An angel of the Lord appears to shepherds who live “out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” (Luke 2:8) The angel terrifies the shepherds, but reassures them by telling them, “I bring you good news of great joy.” The angel tells the men of the Savior’s birth, and of the sign by which they will know they’ve found Him. He will be “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
The same night, the “Magi from the east” see the star of the Christ, the “king of the Jews,” and begin their long journey to Jerusalem. Perhaps an angel has told them of the Christ Child’s, but just as likely is that they know of the prophecies regarding the Messiah. At any rate, the Magi spend several years traveling to greet the Lord. When they reach Jerusalem, King Herod sends them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1,2,8) The star goes ahead of the Magi until they come to the house where Jesus lives with His parents, Joseph and Mary. “They bow down and worship Him. Then they open their treasures and present Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11) After being warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, the Magi “return to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:12)
And so, Jesus is welcomed into the world by the most humble and by the most majestic of people — shepherds who live with their sheep and Magi, the wise men of their land. Both types of people worship the Christ Child. Both discover the “good news of great joy.”
May we also know and cherish this good news!
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt “which no one has ever ridden.” (Luke 19:30) The crowd of disciples throw their cloaks in front of the colt as Jesus approaches. The disciples “joyfully praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they have seen.” (Luke 19:37) Some of the Pharisees in the crowd ask Jesus to rebuke His disciples. Jesus says, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
Even if no one ever rejoices over Jesus’ birth and resurrection, the earth itself shouts of His glory. I remember the first time I heard the stones cry out. I was 19, camping alone in the late autumn, early winter weather in a state park. In my life, I’d never felt so alone. As I walked around the edge of the woods picking up kindling for my fire, I glanced up at the stars in the immense blackness of the sky and felt as tiny as the speck I am in the universe. I’d never before felt so small and insignificant.
All around me, I heard the stones, the trees, the sticks, the leaves, the stars cry out:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)
“68Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people,
69And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David;
70As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began.”
God has been speaking to mankind “since the world began.” Initially God spoke to us face to face with no need for messenger or mediator. Then the serpent deceived the woman and the woman talked the man into going along — a sad picture of the fallen-from-grace. God cast them out and barred the way back. At the same time — even before that time — God formulates His plan. He will “raise up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” and He will “speak [to us] by the mouth of His holy prophets, which had been since the world began.”
Never did God give up on us. Even as He closed the gates to Eden, He planned to open them. Even as He turned His face from us, He planned a means to His desired end to have us see Him face to face once again. He planned His visit to earth in the form of a human infant, at which time He would fully engage Himself in being human so that He might save His people from our sins.
God has a problem, early on, with the first covenant He makes with His people. He finds fault with them, and seeks another way of making His people right with Him. There is no denying there is something wrong with the old covenant, says the writer of Hebrews. (see Hebrews 8:7-8, NIV)
The key here is that God finds fault with His people, and He requires some way to resolve this separation of Himself from the people He has chosen. He cannot abide sin, but His law is not achieving the end He desires. He’s resorted to punishment, to discipline, to promises; but these do not lead His people to love Him consistently enough to turn from their evil ways. As a matter of fact, God knows His people are essentially incapable of turning to Him.
Therefore God looks forward to His new covenant in which He puts His law in the minds of His people. This law is inside; no longer an outside force. Rather this law is written on the hearts of God’s people. God declares:
“No longer does a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12)
Yet, someone may argue that Jesus states emphatically that not a letter of the law is set aside. Since Jesus Himself fulfills every requirement of God’s law, no contradiction exists. The law is external for us; but for God’s Son, the law is always internal. Hence Jesus meets all God’s expectations for the people of God. Jesus gives us His own righteousness like a robe we wear on the outside while the Holy Spirit transforms us on the inside. Kind of like dressing for the cold while the glow of warmth rises inside.
What makes a person ‘unclean?’ Jesus declares it is not what enters a person that makes him ‘unclean.’ Rather, says Jesus,
“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” (Mark 7:20-23)
“Nothing,” declares Jesus, “outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.” (Mark 7:15)
Nothing? Does Jesus really mean this?
His original objection is directed at the Pharisees who scold Him and His disciples for eating with unwashed hands, but later He speaks to the crowd, telling them to listen to Him and understand that “nothing outside” of them can make them evil. Evil doesn’t come from outside of you, says Jesus. Evil comes from within, from what is in your heart.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:10)
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one! Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
“Every mouth is silenced and the whole world is held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19)
Evil comes from within. Nothing outside a person makes him unclean.
Only the Lord knows — and perhaps some biblical scholars — if there is symbolism in Mary and Joseph escaping Herod by going back to Egypt. But the oddity of this event struck me this morning. God, through an angel, commands Joseph to take Mary and the child, Jesus into Egypt because Herod is searching for them in order to kill the child. In Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus, he murders all the boys who are two years and under “in Bethlehem and its vicinity.” (Matthew 2:16) God’s people are not safe even in their own land under their own government, a government desirous of power and money.
Jesus escapes an early death by fleeing with his parents back into the land that enslaved His people for years and years. Joseph remains in Egypt until Herod dies at which time the angel of the Lord calls him back to Israel but warns him not to return to Judea but to live in the district of Galilee in a town called Nazareth.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Hosea 11:1)