God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Therefore our final reading in celebration of Messiah’s advent takes us from the opening scene of a straw-filled manger in Bethlehem to the closing scene of a rough and bloody cross outside Jerusalem.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
The second person of the Trinity descended from halls of splendor to walls of poverty not for His own benefit, but to make a way for others. Christ is not only the Sacrificial Lamb, He is our Redeeming Shepherd. Let us consider together the impact of His coming for the world in general and each of our lives in particular. Amen
The Father continues to communicate the unfolding plan of salvation. The curtain is drawn back and we receive a glimpse of the manner in which He orchestrates the ways of Man to accomplish His perfect will.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’
“So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.‘” Matthew 2:11-15
Talk about how the gifts of the Magi mark the babe:
gold to reveal the position and authority of King
incense to reveal the role of intermediary and intercessor as Priest
myrrh to reveal the value and power of the role as Sacrifice
The flight to Egypt fulfills the prophecy of Hosea 11:1 (Celebrate Day 12). Who does the retreat protect and how does it affect Herod’s evil plot?
There are many signs and circumstances that surround the revealing of the grace of God in Christ. It’s not a surprise to read of both positive and negative responses in Matthew’s account of the early days in His first appearance.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ’In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2:1-10
The Magi were learned men who studied astronomy and the holy scriptures. Herod was appointed as king over Judea by its Roman conquerors. Let’s consider what might cause the Magi to be ‘overjoyed’ while King Herod was ‘disturbed’ by the same portion of the Old Testament quoted in this passage, beginning with social position and heart condition.
The Father’s perfect plan did not end at His Son’s appearance as a newborn. All of the powerful and loving attention He gave to the creation of the world continues in the unfolding of its history.
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:16-20
The shepherds, as the first witnesses of the birth of the “Savior” (verse 11), may be biblical role models for everyone who comes to recognize the “good news of great joy” (verse 10). Let’s consider how their actions might be behavior we need to repeat today – from confirming and accepting the Truth to returning and continuing their lives and sharing with enthusiasm.
God’s angels bring messages of many kinds. In this passage we learn that they seem to be equally terrifying to groups as individuals. Whether it’s the surprise of their arrival or the affect of their appearance we can’t be sure. The meaning of their words is our focus.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Luke 2:8-15
The power of the ‘good news of great joy’ that is extended to ‘all the people’ is immeasurable. The first ones to receive it were simple men who tended flocks of wayward sheep. They recognized the Lord as the author of the message and responded with heartfelt desire to discover the promised Redeemer of Genesis 3:15, Celebrate 4.
The account of Messiah’s appearing in the world of men continues the apparent merging of the common and the extraordinary. A stable is a meager setting for any mother’s labor or any baby’s arrival – how much more so for the Son of God Most High.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6,7
We might imagine a number of other scenarios to welcome such a precious child. Yet God’s intimate love and infinite grace were woven into every aspect of the event. The details affirm His Sovereign faithfulness. Let’s consider the seeming contradictions beginning with the confirmation of a virgin giving birth from Isaiah 7:14, Celebrate 6.
All of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Messiah are fulfilled. Sometimes the circumstances seem simple, at other times complex. It’s important to remember the 400 years of silence before the New Testament chronicles the Father’s further divine intervention.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Luke 2:1-5
Civil ordinances were a common occurrence under Roman rule. In this case, requiring Joseph to return to his ancestral city brought him and his fiancée and unborn son to Bethlehem. We wondered if either Joseph or Mary were aware of how their journey toward the end of her pregnancy would satisfy the details of Micah 5:2, reviewed in Celebrate 11.
We continue to follow the significant characters in the account of Christ’s birth. From the time of her conception Mary seems to be wrapped up in the thrill of the role she’s been given. It wouldn’t be surprising that her enthusiasm would be infectious.
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’” Luke 1:39-45
Imagine the excitement of these cousins. Each of them is carrying a baby conceived in an extraordinary situation. The Holy Spirit undertakes the details of their meeting, bringing joy and confirmation to both mothers even at their mutual greeting. What can we learn from them as we face the confusing, frightening, and challenging circumstances of life?
Mary wasn’t the only one who received a message from heaven. God made sure that everyone involved was given all the information they would need for His plan to be carried out according to His perfect will.
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”). [Isaiah 7:14]
“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 1:18-24
Joseph, the one to become Christ’s earthly daddy, was from the line of David. [Jeremiah 23:5,6] He seems to have been a typical godly man of his day. He thought his plan to divorce Mary was kind, but an angelic messenger gave him divine insight and guidance. Joseph abandoned his own plan for God’s. How is his response an example for us?
As we move closer to the day set aside to celebrate the Nativity we turn to the New Testament account. God has overseen the recording and preservation of every aspect necessary for our understanding and His glory.
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’
”‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’
‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:26-38
Mary seems to have been a typical young lady. She was frightened and confused by the appearance of a heavenly being and what he told her. God’s messenger treated Mary with respect by tenderly giving her more information as well as specific evidence that would confirm the truth of his words. We would talk about Mary’s response as an example to us all.