Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking at an Old Story With New Eyes

 "It was a dark and stormy night" is a phrase we often joke about when telling a scary story.  This sets a mood and atmosphere for what is about to be told.  Our audience is thus prepared.  When it comes to the Christmas story, we must listen with new ears to the description given by the Physician Luke.  There is as much not told to us as there is stated for our understanding.  Being a physician meant that Luke recorded details often neglected by other authors due to his vocation.  While he was not an eyewitness to the events that took place, nevertheless, he was studied in his details.
     Luke makes clear his desire to faithfully recount what took place in the life of his Lord Jesus Christ.  He writes to Theophilus these words of introduction:  "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." Here, Luke lets us know that he wants his reader to have confidence in the details surrounding our Savior.  He also makes clear that while he was not an eyewitness, he wrote his Gospel based upon reliable evidence provided by those who did see these things take place.
     Looking at the Christmas story, we are not told much about the weather only the general time of day.  We know it was growing close to evening as Joseph sought shelter for his pregnant wife Mary.  They had traveled a good distance for the census which was ordered by Caesar Augustus.  Luke does identify a time frame by naming a political leader which was a common way to pinpoint a time in history.  "This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:2).  Quirinius was involved in a census taken in A.D. 6.  It appears that a census was taken about every 14 years so there may have been an earlier one; however, we have an idea of the exact time frame.
     During this event of the census, Mary's time for delivery arrived.  While Joseph tried to get shelter in an inn, there was no room available.  As a result, our Savior was born in a stable and laid in a manger (food trough).  What a humble beginning for the King of Kings!  Luke describes simply the birth of this baby.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloths.  We are not given any further description.  While this does not seem in any way miraculous, what happens next, as described by Luke, does mark an unusual occurrence.
     There were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night in the same region as the birth of Christ.  Again, we know it is night time.  Without warning an angel appears to these men in the fields near Bethlehem.  They were frightened by this appearance, but the angel reassures them and announces the birth.  The words used by the angel have great significance.  This messenger of God tells the shepherds three things about this baby:  He is "Savior", "Christ" and "Lord".  The word Savior is only used twice in all four Gospels.  All the people of Israel had long waited for a  Savior who would deliver them.  The title "Christ" means "Messiah", and the term "Lord" is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to God.  The angels were declaring that God had come to earth to save His people from their sins.  This baby was God the Son.  This was amazing news given to a group of shepherds who were despised by the people.  Since they could not keep ceremonially clean due to the nature of their work with sheep used for sacrifice, the people wanted nothing to do with them.  However, their work was important when it came to the system of sacrifices which utilized sheep on a regular basis.  Now, however, that system would change.  Jesus Christ would be the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.
      Before the angel departed, the shepherds were given a sign of what to look for so they would not miss this Child...."you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12b).  Isn't God good?  When we need to know something, He tells us precisely so we don't miss anything.  The shepherds witnessed not one angel but a heavenly host (translated army) of angels who sang praise to God.
      Following this appearance, the shepherds went to see what the angel had foretold.  When they found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, they explained what the angel had said.  I love what Luke records:  "And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  Mary, herself, had seen an angel who told her what was going to happen.  This was another confirmation to her.  I can only imagine the joy she must have felt.  Not only had she delivered a baby boy, but He was the Messiah.
     Those shepherds left to return to their job but they left changed.  As they went, they praised and glorified God.  When we meet Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are changed just as those shepherds were.  This is a story worth telling over and over again.  Luke was faithful to record all the details that we might know with certainty that everything we have been taught is true.  God wants us to know, to worship, to receive the gift of His only Son who came to earth to die for our sins and rise again to give us eternal hope.  As He rose, so will we if we have trusted in Christ for our salvation.
     Dig deep today into the Christmas story.  Even if we have read it a million times, read it again with new eyes and see what a miracle took place because of God's love for us.  Let this celebration of Christmas bring new joy, peace, and meaning into your life as you ponder these things in your heart.  Selah!

The picture above is a composite of windows at St. John's Anglican Church in Darlinghurst Sydney created by Clayton and Bell, England entitled "The Nativity".  It is taken from a German engraving.  It is a public domain picture.

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