The Inconvenient Birth of Christ

Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:58
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Luke 2:1-7
A few days ago, I posted this question on Facebook: “How can a church not gather for worship on Christmas Day when Christmas is on Sunday?” I wasn’t expecting to spark any controversy. I was only sharing some candid thoughts from my heart that day. But a surprising number of people jumped in to add their comments and opinions on the subject.
So, I clarified that I don’t view this question in a legalistic way as though we have a legal or mandatory obligation to attend church on Sunday. In fact, we should never participate in church gatherings, ministries, or worship services for obligatory reasons anyway – we should do so voluntarily and willingly out of love, whether on Christmas Day or not.
The reasoning behind my post was that not gathering as a church when Christmas falls on the Lord’s Day (unless you’re out of town, of course) seems weird to me and potentially contradictory or confusing - though not necessarily wrong. As believers, we rightly emphasize that through Christmas we're first and foremost celebrating Christ’s birth, so doing so on the Lord's Day seems like an ideal way to demonstrate and prove that we're serious about that, that we mean what we say and not just in theory. Not doing so seems like a missed opportunity – though we shouldn’t judge one another’s spirituality by whether or not we do so.
Let’s think out loud together. Why is the question of whether we should gather for worship when Christmas falls on Sunday so energizing? Because it raises a question of convenience. It feels inconvenient to interrupt our normal Christmas festivities and functions, usually centered around our families, to go to church for a worship service. But is this really inconvenient?
As American Christians, it seems that we are too easily inconvenienced from our busy, comfortable lives. Yet consider how inconvenient the events that brought about Christmas happened to be in the first place. To be sure, Christ left the only “family” he knew (though not technically a family), his close and perfect fellowship within the Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit, to become a human being though he was God, a servant though he was King, to die though he was sinless, and to take on the reputation of a heinous criminal though he was good and pure in every way (Phil 2:5-8). This was inconvenient – the greatest inconvenience of all time. To call gathering as a church on Christmas Day an inconvenience when we consider what Christ did for us seems out of place, right?
There was another way that the Christmas story required inconvenience, though, and that’s the inconvenience it required for the people involved, esp. Joseph and Mary, Christ’s earthly parents. Today, let’s consider four ways that the birth of Christ inconvenienced Joseph and Mary to bring our Savior into the world who would provide our salvation.
Main Thought: Christ's birth reminds us that God accomplishes his will through difficult and inconvenient circumstances.
It is remarkable to observe the circumstances that led up to the birth of Jesus Christ, and it is even more remarkable to notice how Joseph and Mary responded to them. Would you have responded in the same way?

When your government causes an inconvenience.

At that time in history, the Roman government required its citizens to pay mandatory, periodic taxes to fund its activities and programs. We experience a similar arrangement each year when we’re required to pay state and federal income taxes.
Now, no one likes to pay taxes and tax season is especially inconvenient. Whether you file your taxes by yourself or hire a person to help you, you still have to gather records, track down receipts, fill out forms, and calculate various numbers. And in the end, you often have to pay more money to the government in the end. As inconvenient as all of this may be, it’s nowhere near as inconvenient as the Roman taxes.
When the Roman Empire levied a tax, it was not just a tax but a registration or census. This program served two purposes: it provided the government with an accurate count of its citizens and it provided the government with tax revenue.
The process for collecting taxes differed from ours today. To pay your taxes and register in the census, people had to return to each head of household’s place of birth. People didn’t have the option of registering online or sending some forms through the mail. They had to be there in person. Now that’s inconvenient.
No one likes to pay taxes. They’re expensive, complicated, even unjust things at times. Yet, God tells us to pay them anyway. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” Christ said (Matt 22:21). This means that we should pay our taxes and we should also contribute other funds to the work of God. These two responsibilities are not at odds with each other no matter how inconvenient they may be. This is our moral and reasonable responsibility before God.
Furthermore, God expects us to obey every law and ordinance that our government requires, no matter how inconvenient or ridiculous they may be. Peter tells us “to submit to every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2:13). The only exception to this principle is when a government law requires us to disobey a clear teaching of the Word of God. In such a case, we should “obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). That a law is inconvenient or expensive is not a good enough reason.
So, as we pause to reflect on the birth of Christ, let us clearly understand that his birth and our salvation happened in part because Joseph and Mary obeyed their pagan government and paid their taxes as required. What if they had revolted, resisted, or refused? Then the birth of Christ would not have occurred.
There’s something else that would not have occurred, too. Seven-hundred years before Christ was born, an Old Testament prophet announced not only that Christ would be born but that he would be born in Bethlehem. That would be similar though even more impressive as a founding father of the United States announcing that a future president of the United States would be born in Bagley, MN.
Bethlehem was a small town among hundreds of cities and towns in Israel and who could know that this town would still exist 700 years later? Yet, because Joseph and Mary obeyed the Roman census, as inconvenient as that was, this prophecy was fulfilled.
Do not underestimate the potential impact and significance of your obedience to inconvenient government laws and requirements for the cause of Christ and the working out of God’s plan.

When your experience financial difficulties.

This point resembles the previous one, but let me remind us all that as we soon begin a fresh, new year, we need to be faithful and wise managers of the money and possessions that God has entrusted to our care. This is true for your taxes, but this is true for all your other financial decisions as well.
Chapters later in this same book, the Gospel of Luke, Jesus himself taught this:
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore, if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12).
God wants to accomplish significant things in the world for his glory. He wants to bring people into a saving relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He wants to multiply godly families in the world. He wants to build his church and plant new churches throughout MN, our nation, and the world. He wants us to invest ourselves into the mission of our church, which is the mission of God – helping people take their next steps in following Christ. But he can’t entrust these “true riches” if we cannot manage our personal finances according to biblical principles.
Wasteful, selfish, irresponsible Christians cannot accomplish the kind of spiritual endeavors that God desires to accomplish in the world.
Mary and Joseph entrusted their financial position to God, and by doing so God was able to bring our Savior into the world through them. Consider that Joseph had to leave his home, which included his home business (carpentry, whether in wood or stone) to travel to Bethlehem for an undefined period of time.
What would this mean to his livelihood? It would cost something to travel, and it would cost something to leave his means of employment for a while. Yet, he trusted these things to God. God provided for their needs along the journey, and he provided them with a place to stay – as they weren’t able to reserve a hotel or AirBnB online in advance 😊
As Matt 6:33 teaches, “See first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing, shelter] will be added to you.” Living this way is not always convenient or easy, but God always provides when you do what his Word teaches you to do and entrust your financial situation to his care.

When your experience physical difficulties.

What can we say? Mary was pregnant, and she was nearing full term. Can you imagine what it would have been like to travel to Bethlehem in that condition? This would have been a 100-mile journey. Traveling on foot, which they would have done, would have required approx. 10 days of walking. This would be like walking from Moorhead to Alexandria, MN in foot via the Central Lakes Trail.
As you know, modern depictions portray Mary riding on a donkey. I’m not sure that traveling this way would have been very comfortable or pleasant for a pregnant woman at full term.
We’re not actually sure whether she rode anything at all. We don’t know that Joseph was wealthy enough to own or rent a donkey. Even if he did have a donkey, it is just as possible that she may have traveled by foot anyway because the cultural norm – as awkward as it sounds to us – was for men to ride on the animals and women to walk. I would like to assume that Joseph would have been more considerate than the customs of that day, but in any case, traveling this distance under those conditions as a pregnant lady would have been inconvenient to say the least.
This journey was also risky because a traveling party that included a pregnant woman would be much easier for bandits and robbers to attack, making Joseph and Mary esp. vulnerable to actual highway robbery. Since this was taxation season, thieves would know that there would be an increased volume of traffic on the roads and that these travelers would be carrying money. So, this journey to Bethlehem was definitely inconvenient for many reasons.
Yet Joseph and Mary took this journey anyway because it was the right thing to do.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths. (Prov 3:5-6).
Don’t let physical difficulties prevent you from obey and serving Christ. Mary and Joseph endured some very uncomfortable physical challenges and risks to obey God in the course of the Christmas story, and we should follow their example. We should not be surprised when following Christ requires us to do some difficult things. God does not cater to our comfort zones and preferences. He calls us to persevere through them instead.

When family responsibilities are inconvenient.

We previously observed how Mary and Joseph did what is right, even though it was physically inconvenient. Here we also see Joseph doing what is right for his family, even though it is personally inconvenient.
Consider this – that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This means that he had formally and legally agreed to marry her, but technically he had not actually married her yet. What’s more, he agreed to marry her and committed himself to caring for her when she was already pregnant to a child who was not his own.
Because of these details, Joseph could have annulled his agreement to marry her and he could have arranged for her to be executed for adultery, too. But he did neither of these things. Though many people doubted his wisdom and Mary’s morality, Joseph believed that she was indeed the mother of the Messiah. So, he remained committed to her and cared for her and her future child completely – no matter how inconvenient that would be. This would have required much patience and selflessness from Joseph, do you agree?
Ephesians 5:33 urges a Christian husband “to love his own wife as himself” and Christian wives to “respect her husband.” Ephesians 6:1 urges children to “obey your parents,” and this is not always convenient either, is it? But we should do it nonetheless, because it is the right thing to do.

Will you follow and obey Christ even when it is inconvenient?

Aren’t you grateful for the humble example of Joseph and Mary, doing what is right? They did what is right, even when they faced governmental, financial, physical, and relationship inconveniences. And through those careful, conscientious choices, God was able to bring his Son into the world to save us from our sins.
In what ways will God call you to obey your government, manage your finances, navigate physical difficulties, and handle family and relationship challenges this coming year? Let me encourage you to handle these things like Joseph and Mary.
Quietly put your trust in the Lord. Don’t complain. Don’t resist. Just do the right thing. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and let God work out the circumstances and details of your life for you. What’s more, let him work out his plan for helping people take their next steps in following Christ through your example of following Christ through difficulties. It is through inconvenient faith and obedience to Christ that God brings his salvation to the world. Following Christ is not convenient.
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