Friday, December 23, 2011

A Stark Contrast in the Nativity

The biblical accounts of Jesus' birth reveal both the glory and the humbleness of the event.

What especially strikes me each time I slow down to read the nativity accounts is the abject plainness of the birth on the one hand, and all the celestial announcements on the other hand.  It's like Jesus must become like one of us, even to the degree of being born no higher than a commoner, but Heaven simply cannot allow the birth of the Savior go unnoticed, and so there are the angels and the star.

On the humble side, the announcement that she will bear the Messiah comes to a common woman in an Israelite village far away from the prestigious Jerusalem.  Nazareth isn't even known to the biblical reader until the birth announcement.  And the chosen mother-to-be is betrothed to a carpenter (not a prince or priest or prophet).  Yet the Messiah is of the lineage of the house of King David.  And he is to inherit the throne of that ancestor.

There's the obscurity into which he is born: in another small town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in a place unfamiliar to his parents.  Yet a star in the sky marked his location, a celestial GPS for some impressive men.

Unless family came along with Mary and Joseph, he was born away from the interest and support of his extended family and friends.  To whom would his Galilean parents turn to share the good news of his birth in this Judean country?  Obscure and unnoticed.  Yet his Heavenly Father doesn't hold back.  He sends angels to declare his birth: "today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David." 

His first visitors were shepherds (yawn); shepherding was a humble means of employment in Israel.  Yet these shepherds had been supernaturally informed of Jesus' birth and significance.  And another set of visitors showed up some time later, men of higher social rank, magi from the east.  These also had been notified of his birth and status, and they had come to worship him.

The Son of God become an unknown baby.  The Joy and Center of heaven become a common citizen in the backwaters part of the country.  The Creator become a nursling.  Master become servant.  God become man.  The Center of all worship become the periphery of obscurity.  But Heaven could not let that go completely unnoticed.

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