The background of our story:
Dusty roads; the rhythmic marching of a legion of soldiers; the poor and the infirmed begging for food; the elaborate robes and prayers of the temple priests; the bleating and smells of many animals; the jostle and bustle of the crowds; tables overflowing with dates, fish, and breads in the market-place; the din of merchants and customers haggling over prices; the wail of a child looking for its mother in the press of the crowd…
It was a world where you grew up fast, married young, worked hard, feared the oppressive rule of the Romans and the religious leaders, and feared the numerous diseases that could easily bring death to any family member at any time.
Some chose to “get ahead” by taking advantage of others. The “some” encompassed government leaders and even religious leaders. You never really knew who was trustworthy and who wasn’t. Fear has a way of turning loyalty and integrity away.
There were those who lived in great wealth with a large collection of slaves to do their every bidding. They lived in virtual palaces with elaborate tapestries, colorful gardens, elegant fountains, exquisite paintings, and magnificent, marble statues surrounding them.
On the other hand, many of the people lived in abject poverty: barefoot, dressed in rags, begging or stealing for food, exposed to deadly diseases, and the looming threat of barbarous punishment if caught trying to survive.
To live under the rule of the Romans was to live with the constant companion of fear and oppression. (The Romans were known for their cruelty to anyone who was not a Roman citizen.)
It was into this dark and fearful world that we begin our story…
It had been 400 years since a prophetic word had been given by God’s people. The heavens appeared to be silent.
The people longed and waited for a deliverer. They imagined someone like David who would easily take on the Roman “giant” and would defeat him without them even needing to lift a sword.
Perhaps, their deliverer would be like Solomon and would bring prosperity and peace to their nation again.
Perhaps, their deliverer would be like Moses and would lead them to some new and promised land where they could live free of oppression.
Their dreams were always of a powerful and strong leader — someone they could rally behind, fight with, who would avenge the oppressed, who would set captives free, who would heal the sick, who would bring peace, who would bring hope.
Our story picks up outside a small town.
The glow of fires dotted the hillsides, while the sound of an occasional sheep bleating, the low hum of shepherds talking, and the lonesome notes of a pipe echoed across the valley. Here on the hills, for a few blessed hours, there was quiet and an appearance of peace.
Suddenly, the curtain of heaven was pealed back! Onto the stage of heaven and back-lit by the glimmer of stars and the glow of campfires appeared a shimmering host of celestial beings!
Heaven seemed to be making up for 400 silent years with an entire choir of angels, proclaiming two, coinciding messages: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will to men!”
Heaven chose to appear to simple shepherds, on a hillside, to proclaim the news and details of their deliver’s birth.
The shepherds immediately left the hillsides and traveled into the small town to find the baby, spreading the news to those who cared to hear.
The shepherds found a simple carpenter, a young woman, and a newborn baby lying in a crude manger on a pile of straw. Unperturbed by the surroundings, the shepherds immediately fell down to worship this baby.
Perhaps, it was this very reason they were chosen to be the first to welcome the Son of God…
…the shepherds immediately fell down to worship…
The world had no idea yet what a momentous occasion this was! Many wouldn’t have believed, even if told the circumstances, that a baby could be their promised and long-anticipated deliverer.
How could a simple baby — sleeping for hours and completely dependent on its parents for nourishment and care — be the deliverer? Why would God present His Son in such a humble form as a baby?
Perhaps, it’s because of what babies represent and how we are to respond to them… Babies require us to stop, to hold them, and to speak gently. When you hold a baby, your soul learns to pause and to listen.
The very way the Son of God came also speaks volumes of Who He is. He didn’t come with a show of power and wealth. He came with humility and in simple surroundings, telling an entire world that God is aware of even the smallest and most vulnerable. He sees those that others overlook.
God was sending a simple but powerful message that peace doesn’t come in outward displays. God was saying that peace and good will come from Him. He was saying that His glory can be both celestial and majestic but also wrapped in simple purity. He was also showing that what He treasures most of all is our hearts and that is from where true worship comes.
The name the Baby was given was Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God was saying that most of all, He wants to dwell with us. In the last book of the Bible, God once again reaffirms His purpose for us:
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
As you follow His life, you discover that the way Jesus or Immanuel lived tells its own story. He was kind where others were cruel. He was generous where others were greedy. He was humble where others were haughty. He was loving where others were lewd. He was forgiving where others were fuming. He was scrupulous where others were scheming.
He healed the sick — no matter their station in life. He raised the dead to life! He fed the hungry. He rebuked the arrogancy of the religious leaders. He played with children. He helped fishermen. He recognized and honored women. He associated with people from all walks of life. He was never worried about His reputation; He only did what was right every. single. time.
He spoke in parables and said, “He that has ears to hear, let Him hear.” Jesus was saying that it doesn’t require a degree in religion, science, mathematics, or psychology to understand the most important truths. He was saying that He loves to bring His greatest truths and greatest insights to those who are willing and humble enough to listen, to be led by Him, and to yield their hearts to Him.
He brought the truest form of peace to those who were willing to receive and see it. He brought the bread of eternal life to the hungry. He brought freedom from the greatest oppressors ever: sin, fear, greed, and shame. He set the captives free because no one can enchain a soul that God has set free!
Ultimately, Jesus’ earthly life ended on a humble and crude note. He died the death of a common criminal with shame, cruelty, and anguish His final moments. Once again, the heavens responded by closing the curtain (darkness fell) and the earth itself shook (earthquake). Jesus’ final words were “It is finished!” He had finished what He came to do. His death and resurrection were the means for our entrance into Heaven, eternal life, and fellowship with God. He removed the sting and hopelessness of death at His death.
Heaven’s curtain is waiting to be lifted to reveal the final act on the stage of life. It will be an act that will once and for all eliminate evil and will reveal the Son of God in all His glory to us. At that time, “Every knee will bow…”
This Christmas, let’s take time to reflect, to ponder, and to worship… a simple baby but also a magnificent Savior!