Just look at Him. He doesn’t look very remarkable, lying there in the straw. He seems much as any other newborn – red and wrinkled and making sucking motions with his tiny mouth in His sleep. Just the same, He was special. His mother Mary and her husband Joseph were simple, faithful peasants and they had been astonished when angels had appeared to them before He was born and told them startling things about this Baby. They were troubled and puzzled, but because they were people who loved God and trusted Him, they believed and obeyed the words of the angels.
What did they feel, what did they believe, all those who were involved in His birth, all those who heard of His coming? The shepherds had come to find Him this night and He seemed so small, all wrapped up in rags to keep Him warm in the cold night. Yet angels had sung and told of His birth and the rough, ingenuous minds of the shepherds had seen and heard, and were awestruck. They had come to worship, finding Him not in a palace, but in a stable, lying in a manger filled with straw. It seemed strange that a baby born to such ordinary folk would have His birth announced by angels, yet they believed. They knew what they had seen and heard.
Far away in another land there were wise men who looked to the heavens for portents and signs, and who had seen a wondrous light in the sky, telling them that something momentous was taking place. They were so impressed and curious that they began a long journey to find the reason for all they read in the heavens, bringing with them rich gifts to present to this One whose birth was so important. They believed enough to risk the long expedition in order to find Him.
When King Herod heard through the wise men of the birth of a King, a possible threat to his dominion, he believed enough to take defensive and terrible steps to protect his throne. He had every male child under two years slaughtered so that he could eliminate the risk, and Rachel wept – all those mothers in the land whose children were no more.
Joseph had been deeply disappointed when he had heard that his fiancée was expecting a Child and he knew he could not be the father. An angel had come to him and explained to him that this coming child was of God, and not to be afraid to go on with his plans to marry her. He had believed the angel, and had obeyed God, but he was also wondering about all that was happening, and what would happen next. He knew he had to protect this child, and when he was later warned again in a dream, he believed enough to take his family and go to Egypt so that Herod’s plot to kill this special Baby was thwarted. Joseph could not have known why all these things had happened, but he had obeyed, recognizing the will of God.
Mary, the Baby’s mother, had also been visited by an angel, and listened to his words about the birth of this child, and in spite of the strangeness of his message, had accepted what the angel said. She was a very young woman, barely more than a child, but she believed God when the angel Gabriel told her she was blessed among women, and would give birth to One Who would be called the Son of the Most High. She had sung praises to God and was full of wonder that He had chosen her for such an honor, but she was still so young, and could not possibly know all that was ahead. Mary had kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Now, this night, she had finally given birth to this child whose conception had been so far from her understanding. What the future held, she could not know. Right now, as she held His warm little body and nuzzled His sweet head, she was full of love for this tiny being Who needed her, and in her youth and simple heart, she looked to Joseph to protect them both.
The children of Israel had heard for many generations that He was coming, but they were looking for a political King, someone who would free Israel from the power of tyrants, destroy all her enemies and make her into a great nation. God had promised this to Abraham, and they expected someone to come in might and glory. It seemed unlikely that God would send their redemption in the form of a tiny baby, born of peasant parents, in the most humble of beginnings. They went through the rituals of worship of Yahweh, but their hearts were far from God.
They had forgotten that God had called them to be a holy people, had called them repeatedly by various messengers to repent and be obedient to Him. Over the centuries, from time to time they would hear and repent and obey, but over and over again they fell away from obedience into apathy or rebelliousness. God saw that they would never be able to keep His standards through their own determination. They had to offer many blood sacrifices to atone for their sin and make peace with God.
Finally, God, in His own time, and understanding their unbelief, had so loved them that He had become man Himself, and was here, in the form of this tiny baby, prepared to be the final sacrificial Lamb of God. This baby was not just a human baby; He was also God – expressed as a servant, not a king. He was not so powerful and glorious that we would be frightened and overwhelmed. However, He would be sinless, without spot or blemish, so that He could be an acceptable sacrifice. He would be fully God and fully man, a bridge allowing us access into the presence of God. In His love and grace, God included others in this new covenant with man; those who were not of Israel, that whosever will might be His child, and adopted all who would believe into His family. He would send the Baby’s cousin, John, to proclaim that the Sent One, Messiah, the perfect sacrifice and Lamb of God, was now at hand.
Messiah was not at all what the children of Israel had expected… and so all but a very few rejected Him and continued to look for their King to come in the form of a mighty warrior, a great statesman, in great glory to make Israel a great nation. Instead, He had come quietly, as a servant, not to bring political deliverance at this time, but first to purify their souls unto repentance as He had done before he had allowed them to enter the Promised Land. God needed Israel to be a holy people before He brought them the glory He had promised, and this was the way He had chosen to bring that into being. Jesus would one day look out over Jerusalem in sorrow, knowing that most had not understood.
What did God the Father feel, as He looked down at the scene? God is a Spirit, and not bound by the physical laws which He has imposed on the earth. Because He is outside time, He knew the end from the beginning, and as He looked down saw the shadow of the Cross over the manger where the Baby lay. He knew the sorrow and pain ahead for this tiny, sweet child. He knew the rejection, the physical pain, the loneliness and sense of being apart. He knew that through the horrifying death of this expression of the Godhead, He would be giving humankind the only way to find reconciliation with Himself, and entry into His holy Presence. He knew that most would reject Him. Where else could such love and sorrow meet? Only at the Cross which was to come.
What do we feel as we look back in time to this most wondrous of nights? Christmas is so much more than presents and trees and a holiday for children. On this night we remember that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will have everlasting life. (John 3:16) The life, death and resurrection of this tiny Baby has become the fulcrum on which balances the salvation of our souls. Do we accept Him as the Savior, Son of God, Messiah, the Lamb of God ~ or do we not? Our choice will decide our eternity, and much of our present lives. Christ asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” The only right answer is, “God in the flesh; the Holy One sent to become the Savior of the world.” On this special night, let us reaffirm our faith and trust in the mercy and grace of God, and give thanks that Jesus Christ is born. Alleluia! Amen.