A Common Birth, an Uncommon Welcome
December 31, 2017
Soprano Recitative: There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:8
Soprano Recitative: And lo! The angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. Luke 2:9
Even under the best of circumstances, childbirth is agony— a messy, bloody, painful entrance into life. But this delivery was more difficult than most. The child’s mother was weary, having traveled a great distance. His father was common, an ordinary tradesman who was too poor to demand luxury accommodations. The couple’s labor and delivery suite was crude. When they discovered that there were no vacancies, they went out to the barnyard to make do with what they could.
So it was that Mary, the wife of Joseph, “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). In other words, Mary wiped her baby clean, wrapped him up in whatever was handy, and laid him in a feeding trough. From the merely human point of view, there could hardly have been a newborn anywhere in Israel with lower prospects.
Yet if the circumstances of the child’s birth were altogether common, there was nothing common about his birth announcement. It was delivered by “an angel of the Lord” (Luke 2:9). Angels often serve as God’s messengers. In fact, the Greek word angelos means “messenger.” Angels serve as guardians and soldiers. They also serve as God’s choristers. Around his heavenly throne, choirs of angels sing his endless praise.
Of all the attributes that the Bible ascribes to angels, the one that would have been the most obvious to the shepherds was their glory. Angels shine with the very splendor of God. Probably this is because they spend so much time in his presence, basking in his luminous beauty. Thus they radiate with the light of God’s glory—the shekinah glory of his divine presence.
One minute the shepherds were sitting on a darkened hillside somewhere in Judea. The next minute they were blazed with heavenly light, gazing upon a glory no mortal had ever witnessed: a countless multitude of the heavenly host, stretching across the evening sky. There had not been such a spectacular display of angelic glory since creation itself, when “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7, NIV).
Nor would there be another such display until the divine Messiah rose again from the grave, and the angels bore witness to his glory.
What lessons can we draw for everyday life by fully appreciating the irony that Christ’s birth was both humble and glorious?
Let Us Pray
If the circumstances of Christ’s birth were altogether common, there was nothing common about his birth announcement God of glory, your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem, into the darkness of human night. Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world, so that we, like the shepherds, may welcome the one for whom there was no room. Amen.
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