Sermon: The Nativity of Christ: Luke 1.5-2.21


Brothers and sisters, I wish to tell you a story this morning. It is a familiar story. And it is the one that you would expect to hear on this Christmas Day. It is the story of our dear Savior’s birth. I will tell it following the contours of the Gospel of Luke chapter 1 verse 5 through chapter 2 verse 21. You may turn there if you wish and try to follow along, or you may simply listen.

Before we get to it, notice that I referred to Jesus as our “Savior”. I’d like for you to think about that title for a moment. “Savior” – that is what we call Jesus, for that is what he is. He is our Savior. And as you consider that impressive title I’d also ask you to recognize that a lot of information is crammed into it.

The title “Savior” indicates that Jesus has rescued us from something. Some victory has been won by him. Some reward has been earned. And the title “Savior” implies that there is a bigger story that needs to be told, one that transcends the story of Jesus’ birth. The story of his birth is indeed an important part of this bigger story, but it is not the essential part – it is not the climax. In fact, the story of Jesus’ birth – as miraculous as it is – makes little sense when considered apart from this bigger story.

And what is the bigger story that I am referring to?

The bigger story is our story – it is the history of humanity beginning with God’s creation of all things seen and unseen, of man’s fall into sin and misery, and of God’s gracious promise to one day send a Savior. This is the story that is told in the Old Testament scriptures. This is the backstory that must be understood if any sense is to be made of the nativity of Jesus.

The birth of Jesus was, in some respects, just like yours and mine. He came into this world in a most natural way. But in other respects his birth was utterly unique. His conception was supernatural. While he was in the womb of his mother miraculous signs were made to abound. Angels appeared. Word’s of prophesy were uttered. And of course, many prophesies from ages past were fulfilled in the events leading up to the birth of Christ. Jesus’ birth, while in some respects, natural, was utterly unique and, indeed, supernatural.

And friends it is so important to recognize that the bigger story that I have made reference to did not end with the birth of Jesus. More significant than his birth was his life, death, burial, and resurrection. Indeed, it was the death of Christ and his resurrection which brought everything to a climax. For it was in that event that sin was atoned for, death was defeated, and eternal life was earned. After Jesus was raised, he ascended to the Father, and from there he will return, bringing all things to a conclusion.

I am certainly happy to retell the story of Jesus’ birth on this Lord’s Day. But I am also concerned that we do not loose sight of the larger story. For we not worship a babe in a manger, but a Savior – the one who, through his life, death, burial, and resurrection, has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of light, if indeed we believe upon him. It is he that we worship. For he is the eternal Son of God who took on flesh, who lived in obedience to the will of God, who revealed the Father to us most fully, who died for sins, and who rose again on the third day securing life eternal for all who believe upon his name.

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold – Luke 1:5–25

It should be noticed that Luke begins the story of Jesus’ birth, not by talking about Jesus and his parents, but about John the Baptist and his. The reason is that the Old Testament scriptures contain prophesies concerning, not only the arrival of the Christ, but also the prophet who would prepare the way for him. John the Baptist was that prophet. His birth was also marked by the miraculous. The birth of the Christ was not an isolated event. It did not happen in a corner somewhere. But it was community event. Many were involved in the narrative as it unfolded.

The story of Jesus’ birth begins “In the days of Herod, king of Judea”. According to our way of counting time this would be around the year 4 B.C. And there was a priest named Zechariah. There was nothing particularly unique or outstanding about Zechariah. He was one of hundreds of priests who would serve for two weeks a year in the temple.

The scriptures do tell us a bit about Zechariah. “He had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” Both of them were, according to Luke 1:6, ” righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” We should not take this to mean that the two were perfect. Instead, we are to understand that they were faithful people. They possessed an authentic faith and they lived in a way that was consistent with their profession.

Not only do the scriptures reveal that they were a righteous couple, but also that they knew sorrow and suffering. We’re told that Zechariah and Elizabeth “had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Certainly this inability to have children brought sadness to the couple, but it would have also put them in a challenging situation socially and economically.  Barrenness was looked down upon in that society. And children were expected to care for their aging parents. Zechariah and Elizabeth were “advanced in years”. Without a doubt they worried about who would care for them in the years to come. But the two were not alone. They certainly could recall the experience of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachael, Elkanah and Hannah, and how God provided for these, in some cases even in their old age.

Now the time came for Zechariah to go to the temple to serve as priest before God. And “according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” This would have been a real privilege. Zechariah was to go into the holy place to the alter of incense which stood directly before the curtain which separated to the holy place from the holy of holy’s and he was to burn incense there, offering up prayers for himself and for the people. Picture it: the smoke from the incense would rise and it would pass over, under, and through the massive curtain, entering the most holy place. This symbolized the prayers of the people of God coming before the throne of God, being heard and enjoyed by him.

So far, everything has been typical.  But in verse ten we are told that the “whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” This was anything but typical. And Zechariah responded as men do when they encounter the heavenly. “Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” Friends, we are quite small when compared to the heavenly and the divine.

“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:13–17, ESV).

What an incredible announcement this was! Not only would Zechariah and Elizabeth be blessed with a child in their old age, but this child would be most significant in bringing about the salvation of God’s people. The announcement was clear. This child would be the one that the scriptures spoke of. He would be the one like Elijah who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

Zechariah had a hard time believing it. He responded to saying,

“‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time’” (Luke 1:18–20, ESV).

Zechariah lacked faith in this moment. As judgment he was told that he would be unable to speak until the child was born. I can’t help but think that there was also a blessing in this. What Zechariah needed was, not to talk, but to think. He needed to reflect upon his experience in light of the holy scriptures if he was to understand the significance of all that was about to happen with he and Elizabeth and their child.

“The people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people’” (Luke 1:21–25, ESV).

Birth of Jesus Foretold – Luke 1:26–38

It was six months later that the angel Gabriel appeared again. This time he came, not to the temple, and not to Zechariah and Elizabeth,but “to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, and to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David… The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26–27, ESV).

By now you should be getting the impression that heaven was intruding upon earth at this time. For four hundred years there had been no prophetic activity in Israel, but now the angel Gabriel has appeared, not once, but twice. And the news he brought was good news indeed!

He appeared to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Mary, like Zechariah, “was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Gabriel spoke to her saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:28–33, ESV).

The massage that Mary received was in some ways similar to the message that Zechariah received. Both couples would have a child miraculously, and both children would be very significant in fulfilling the purposes and promises of God.

But there were some important differences. The birth of John to Zechariah and Elizabeth would be “miraculous” given that Elizabeth was barren and the two were advanced in age. But the birth of Jesus would be miraculous (truly miraculous) given that he would be born to a virgin.

More than that John would be significant in that he would prepare the way for the Christ, whereas Jesus would himself be the Christ. He would called “the Son of the Most High.” The “Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” He would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Jesus would be the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited King of Israel, the Savior, who is the Son of God come in the flesh.

Mary also had questions. But her questions were not like Zechariah’s. Her’s were honest questions, and not questions of doubt. She spoke to Gabriel saying,

“‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, saying,  ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:34–38, ESV).

What faith this young woman exhibited! She knew that this calling would mean trouble and hardship for her and Joseph, for who would believer her story? But she was willing to bear it, for she considered herself to be a “servant of the Lord”.

Mary Visits Elizabeth – Luke 1:39–45

I’m sure that Mary felt rather alone in this journey. You and I are here to celebrate the virgin birth, but in Mary and Joseph’s day the story was doubted by many, for how could it be that a virgin have a child? But there was a place for Mary to go where she would be believed. She could go to her relative Elizabeth, for she too was a part of this story.

“Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was glorify spoken to her from the Lord’” (Luke 1:39–45, ESV).

What a comfort this must have been to young Mary! Her story, though doubted by many, was believed by the reputable Elizabeth, her encounter with the angel Gabriel was confirmed, and a blessing was pronounced upon her. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”, Elizabeth said. And “blessed [was] she [for believing] that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat – Luke 1:46–56

Mary’s response was to sing. Her response was to give glory to God and to rejoice in him. That is the very thing that you and I should do today though we are 2,000 years removed from these things. We too should sing. We should be moved to glorify God and to rejoice in the salvation that he has accomplished for us in Christ Jesus.

Listen to her song. It is recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55.

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.’ And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home” (Luke 1:46–56, ESV).

This song of Mary’s is quite beautiful, isn’t it? In it she demonstrated her humility. She confessed that what the Lord was doing in and through her was so significant that she, a lowly and humble girl of no reputation, would be remembered and called “blessed” from generation to generation. What the Lord was doing would benefit the humble and raise them up. The proud of heart would benefit nothing and would be brought low. This child that was growing inside of her was the fulfillment to the promises made to Israel in ages past through the fathers, particularly the father Abraham. This Jesus was the Christ, the offspring of Abraham who would provide salvation for Israel and for all who would believe upon his name.

Mary demonstrated a great deal of understanding. Her song shows that she was fully aware of the significance of all that was happening in and through her by the hand of God.

The Birth of John the Baptist – Luke 1:57–66

“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’ And they said to her, ‘None of your relatives is called by this name.’ And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Luke 1:57–66, ESV)

Zechariah’s Prophecy – Luke 1:67–80

Zechariah was compelled, not to sing, but to prophesy. Listen to his words. And see the transformation that took place within him over the past nine months. He must have pondered the scriptures in silence, for he displayed a great deal of understanding with his words. No longer is he doubting, but filled with the Spirit, and filled with faith, he said,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:68–75, ESV).

Zechariah understood the significance of the child that was growing inside of Mary’s womb. He was the Redeemer, the Savior, the son of David, and the son of Abraham. He had come to deliver and to redeem, to make sinners holy and righteous. This was the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

And he now understood the significance of the child that was born to he and Elizabeth. To him he said,

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76–79, ESV).

This child was to prepare the way for the Jesus Christ. His work was to prepare men and women to meet him so that they might repent and believe. “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80, ESV).

The Birth of Jesus Christ – Luke 2:1–7

“In those days [in the days when John the Baptist was born] a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1–7, ESV).

The Shepherds and the Angels – Luke 2:8–21

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:8–21, ESV).


Friends, here is thing that we come to celebrate today. We celebrate the birth of Jesus who is the Christ. He is our Savior. He is our Lord. It is through him that we have peace with God, through faith in him. And he is Savior, not only of the Jews, but of all the peoples of the earth in fulminate to the promises made to the Fathers, particularly David and Abraham.

Do you believe upon him? If not, may I urge you to think about the claims that the scriptures make concerning this Jesus? May I urge you to think about what the scriptures have to say about our condition? Apart from Christ we are in sin, enemies of God. But through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of the world, we find the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. If you do not yet believe upon Christ I pray that this would be day that you open the greatest gift of all – that you would believe the good that was announced by the angels to the shepherd on that most significant night. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

For those who have faith in Christ, may we forever grow in our love for him. May we appreciate him more and more, confessing that without him we would be helplessly lost. May our love and appreciation for Christ compel us to worship and to serve more faithfully than ever before, all to the glory of God the Father who has loved us in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church