Camping out in the desert under the Middle Eastern skies were local shepherds. Day in and day out they would work and sleep outdoors. It was their job to lead the flocks to good grazing locations. At night they had to stay vigilant and watch out for predators. Desert nights can be quite cold. The shepherds on guard duty were seated around a fire when on the spur of a moment night turned into day.
Out of the blue angels appeared. They came with exciting news: “The Messiah is born!” – Startled, the shepherds just stood and stared trying to decide whether or not this was a dream. One of the shepherds had the presence of mind to ask: “The Messiah is born? Here, in this neighborhood? Where would we find Him?” The angels replied: “You will find the baby sleeping in a feeding trough.” And as sudden as the angels appeared they vanished into the night leaving the stunned shepherds with an open invitation to go see the Messiah. Immediately the shepherds left the campsite to look for the mysterious baby. The heavenly messengers had given them one specific clue – an infant sleeping in a manger is unusual to say the least.
Meanwhile, Mary, Joseph and the newborn rested in their quarters. Their long and arduous journey had been topped off by Mary’s going into labor. The couple was exhausted, but they were probably too excited to sleep. Gazing at their baby in wonder, many questions must have raced through their minds. Then, there was a knock on the barn door. The door quickly opened and closed, and stepping inside came a group of complete strangers. They identified themselves as local shepherds. Apparently, they had listened to angel reports – how else would they have known about a baby sleeping in the manger? Nobody could have guessed that. And how come they knew that Mary’s baby is the Messiah? God had to have revealed it to them.
God still speaks to us through signs and wonders. At times God can be very obvious (it’s hard to overlook a host of angels), but mostly He is very subtle – probably not to overwhelm us. Whenever we take notice of Him, we have a story to share. And I believe one of the best tales from God’s point of view is sharing how we met Him.
During Prophet Isaiah’s lifetime the home country of the Jews was split into the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. The division happened right after King Solomon’s death. Ever since, the two kingdoms had been at odds. One day Pekah, the King of Israel, made an alliance with the Syrian king to overturn the kingdom of Judah. And so Ahaz, the king of Judah, found himself in a pickle. From a military standpoint he was clearly outmatched; naturally he began to worry about the impending war. In this situation God spoke words of encouragement to King Ahaz and the people of Judah saying that the planned invasion of Israel and Syria would not take place. And in order to confirm the prophecy, God asked King Ahaz to request a sign from Him. For reasons unknown to us, King Ahaz refused to comply. His official statement [Isaiah 7:12]:
“But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’” And here is Prophet Isaiah’s response to King Ahaz’s reaction [Isaiah 7:13-14a]:
“Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:’” Apparently, the Lord insisted on choosing a sign, since this was not just about King Ahaz and the nation of Juda but concerned all of mankind; and the sign God chose is unusual to say the least [Isaiah 7:14]:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Virgins don’t get pregnant, so this is obviously a supernatural phenomenon. Also, the name of the virgin’s son: “I Am with you” remarkably contains God’s name “I Am”. What would you think God is suggesting with this kind of name choice other than bestowing His family name to the baby, thus implying that a pregnant virgin will give birth to the Son of God.
700 years later Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the Virgin Mary gave birth to a baby boy. Miracles such as stopping the Sun in its tracks or parting the Red Sea show God’s unlimited power. As a vulnerable baby He stripped Himself from such power. Born into Mary and Joseph’s family, the Lord demonstrates that He wants to be near us, so near that He becomes a close relative. This very special relative of ours has a name: “The One who saves”, aka Jesus.