Secular history leaves
us with the belief that the Caesars, the kings and the presidents shape
the world. Most items considered newsworthy revolve around these powerful
figures, as they demand front-page headlines. In 1809 the newspapers were
captivated with stories about Napoleon's campaigns. International attention
was focused on Napoleon marching across Austria. Little else was news worthy,
especially the birth of babies which were born that year. It seemed as
though Napoleon was the only one shaping the destiny of the world. 1
Actually the world's
destiny was being shaped in the cradles of the world. It was the year 1809
that William Gladstone was born and he was to become the greatest statesman
that England ever produced. Alfred Lloyd Tennyson was born that year to
a poor minister and his wife; he was destined to shape the literary world.
Oliver Wendell Holmes was born that same year in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Edgar Allen Poe began his tragic life that same year. It was also that
same year Charles Darwin was born. That same year in a log cabin in Hardin
County Kentucky a baby named Abraham Lincoln was born. At the time these
individuals were born their births were insignificant in the eyes of the
world. After all the destiny of the world was being shaped by Napoleon
on the battlefields of Austria.2
In 1 BC Caesar August
was one of the most powerful Caesars. It was said of him that he came to
a Rome made of bricks and left it a city of marble. He transformed the
world, not just Rome, but the entire known world with his roads and armies.
Mourners at his funeral comforted themselves with the belief that he was
a god and therefore immortal. They believed Caesar had shaped the world.3
As we read Luke's account
of Christ's birth, the world was in a hustle and bustle trying to get back
to the city of their birth for a census. Caesar had commanded that a census
would be taken and the whole world stood to its feet. (Luke 2:1-2) In the
commotion of Caesar's world, the world took little note as to what was
happening in Bethlehem.
The world snapped to attention
when Caesar gave the order. Caesar's edict was the most important thing
happening in their world and no one even imagined that God was about to
enter the world.
days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the
entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius
was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth; a town in Galilee,
to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of
David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings,
you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled
at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the
angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him
the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most
High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he
will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel
answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most
High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the
Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her
old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing
is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May
it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (NIV)
of Christ's Birth is Confusing
I can hardly believe
the birth of Christ. In fact, the concept of Christ's birth sets my mind
in turmoil. It is not because what I read here seems impossible. As the
angel said, "For nothing is impossible with God." Throughout the Bible
we see heavenly beings appearing in different forms. The angels appeared
to Abraham as ordinary men, spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey,
appeared in a fiery furnace in the book of Daniel and now we find one speaking
to Mary about the birth of God's Son. I understand that heavenly beings
do not have the physical limitations we humans do. My difficulty does not
lie in the virgin birth. Even in our day of artificial insemination, a
virgin could have a child and could remain a virgin for the rest of her
life. (Of course, Mary didn't remain a virgin after Jesus' birth. In Mark
6:2, Mark names four of Jesus' brothers and states that he had at least
two sisters. We don't know how many sisters; we do know "sisters" means
at least two. So Mary had at least six other children besides Jesus.) The
virgin birth of Christ does not tax my belief in God's power. I know God
do the impossible; he always has and always will.
What puzzles me is why
did God have to send his Son in the first place? It is certainly not how
those with worldly authority would have handled the situation. With all
authority and all power, couldn't God have straightened out this mess by
simply giving orders from his throne room? At the time of Christ's birth,
all Caesar had to do to bring the world to its feet was issue an order
that the whole world should have a census. Everyone did what he or she
was told. Even today when natural disasters occur, many of those in authority
take a helicopter and view the damage from afar. They may land and talk
to one or two disaster victims. Then they go back to their ivory towers
and enact legislation to help the disaster victims.
If you are going to
send the Prince of Life into the world, why not prepare a robe, a crown
and an ivory palace for his arrival? At least have him born in Caesar's
palace in royal splendor with all the pomp and ceremony of a real earthly
prince. Why have the Prince of Peace, the Lord of lords born in a cattle
stall? Why such a lowly birth?
God didn't grab the
news headlines about the birth of his Son. Why such disgraceful circumstances?
If God is going to send his Son into the world, why not have him born in
gracious circumstances? Why has the Christ child come through a race the
rest of the world considered despicable? Why have him born in questionable
circumstances? A single teenage girl seems to raise the question of illegitimacy.
(John 8:41) It would be a sword others would use to pierce the soul of
his mother till her dying day. (Luke 2:35) Why should he have a stepfather
and be conceived by a single mother? Why would you want the Christ child
living with a poor family of at least nine (Mark 6:3), with no private
room and deprived of his own telephone and television? Surely the Son of
God is too holy to share such circumstances; he deserves more.
Earlier in Luke's first
chapter, Zacharias prepares to go into the Holy Place to offer up incense
with the prayers of the saints. Only the priest could approach God's presence
at specific times. In this first chapter of Luke, God removes the distance
in one clean sweep. He reveals his plans to enter humanity as the Christ
child. No hype, no ceremony, no ivory, he comes in the most ordinary way
to identify with the most ordinary of humanity. So much for that cosmic
God . . . a trillion miles away . . . he is now one of us . . . so human
as he walks the roads of Galilee . . . there appears to be nothing that
marks him as divine. A God who appeared as ordinary, as the most ordinary.
No halo, no shinning armor, no flashy clothes, no great physique, no glowing
eyes of fire, no flaming sword, and just an ordinary fellow.
Christ's birth makes
me wonder, why did he have to experience a human birth? Why didn't God
send his Son in a spaceship like Superman? He could have come " . . . faster
than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive to fight for
truth and justice . . . " An extra-terrestrial being could have demonstrated
a wisdom and power far above the norm. At least that would seem more acceptable
I stood and watched
my grandson, Dakota, play with his Batman, Robin and his toy soldiers.
In his fanciful imagination he was caring on a dialog with them. He was
in an imaginary world all of his own making, he didn't realize I was watching.
It was a way of escape for him. I had told him to go play and I would take
him to McDonalds for lunch. He is just passing time, but I knew that it
would only be a few moments before he came back to the real world. Then
he would run in and say, "papaw, I am ready to go to McDonalds."
Strangely, many of us
live in an imaginary world where we fantasize about the way things ought
to be or we have our minds made up about the way things are. The way I
initially imagine that God should send his Son into the world is largely
fantasy. It is fantasy because my concept of becoming great is not real.
That is why God descended to earth in human form to such a lowly status,
he wanted to bring humanity back to reality. He did so to become a real
person to you and me.
The Word Became Real
Imagine living in a
world where God is so distant, so far removed. Oh, he exists, but he is
out there in the cosmos somewhere . . . perhaps a trillion light years
away. We consider God as unapproachable as those who snap their fingers
to make the world come to its feet. When the Word became flesh, God became
real, he became dependent upon the same air we breath to sustain life.
When God became the son of Adam, he became so human that most lose sight
of his divinity. It seems as though the scriptures are as intent on stressing
Jesus' humanity as they are on stressing his deity. Paul wrote, "For there
is one God and one mediator between God and men,
man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV) God descended to the lowest
status earth had to offer and the Word became flesh . . . the Word became
virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they
will call him Immanuel"-- which means, "God with us."
There was no time
in all creation that God came closer or became more real than when Jesus
walked the earth. Not that he hasn't always been real, but now he is as
human as he is divine. Even in the purity of Eden God was still God, although
he walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, he was still God. But when Jesus
came, God became man. He was never more like God than when he came to be
with us. It was when he became man, that he demonstrated the breadth, depth
and height of his existence.
became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the
glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and
is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful
of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower
than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything
under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that
is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject
to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels,
now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by
the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons
to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything
exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same
family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says,
"I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation
I will sing your praises." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And
again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." Since the
children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that
by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is,
the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their
fear of death. (NIV)
Christ didn't visit
planet earth for a photo opportunity, but he came to share the ill effects
of sin. Instead of briefly visiting the destruction site, Christ came to
experience the loss. He came to share in the reality of our humanity.
To me it's a strange way for the most power being, Almighty God, to demonstrate
his power over sin.
The Rebirth of Humanity
Imagine how Mary felt
to give birth to God. God confining himself to the womb of a teenager.
Yet, it is something God does each time a person is spiritually reborn.
Heaven actually descends overshadowing our lives as it takes up resident
in our souls. Heaven simply descends to fill humanity with all the fullness
of the divine. Confining his existence on earth to the souls of the saints,
not to just be born of us, but to experience a new birth within each of
us. Maybe this is what makes it so hard to believe. God is no longer born
of men, but rather, men and women are born of God, as God is reborn in
each of us.
who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains
in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.
to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all
who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right
to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of
human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (NIV)
To be a son of a
god in the ancient world was to proclaim deity for oneself. The Pharaohs
and the Caesars proclaimed such for themselves. But this left the rest
of the world feeling left out. When God descended, he descended with the
sole purpose of making everyone his sons and daughters, God places his
seed in each of us to experience a rebirth in each of us. God becomes real
to the world when he comes to life in ordinary individuals like you and
me. In God's descent, he didn't come to just be born of woman; God came
to be reborn in each of us so that we might partake of his own divine nature.
be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he
has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead, (NIV)
power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our
knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these
he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them
you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the
world caused by evil desires. (NIV)
When Jesus Christ
died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, at that moment God made
it possible for us to be reborn spiritually. He made it possible for each
of us to be forgiven. He shared his holiness with each of us; of course
we must accept it. As we choose to share his holiness, God takes up resident
in our hearts and begins to be reborn in each of us as we partake of his
divine nature. Since we are created in God's image, God wants his image
to be reborn in each of us.
There is a lot going
on in our world at the present. Impeachment of a president, bombing Iraq
and a million other things that seem to be shaping our world. Yet, the
most important thing shaping your world is what God is doing in your heart.
That is the most important thing shaping your future. What God is doing
in the hearts of men and women is the most important thing going on in
the world and it is what is shaping the future of our world.
1 Charles Swindoll,
The Christian Life ( Multnomah Press) pp.121