In order to illustrate how the story of Jesus Christ's birth and the journey that led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is still relevant today, Pastor Perry Noble of the South Carolina megachurch NewSpring traveled to Israel to demonstrate the nativity scene's modern-day significance, which he shared during a recent sermon.
His message was part of the church's three-part "The Journey" series, which featured a video of Noble in the cities of Nazareth and Bethlehem. The focus of his sermon was on the reminder that Jesus was born and came back for individuals who are "shook up, messed up and cleaned up."
"Everyone's going through a spiritual journey. Maybe yours has you shook up or messed up or is taking you to a place where you want to get cleaned up…we've all been there. I'm talking about the divorce papers…the phone call in the middle of the night…when we get in those situations, we all ask, 'God, where are you?'" said Noble.
Noble said that people are oftentimes more concerned about the "glorified" Christmas story but what they do not realize is that most of the biblical figures that were a part of the story were "shook up people."
"Mary was around 16 years old when an angel came to her and said she would give birth to the Messiah. It shook her up because it changed her plans, hopes, dreams and her reputation was on the line, because let's be honest, who really bought the whole virgin birth story? Think of it through the eyes of Joseph, he was also shook up," said Noble.
He also spoke about Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while she was eight months pregnant. He emphasized that their grueling experience took them through a range of emotions and became a difficult process that they could not see the reason for until Jesus Christ was born. In the same manner, Noble said that God's promises are greater than any problem, which becomes evident the moment a person reaches the end of a troubling journey much like they did.
Contrary to the nativity scene, Noble said that biblical scholars have determined that Jesus was born in a sheep cave outside of the city limits of Bethlehem. The fact that his birthplace was "a mess" symbolizes how 2,000 years later, God still pursues people despite their imperfect state, he said.
"He wasn't born into a palace or in a prominent place, he was born into a mess…we think sometimes, because of messiness that Jesus runs from us, when actually his birth communicates that he comes to us in our messiness," said Noble.
The South Carolina pastor added, "We were all born sinful and into a mess and God knew that. Jesus didn't come to make a point and tell us that we were wrong, he came to make a difference and get us out of our mess."
The story of the shepherds also has a relevant meaning today, said Noble. Back then, the shepherds went to the temple to sacrifice a sheep or a lamb, thinking that their religious acts would pay for their sins. However, the symbolism behind their "good deeds" is evidence that an individual can be around a work of God but never know Him, said Noble.
"It's not your good works that save you, it's God's work through His son Jesus…a lot of us are probably like the shepherd men," said Noble.
During the sermon video, several scenes took the congregation audience from Noble's location in Israel to modern-day testimonies of current church members who found God after they experienced moments of pain and difficulty.
One woman testified about God's redemption in her life after serving jail time, another testified about living a "cleaned up" lifestyle in which he attempted to live life based on religion rather than a real relationship with Him. Their testimonies in the sermon emphasized how Jesus, who was born Immanuel, or "God is with us," has been humanity's hope since his birth and finding him after their tumultuous journeys were proof that God was with them all along.