Mary’s boy came in the wee-hours of the morning. – Jesus, beloved member of the Trinity, arrived as a human baby. His birthplace was in the Bethlehem hill country of His ancestor King David, who used to be a shepherd by trade; incidentally, shepherds were only a stone’s throw away from the place where Jesus was born.
Jesus did not wake up to an illustrious neighborhood. He was outside protective palace walls – and I believe this was intentional. Despite being King of the universe, the Son of God does not seek the status of the privileged. Born in a barn, Jesus welcomes everybody. People meet there on an equal footing. Alongside resting cattle shepherds and foreign dignitaries come to worship Him. Jesus is in touch with all of creation.
From an angel’s perspective, they had known Jesus and experienced His glory in heaven long before His arrival on planet Earth. It had to be a powerful witness to them seeing their Maker transformed into a helpless babe.
Jesus would grow up to become a sought-after man of God who began His public ministry around the age of 30. He was admired by many, but would also suffer rejection, pain, and loneliness. He loved people unconditionally, even those who hated Him.
Having walked in our shoes, Jesus has become our premier advocate. Knowing God’s plan and the impact Jesus was going to make – no wonder the angels broke out into praise [Luke 2:13-14]:
“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God saying: ‘Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased!’” * [*The Living Bible]
In chapter 40 of his book, the prophet Isaiah translates the business of making room for the King into hands-on road construction [Isaiah 40:3-5]:
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Working in road construction without getting our hands dirty is impossible. Isaiah’s message, however, is clear. God wants us to get involved.
Two travelers needed a place to spend the night, but were turned down everywhere until a local from Bethlehem came to their rescue. Since the name of this person is undisclosed, I am asking you to fill in your name today. Picture yourself in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. The streets of Bethlehem are teeming with visitors; and here they are: a young couple in dirty clothes with their sole mode of transportation: a donkey. His pregnant wife has gone into labor and the poor man looks shell-shocked. Assessing the situation you want to get in touch with the local midwife as soon as possible. Then it dawns on you and you say: “Oh! I know just the place for you. It’s a barn, nothing fancy, but it’s dry and at least you have a roof over your head. Come with me!”
It’s in extraordinary circumstances that the best or the worst in us will be brought to light. Life is messy and unpredictable and we are asked to engage in the name of love. Let’s get our hands dirty – and make room for the King.
Sometimes, when life happens, it happens fast! Put yourself in Joseph and Mary’s shoes for a minute:
After returning from her aunt and uncle’s house and three months into her pregnancy, Mary had to face her family and her fiancé Joseph. Thankfully, Joseph believed that Mary’s child was the Son of God and didn’t call off the marriage.
Then, out of the blue, Augustus’s decree was requesting all citizens of Israel to register in their ancestral towns. This would be Mary’s second trip to Judea during her pregnancy, only now she was in her third trimester. They had to travel south along the flat lands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on to Bethlehem – approximately 90 miles one way. It must have been a fairly grueling trip, especially in Mary’s condition. If it wasn’t for this untimely decree she could have delivered the baby in the comfort of her own home. In the end however all fell into place. Born in Bethlehem the child drew the family connection to King David’s hometown. Ancient prophesy was being fulfilled.
If we feel that God’s timing is out of sync then there is a good chance that we are out of sync with His timing. Life’s unforeseen seasons and surprising events are similar to following a syncopated beat in the realm of music. Syncopation is a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm. Dancing to God’s heartbeat, we must be prepared for surprises. God is a wonderful dance teacher. We will get the hang of it as we get to know Him better.
We are poor life’s dancers if we impatiently expect a problem to be solved yesterday and feel that God’s way of intervening is slow or seems to make matters worse. Trusting Him, we will be better equipped to deal with life’s curve balls. Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem is a great example. Life is a journey, and with God we will have the trip of a lifetime.
Zachariah was as happy as could be. He held his newborn son John in his arms. A prophecy whispered in His heart as he looked at his child. John would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Fast forward to 30 years later, throngs of people flocked to the area where John preached, which was down at the Jordan River. The Jordan Valley of Israel is part of a rift valley running north and south that extends from Southern Turkey southward via the Red Sea and into Eastern Africa. Due to the river’s location it is reasonable to assume that many foreigners came to see John. Moved by his words people from all walks of life stepped into the water and got immersed.
In Judaism, a bath called “Mikveh” or “mikvah” Hebrew: מִקְוֶה / מקווה is used to achieve ritual purity. It is understood that most forms of impurity can be nullified through an immersion in a natural collection of water, like the Jordan River. Even so, John’s baptism was novel in that the immersion symbolized a new beginning and change of mind. We all have to let go of our old mindset. There is no freedom in preconceived notions and close-mindedness.
In John’s lifetime, the Roman Empire ruled Israel and the neighboring countries with an iron fist. People were looking for a king to free them from current oppression and lead them into freedom. Contrary to popular belief, however, the Messiah did not come to address their political situation, as desperate as it was. God knows that personal freedom exceeds political freedom; regardless how restrained we are from the outside, internally we can still be free.
Jesus came to revolutionize our hearts and minds, and John the Baptist prepared the world by preaching repentance. Repentance is all about changing our mind and obtaining a different point of view. Welcome to God’s way of thinking – In His kingdom the last come first and the first come last; what seems foolish is wise; and what seems wise is indeed foolish. Jesus came to broaden our vision. Are we ready to receive the King?
As members of the priesthood, Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were celebrities; the birth of their first son was no minor event, it was practically the talk of the town. Needless to say, the circumcision ceremony held in the Jerusalem temple was well attended and drew the crowds. Everybody knew that Zachariah had not spoken in a long time, and rumor had it that their child was special because of the unusual circumstances leading up to Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
Then, in the middle of the circumcision ceremony, there was confusion. It was tradition that the first male child carried on his father’s name; “Zachariah” would have been the logical name choice. But then Elizabeth interfered; she insisted that their son’s name was supposed to be “John”. Immediately the attention turned to her husband Zachariah.
For the past nine months Zachariah had witnessed his wife’s and his visiting niece Mary’s pregnancy, both announced by angels, both a miracle. Initially he had doubted God’s messenger, and had been silenced by God because of it. His predicament, however, had given him the opportunity to contemplate, which seemed to have softened his heart; as a result Zachariah rose up to the occasion a much humbler man; and when publicly addressed with the question of how to name his son, His answer on the writing tablet was very clear: “John”, just as God’s angel had requested in their earlier encounter.
It was then and there that God broke his silence, and the first words coming out of Zachariah’s mouth were heartfelt praise. In his prophetic address he mentioned Mary’s son first. It was in his closing remarks that he turned his attention to his firstborn (Luke 1:76):
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”
Zachariah’s transformation is a miracle in its own right and illustrates how God can profoundly change a person. When we give our heart to God He gives us a new perspective – while turning our life around in the process.
What would you do if your fiancé told you a story that sounded like a lame excuse? Nothing made sense to Joseph anymore after seeing his fiancé returning from her recent family visit, three months pregnant. Pregnancies usually serve as physical evidence that a man and a woman had sexual relations. Claiming otherwise would be foolish, which is why Mary’s pregnancy is still controversial today. A woman getting pregnant without a guy being involved – why would God do such a thing?
Joseph was confused. It pained him to think that Mary would go behind his back with a secret relationship, dishing a lie to explain away her pregnancy, and then asking him to marry her to cover it all up.
In sleepless nights to follow Joseph would wrestle with the prospect of putting Mary’s life on the line if her pregnancy out of wedlock became publicly known. After agonizing over his decision, he finally considered quietly breaking the engagement. Anticipating Joseph’s reaction, God sent His angel. In a dream God’s messenger confirmed that Mary had in fact told him the truth.
600 years before these events transpired, Isaiah wrote down a famous prophecy [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.”
The Lord has sent prophets and angels to broadcast His intentions so that we can recognize a sign from God when there is one. “A virgin bears a child” is a prediction fulfilled. Nonetheless, despite angel accounts and prophet proclamations, it still requires faith to believe Mary. We know that Joseph believed her. Similar to Joseph, we too have a choice to make. Would you take that leap of faith and believe the story of Christmas to be true?
In a society where pregnancy out of wedlock prompted the death penalty, a pregnant, unwed teenager was bad news. Raising the Son of God – what a great honor, and yet – what a daunting task! When Mary heard that her aunt Elizabeth was also expecting a child, she set off to visit her. The trip was approximately a 100-mile walk, which must have kept her on the road for about a week. The reception was warm and heartfelt. Here they were – two expectant mothers standing in the doorway weeping with joy as they embraced each other. Her aunt’s instant awareness of her condition had to be inspired [Luke 1:42]:
“In a loud voice she [Elizabeth] exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’”
Elizabeth was no stranger to a miracle pregnancy herself. She had been past her childbearing years when angel Gabriel announced that she would have a son; unfortunately her husband Zachariah doubted the messenger; as a result he was temporarily muted by the angel. His ability to speak was taken away from him for an undisclosed time period.
Actually, Zachariah’s forced silence may have been a blessing for Mary. If he had trouble believing Angel Gabriel, he could have raised some serious doubts about her mysterious pregnancy. Had he been able to talk, I imagine Mary’s visit could have turned out differently. Instead, Zachariah had to take the back seat in the family for a while. A silent witness of incredible things happening before his eyes, the words of Psalm 46 may have gone through his head [Psalm 46:10]:
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Reportedly, it was Mary’s habit to listen with her heart. Pondering the things she observed along the way gave her remarkable insight and wisdom. We gain nothing worth mentioning rushing through life; even miracles could potentially go unnoticed.
In order to listen we need to be still. Lifting up the Lord, we will be uplifted.
Long time ago an important announcement was made – God prophesied over the first couple, Adam and Eve. His riddled message conveyed that the woman’s Seed would crush the Serpent’s head while the Serpent in turn would strike His heel.
Only moments ago the first couple had listened to the deceiving message of a conniving Serpent. This had led to a chain of unhappy events – For the first time, Eve committed an act of disobedience and so did Adam. I cannot imagine how they must have felt when everything came to light and God had to evict them from Paradise. Mankind was doomed, so it seemed, but this is not how God operates. He lifted them up by bringing a message of hope: He announced the coming of the Messiah. One of Eve’s daughters would give birth to God’s Son.
Then the day arrived when Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a young teenage-girl who lived in Israel, in the town of Nazareth. He went to her and said [Luke 1:28]: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Gabriel greeted her like a queen. Mary was startled by the angel and wondered why he addressed her in this fashion. He quickly got to the point and delivered the message telling her that she was chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah.
Finally God’s prophecy materialized and came true, and heaven waited with baited breath to hear Mary’s answer. Meanwhile Mary addressed the heavenly messenger: “How can I give birth to a child when I am a virgin?” she asked. The angel clarified that she would conceive the child through the Holy Spirit if she allowed it – and Mary said ‘yes’. And just like that Mary fulfilled prophecy becoming part of a groundbreaking movement that would sweep across the globe and come to everyone’s doorsteps. When we welcome the Messiah we get to discover the Lord on a personal level. Following Him we spread His kingdom and become agents of hope. “His kingdom will never end”, Angel Gabriel said. We’re on for eternity.
Two miraculous pregnancies within six months and within the same family [since Elizabeth and Mary were related] are remarkable, to say the least. Like a door opening to a mysterious room, God’s carefully designed plan began to unfold. And the world was watching.
Pregnancies are always miraculous, given that a brand-new being develops in a mother’s womb. Adding wonder to amazement, the Christmas miracle happened inside a pregnant teenage girl; this is where God became a man. The Lord went to town, specifically, the town of Bethlehem.
Trusting Jesus, He will move in and become a resident of our hearts. The apostle Paul explained in one of his letters [Ephesians 3:17]:
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”* [*New Living Translation]
While Mary carried Jesus physically for nine months, all of us can carry Jesus spiritually over a lifetime. Like any other endeavors we pursue, believing in Jesus is a growing experience. Similar to roots growing deep into the soil to support the weight of a tree, so our understanding of God’s love grows deeper over time and this considerably lightens the load we bear. I dare say that this is something God and His angels never tire to see – the weight lifted off of our shoulders as new hope is nourished inside of us.
The story of Christmas is in fact open-ended and has many more sequels. As we make room in our hearts for Jesus, a new chapter is being written. And so, my friend, the Christmas miracle continues.
When Israel exited Egypt in 1500 BCE, they were despised slaves. God rose to the occasion – the nation of Israel was born as they passed through the Red Sea and traversed the Sinai Peninsula where they received God’s law written in stone. He comes through for us in very unlikely circumstances and chooses unlikely places, such as Bethlehem in Judea, to do His work.
The town of Bethlehem, Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem for “House of Meat” is a place with a long history. It was King David’s hometown; he came from a shepherd’s family. From ancient times, large numbers of sheep were crisscrossing the fertile hill country of Judea, a premier spot for shepherding. Tending sheep in the Middle East 2000 years ago was a demanding and dangerous job. Wolves were common, and there was no compensation for livestock taken as prey. In general, shepherding was frowned upon as a sub-par profession. Shepherds shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers.
Bethlehem – Israel’s sheep metropolis – this was the chosen location where Jesus was born. Why not a more prestigious place? Why not Jerusalem? Good question! Nobody really knows. As a general observation, God seems to have His eye on common people. He likes to choose the unlikely, and this may rub some of us the wrong way; ideally though, God’s way of loving people should inspire all of us to let go of any prejudice we have towards outsiders.
Never underestimate humble beginnings. Don’t despise a small manger in an inconspicuous little town. This manger held a special baby, the King of the universe, the Shepherd of God’s people and the Messiah of the world.
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