But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from days of eternity….He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth..to Bethlehem…to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…and there were shepherds living out in the fields near by…An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them..But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord..” So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger…The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
You are to give him the name Jesus [or Messiah], because he will save his people from their sins..this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means “God with us”
Like a movement caught only on the edge of my vision; a whisper on the edge of my hearing; there are intimations of a glory unimagined in this beloved story. I cannot remember a time when I did not know the words, and yet I know that I will never tire of hearing it again.
This birth, in a small town in a dim corner of empire, is the culmination of centuries of God working out his promises and purposes. It is the focal point of a multitude of lives and events fashioned down the years so that at just the right time – in every sense of the words – this woman gave birth to this child in this place. How many hundreds and thousands of people played their part in the great drama? How many had any idea that their lives were of such eternal significance? Does this not give me courage and inspiration for my own small life – seemingly insignificant – that within the purposes of God, I matter! I may not see the big picture yet, but I can trust that my God – the God of Mary and Joseph, of Abraham and Isaac, of Ruth and Rahab, of David, Solomon and Isaiah – has me in exactly the place which he desires for his glory.
This birth, in a land under enemy occupation, to a people without power to govern themselves, a people divided against themselves and lacking leadership, was the beginning of a new kingdom – the rule of Christ the King of Kings. The circumstances suggested anything but such a future for this child, and yet the reality – the truth – was that God had inaugurated the reign of the Shepherd King, who in himself would bring true peace to his people. And that people would reach around the world and throughout time, until every nation, tribe and tongue will be represented in his flock.
Our world is as dark, threatening, confused and pain-filled as it was then. The people of God today remain a minority, threatened on all sides, divided within themselves, and losing their way under false leaders. But shall we not find hope in the old, old story? Our God remains on the throne, and his arm is still mighty to save and establish believers, to build up the church and to keep it until the end. The circumstances remain unpromising – but I believe in the God who was at work in Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.
The vision of glory which is our eternal future; dwelling in uninterrupted and joyous fellowship with Jesus our Lord, and finally realising our beauty as the unified church, the bride of Christ – this vision is no daydream. It is guaranteed to us by the God of Bethlehem, whose glory shone upon the shepherds, whose plans cannot be thwarted, and whose timing is perfect. Let us rejoice today in this old, old story and in the timeless truth which it teaches, for our encouragement and to the glory of God.