Why is it that the story of Christmas, of a baby in a manger, has captured the imagination of hundreds of millions, over the centuries? Why is it that even for people who don’t believe in God, people for whom Christmas is simply a holiday, food and drink, tinsel and parties, giving and getting gifts, even for people like that, there’s still something about that baby in a manger that somehow feels important, even if they don’t know why?
Perhaps it’s this. There is a God. He’s immense. He’s unbelievably powerful. He’s unfathomably wise. He’s inexpressibly glorious. He spoke this ever-expanding universe into being. He flung the billions of stars into space. He set the planets of this solar system spinning in their orbit. Everything was made by Him and everything was made for Him.
And yet this immense God chose to become a human being. A person like you or me, of a certain height, with a certain hair colour, living in a certain place at a certain time in history.
That baby in the manger was God Himself. God become man. And every man starts off as a child; every child starts off as a baby. That’s stunning, that God would do that.
Luke was a doctor, who not too long after the events, wrote an incredibly carefully researched account of Jesus’ life. Let’s read a few passages from what He has to say about that first Christmas.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called Holy - the Son of God…For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:35-38)
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:3-7)
So God becomes a human. There’s no welcoming committee. Apart from his mother and stepfather. In fact there’s no room for his mother at the inn so she gives birth in a cave, and lays God in an animal feeding trough, a manger.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace amongst those with whom he is pleased.!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:8-18)
God becomes a human. And there’s no great fanfare for everyone to see. The only fanfare takes place in a dark field where angels appear to a group of shepherds who are struck with fear by it!
Everyone’s happy to be shepherd in a nativity play, but at the time shepherds weren’t trusted. They were seen as unreliable people whose testimony wasn’t even valid in court. Yet they’re the first ones called to come and look at God made man. These supposedly unreliable shepherds are the first ones God chooses to go and tell others that He’s here.
Probably not how I would do it if I were God. Probably not how you would do it either. Because we’re so used to important things needing to look impressive.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he’d seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. And his father and mother marvelled at what was said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:25 -35)
God becomes a human. And this man Simeon recognises Him.
God becomes a human. We call that the incarnation. Everything done beautifully, everything done perfectly according to who God is. But in the eyes of the world it was nothing.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:9-12)
God was here on the earth. That’s why even now, even two thousand years later, even amongst people who don’t even believe in God, there’s something about that baby in the manger.
This same Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. He’s alive today and He’s present on the earth through His Holy Spirit.
Some don’t recognise Him, looking instead for glory and fanfare. Because we think important things need to look impressive. Is that you?
Many don’t receive Him. They know their life will never be the same if they do. Is that you?
Simeon recognised Him. Out of all the babies brought into the temple that day. With no fanfare, and no outward glory, He recognised Jesus.
The Shepherds received Him. They went out to tell of Him even though they knew many would never trust a Shepherd’s testimony.
Mary received Him. Even though she knew much pain would pierce her soul.
He’s not hiding away somewhere far away from you. He’s prepared his salvation in the presence of all peoples - including you, in your presence.
He is there for you. Of His Kingdom there’ll be no end. You can be part of that.
So if you’ve never made room in your heart for him, today you can receive Him. Simply welcome Him in to make His home in you. Ask Jesus to come and live in your heart. Yes, your life will never be the same; yes a sword may pierce your soul too. But you’ll be part of His glorious Kingdom that has no end.
If you have made room in your heart for Him, if you’re already a believer, I believe now’s the time to look again at the humility of His incarnation. We miss Him sometimes because we think there should be fanfare and outward glory. Or because we know our life won’t be the same again if we take Him for who He really is.
Take a moment of quiet, to speak to God. To say like Mary did, Let it be in Me.
- Peter Bellingham, December 2013