it was so cold at the North Pole, Santa suffered from a bad case of polar-oids.

When Nicholas was a young boy, his parents were killed by a plague that swept through their village. Nicholas goes to live with his uncle, who was a monk. After a period of bewilderment & despair, Nicholas dedicates his life to God.

As a young man, Nicholas learns of a neighbor in such desperate financial straits, that he is considering selling his 3 daughters into slavery just so the family could survive. Nicholas sneaks into the home & anonymously leaves a stash of gold in the stockings drying by the fireplace. The man eventually finds out that Nicholas is his secret benefactor & he falls to his knees & kisses Nicholas’ hand. Nicholas tells him to stand up & encourages him to thank God instead.

Aside: Santa looks forward to Christmas – it’s a nice reprieve from working all summer in the garden. As he says, “You can only Ho, Ho, Ho, so long before you need a break.”

Nicholas trains for the priesthood & makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he walks in the footsteps of Christ. There is a violent storm on the return-trip & Nicholas prays for the waves to calm. Miraculously, the storm abates & the sailors are in awe of Nicholas. He tells them that they should really be in awe of God. (Due to this miracle, Nicholas would later be considered a patron saint of sailors.)

Nicholas is elected the Bishop of Myra, just as a new emperor, Diocletian, arrives on the scene in 284 A.D. Diocletian is convinced Christians are the enemies of the state. In 300 A.D. an edict is issued to destroy churches, ban services, & burn any scriptural documents. Christian leaders were arrested & ordered to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Nicholas is imprisoned. Thinking that if they can get Nicholas to recant his faith, it would demoralize other Christians, he is subjected to starvation rations & extreme torture. (The stress is so intense that Nicholas’ hair & beard turn white.) Nicholas, undeterred, continues to minister to the other prisoners & lead prayer & worship services.

After 13 years of this persecution, a new leader, Constantine, issues the Edict of Milan, which grants freedom of worship for all religions. Nicholas, still a relatively young man, returns to his role as Bishop. While some in the Christian community held grudges against those who had renounced their faith to avoid financial ruin or imprisonment, Nicholas steadfastly urges them to love one another as Jesus loved them.

Aside: On last year’s Christmas run, Santa’s reindeer, Comet & Cupid, stumbled on a rooftop & developed a rash. Turned out it was due to a bad case of shingles.

In 325 A.D., Constantine forms a council of religious people in Nicea to unify the church. There are many different schools of thought. One priest, named Arius, believed that Christ was NOT divine, but just a regular human. Nicholas, who was in attendance at the council, is furious. Had he suffered in prison for all those years for this drivel? He leaves his seat, goes up to Arius, & slaps him across the face. Arius is offended & the council removes Nicholas’ clerical titles. Nicholas is put under guard for the rest of the meetings. Ultimately the council affirmed Nicholas’ beliefs & his titles were quietly restored after the meeting.

Nicholas died December 6, 346 A.D. The people of Myra prepared a marble tomb for their beloved Bishop & led a torchlight parade through the streets in his honor.

So, how does this saintly man of faith become our modern-day version of Santa Claus?

  • To honor the generosity & kind-heart of Saint Nicholas, it became customary to exchange gifts on his Feast Day, December 6.
  • During the Reformation, saints & their miracles fell out of favor. However, the traditional gift giving associated with Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas, remained.
  • In 1809, Washington Irving writes a tongue-in-cheek history of New York & includes tales of a goodly Saint Nicholas soaring in his sleigh above the treetops bearing gifts.
  • In 1810, the New York Historical Society distributes a pamphlet showing Saint Nicholas dressed as a bishop with stockings hanging behind him on the fireplace.
  • Clement Clark Moore, a professor at the General Theological Seminary, has his imagination sparked on Christmas Eve in 1822 as he rides through New York on his sleigh with bells ringing & whips cracking. Referencing his knowledge of the legends of Saint Nicholas, he pens “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” or as it became more commonly known, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The legend of Santa Claus becomes a global phenomenon.

(I wish I had known all this in high school when I had to write an essay on the most influential book in American literature. I could have made a strong case for Moore’s simple poem giving Uncle Tom’s Cabin some real competition – DL. Speaking on behalf of your English/Grammar teachers, may I just plead, “Haven’t we suffered enough?” – Editor.)

So, what does all this mean for us today? Perhaps this weekend we could honor Saint Nicholas & practice sincere empathy for everyone we encounter, or maybe we could mimic his kind spirit & generously help those in need, or, finally, we could make a point to honor & worship the birth of the King of Kings & the Lord of Lords.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading out to The Dancer & Prancer Coffee Shoppe – the “Original Star Bucks.” Merry Christmas!

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.