David Jeremiah - Why the Nativity? - Part 1
The world is about to change forever. A day of reckoning. A decree from on high. A time to be counted. A world ruled by an iron fist. Just when people needed hope, God would send a baby, a King, to offer a foretaste of a better future. But why? Why was a virgin chosen to be the mother of Jesus? Why would an earthly man be chosen to raise a baby sent from heaven? Why choose the lowliest of men to be the first to see the newborn King? Why did kings come from the East to worship the king of the Jews? Why Bethlehem? And perhaps the most important question: Why should we care? And what should the baby in Bethlehem mean to me?
Though many years have gone by, and that stable in Bethlehem is long gone, we need to concentrate our gaze through the midst of time through the lens of scripture, and use our imagination, not to change the Christmas story, but envision the people, places, and circumstances that could have been a part of the nativity; and in doing so, we will answer the mystery, the meaning, and the question: Why the nativity?
Why the nativity? Is it just another historic event, just another superstition, or a leftover fairytale from childhood? What if this special moment in history was the beginning of our redemption? To answer these questions, it will require the Word of God to be our guide and our imagination to tell the story. It will require us to do just what the shepherds did, just what the wise men did, and even what Joseph and Mary did. We need to travel to Bethlehem. I'm David Jeremiah. Won't you journey back with me to a faraway place and to a time that might otherwise be forgotten? Let's set our course, then, for two millennia ago, the dividing point in history. The scene is the little town on the quiet landscape of Judea. There are rumors of a miracle happening any day.
We are now ready to explore the questions that surround our remarkable journey through the wonder of Christmas. "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".
Just when people most needed hope, God sent prophets to offer a foretaste of a better picture. More than 300 Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the first would come to pass in a little town called Bethlehem. But before we visit the little town of Bethlehem, let's step back further in this story to discover what we can about the man and woman who were chosen to raise God's only Son.
Joseph and Mary grew up in an unremarkable town called Nazareth. It was much like any number of other villages on the Galilean plain. Most likely, the two would have played together in the fields and town square as children. The two sets of parents had arranged their marriage that would unite not just the two young people, but two families. Mary would be thinking about her young handsome carpenter. He noticed her smile and the godliness of her character.
Joseph was probably a simple and practical man. He would pursue his craft, maintain a good name in the community, attend the synagogue, and raise a family. And Mary? A Jewish young lady who would one day live with her husband's family; and there, the two would begin a life and a family to call their own.
The preparation for this young couple's marriage included exchanging of gifts by the couple and between each family. Mary and Joseph anticipated the joy and revelry of the ceremony, with the opportunity to wear fine clothes and don expensive jewelry and eat specially prepared food, and above all, to happily live in marriage with their beloved. Nothing could come between them and the life together they had planned since childhood. Mary's presupposed quiet life would be spent in useful service to her family and community. How could Mary have known about the life that lay ahead of her?
Why Mary? She was a virgin who honored scripture and obeyed the will of her Father. She was a clean vessel to provide God's only Son a home from which he would emerge to redeem the world. Mary's heart was in the right place, and her focus was on God's will. She knew God's strength makes all things possible, and his love makes any burden a joy to bear. We can imagine that Joseph, like Mary, would desire an orderly and ordinary life. Certainly, Joseph's life was proceeding in the right direction. He was in love and making all the preparations that needed to be made for his wedding to Mary. And now in shock and disbelief, Joseph had observed the obvious pregnancy of his fiancée. Everyone would wrongly assume that Joseph was the father.
The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just and honorable man, now faced with a difficult decision. And though by law he had the right to put Mary away, he was righteous and was not willing to disgrace her publicly. Some friends agreed with his decision of compassion, while many most likely did not.
When Joseph awoke from his dream, he did exactly what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He trusted in God and in the word he received through God's messenger. Consider the change that came about in Mary's life since she was visited by the angel Gabriel. Thoughts of marriage turned to thoughts of motherhood, and thoughts of a quiet, ordinary life turned to being at the center of ridicule and speculation from those in her village.
Why Mary? Mary herself must have wondered. Indeed, the reasons she was chosen are known only to God, but we do know this. She was highly favored by God, obeyed the holy scriptures, and surrendered to God's mysterious plan. Mary prayed Joseph would do the same.
Joseph would take Mary as his wife. He would be the earthly father to the Christ child. He would postpone his desires for the will of God; and in this plan, he believed.
What was it about the vast Roman Empire that was ideal for the coming of Christ? The Romans themselves, unknowingly, were part of the answer. For the first time in history, the Mediterranean world, the cradle of civilization, was unified. All roads led to Rome, and Roman roads led almost everywhere on earth, including Jerusalem and the entire region around where Roman ruler Herod the Great ruled with an iron fist and a troubled heart.
The miserable king was worried about death at the same time someone was coming to conquer it. He was making funeral arrangements, unsuccessfully attempting suicide, and lying awake through the night, wondering who would come to steal his crown. For Herod, it was not good to be king. How long would he remain on the throne? Who would come along to threaten his power? Many other ideas were present in the world of the 1st century, but no other ideas were capable of toppling the greatest empire in the history of humanity.
Jesus not only came at the perfect time; he brought the perfect message. He brought hope and light. In a world ruled by the sword, this teacher would bring perfect peace. In a world of violence and retribution, he would teach to love one's enemies. In a world of death, he offered hope of new and eternal life. The Romans dominated through the power of terror. He would dominate through love. That was a message to capture the world in the fullness of time. Just when his truth and love could spread with the greatest impact, Jesus came to bring the most radical, most wonderful message that would ever be presented.
What was soon to happen in a stable in little Bethlehem would redefine history at the perfect time for all time.
The empire of Rome was taking names, and all those Israelites who descended from King David were instructed to report to their hometown of Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph included. And though Mary was now great with child, they began their trek to Bethlehem, the city of David, to register for the Roman taxation.
The day arrived when Mary and Joseph would leave their quiet home in Nazareth and set out on their journey to be registered in Bethlehem. As they prepared to go, their friends and family would have gathered to wish them well, present them with handcrafted gifts for the soon-to-be-born baby, and speak words of blessings and prayers over them. The young couple were about to take the first steps into a world more wonderful than they could ever have imagined.
With each step of their journey, Mary and Joseph moved further away from the only home they knew. With each twist and turn of the winding road, they became more separated from all that was familiar and comfortable for them in Nazareth. Mary and Joseph would travel some 90 miles to Bethlehem, and most likely encountered a harsh and dangerous world along the way.
Bethlehem would play host to the nativity, an event that the world hardly noticed, yet an event that changed the destiny of every human creature. That little town of Bethlehem, it bore watching. So as the years went by, the rabbis remembered, and the scholars kept an eye on the village. Everyone else passed it by without much notice, so that upon that amazing day when a peasant and his betrothed wife stole wearily into a frenzying town, no one could have anticipated that the world was about to be changed forever.
One can only picture the scene Mary and Joseph first encountered as they approached the gates of Bethlehem: travelers clamoring for lodging, vendors soliciting their wares; the best and worst of Bethlehem commingling to survive, to find food, and to secure lodging.
Joseph would be overwhelmed by what he found. Mary could deliver the Son of God at any moment, and so a desperate search began to find shelter.
Mary took in the sights and sounds of a world too busy and too sinful to notice the Messiah would be born among them. Mary knew her son would be called the child of God. Jesus their Savior would quietly arrive in Bethlehem that day.
It was by heavenly design that Jesus would come into the world, not in relative comfort of the inn, but in some lowly unkept stable. This event was no momentary impulse. It was the decisive moment in human history, the place and condition of his birth prearranged by God.
The Lord of creation chose to enter this world quietly amid an unquiet scene. A homeless birth was part and parcel of a homeless life. Accepting humanity's rejection even in his birth, Jesus would send a message of stubborn, unbreakable love to the world. We had no room for him, but homeless no more, one day he will throw open the doors of heaven so that no one might be left in the cold.
Immanuel. Imagine the moment when Joseph and Mary saw the Christ child for the first time. What a profound moment. The infinite has come to dwell among the finite, the perfect among the imperfect; and this world is graced by the presence of one who can never be limited by it because it is his own creation. They knew this child was like no other. Angels had announced him, and prophecies had foretold him. No other baby was conceived this way. The miracle of a virgin birth.
Jesus is born. The Messiah has come, the Savior of the world. When this supernatural and spectacular event occurred on that night in Bethlehem, who do you imagine would be the first to greet the newborn King? The world's emperors, priests and prophets, soldiers and scholars? No, this honor was reserved for society's outcasts, a band of poor shepherds tending their flocks outside of Bethlehem.
They were the lowliest of the low, despised by the local gentry; men whose skin glistened with sweat, whose clothes gave off a stench of animals and the fields, those who lacked the most basic manners or education. They bore names nowhere recorded in the Bible, yet whatever their names may have been, they would grace the guest list of the most joyful moment in human history. They were not of high esteem on earth; however, on this night they were favored by heaven. Imagine the wonder of that evening for those humble field hands. One moment the skies were dark and their moods were perhaps darker.
The next moment, their lives would be changed forever, a visitation they would not soon forget nor cease to recount for the rest of their lives.
These simple men followed the instructions the angels had given them, and they made their way to Bethlehem to take part in an experience that countless generations of Christians have envied: to worship the Christ child. As if to set the tone for the entire life and message of his Son, God brought a delegation of lowly shepherds to be the first to see, to worship, to celebrate. He invited simple people to take the low road, and soon, wise men to take the high road, because from that moment, all roads would lead to the manger and the Christ child.
As the shepherds left the stable that night, as the Bible tells us, they told everyone in their path of the things that had happened to them. Their lives would never again be the same. The sky would never seem so dark. They would know that just as they kept watch over their sheep by night, someone far greater was keeping watch over them.