“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 great 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 Savior, 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.’” – Luke 2:8-12ESV
When you think of symbols of Christmas, if you live in America there are a few things that probably universally come to mind: Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents, and of course, Santa Claus. He has become so synonymous with the Christmas season, he has even found popularity in countries with little historical connection to Christmas, such as India and Japan.
In America, this red clad, jolly man slips into homes on Christmas Eve, via the chimney, to deliver brightly-wrapped Christmas gifts to good girls and boys. But for the disobedient children, Christmas morning provides something different from the joy and hope of the season. For them, rather than presents under the tree and overflowing stockings, Santa leaves only a lump of coal – a reminder of the ways they have failed to meet his expectations over the last year.
Isn’t it horribly ironic the figure also known as “Father Christmas”, a figure so tied into the season we celebrate Christ’s birth, should have as part of his very nature the very opposite intentions of God come as the baby in the manger?
In Luke 2:8-12, the angels appear to shepherds outside Bethlehem to announce the birth of the long-awaited, Jewish messiah: Jesus. In the dark, star-lit fields, the night was split by the shining “glory of the Lord” as an angel appeared, joyously announcing God’s message “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 8:10b-11ESV).
Now the angel could have stopped there. Lights out. Show’s over. Back-to-Heaven-we-go. He had announced the fulfillment of God’s millennia-old promise fulfilled. He had done his job. God surely didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to these men. God had done that over-and-over to the Jews throughout their history. Not to mention, God has every reason to demand the trust of humanity. He created us and everything we’ll ever perceive. Everything belongs to Him. His will and power are the last word on reality.
Yet God knows His creation. He knows what we are…our limitations…our fear and weakness and doubt. And unlike Santa, He doesn’t demand our obedience in order to experience His goodness. So… the angel had more words from God for the shepherds that night: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 8:12ESV).
The God of the Universe bridges the gap between our doubts and His faithfulness. He draws near to us, saying, “Come! Look at this! Hold me! Know me! Look into my face! I am here!” God offered the stunned shepherds not just words, but proof His promise had finally been fulfilled. This long-awaited Messiah could be known and seen in a newborn, wrapped and lying in the most unlikely place: a manger.
And He still invites us to see and touch and know Him today, in every day. Not just in the sharing of the Last Supper of Jesus at Sunday worship. Not just in the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. But in our love for one another. In the wonder of natural creation and the brilliant creativity of the human mind. In the thousands of tiny whiffs of miracle spilt from God’s hand in every day, overflowing around us. May we have the eyes to see His fingerprints in every day, the ears to hear His delighted laughter. This Christmas, may we feel Him draw near to us, not because of our own hard work, but because of His declaration of endless love over us in the person of His son: Jesus the Savior.
- The Christmas season is full of “busy.” How has some of the “busy” commandeered your heart’s attention away from Jesus?
- It’s easy to view God as the critic-in-the-sky. If you’re being honest, what is one area in your life you are constantly (and maybe secretly) trying to prove you’re “good enough” for His love?
- Thinking back over the last month, think of one “whiff of miracle” God has provided. Thank Him out loud for it!
- Challenge for the week: once each day, pause and write down one way God might have “drawn near” to you during the last 24hrs. At the end of the week, look back with joy on all the little “I love you” moments from God!