A Cycle – Christmas 19
Lk. 2: 1-14
What an evening it must have been. The shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem were watching over the flocks on a clear evening night when suddenly an angel appears with good news – the promise of God has come to the earth. The Messiah whom God promised would restore us and by cleanse us of our sins He would change us from sinners to sons and daughters, heirs to the Kingdom and in whom God delights. What if we could hear those same words spoken to us with clarity and have us respond to the invitation because God desires oneness with us. Not because we deserve redemption or salvation or forgiveness or anything God desires for us but simply because God desires us to be who He created us to be.
If we could open ourselves to receive salvation, everything would change for us. What if we like those shepherds would have the instinct to move past our fear and embrace those words with joy and have the courage to go to Christ. Go, not out of curiosity, not out of fear, not seeking anything or even saying anything but to go before Christ in awe and wonder because He is Lord and has called us his brothers and sisters.
This evening is our Passover, the night the Lord’s set the stage for our freedom from the slavery of sin. The night God set the stage for the battle for our freedom from the king of the earth and set the stage to transfer us to the Kingdom of God on earth. But it was just the beginning which did not culminate until he changed the wood of the manger for the wood of the cross. Just consider how hard Satan fought to prevent us from being freed from the grip of sin. Herod ruled over the region and when he heard the news that a new king had been born, he was determined not to allow another king to rise. He ruled by brute force and he used that force attempting to end the reign of this new king.
Jesus was constantly misunderstood by those who heard about Him and by those who followed Him because who He was and what He offered was hard to comprehend without faith and trust. Jesus came to earth, set aside His glory, humbled himself by being born, unable to feed himself, care for himself, he could not talk, walk or sit by Himself. The immortal one became mortal for our sake, what a comparison to the likes of Herod and Caesar who sought immortality. Instead of being born in Jerusalem or Cairo or Rome the King of Kings was born in a backwater town of no significance other than it was the hometown of King David. Those inns which had no place for Joseph and Mary would not even rate one star for service or quality.
Why did God do it this way and not by the King of Glory coming down on a cloud with trumpet blasts? That would get people’s attention but the coming as a dependent infant, in the squalor of a shelter for animal. The only people responding that night were the shepherds. Think about His coming, the conditions, the audience and His coming as a dependent child would not be recommended by anyone trying to convince you this was the King of Creation.
Everything happening this night was in fulfillment of the scriptures and we still fail to grasp the deeper meaning of the mission of Christ. Why did God plan it this way? God knew we would not understand and told us so through the prophet Isaiah when he said, “… the ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but my people do not understand” (Is. 1:3). The prophet told us the savior would be born in Bethlehem not some magnificent city. Perhaps it had more to do with the meaning of the town’s name which is “house of bread.” So, there was the bread of life, the one who told us He would feed our every hunger, lying in a feeding trough for animals. Our eyes are blinded by what we see, and our eyes are tainted by our sin, so we miss seeing the very One who came to save us.
Think about the stories of His birth which will continue next week. Who was it that came to see this newborn King? It was the shepherds, the lowest ones in society and the Magi the learned of society. The humble and the wise but where were the citizens of Bethlehem that night. They had to hear the angels singing, had to see the star shining down on the manger. We can only speculate why they were not interested, not curious or not seeking the promise of God. They reflect our lack of response to Jesus.
With the arrival of the Magi, one would have though this richly clad group, with camels carrying gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh would have motivated the visitors and citizens of Bethlehem to follow them. If they did not understand the prophecies were being fulfilled, then follow them out of curiosity. They missed understanding the gift of incense was a gift used in the worship of gods, or the gold was a gift for kings, or myrrh used in preparing the dead. No like us they failed to discover Christ when He was right before them and told them what to look for in the scriptures. We are often in the dark, confused by God signs because they do not fit in with our understanding of reality.
It is a well-known fact, that many individuals in the time of Jesus, believed the body was a temporary vessel for the soul and it was corrupt, but the soul had eternal significance. Therefore, the soul had to be shielded from the body. This was of course was and remains heresy of which the Church addressed early in the church’s history. But at the time of Jesus birth that belief made it difficult so see how God would exist in human form.
This is the wisdom of God and is perhaps why Jesus told us we need to be like children, for in His words, “to children belong the Kingdom of God.” Children accept what is proclaimed to them without doubt, without hesitation and with great exuberance.
Today God has given us a sign, a child who surprised all who believed by showing us the Fathers heart. The birth of Christ began the battle for our soul’s restoration, and we know how that story ends. What is missing in the story is our response to the plan and gift of God.
Will we embrace Christ as Savior or will we continue our attempts to make sense of Who He Is.
He is Emmanuel, God with us