Throughout history, God’s prophets had foretold Christ’s coming. But when it happened, God delivered eternity’s most important news to a group of shepherds and some foreigners.
The answer tells us much about God’s heart.
In Jesus’ day, shepherds were Jewish outcasts. Religious leaders branded shepherds as “sinners” and “unclean.” Getting hired as a shepherd meant you couldn’t get a job otherwise. Many people considered shepherds thieves. Shepherds had no civil rights if taken to court.
In contrast, the Wise Men were foreign elite. As part of Magi society, they wielded immense influence in their country’s highest religious and governmental positions. They served many religions and likely practiced Zoroastrianism, their country’s official religion.
So what did those two disparate groups of people have in common? More important, what did God say to the world—and us—when He revealed Himself to them?
I think God showed us at least four truths about Himself in this part of the Christmas story.
1. The all-inclusiveness of His plan
The lowest caste of Jewish culture and the highest caste of a foreign non-Jewish culture were God’s deliberate choice. It was His way of spreading His arms wide to announce, “From shepherds to Wise Men, everyone is welcome at My table.”
That’s a merism, a way to say something is all-inclusive by expressing the whole as two constituent parts that sound like opposing concepts. (For example: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” Psalm 103:12, ESV.) Shepherds to Wise Men tell us God’s plan of salvation has always been for all humanity.
2. The gateway to experiencing His blessings
God manifests Himself to those who are willing to hear and believe His message.
God’s glory appeared to the shepherds through light and angels. His glory appeared to the Wise Men as a star.
When the shepherds heard the angel’s message, they didn’t discuss, dissect, or debate it. They believed it without question. When the Wise Men discovered some prophecies about the Messiah, they didn’t dismiss them; they took them as truth and determined to find the eternal child-king. The shepherds had grown up with all the prophecies; the Wise Men had fragmented knowledge of them. But both groups did more than learn about God; they believed in Him and what He said. In turn, God blessed them beyond imagination.
We need to lean into listening for God and listening to God. Otherwise, we may miss His direction, which always comes with blessings.
3. The compassion of reaching down to humanity
For millennia, every culture’s religious rituals pivoted around pleasing, placating, or pleading with their gods. Even among the Jews, odious manmade rules had largely usurped the intent and focus of worship. In the midst of everyone trying to reach up to their gods, God reached down in the greatest, most loving act of all—by sending His only Son to live among humanity.
4. The risk, price, and reward of belief
Being a Christian costs something.
The shepherds left their flocks—their only source of livelihood—to find Jesus. Sheep wander, especially when unattended. If a shepherd lost a sheep for any reason, he’d have to pay for it (and likely face criminal charges). Yet Luke 2:16 says the shepherds “hurried off” to find Jesus. That loses a bit in translation. Rolled into that verb is intense, earnest desire driving the action. The shepherds literally dropped everything to race to Bethlehem. Suddenly they had one priority. And it wasn’t the sheep.
The Wise Men bucked their culture, official religion, and reputation to find Jesus. They paid an enormous sum to launch a caravan without knowing their final destination. They only knew they should go to Jerusalem … and trusted yet-to-be-revealed guidance for the rest of the way. Their dedication to their task was rewarded. They saw the toddler Jesus … and earned Herod’s ire. The Wise Men became renegades just like Joseph and Mary did.
Being a Christian costs something. For most of us, that message doesn’t fully sink in. No one is shooting at us for our beliefs or forcing us to name fellow believers so they can be arrested. Few American parents disown their children for being Christians.
The shepherds and Wise Men went way out of their comfort zone to witness the miraculous. Are we willing to risk the same?
Father, thank You for the many layers of the Christmas message! It’s breathtaking to see how much You wrap into every verse. Remind me as often as needed to slow down, lean in, and listen for You. Help me to be more in tune with Your ever-presence, especially this season. All glory, honor, and praise to You, O Lord. Amen.
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BONUS: Jesus is the Christ: mathematical proof in probability statistics