Christmas Sunrise Morning Service – Bethlehem Forks Baptist Church

Rev. Grant Willoby, Sr. Pastor

Deacon Freddy Slo-Motion Walker, speaker

Subject: Christmas Ain’t Only About Mary – Luke 2:1-14

Good morning Church, Merry Christmas!

It might be chilly and cold outside this morning, but I know your hearts are warm inside on this early Friday Christmas morning. As most of you know I am one of the Sunday school teachers here at Bethlehem. It was my turn to teach last Sunday, but since it snowed and Sunday school got canceled, I thought I was off the hook. But then the pastor called me and asked me to be the guest speaker for our Christmas morning sunrise service. Since it was very short notice, I decided to take my Sunday school lesson, make a few changes, and speak on that subject. Our lesson last Sunday was taken from Luke’s Gospel (chap 2, vs 1-20), Birth of the Savior. It was subtitled, Christmas.

Everyone knows that story. So, I am going to use the same verses, include some from Luke, Chapter 1, and talk about Christmas, but with a different twist. No, I am not going to leave out the birth of Jesus. I am just going to tell the Christmas story from a different angle. I am going to focus my attention on the people, places, animals, and Heavenly Beings that are prevalent in the Christmas story. You know who they are, Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, the innkeeper, the shepherds, sheep, the angels, Bethlehem, the manger, Herod, the king, the wise men, and the star!

(Short prayer) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh Lord, our God, I pray. (Amen.)

I am a little nervous this morning because this is the first time that I have ever given a Christmas talk at a church Christmas sunrise service event. I do have some other firsts though. 

When I went to school for the first time in the first grade my first grade reader was called “Dick and Jane.” It went something like this: “Run, run, run, see Dick run. Run, run, run, see Jane run. Dick is a boy, Jane is a girl, Spot is a dog. See them run”.

The first Christmas poem I ever learned, I learned here in this church. It was a short poem about the spirit of giving at Christmas and asking God to bless folks at Christmas. It went something like this: “Christmas is coming, geese getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat, if you ain’t got a penny a halfpenny will do if you ain’t got a halfpenny, may God bless you.”

My talk will be entitled, ‘Christmas Ain’t Only About Mary.’ I know sister Cornelia is sitting there thinking, “That brother ought to know that using the word ‘ain’t’ is not proper.” We had the same English teacher in high school and one of her pet peeves was hearing people talking or singing using improper English. She used to use as an example that old Spiritual, ‘Tis me, tis me, tis me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.’ She would say, Whoever wrote that song should have used better English. It should have been titled, ‘It’s me, it’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer’. Yes, I sat in that class and heard those same words, but they came in one ear and went out the other. You see she wouldn’t let me chew bubble gum in her class, so when she was teaching all that stuff, there was nothing in my head to use which would allow her words to stick to my brain, as they traveled from one ear to the other, so her words didn’t stick. But there was another old saying that did stick though and because of that saying I know that it is improper to use the word ‘ain’t.’ That saying was: “don’t use ain’t because it tain’t right.”

Since I was raised when the practical saying and advice was “ladies first”, let’s start off by talking about Mary. Mary that sweet, young innocent child, engaged to be married, and then all of a sudden she had an experience that changed her whole outlook on life. she was visited by an angel who told her that she was going to become pregnant, have a boy, whose name would be Jesus. Now Mary knew about the birds and the bees. she was astonished when Gabriel visited her and gave her that news. So her first question was, “How can that be, I have not been playing hanky-panky with no man, not even Joseph, and I am engaged to be married to him.” What is Joseph going to think when he finds out about it? He is going to think that I have been unfaithful, and playing around in the street at night. Folks all over town are going to be gossiping about me. My name is going to be ‘mud’ instead of Mary. Well, Gabriel explained the situation to her, told Mary that she had found favor with God, the Holy Ghost was going to come upon her and the child which she would give birth to would be named Jesus and called ‘the Son of God’. An elated Mary accepted the good news and now you will hear the rest of the story.

Mary was a traveler. When the angel told her that she was going to give birth to a baby boy, he also told her that her cousin Elizabeth who lived over eighty miles away was six months pregnant. What did Mary do when she heard the news? She ‘hit the road Jack’, visited her cousin Elizabeth, stayed with her for about three months. Then she went back home.

A few months later when Mary was about to give birth she had to travel with Joseph about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay taxes because Joseph was from Bethlehem, the city of that great king David, who was a man after God’s own heart. 

You all know about paying taxes in your home county. If a young man is from King George county and he marries a young lady from Stafford county and she inherits a piece of land in Stafford, well twice a year that young lady is going to get greetings from the Stafford county treasurer informing her that she has to pay taxes on that piece of property she has in Stafford.

Traveling those ninety miles back in that day was not a piece of cake. They didn’t have motor vehicles, paved roads, or interstate highways to travel on back in those days.

And then there was Joseph, old, kind, tenderhearted, humble Joseph who was head over heels in love with that beautiful, sweet young thing, Mary, the apple of his eye. Joseph was a man of integrity. He was engaged to marry her, the pride and joy of his life. He was sitting on cloud nine. Then one day he heard the news that Mary was pregnant. That news broke his heart and smashed it into pieces. He knew that he might have held her tight when he kissed her, he knew that he had run his fingers through her hair, he knew that he had kissed her on both cheeks, but he also knew that he had not been intimate with her. He would swear an oath to the priest stating that the child that Mary was pregnant with was not his. You know the story, Joseph was going to divorce Mary privately, but an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, told Joseph the full story. Then Joseph went ahead and married his true love, and they lived happily ever after.

So let me pick up the story in Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary have been traveling for several days. They finally make it to Bethlehem. They both are dead tired. Even the donkeys they are riding are tired. All they want now is somewhere to rest and take a load off their feet. Mary is near the end of her pregnancy, she needs rest. They show up at the inn, talk to the innkeeper to see if they can rent a room from him. The poor old innkeeper had had a long busy day, but a very prosperous day. People were coming from all over wanting to stay at his inn. All his rooms were full, people were sleeping in the hallway, in the kitchen, the dining room, people were even sleeping on the roof. The inn was so full that the innkeeper had even rented his own room out. He had to sleep sitting on his stool with his head resting on the counter. Every time he would put his head down and doze off someone would wake him up. He was sitting at the counter dozing off when this man woke him up and asked him did he have any more room in the inn? He and his pregnant wife had traveled a great distance, they needed someplace to stay for his wife was going to give birth any time now. You know the story, “there was no room in the inn.” Mary and Joseph had to end up sleeping in a place where animals were kept, the baby Jesus was born, and he ended up having to sleep in a manger for a bed.

And that night, as they had done for hundreds of years, lowly shepherds, out in the hills near Bethlehem were keeping watch over their sheep. They had no idea that they, would in a few hours become witness to the greatest angelic songfest and light show that ever was.

Now up in heaven, Gabriel looked troubled. He had something on his mind and it was worrying him. God was reading Gabriel’s mind and knew that Gabriel was troubled. God had something on his mind too. He was elated over the birth of his son. He put the word out that he wanted the angelic host to go out and make a joyous announcement to the lowly shepherds watching over their sheep in the hills, about the birth of his son. But he had to talk to Gabriel first because he knew what was on Gabriel’s mind. So he called Gabriel in and said, pull up a chair, I want to chat with you for a minute or two. You have something on your mind, and it’s bothering you. It is about Mary and my son, Jesus. You delivered the word to Mary about the fact that she was going to give birth to my son, Jesus. You told Zacharias that his wife, Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, who was beyond childbearing age, was going to have a baby, whose name would be John. You kept an eye on both of them and I appreciate that. Well now when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and there was no room in the inn, you thought I would miraculously make some type of comfortable quarters available, because after all, Mary was carrying my son, and you figured that certainly, I would provide a comfortable place for her to give birth to my son. But it didn’t happen that way and now baby Jesus is sleeping in a manger.

You thought that the first people on earth to receive the news that Christ had been born would be religious leaders, the temple priests, the kings, potentates, and other big wheels in the land. That is not going to happen either.

Well during his short life on earth, Jesus will be tempted, lied upon, cheated on, and have his life threatened by those prominent people in power, both religious and governmental on several occasions. In the end, he will be betrayed, falsely accused, and then crucified.

The common people will be the ones to welcome and embrace him and his teachings. As a matter of fact, in a few short days king Herod is going to hear about the birth of that baby from a group of wise men following a star who will be dropping by his palace. The king is going to feel threatened by that baby. So as a pretense of trying to find out more so he can worship Jesus, he is going to tell those wise men from the east who are following that star, which will lead them to Bethlehem, to find the child and then come back and tell him where the child is so he can worship him. His real reason is to find out where the baby Jesus is, so he can kill that child. The wise men are going to come to Bethlehem, bring gifts to the child. But I know what king Herod has on his mind, and in order to protect my son, I am going to tell those wise men to go home another way and not go back and tell Herod where the baby Jesus is located.

(When Herod, the slicker, realized that the wise men had outslicked the slicker, he had his cronies go into the Bethlehem region and kill all the male children, two years old and younger.)

Now about those lowly shepherds out there. For hundreds of years, they have been guarding their sheep, willing to lay down their lives to protect the sheep. There is a great connection between that baby boy lying right now in that manger and shepherds. in a few short years, my grown son will make this grand statement: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” 

But what about the sheep? Remember the Passover, when Moses led my people out of Egypt? I told Moses to tell my people that they were to take a male lamb of the first year without spot or blemish, kill the lamb, and spread the blood on the top and two sides of their doorpost. The blood of the lamb on the doorpost was a sign that the death angel seeing that blood would spare the occupants of that house from death. One day that baby boy now lying sleeping in that manger, is going to be unjustly crucified, but he is going to voluntarily lay down his sinless life, shed his innocent, precious blood in order to cover and thus make atonement for man’s sins.

So go out and lead the host of angels waiting to spread the good news about the birth of my son, Jesus to those shepherds keeping watch over their sheep tonight in the hills near Bethlehem. Let them know where the baby is so they can come and worship him. Then they will go out and spread the good news around the neighborhood. The good news that will eventually be spread around the world from the majestic homes on the hill to the tar paper shacks down in the valley, from the center part of the city down to the ghetto.

So remember brothers and sisters, when you leave here this morning and go celebrate the rest of the day and the rest of this Christmas season, remember, Christmas ain’t only about Mary. ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’

Now we will sing some of those old familiar Christmas carols that folks have been singing at this time of the year down thru the years! Silent Night, Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

May you all have a joyous, Blessed, and Merry Christmas!

Frank M. White – December 2020

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