Angels, Shepherds, and a Manger: All in their Places
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. – Luke 2:1-20 [NLT]
Things in our house are almost all in their proper places. I’ve managed to get things together for gifts for Diane, and we actually now have some presents under the tree. The decorations are up. We have plenty of cookies and treats. We’ve got plans for grandkids visits. I’ve just finished providing the images I want to use to illustrate my messages on Christmas Eve and Day. Things are coming into place.
But all these arrangements are on the micro level. These are really small puzzle pieces that fit nicely together for a fairly simple management and administrative effort – especially compared to the arrangements, logistics, and planning necessary to bring the Son of God into the world. Those were mega-arrangements.
There were many puzzle pieces that had to fit into a giant puzzle of space and time. This birth took place as the culmination of prophecies and promises from the beginning of time. There was the matter of where Jesus would be born – in Bethlehem. And it took the edict of Caesar to align those circumstances. And before that Mary, the virgin, would be contacted and agree to be the Lord’s servant. Joseph would play his part in this saga as well. Angels had to be dispatched. Shepherds would be told. A humble birth would unfold.
Shepherds will serve as the first witnesses to the birth. They would also be the first evangelists to tell others of the child. And all the while, the people everyone knew were important and powerful were completely unaware of all this. They had no clue. Nor did they need a clue – in their own minds at least.
But God doesn’t get their permission to take back the world that was spinning out of control under their supervision. Caesar can preside of the Pax Romana. This was “a state of comparative tranquillity throughout the Mediterranean world from the reign of Augustus (27 bce–14 ce) to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161 –180 ce). Augustus laid the foundation for this period of concord, which also extended to North Africa and Persia.” (thanks Wikipedia!). There will still be personal injustice, godlessness, moral decay, treachery, and deceit. God will not be honored and acknowledged as Creator of all and the One to whom we owe ultimate allegiance. In fact, it would be Caesar who would demand to be acknowledged as “Lord.”
Things were about to change, however. Angels would announce him. Shepherds would worship him. And these normally-unseen servants and discounted workers would be in on the event that would shape the world’s perception of time and culminate in the declaration – at the end of all time – that “Jesus Christ is Lord. Not Caesar. Peace is found in the newborn babe. Not the Pax Romana. Life and power resides in God. Not in Rome.
On day all this will become painfully or joyfully obvious for all to see. Until that time, we celebrate how God pulled all things together to come to us in the Babe of Bethlehem.