At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire… All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home…He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Did you just read that story or skip over it because you’ve heard it so many times? I know it’s tempting for me to just glance at it. It doesn’t seem that exciting. It’s the word-picture that matches the manger scene on your end table. It’s the obligatory story read before opening presents. But do you ever stop to read it and wonder? Wonder why things happened the way they did? Why Mary? Why Joseph? Why the shepherds? Why Bethlehem? Why a manger?
Growing up, reading the Christmas story so many times and hearing sermons preached and lessons taught, I knew Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem because God prophesied it long ago. It was like a sign. You know a little check to mark off so you can make sure this Jesus guy is really the Messiah. And I’d always heard the angels told the shepherds about Jesus first because they were humble fellows–that’s who Jesus came for–regular folk. Personally, I’ve always thought the angels went to the shepherds first because they were the closest to the stable. You know, because after a journey through time and space, they were too tired to travel any further. Ahem.
Then I began to read some books by Brock & Bodie Thoene. If you aren’t familiar with Brock & Bodie Thoene, you are missing out on a significant experience in your life. They are prolific fiction authors–not just fun chick-lit or amusing stories. They are real historical researchers who have written several series based on God’s chosen people. Their series range from the Great Depression in the United States, the Holocaust of World War II, the rebirth of Israel and their current series, the history of Jesus on earth. I can honestly say, no other books have influenced me the way these books have. (I have so much to say about them and their books, but that will have to wait. I’m reading one right now, so when I’m done, I’ll be back to gush.)
Now they’ve got a new series of mini-books (try 83 pages) that answer the big…well, little questions about Jesus. Little questions that have big answers! There are three so far: Why A Manger?, Why A Shepherd? and Why A Crown? I picked up Why A Manger? a few weeks ago and read it last night. To say it was good is an understatement.
Each chapter answers one of the questions I had above. One of my favorite questions was “Why Bethlehem?”
They explain that Bethlehem is the place where the Temple sheep were born and raised. These were the sheep that would be chosen and bought by people to sacrifice and atone for their sins. The sheep of Bethlehem were thought to be holy–because they were set apart for a holy purpose. These sheep were raised by shepherds to be sacrificed for the sins of the Israelites.
So, where else would Jesus, the Lamb of God be born? He had to be born in Bethlehem! Not just to mark off a qualification for Messiah, but to be a picture to everyone who met him. To be a symbol and a fulfillment of God’s real plan!
And who got to meet Jesus first? Not just any old shepherds! Not just some regular old guys! THE shepherds! The shepherds that raised the sacrificial lambs! The shepherds who knew more than anyone what this sacrifice meant! Raising a little lamb from birth and then sending it to the slaughter—for a bunch of dumb, wicked people! Oh, what those shepherds understood about sacrifice! What it must have meant to them! They were the first ones to meet the Lamb of God, because they were the ones who would really understand.
WOW. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t God cool?! Each chapter of this little book has insight like this. I won’t give away the answer to “why a manger”, I’ll let you read it for yourself. (Just know that it made me cry.) Because for this last installment of my bloggy Christmas, I’m giving away Brock & Bodie’s book Why a Manger? to two winners. Just leave me a comment and you’ll be entered to win!
Now, my prayer for you…
I remember how it felt the hours and days after Lydia’s birth. I was emotional, tired and overwhelmed. I remember how my husband acted when holding our newborn baby. I remember the nurses wrapping my daughter in a swaddling blanket. I remember the friends and family that came to ooh and aah over my child.
What would it have been like to know that a miracle baby was in your arms? That the one who had planned His own coming, His own sacrifice, His own resurrection, was cooing in your arms? I don’t think they could understand. They hadn’t read the story a hundred times like we have. They were experiencing it, living it!
I pray the same for you. I pray during this Christmas season you experience the miraculous birth of the Lamb of God in your life. The Lamb that was born in the only place he could be born, among the sacrificial lambs of Bethlehem. Born in the little town of Bethlehem as reminder that The Lamb would grow up to die in your place, just as the lambs in the fields had been born to do.