The facts surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ are stupendous and astounding. So often they are clouded over by nostalgia or tradition. Let's read and study the truth.
In Luke Chapter 2, in the New Testament, we read of a ruler issuing a decree. Everyone in the Roman Empire is to be registered. Caesar Augustus orders a census, and this involves all the heads of households - all the men folks - to go to their own cities. For Joseph that means an 80 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem. Some 700 years previously prophets had proclaimed that - but how can it be arranged?
It is very difficult to arrange your own birth! God uses the most unlikely person to have Mary and Joseph where He needs them to be.
Mary went with Joseph. She did not have to go. Why does Mary make that long hazardous arduous journey, just a few days before giving birth to Jesus Christ the Son of God? Why? Well, Mary had been ostracised. If dear Joseph had left Mary in Nazareth there would have been no-one with her. She would be shunned by the community. This young pregnant girl who claimed to be a virgin would have been regarded as an outcast.
We have the arrangement for the confinement - the announcement - and the acceptance.Joseph knew that the living God was doing something beautiful and wonderful. They make their way to Bethlehem - which means 'house of bread' - so that the Bread of Life can be born, in accordance with the word of God.
When they arrive Joseph tries to get a room.Bethlehem is crowded - full of men who have come from the census. Joseph continues to seek a room - some space where his beloved Mary can give birth to this special child.
At that time there were two words used for a hotel - one meant a five star hotel - the other meant a one star. It is at the one star hotel where Joseph makes his enquiries. All that he is offered is a place alongside the animals. You could reasonably compare it with a shelter in a pub car park. If we are to recapture the real atmosphere, that is where in modern language Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was born. He came down to such a world as this, and was born in a backyard.
Mary gives birth to Jesus. She took the child and wrapped him in strips of cloth - 'medical bandages' is the words used. Remember this is being written by a medical doctor.
Doctors can be so sceptical when it comes to miracles, and God has all this told to, and by, a doctor. He must have asked Mary some years later, because we know Mary pondered upon all these matters.
"Tell me Mary - tell me the details of the conception and the confinement." How else would we have this account? He must have had a wonderful bedside manner and a good listener to elicit all this information from Mary.
She lays Jesus is an animals feeding trough. Note - she did it - there is no other woman present to help - no midwife to wash the baby and wrap him up cosily and hand him over to mother. Mary does it all in such unusual surroundings. We have dressed up the facts to make them more acceptable and respectable. God didn't! Neither did Luke!
Not very far away are some shepherds. Shepherds at this time were regarded as among the lowest of the low. They were mistrusted rogues. No shepherd was allowed to give evidence in court at this time. They were not trusted. They were like night watchmen.
Yet, God the Father said to the angels - "Go to these shepherds and announce the birth of My Son." God wanted people to know, just as today we place an intimation in the newspaper.
God is sending this Good News from the highest to the lowest.
The announcement is so simple - but vital words are used - Today - in the city of David - a Saviour has been born to you - He is Christ the Lord.
This is where David used to work and look after sheep, and write Psalms. This is where the great King David was once a shepherd. Now in one little baby there is a shepherd and a lamb - the Good Shepherd - and the Lamb of God - who is to take away the sin of the world.
Bethlehem is only six miles south of Jerusalem, and from the surrounding fields sheep were bred for slaughter in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Thirty three years later the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, was to be slain in Jerusalem - slaughtered - crucified - despised and rejected by men - shedding blood to take away sin.
The shepherds went and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, just as the angel had said. When they had seen Jesus they went around Bethlehem, and told everything. They spoke about what God was doing. They shared everything. They didn't keep this to themselves, but openly testified.
Some were amazed at what these shepherds were saying. Some wondered - can all this be true? For many it was just a passing interest.
Mary reveals something different. She treasured up all these things. She pondered over all that had happened. She was holding onto what was good and real and true. For Mary it was NOT going to be all over as soon as dawn came. Mary's heart is filled with joy and peace. She continued to think on the meaning of what had happened.
Some years later it was Mary who must have told Dr. Luke all these very intimate details.
For many in Bethlehem it was only of passing interest. For Mary she pondered, and as we see the shepherds for the final time they are praising God for all they had seen and heard.
What does this familiar passage mean to you? Each part of the Word of God calls for reaction and response, and our individual answer is eternally important.
Sandy Shaw is Pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship, Chaplain at Inverness Prison, and Nairn Academy, and serves on The Children's Panel in Scotland, and has travelled extensively over these past years teaching, speaking, in America, Canada, South Africa, Australia, making 12 visits to Israel conducting Tours and Pilgrimages, and most recently in Uganda and Kenya, ministering at Pastors and Leaders Seminars, in the poor areas surrounding Kampala, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
He broadcasts regularly on WSHO radio out of New Orleans, and writes a weekly commentary at http://www.studylight.org entitled "Word from Scotland" on various biblical themes, as well as a weekly newspaper column.
His M.A. and B.D. degrees are from The University of Edinburgh, and he continues to run and exercise regularly to maintain a level of physical fitness.
Sandy Shaw firstname.lastname@example.org
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