We live in a noisy world. People shout loud and long to push their views on others. It wasn’t much different in Jesus’ day.
Before Christ’s birth, God was silent for four hundred years. Worldly noise filled that space between the Old and New Testaments. Judea was conquered four times: first by Parthia, then by Greece/Macedonia, then Syria, then Rome. Each occupation tore deeper into the fabric of Jewish culture and religion.
Thinking about how the shepherds and Wise Men cut through all that cultural and religious noise to hear God’s message about the most important even of history makes the Christmas story even more spectacular.
Let’s put that in perspective.
What noise did the shepherds hear?
Although Jerusalem was far from Rome, it couldn’t escape its influence. Among Caesar Augustus’s many titles, three particularly rankled the Jews: emperor of Rome, the exalted son of a god, and high priest of the Roman religion. Augustus demanded all conquered countries worship him. At the same time, layers of manmade Jewish law had choked the intent of true worship. Judea was in a vice grip religiously and politically. Hope hung on by a thread as the country yearned for the prophesied Messiah. A conquering hero.
The shepherds mentioned in Luke 2 raised sheep specifically for sacrifice at the Temple. Eking out their living a few miles from the opulent edifice Herod the Great had rebuilt, the shepherds were in the fields with the sheep 24/7 when Jesus was born (probably because it was lambing season). Their onerous duties to provide the Jewish priests with unblemished lambs included swaddling the lambs and laying them in stone feed troughs to isolate and protect them from other sheep.
What noise did the Wise Men hear?
The Parthian empire was Rome’s rival superpower. Relatively restrained in its rule, Parthia allowed its conquered countries more autonomy than Rome did. Persia housed Parthia’s administrative and royal capitals. Parthia’s king called himself “the king of kings”—to emphasize the number of countries he’d conquered. Parthia freely adapted other countries’ cultural practices and tolerated many religions but officially practiced one: Zoroastrianism—a belief in a supreme god, aided by six angelic beings. Sometime in the distant future, three saviors would come to rid the world of evil. Magi society dominated the empire’s governmental and religious affairs, with the priestly division servicing many religions. The Wise Men who visited Jesus were among those priest-scholars.
Pockets of Jewish communities that settled in Persia after the first Diaspora may have influenced the Wise Men (a topic for another blog). Regardless, they saw a new star and decided to learn more about it. They spent about a year-and-a-half studying and preparing for a trip that would change their lives forever.
How did they cut through the noise?
In those two radically different worlds, two utterly disparate groups of people were the only ones to receive God’s message. For reasons we won’t fully know this side of heaven, their thoughts rose above their circumstances. They listened to more than cultural clatter. Their hearts were soft and ready to hear God. He honored that by delivering to them the greatest news of all time.
What does that mean us for today?
- God’s Truth is never far from us.
- When we hear and read God’s Word, we need to believe it and act on it.
- The amount of time we spend in His Word matters to God, but not as much as our heart attitude does. God speaks to those who make time for Him and are willing to listen to Him.
Lean in, listen, and lift your head
God can cut through even the worst circumstances of your life, regardless of what noise or oppression engulfs you. His message of “Do not be afraid” is as true today as when the angel spoke to terrified shepherds.
Lift your head! What news could be better news than what the shepherds heard?
“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 [a feed trough].” (Luke 2:11-12, ESV)
John 1:14 (ESV) says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Can we ever grasp the full weight of that statement? In fact, the Hebrew word for “glory” (kabowd) connotes weightiness and importance. Glory is the sum of all God’s attributes, fully manifested.
That’s why countless angels erupted with “Glory to God in the highest” as soon as one of them told the shepherds of Christ’s birth. Jesus is the sum of all God’s attributes, fully manifested!
Hebrews 1:3 (ESV) puts it this way: “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (emphasis mine).
Dial down the noise
This Christmas, intentionally dial down and tune out the world’s noise. The infinitely powerful God of the universe has much to tell us—and it’s worth infinitely more than anything the world can offer.
Father God, You are so awesome that words fail me. I worship You. Help me to stay attuned to whatever You want to tell me … now and always. Amen.
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CAC Worship’s “Glory to God in the Highest”