Sister Amba presented an excellent message yesterday in which she brought in Christmastide with some reflections on how people reacted to the birth of Jesus in the original nativity story. Her insights into human responses and how we each react to the coming of Emmanuel in our lives was uplifting as well as challenging.
The first respondent to the annunciation of the coming of the Christ was by Mary. In Luke 1 we find this young woman confronted with an angelic message, that she was to give birth to Messiah. Her response is straightforward and thoughtful. “How can this be since I am a virgin?” When she is told it is through the power of God she simply, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled (verse 28).” Her response was of surrender and obedience. “Let it be so.” How powerful is that? No argument, no appeals to the social consequences. Just acceptance that God’s will be done. Oh, that we could so easily do so in our lives!
The second response was found in the shepherds of Luke 2.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. . . .”15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Amba powerfully showed us that the birth of Jesus “turned the world upside down.” The first recipients of the news of the birth of “God with us” came not to the mighty, but to the base. Shepherds in a field are told of the event that would change lives for ever. Their reactions of fear (at the presence of an angel), to curiosity (“Let’s go see”), turned to praise. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (verse 20).” We to have different reactions to the Son of God. That message may have been frightening, it may seem alien to our sense and world view, and it may merely have sparked curiosity. But has it turned to praise and rejoicing? It should, it has been meant to be that transformational.
The third response Amba cited was that of the Magi. These learned men of the East came to find a king born in Israel (Matthew 2). They had seen His star. There is a lot of speculation on this, but many scholars (well it does fit the present response) believe they saw a “new star” or cosmic anomaly within the constellation which was thought to regulate the fate of Israel. Using this astrological belief that a king had come to that nation, it was only natural for them to seek him out in the palace in Jerusalem. This would explain their arrival in the capital rather than humble Bethlehem. What though was the motivation “to come worship?” Was it intellectual curiosity? Was it the acknowledgement of “worldly power?” Or was it just to confirm their own academic conceit? Whatever the reason, the result was that they overjoyed on actually finding the Christ. [It is interesting to speculate on the reasons they came, but the symbolism of their gifts whether intentional (a sign of faith), or ironic (a God given meaning to their intellectual gesture) still give us much to think about]. Is our response to Jesus of the head or of the heart?
The fourth response was that of Herod. Matthew tells us that he and all his court were disturbed by the news of the Magi of a newborn king. Herod is known to despise any rival, and was so obsessed with this even had his own children killed. But, here we have a reaction of jealousy and outright malice. He calls on all the children two years and under in the region of Bethlehem to be killed. His reign is to be unopposed, even by a babe. Amba noted that we can be like that. We don’t like what Jesus exposes about us, and we sometimes strike out. Herod did.
Of our four responses, only Herod failed to, in some measure, come to be changed by the coming of the Christ-child. Whether our response to His coming and call is total surrender, joy, intellectual comfort, or heart-felt rejoicing – He will have made a change in us. If all we feel is anger, jealousy, and pride, we have a dilemma. But even in the case of such a rejection remember this – you may reject Him, but He still welcomes you. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”
I thank Amba for giving the core of this post in her message, and I feel blessed to have heard it, and to have her words prompt me to dig deeper into the four responses.