Luke 2:28-32: “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon held Jesus, the Messiah, in his arms; this little bitty baby was going to save the world! He looked at Him in awe and wonder, and he believed.

To Simeon, the news of the Messiah’s arrival must have felt like rainfall after a long dry-spell. Israel had seen many prophets come and go, but for centuries on end there had been a pronounced silence. No new prophet spoke to them and no fresh message was received. God seemed remote and withdrawn.

Israel had been repeatedly subjected to a long list of empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The more freedom eluded the people of Israel, the more they craved it. They called for a Redeemer who would set them free once and for all, which is really humanly impossible. Only God can free us for good. And so it happened that, under the Roman Empire, God sent His Son Jesus, and an influential movement began that would go all around the world.

We sometimes hear the saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” People see us pursuing a dream, but foresee a problem if this dream actually comes true. The Messiah was such a dream. God answered prayer and Israel’s Messiah finally came. He came to deliver the Jews; actually, He came to deliver the entire human race. This clearly went beyond everybody’s expectations. God made a wish come true, but the Son of God was not what Israel had bargained for.  

Before we start pointing fingers at Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, let’s stop right here and ask ourselves this question: Don’t we all sometimes wish that God answers prayers our way? Well, if we do, then chances are we won’t recognize God’s answer to our prayers when it actually happens – as in Israel’s case. Of course, God is never beholden to our expectations. He knows what He is doing, and He will answer all our prayers His way. We can ask for His help – but we cannot tell Him how to help us. That is definitely His call.

God has sent us Emmanuel, God with us – and God is indeed with us, albeit unbeknownst to the world. At some point in the future, we will collectively lay eyes on the Messiah when He arrives in the clouds publicly, for everybody to see. Until then, it is up to us to recognize Jesus whenever He shows up in our lives. God’s Spirit speaks to us – are we listening?

When Simeon laid eyes on the Messiah in the Jerusalem temple, He believed. Now, it is our turn.

“Children go where I send thee, 
How shall I send thee? 
Well, I’m gonna send thee one by one
One for the little bitty baby
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem”
Roderick Williams

Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Mary and Joseph had just begun to feel relaxed. Every day well-wishing people came to pay homage to the child. Some offered help, others brought expensive gifts. Three distinguished visitors had traveled a long distance to present them with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Shepherds had been spreading word of their special baby in the local neighborhood. Everybody was excited and happy. The Messiah was born!  

As they retired for the night, Joseph considered prolonging their stay in Bethlehem to give Mary a chance to fully recuperate before hitting the road again. – That’s when it happened. – He looked around and saw an angel standing in the room. It was the angel of the Lord. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Then the angel addressed him (Matthew 2:13):

“Get up”, he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Joseph woke up, startled to realize, it was a dream. He immediately woke Mary, and they left within the hour.

Mary and Joseph were in the eye of a storm as they packed up and left for Egypt. They fled just in the nick of time, right before Herod’s soldiers arrived who methodically killed all infants and toddlers in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

And so it was that Jesus narrowly escaped the massacre. Still, other babies were killed on that horrible day. Does this make any sense? – No, that’s the point! These are senseless murders, and they are symptomatic for the greater problem humanity has: We were created human but we evolved and became inhuman. The killings are a sobering reminder why the Messiah had to come in the first place.

The life of Jesus was no Rose garden. Early on, he had to deal with offense and life threatening situations, which is why He can appreciate what we are going through. He empathizes with us and carries us through our worst nightmares, even death; He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

This world is badly broken. Jesus came to heal the world. The Prince of Peace is more than just a pat on the back and a quick fix. His mission is to get to the bottom of things. Jesus’s parting words to His followers were (John 14:27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Healing our hearts, Jesus heals the world. Having turned our affairs over to Him, we have made peace with God. Peace on earth is a revolution from within and begins in the temple of our hearts.

“Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God “
Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry

Luke 2:16-20: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

It was an exceptional night. Cruising the streets of Bethlehem, a group of men looked for a particular house. They were local shepherds who have just had an epiphany. Previously, angels had filled them in about the birth of the Messiah. He was born in the area; actually, within reaching distance, or so they heard. The angels sang beautifully and handed them specific directions to the location; and so they took off to pay the family a visit.

Bethlehem lay quiet and deserted after the rush and business of the prior day. It didn’t take too long until they noticed the brilliant star that seemed to be fixed on a location, a certain place that had a barn with a family inside…. and there was the baby! He was in a manger, soundly asleep, just as the angels had told them.

Mary and Joseph looked surprised as the shepherds entered the room. After introducing themselves, they started sharing the news they had previously received from the angels. Meanwhile, Mary hung on every word they were saying and treasured up these things in her heart; to her it must have felt like puzzle pieces were falling into place. Hearing the good news from other people made it all the more real.

Imagine this happening to you: an angel shows up with a message. This angel tells you that God wants you to be the parent of His Son – God’s Son – asking for your permission to adopt Jesus into your family. Can you picture the skepticism of your friends and neighbors? I am assuming that Mary and Joseph dealt with similar reactions among their peers, which is why it was so important for them to meet the shepherds.

The shepherds played no minor role in the chain of events when they shared their story with Mary and Joseph. A stranger’s tale adds a lot more to an existing story; we hear an added perspective, and so the story grows in validity and depth. Faith stories from other people are important because it strengthens our faith. Faith is not meant to be walked out alone. We need each other to be strong.

God continues to choose people for His purpose, and sometimes people have a hard time believing in God’s choices. However, if we think we need to be perfect to be chosen by God we are completely missing the point. It is God who makes things perfect. And He is the One who perfects us as we follow His call.

Isn’t it wonderful that God invites us to be part of His story? Potentially, He could have done every little thing on His own. God does not need to include us into His plans. I love that He does it anyway; and by using regular human beings for His divine purpose on a star-filled night, God has forever made us part of the miracle of Christmas.

Luke 2:11-14: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Camping out in the desert under the Middle Eastern skies were local shepherds. For days on end, they would work and sleep outdoors, allowing the flock to graze on the steep slopes at daytime and guarding their open sheepfolds from predators at night. Desert nights could be quite cold. They most likely had a fire burning while taking turns in their night watch when, all of a sudden, night turned into day.

In a flash of light, angels from heaven showed up. They came with exciting news: “The Messiah is born!” – Startled, some shepherds fell to the ground, while others 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.” Then, as sudden as they had appeared, the angels vanished leaving the stunned shepherds with the invitation to go and see the Messiah. Armed with a very good clue – baby sleeping in farm equipment is a good one – the shepherds went to meet Jesus.

Meanwhile, Mary, Joseph and their newborn rested in their quarters. Their long and treacherous journey had been topped off by Mary’s going into labor. The couple must have been exhausted, but were probably too excited to go to sleep right away. Gazing at their baby in wonder, many questions must have gone through their minds.

Out of the blue, 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 would they know that Mary had just given birth to an extraordinary baby, unless God had chosen to reveal it to them?

I believe God still speaks to us through signs and clues. We all can have our divine moments. However, we need to pay attention. God may have been speaking to us all along, but we were too busy to notice. Although at times God can be very obvious (it’s hard to overlook a host of angels), I believe most of the time He is more subtle. And if we pick up on God’s language, we will have a story to share – one of the best stories from God’s point of view is the story how we met Him. As we continue to pick up on God’s way of communicating we will find that our story has just begun.

Luke 2:8-11: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

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.

Born in a barn, Jesus 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 did not wake up to an illustrious neighborhood. – Shepherds were in the neighborhood, and they stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder;

Born in a barn, Jesus welcomes everybody. People meet there on an equal playing field. Shepherds and foreign dignitaries kneel on the rugged barn floor to worship Jesus, alongside the resting cattle. Jesus is in touch with all of creation.

In the corporate world, an open-door policy means that every manager’s door is open to every employee. In the same spirit, the TV series “Undercover Boss” has upper management take on the role of a regular employee to gain a deeper insight into their business operation. Comparatively speaking, the Boss of Creation went undercover in His own created universe. By doing so, He got to experience the full spectrum of our humanness. The immortal became mortal. The timeless God reported to a time schedule on a human scale. He was born in the Middle East a couple of millennia ago.

From an angel’s perspective, they had known Jesus long before His arrival on planet Earth; they had experienced His glory in Heaven. It must have been a powerful witness to the mighty angels 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 at age 30.  He was admired by many, but would also suffer rejection, pain, and loneliness. He loved everybody unconditionally, even those who hated Him. Facing His enemies, He ultimately died a criminal’s death. His earthly mission was accomplished after His resurrection, when He returned to His Father in Heaven.

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!

“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!’” (Luke 2:13-14)

“Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day”
Songwriters: Fred Jay / Frank Farian / Jester Hairstone

Luke 2:6-7: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

In chapter 40 of his book, Isaiah translates the business of making room for the King into hands-on road construction (Isaiah 40:3-5):

“Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
‘Clear the way through the wilderness
For the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
For our God!
Fill in the valleys,
And level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
And smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all people will see it together.

The Lord has spoken!’”

Is it possible to work in road construction without getting our hands dirty? – I don’t believe that’s possible, unless of course we stay out of it, which means we are either at the sidelines watching or leaving the scene entirely because we don’t want any part of it. The message in Isaiah, however, is clear. God wants us to get involved.

A young couple in desperate need of a place to spend the night was 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 crowded with visitors; and here they are: travelers in dirty clothes with their sole mode of transportation: a donkey. Apparently, his pregnant wife is going into labor; the poor man looks shell-shocked. He is asking you for a place to stay; assessing the situation, you rack your brain to find a way how to help these people. You are determined to find a midwife. Then it dawns on you and you say: “Oh! I know a place for you.  It’s just a barn, but it’s dry and at least you have a roof over your head. Come with me!”

It is in extraordinary situations that the best or the worst will be brought out in us.  There are people who shut their doors, and there are people who make room.  God is appealing to you and me to make room. Let’s get our hands dirty! Life is messy, so are circumstances. Life is not a predictable story. We are in the middle of this mess, and we are asked to engage; we are asked not to look away; we are asked to make unconventional decisions, if necessary, in the name of empathy and love.

Making room for the unforeseen, we make room for the King.

“Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel” – Davies Gilbert

Luke 2:1, 4-5: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

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 husband-to-be Joseph. Thankfully, Joseph believed the angel of the Lord that Mary’s child was the Son of God, and a short time later they got officially married.

Then, out of the blue, Augustus’ 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 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flat lands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem. It must have been a fairly grueling trip, especially in Mary’s condition.

Why this untimely decree? Without it, Mary could have delivered the baby in the comfort of her own home. Embracing life sometimes feels like embracing a cactus, doesn’t it? Although in the end, it all comes together and falls into place. The child had to be born in King David’s hometown, thereby drawing the family connection to King David and fulfilling ancient prophecy.

If we feel that God’s timing often seems to be out of sync with human timing, then here is a good analogy for you: 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’ll have the trip of a lifetime.