Away In A Manger
When I was a boy, the idea that of having Christmas every day would have been at the top of my wish list. So while it's fun to reflect on the birth of Jesus in March, it also gives us opportunity to reflect deeply on what's at stake in the birth of Jesus.
1. The Birth of Jesus
In Luke 2:1-7 we read the story of Jesus' birth. First, we note who is not mentioned in the story - the infamous inn keeper who was unwiling to expel Larry the Cable Guyfrom room 301 to make room for Jesus. Second, we note who is mentioned, and that is Caesar Augusts who issued a decree. This decree gets Mary and Joseph out of Nazareth and into Bethlehem so that by being born there Jesus could fulfil the Old Testament prophecies about his birth. This leads us to a core idea:
God plays chess on two levels simultaneously:
our personal destinies are intertwined with his big-picture purposes.
Caesar wasn't thinking about moving Jesus; he was thinking about money. But God used a decree bu a pagan king in a far away land to get the true king to the place of his birth.
We also notice the simplicity with which Luke telss this story. There is no hyperbole, no embellishment, no exaggeration; he just tells the story. And at the very heart of this story is the simple phrase: she gave birth to her firstborn son. In those few words, Luke gives us the fulfilment of everything the Bible has been pointing to up to this point.
Luke's gospel gives us a ground-up perspective. That is, he is telling us the story of Jesus as the people who encountered Jesus experienced him. For most of these people, they met Jesus before realising who is was. Luke is taking us on a journey of discovery regarding the identity of Jesus.
John's gospel takes the opposite approach; he begins by giving us the identity of Jesus, and then introduces us to the Jesus who confirms that identity. And so John begins,
God himself has personally stepped into history; God put on flesh and become human so that he might make us like him. Luke, however, is taking us on a journey of discovery, and the next scene sheds a little more light.
2. The Identity of Jesus
In Luke 2:8-12 we read about the shepherds and the angels. This is a famous bit of scripture, read every Christmas around the world. Here are these shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night, on fields outside of Bethlehem - David's city. David was the shepherd boy from Bethlehem who grew up to be the giant slayer, and here in his city his descendant is born one who grows up to the ultimate giant slayer.
So these shepherds are watching sheep, probably on fields David had watched sheep many years earlier. And the angel shows up to give them an announcment which, once dealing with their fear, is both surprising to them and profound.
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
It's good news for those who receive it; it is for all the people, but all the people won't benefit because all the people won't receive. But for those who do, the good news is of great joy; great joy is breaking into human experience because of the birth of Jesus.
The key bit of information in the text is the actual news, and the very centre of this is the identity statement about Jesus:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
These unsuspecting shepherds encounter the most profound news imaginable; a baby has been born, in Bethlehem whose identity is one-of-a-kind. In short, this is who Jesus is:
- Saviour: the merciful one who delivers
- Christ: the promised one who restores
- Lord: the King who rules
As we walk through Luke, we see each of these themes unpacked in a variety of ways; sometimes the Saviour-ship of Jesus is in focus, sometimes the Messiah-shiup, and sometimes the Lordship. But never forget: He's all three, and if you want one, you get them all.
3. The Response to Jesus
In Luke 2:13-20, we read about how different people responded to Jesus. The first group is easy to remember with the acronym WOW!:
- The response of the angels: worship
- The response of the shepherds: obedience
- The response of the shepherds: witness
The angels gave glory to God in the highest; the shepherds went to see what the angels told them about, and then the shepherds told others, and then the shepherds worshipped. What do we do with Jesus? We worship him, we obey him, and we witness to others about him.
Finally, however, we come to Mary's response in Luke 2:19:
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
You can imagine how the young teenage mother would have been encouraged by the news the shepherds shared. Her life has been thrown into a kind of turmoil she didn't ask for, but the words from the shepherds confirmed what the angel had told her and the blessing from Elizabeth. Her newborn son really was from God, and she really was in the right place at the right time doing God's will.
Jesus was born in a manger, but the who of that birth is Saviour, Christ, Lord. Take time to reflect on, ponder, and embrace the word of Jesus' identity.