Let me ask you a very simple question Ð Where was Jesus born?
It is an academic question, and to answer the question you draw from knowledge stored away in your brain. You might have learned in Sunday school or at church that he was born in Bethlehem. Maybe you had a book of Christmas stories in your home, and one of your parents read you the story of Jesus the night when he was born. Or you could have learned that Jesus was born in Bethlehem from Philipps Brooks’ marvelous carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
While Bethlehem is a small town located about five miles south of Jerusalem, it is well known. With all of the fighting that goes on in that part of our world, Bethlehem has been involved. We have read in our newspapers that troops have invaded the little town and even taken up residence around the very place where Jesus was born.
In more peaceful times, travelers have visited the little town. I recall the day my wife and I stood in the Church of the Nativity. Our guide told us that this was the place where Mary gave birth to her child. It was an emotional experience for both of us. It is the place God chose to be the site of the incarnation.
Do you know what the incarnation is? It means that God came into this world and took on the form of a human being in the person of Jesus. He lived on earth thirty-three years, then he suffered and died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Bethlehem is an important town for Christians. When we stood there, the words of God to Moses at the burning bush came to mind. This bush was on fire, but it did not burn. Moses became inquisitive and went over to the bush until God spoke and said, “Moses, Moses. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
At Bethlehem I believer we were standing on holy ground. It is the place where Jesus was born. We thank God many of us can still answer the first question Ð Where was Jesus born? But now comes a second question, and one that is much more personal. Its answer must come from your heart: Has Jesus been born in your heart?
The reason I ask this question is to clarify some confused thinking about the birth of Christ. It is very possible that He can be born in our heads and not in our hearts. We can know about Him, but not know him. It is true that many people know Jesus academically, but do not know him spiritually. The answer to the question regarding his birth comes from the head, not the heart.
There are many learned theologians who know a lot about Jesus. They have written books about him. They have lectured in some of the most prestigious universities, but still do not know him. Knowledge about Jesus does not make you a Christian. It is trusting him as your Savior and Lord that makes you a Christian and God’s redeemed child.
The years went by. We are told, though the Bible gives us little information, that Jesus spent the first thirty years in Nazareth where he worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop and led the family after Joseph’s death. At the age of thirty, he began his ministry. One of the first stories St. John tells us in his Gospel introduces us to a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. In their conversation Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again. Here Christ makes it clear that one is born again when Jesus lives in you. Christ meets us in his Word, we receive him as our Savior, and the new birth takes place.
Such teaching was a mystery to Nicodemus, who was a religious leader, but never heard such teaching. The Bible says it took Nicodemus three years to understand what the new birth was all about. We learn that when Jesus was being buried after his crucifixion, Nicodemus assisted in burying his Savior.
When President George W. Bush was asked in a televison interview to explain his rebirth, he answered well, “It is something you cannot explain. You have to experience it.”
This new birth, Jesus Christ being born in us, can take place in sundry ways. Some will answer, “I was born again when I was baptized. Being a Lutheran Christian, God entered into a covenant with me at that time. I would be His child, and he would be my Father.”
Obviously, as a baby only a few days old, I was not conscious of what had happened, but God did not stop at my baptism. He began to feed me through His Word, and faith began to grow. I can remember singing Away In a Manger as a child, and my parents reading me Christmas stories about Jesus’ birth. This was a part of growing up in the faith. Finally, when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, God spoke again through His Word. It was always through His Word. This time he clearly said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is who will bear much fruit, for apart from me Ð Homer Larsen Ð you can do nothing. This was my awakening.
He continues to walk with me, at eighty-one years of age. How often I sin against Him, but he forgives me. Continually His grace picks me up and strengthens me.
Others have another testimony. Christ has been born in their hearts. It came at a worship service, with a Christian friend, at a Bible camp or retreat, at college or university. It might have been through some heart-breaking experience, such as losing a spouse, parent, or good friend. Maybe it was in the midst of battle in Iraq. There comes the Lord. He never stops seeking us.
Now this rebirth could also take place on Christmas Day in 2005. Could it be that there is something stirring in your soul? Life hasn’t been right since your divorce. The children spent Christmas Eve with you and your family. Now, on Christmas Day, they are going to be with their father and his relatives. As the youngest one leaves, he looks into your face and says, “I wish we could have Christmas like we used to and be together.”
Doesn’t it make you want to call your ex and say, “We’ve got to talk. The Lord Jesus, who lives in my heart, is speaking to me through our children.” This could be the greatest Christmas you have had for years Ð home again at Christmas with the whole family.
Philipps Brooks writes:
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great, glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel!
That was Brook’s prayer in this famous carol, and it is my prayer for all of us today.