During the past twenty-two years, I have been privileged to visit the Holy Land twenty times. Each time I travel to the “Land of the Book” I am personally inspired and enlightened by the reality of scripture, as well as the cultural and historical context from which our faith was birthed.
During many of those Holy Land trips I have visited the grotto in Bethlehem where tradition tells us that Jesus was born. The location is a natural cave in the mountainside where the Bethlehem residents used to keep animals. This cave has been associated with the birth of Jesus since the first century. Built in 339 AD – destroyed and rebuilt in 565 AD, the Church of the Nativity has stood over this cave for over 15 centuries.
Centuries earlier, the prophet Micah foretold the birth of the Messiah in this humble village:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, 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 ancient times. Micah 5:2
He also references a specific location near Bethlehem:
As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem. Micah 4:8
Just outside of Bethlehem was a place called Migdal Eder, which means Watchtower of the Flock. At this location, shepherds kept the flocks of animals that were destined for sacrifice at the Temple. One of their tasks was wrapping newborn lambs in swaddling clothes and laying them in rock-hewn or wooden mangers. Males were set apart to be sin-offerings and females were set apart to be peace offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem.
The shepherds to whom the angels appeared in the fields outside of Bethlehem were no ordinary men. They were the shepherds entrusted with caring for this very special flock of sacrificial lambs. And so with this context, the message of the angels takes on an additional dimension:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
The Savior of the world wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger – just like the sacrificial lambs. The shepherds must have been stunned. For even in this glorious moment, the divine purpose of the incarnation was revealed. The baby Jesus was born to be the sin-offering for all mankind.
The simplicity and significance of this revelation are easy to miss.
In today’s culture Christmas is on one hand the season of giving and receiving – and with that comes the noisy world of marketing and merchandising where retailers compete for your attention and your dollars. On the other hand, it is also the busiest time in church life with Christmas programs, nativity scenes, musical productions, parties, and extravagant decorations becoming the focus of the entire season.
With all of the noise, lights, glitter, and bustling of our lives… it is easy to miss the birth of one small baby in an obscure village so long ago. It is easy to miss the significance of the moment when the Creator of all mankind gave His only son as a gift to redeem a lost and dying world. It is easy to miss this good news. This is the source of our joy… this is the reason we celebrate.
So as you navigate your way through all of the cultural clutter and family traditions surrounding this holiday, remember it is easy to miss the one who came to be the sacrifice for our sins – the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
From all of us at Infinity Concepts…
Have a very Merry Christmas as well as a Blessed and Happy New Year!