Tonight is the night. The night that we have been preparing for this entire Advent season. Tonight is the night that we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That tiny baby, born in the most humble of ways, to come a save all of humanity. The last several weeks we have been watching this story unfold, but not from a traditional perspective, where we know everything that is happening as it unfolds. Rather, we have been looking at this story through only one set of eyes, the eyes of Mary. Tonight we will continue that practice as we experience the birth of the Christ Child and what that birth means for us today.
What a Trip!
Thus far we have watched Mary take an incredible journey. A journey not of her choosing. A journey full of doubt and questions. A journey that was anything but easy and peaceful. But a journey that she took none the less, and a journey that transformed her for the rest of her life. A journey that if we look closely can transform us as well. A journey that went something like this...
This all started back in Nazareth, as Mary was drawing water. She was visited by an angel named Gabriel who told her that she had found favor with God, would become pregnant and give birth to a son, that she was to name him Jesus, and that he would be the Messiah for which his kingdom would know no end. After a simple question of biology, she told the angel, let it be with me as you have said.
Next, came several very long, very arduous trips between Nazareth, Ein Karem, and Bethlehem. Trips where Mary more than likely asked many questions, dealt with many doubts, and experienced a wide range of emotions. In fact her last trip, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, was taken when she was almost full term. And last week we stopped this story with her arriving in Bethlehem, to a sea of humanity, and no room for them in which to stay. This resulted in Mary giving birth to her baby in a stable and placing him in a stone manger, more than likely one that had been used as a feeding trough for other animals. Not exactly what you might ultimately design for the Messiah. But it happened this way. End of story right? Baby born, angelic decree fulfilled.
But the story is not over. Next come the shepherds. Now it is important that we all understand something about these shepherds. Shepherds in that day and age were not highly regarded. In fact, there was not a job lower in society, except if you were a shepherd on the night watch. Then you were considered the lowest of the low. You see, shepherds were looked down upon because they were poor, because their work made them ceremonially unclean, and in come circles they had a reputation as being thieves. So you can see why nobody wanted to be around a shepherd, much less be a shepherd.
That is why I find it so interesting the God chose to reveal the birth of his son, to the shepherds first. To that societies outcast, and to the night shepherds at that. But, these men are out in the fields, protecting these animals from the weather and any lurking predators, when an angel appeared, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests' ” (Luke 2:10-13, NIV).
Can you imagine? Scripture tells us that after that encounter the shepherds set off for Bethlehem so they could see this all for themselves, and sure enough they find it exactly as it was told to them. Mother, Father, and baby, all together. I imagine Mary and Joseph are kind of surprised to see these strange men in the stable wanting to get a look at the baby. But when they explain all they have seen and why they are there, Scripture tells us, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV). I have to think these was but one more reassurance for Mary that this baby was indeed the Messiah. That everything God had told to Mary, through angels and family, has come true. The fact that Scripture tells us she treasured them in her heart, helps me to understand it this way.
Jesus could have been born to royalty. Jesus could have come with trumpet blasts and choirs of angels at his side. But instead Jesus came into this world the same way you and I did, as a baby. And he was born to a servant girl, had his birth announced by night shepherds, and was born in a stone manger. All of this tells me that God does indeed bless the meek and the mild. That God does see invaluable good in all people. He could have used the wealthy and powerful to birth and raise his Son. But God chose Mary. Because she was humble, because she was faithful, and because she had value. Regardless of who you are, where you have come from, what acts you have committed in life, Jesus came for you, specifically for you.
If you hear nothing else tonight, if you remember nothing else from this season, please remember this, God loves you. This gift of a babe, this revelation of God Incarnate, of the Word made flesh, is so that we might better understand the love of God. There is a reason that God picked a humble servant girl as Jesus' mother. There is a reason why God had the shepherds be the first to evangelists of this great birth.
This year, and in the days to come, I encourage you to celebrate this birth with a great deal of humility. There is power in humility, power in putting others above yourself, power in a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ that comes out of humility. Therefore, humbly open yourselves up to the transforming power of God, be not afraid of where it takes you, and then expect God to use you and work through you. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a life full of humility.