Until the shepherds – who hear the word of the Lord through the angel who stands beside them with their flocks of sheep outside Bethlehem – see the Christ Child in the manger, they do not believe. Once they see the Child, then they tell others and those others wonder “of the things that were said to them of the shepherds.”
“And they hieing came, and found Mary and Joseph, and the young child laid in a feed-trough [put in a cratch]. And they seeing, knew of the word that was said to them of this child. And all men that heard wondered, and of these things that were said to them of the shepherds”
On the other hand, Mary hears the words but keeps them together with what she already knows. She stores all this knowledge in her heart, and does not speak.
But Mary kept all these words, bearing together in her heart.
The shepherds once again glorify and praise God for what the angel tells them and for what they now hear and see – they recognize that what is told to them is true.
And the shepherds turned again, glorifying and praising God in all things that they had heard and seen, as it was said to them.”
Mary is like someone in shock; soaking up everything that happens without fully understanding. She’s been through childbirth in less than ideal conditions; now strangers clamber to see her newly born son. Animals moo and bleat and stink. She’s barely presentable, not much like our nativity scenes, I imagine. All this young mother can do is “keep all these words, bearing together in her heart” which will break.
The night Jesus is born, shepherds keep watch over their flocks of sheep in the hillside pastures around Bethlehem. An angel of the Lord appears to them, stands beside them. The “clearness of God shines about them” and they are filled with “great dread.” The angel tells the shepherds not to be in dread because he comes with a sermon of “a great joy.” The angel proclaims the first evangelism – that “a great joy shall be to all people. For a Saviour is born to day to you, that is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.”
The angel says this joy is for all people.
“And shepherds were in the same country, waking and keeping the watches of the night on [upon] their flock. And lo! the angel of the Lord stood beside them, and the clearness of God shined about them [and the clearness of God shone about them]; and they dreaded with great dread. And the angel said to them, Do not ye dread; for lo! I preach to you a great joy [lo! soothly I evangelize to you a great joy], that shall be to all people. For a Saviour is born to day to you, that is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.”
The angel tells the shepherds that a token is to appear in the form of a newborn child – one they can find in a manger. Immediately after he speaks, a “knighthood” of heavenly beings appears to praise the Lord. Likely the shepherds are still in dread, but they decide to check out the message of the angel. They speak among themselves, move together to seek out the Christ Child. Only when they find Him do they believe the news of “a great joy that shall be to all people.”
The baby in the manger is the sign from God which Israel awaits. Prophets through the ages are speaking of this event, and when it comes an angel announces to shepherds that in the city of David, the Christ is born.
The good news is for the world, but specifically for men and women upon whom God’s favor rests.
Some protest that God should not show favor, but He has from the beginning. He favors Mary to carry the Christ child; He favors Joseph to be Jesus’ earthy father. The angel appears to specific shepherds in fields nearby. Jesus Himself chooses the twelve disciples from among many others.
And, all know that Israel is God’s chosen nation, which emerges from one man, Abram who is also chosen by God from among others.
The baby in the manger, wrapped in cloths, is the sign of God’s favor not only to the Israelite but to the Gentile beyond.
And suddenly with the angel is a heavenly host praising God.
Shepherds live out in the fields with their sheep. They stand watch over each and every one of them. The night is long, dark. Perhaps they take turns sleeping.
Angels appear, announcing the birth of a Savior in the city of David — David, who is also a shepherd, one of some note.
The angels come to humble men in the midst of their occupation. (Jesus does this often. He finds Peter the fisherman in the midst of fishing, Matthew the tax collector in the midst of collecting taxes. He interrupts lives, saying ‘Come, follow Me.’)
The angels interrupt the shepherds, announcing that a Savior is born to them. The Savior is come to save them.
This is Jesus’ message. He tells us He has come to save us from ourselves, from our sins, from our separation from God, from death itself. This is the good news.
Jesus is born in a manger because there is no room in the inn. I imagine Joseph and Mary outside, looking for a place to stay, a place for Mary to have her child. The inns are full because of Caesar Augustus’ call for a world census. People are on the move.
An innkeeper is kind enough to offer his manger to the couple. A humble beginning for sure.
I imagine other innkeepers turning Joseph away, not having a place. These individual business owners do not see the potential in this young couple; they do not notice the star glowing in the night sky; they do not feel in their hearts the call of God. They do not hear the angels singing in the distance.
Let us be certain that we open our hearts this week to the coming of our Lord. Let us recognize the star over Bethlehem that calls us to worship the Christ child. Let us rejoice in Jesus, our Savior.
Close to Mary’s ninth month of pregnancy, Caesar Augustus conducts a world census. “And all go to be registered, each to his own town.” (Luke 2: 3) Because he is of the house of David, Joseph takes Mary from his home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, known as the city of David.
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” (Micah 5: 2 – 5)
While in Bethlehem, Mary goes into labor and gives birth to a son — a son whom Pontius Pilate labels atop a wooden cross: “The King of the Jews.”
Herod the king hears that wise men from the east are searching for the one “who has been born king of the Jews.” These men have traveled to Jerusalem, saying: “for we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” worry. (Matthew 2: 2, 3)
Herod brings together “all the chief priests and scribes of the people” and asks “where the Christ was to be born.” (Matthew 2: 3) Oddly enough, the chief priests and scribes correctly identify the Messiah’s birthplace as Bethlehem.
In fear for his throne, Herod secretly meets with the wise men and instructs them to find the Christ child in Bethlehem. He lies, saying that he wants to worship the Messiah, too. The wise men set out; the star appears and “goes before them until it comes to rest over the place where the child is.” (Matthew 2: 9) They come to the house where Jesus is with His mother Mary. The wise men fall down and worship the Christ child. A dream warns them not to return to Herod, and they obey. Each returns to his own country.
Joseph is then also warned in a dream by an angel of the Lord, who tells him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. Joseph obeys.
“Then Herod, when he sees that he has been tricked by the wise men, becomes furious.” (Matthew 2: 16) He kills all the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding region who are two years or younger “according to the time he has ascertained from the wise men” and their report of the star’s appearance.
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, for they are no more.” (Matthew 2: 18)
When Herod dies, Joseph obeys the angel of the Lord again, settling his family in Nazareth of Galilee. “He [the Messiah] shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2: 23)