Yesterday my wife and I attended a re-enactment of the birth of Christ at Sight and Sound Theatres. The actors and participants always do an outstanding job!
As I watched, I found myself asking again, “How could so much eternal significance center on such an obscure rural scene?”
And why does the story continue? Why will many millions of people throughout the world focus on the heartwarming story of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus into the world? Why would this quaint story from so long ago capture worldwide attention for more than two thousand years? Why will many thousands of reenactments take place on every continent of the globe?
Could such an amazing drama (over such a long time) be attributed to the power of religious tradition? Or, is there more to what happened on that night?
Any interest taken in the familial details of the story should never occur without the relentless connections made in the New Testament with the unfolding prophetic and redemptive drama. This is the story of a God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!
The genuineness of the story of the birth of Jesus is validated by eyewitness accounts and rings with authenticity by the way it breaks with expected social norms of the time.
I invite you to consider this authenticity by understanding the way the story broke with expected cultural norms. God clearly chose to bring His Son into the world in a way that challenged the self-righteous pride of man.
The unsanitized story
Suppose God had enlisted you to help arrange the setting for the birth of His Son — the long-awaited Messiah. What kind of reception would you plan for such an amazing event? What location would you recommend for his birthplace? Who would make it on the guest list?
Suppose God had taken a survey in Jerusalem to seek the advice of leading Jewish people about arrangements for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah-King. When you compare popular expectations of the times with the way God actually arranged the events, you’ll find yourself asking if God set things up to make it more difficult to believe. Did God do this intentionally to confront the pride of mankind?
Consider the contrast
How would the esteemed leaders of Israel have responded if God consulted them and said,
“I am about to dispatch my mighty angel Gabriel to a young girl in the Galilean City of Nazareth. She is my choice for mother of the Messiah.”
“Wait a moment, Lord!” they would have said, “If you want this to be credible among the Jews, Nazareth of Galilee is not a good idea!” “The most important people of Israel do not have favorable feelings toward people from that area.” According to one historian: “The rabbinical circles of Jerusalem held the Galilean in contempt, because of his manner of speech, colloquialisms and lack of a certain type of culture characteristic of the Jerusalemite” (Edersheim).
Any connection between Messiah and Nazareth would not sit well with the people of Jerusalem.
“The young girl from Nazareth is a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the descendants of David. The Messiah will be miraculously conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit before her marriage is consummated.” (Isa. 7;14; Lk. 1:35; Mt. 1:18, 25; Lk. 1:26-38)
“No disrespect intended, Lord,” the leaders would have responded, “but while a child born to a virgin would be an amazing miracle (and we are aware of prophecies of such an event), the Jewish people will likely attach a very ugly rumor to the Messiah and stigmatize him as illegitimate (see: John 8:41). Maybe you should save miracles for other occasions.”
Think about it
“In the modern United States, where each year a million teenage girls get pregnant out-of-wedlock, Mary’s predicament has undoubtedly lost some of its force, but in a closely knit Jewish community in the first century, the news an angel delivered could not have been entirely welcome. Nine months of awkward explanations, the lingering scent of a scandal-it seems almost as if God arranged the most humiliating circumstances possible for his entrance, as if to avoid any accusation of favoritism” (Philip Yancey).
God raises the stakes
“When you write the record of Messiah’s genealogy, make sure you include the following four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah” (Matthew 1:1-6).
“Lord,” the Jewish leaders would have responded, “it’s true that these women are in the lineage, but each one has a certain unpleasantness about her. Tamar had that incestuous encounter with Judah and Rahab was a converted harlot. Ruth was a good woman but she was a gentile. And Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah represents a bad moment in our history that we would rather forget. Could we perhaps leave these women out?”
God designates birthplace and visitors
“It must be in Bethlehem, as the prophecies foretold, but I will use a stable. As for visitors, my angel will be directing some shepherds to the place” (see Luke 2:8-13).
“Really, Lord?” “The home of animals and the keepers of sheep will not foster credibility in the eyes of the elite of Jerusalem. And the wise men with rich gifts — perhaps? But shepherds? They’re considered ceremonially unclean and social outcasts among the sophisticated.” “We don’t mean to be disrespectful, Lord, but many will have a hard time accepting this plan.”
Think about it
Philip Yancey observed how: “God’s visit to Earth took place humbly, in a berth for animals with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the new-born king but a food trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts had more animals than human witnesses. For an instant, the sky grew luminous with angels. Yet, who saw that spectacle? Illiterate hirelings who watched the flocks of other `nobodies` who failed to leave their names. Shepherds had a randy reputation and other Jews lumped them together with the `godless.` Fittingly, it was they who God selected to help celebrate the birth of one who would be known as the friend of sinners” (“The Jesus I Never Knew”).
What can we learn?
In the way God planned for the birth of Jesus, we’re reminded that God is not impressed with our notions of greatness. He does not need our recommendations nor pander to our opinions.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). He also said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside” (II Corinthians 1:19). The wisdom and ways of man do not set the Divine agenda.
The same principle is at the heart of the gospel itself. By offering salvation as a free gift, totally unattainable by human effort, God refuses all our attempts to impress Him. Scripture repeatedly says, “No one shall boast before God.” The un-sanitized version of the Christmas story also reminds us of God’s concern for the lowly and the outcast— for those who humbly acknowledge their need for God’s mercy, and for Jesus as their Savior from sin.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Four truths from the birth of Christ
- The inability of man to introduce the Savior to the human race (Mt. 19:26; I Jn. 4:14).
- The wisdom of God over the wisdom of man (Gen. 18:14; Jn. 8:41; I Cor. 2:4-10).
- Salvation as God’s free gift — not of human works or boasting (Eph. 2:8-9; Ti. 3:3-7)
- The uniqueness and purity of Jesus as God in human flesh (Jn. 1:14; I Pe. 2:21-23)