I neglected to post during the Thanksgiving holiday, and now we’re in the Christmas season. The two holidays, nonetheless, carry similar themes of love, sharing, fellowship, giving, and gratefulness, so we can continue these regardless of when. As I prepare gifts for those I love, this idea of gratefulness is still upon me. Christmas is the time we reflect on the gift of Jesus Christ presented to us from God the Father. My reflective readings about His birth during this season have intrigued me from another vantage point. I was in awe of how God invited people to help deliver Jesus into the world.
Long before He was to arrive on earth, Old Testament Israelite prophets foretold a Messiah’s coming. Customarily, prophets delivered important messages or instructions for remaining close to God. Foretelling involves predicting events before they occur. In both the Hebrew Bible and the Holy Bible, there are stories that tell the history of the Israelite nation and the laws and customs they were to observe to maintain their relationship with God. God had chosen them for such. For centuries, these were read in the congregation and passed down throughout generations. One significant message was their promise of a Messiah. The prophets received these messages from God himself, angels, through revelation and types of Christ, in visions with astounding imagery, or in dreams. It’s important then to attempt to understand things about Jewish culture to better understand things revealed about Jesus in scripture since He would be born a Jew. As they would soon learn and hear Jesus Christ lay claims to, He was their promised Messiah.
Hearing a story year after year without any manifestation can become taxing and after a while appear untrue. One can lose hope or faith when a promise lingers unfulfilled. After all, this Israelite community experienced several hardships and struggles. They endured political and economic control by other empires and exile to foreign lands, where they became slaves. They faced insurmountable oppression and injustice. The promise of a redeeming King who would rule Israel, I’m sure, was something they longed for. After proclaiming this promise for centuries, many did not live to see its fulfillment. Nonetheless, the promise remained in many of their hearts and minds. (See Jeremiah 23:5–6; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 7:14; Isa 9:6-7; Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Daniel 7:13–14)
Fast forward to around 6 and 4 BC, and God is ready to fulfill His promise to Israel. From this same nation, he needs a woman, Mary, to supernaturally conceive, carry, and birth Jesus, and a husband/father, Joseph, to help her raise Jesus according to Jewish culture and teach him life skills to sustain himself as he grew into a man. They were happily engaged and possibly planning a blissful wedding celebration with family and friends. The Lord interrupts their plans, and they both willingly agree to participate with God. In essence, they both say, “Okay, Lord, let it be so.” (See Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-25)
God also needed Mary’s relatives, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. This couple may have been depressed at this time, as they were living through the shame of barrenness. They’re also old in years, maybe haggard. God approaches and needs them to conceive a child as well, who would come naturally through their union. Elizabeth births Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, who would set the stage for Jesus’ upcoming ministry on earth. “But this is a health risk; she can die during delivery,” we would argue today. (See Luke 1:5-24; Mal. 3:1; Luke 1: 1:8-17; Luke 3:1-21; Luke 4:14-15). Chosen for God’s plan, these women believed and spoke it, as Luke 1:45 shows, “And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
In addition, God needed witnesses to Jesus’ birth. He chose two groups just for that. First, there were shepherds who lived nearby. They were in the fields watching over and caring for sheep. These may have been priestly shepherds who understood the custom of presenting an animal’s blood to atone for sin, and who knew about the coming Messiah. We can safely assume this because the angel specifies, “Your Savior is born.” At that moment, they may have had an instant recall of what they already knew about a Passover Lamb who will take away the sins of the world. They’re ecstatic! “It’s finally happened,” they may have shouted. In haste, they rush to see and recognize everything was exactly as they were told. They leave in joy, praising God for all He has done. Be sure, they’re not running to pompously brag to Roman officials about their new king or to gather a crowd to start a political or social uprising. No. It’s an OMG moment, one of astonishment and joy! (Luke 2:8-20)
Finally, there were wise men. Nothing more, just a few guys who were wise, it reads. They were wise enough, we see, to notice an unusual star in the sky that told about a “king of the Jews.” They travel to Jerusalem to ask where this child was. King Herod also wants to know and asks the experts in the law where this king was to be born. (Was he nervous or jealous about another king exceeding him?) They tell him the location. Not so wise, ‘eh? King Herod lies and tells the wise men he too wants to worship this child. Intrigued by the child, the wise men present Jesus with gifts that are symbolic of all He was and all He would endure. They don’t fear the King’s wrath over God and have sense enough to return a different way so the evil king could not find and kill Jesus (Matt 2:1-12). How interesting that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, himself would need protection and preservation by the wise men and by his earthly father Joseph, who was also warned to leave town so Jesus could live (Matt. 2:13-15).
This is the story of Jesus Christ—at least the part of His story that tells how He got here; there’s more. Please read it for yourself. It’s a remarkable, true story. It shows us how strategic God was in bringing into the world His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. He would proclaim the kingdom of God and fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all nations. And He was willing to relate with and include humans in the process. Were these Israelites special or extraordinary? Did they have a divine superpower within them? No. They are people who knew, maintained, and trusted God’s promise. Like us, they were going about their daily life activities or work, planning, and living their lives. They had human bodies, hearts, minds, and wills, just like us. But they humbled themselves when God appeared and interrupted their lives. From their long history with Him, these understood He has that right. Going along with God’s plan sometimes may seem to us uncanny, unconventional, strange, or appear risky. It may involve stopping what we are doing, listening intently, changing our plans, or completely abandoning them (in some instances), and accepting His will, His way. I think about how I would respond today to an angelic visit with a message from God. Would it be as these individuals demonstrated?
We should never doubt our significance or usefulness to God. He’s not so high and lofty that He doesn’t look down on or bypass the common person to use him or her for His glory. Neither our sorted personalities nor troublesome predicaments are drawbacks to His inclusion of us. We’re not so inadequate or flawed that He overlooks us for service in His kingdom. The times in history have changed, but there are more written promises the Lord has made that are yet to be fulfilled. So, He is still working by His Spirit for His kingdom purposes. I’m grateful these ordinary people said “yes” to God’s unprecedented way of delivering His Son, Jesus Christ, to us. Because they did, Jesus Christ came, lived, died, but rose again. This resulted in His rescuing us from sin’s dominion, sin’s power, sin’s penalty, and–coming very soon—from sin’s very presence. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the law and all God’s righteous requirements to be in a relationship with Him. Hallelujah! You need only to believe.
Please, go ahead and open the gift that was delivered to you, and receive all Jesus Christ has done on your behalf. 😊
A blessed Merry Christmas to all of you!