Let us now go even to Bethlehem, and see — Bethlehem’s wonder!
Every year the Christian takes, in thought,
the shepherd’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem.
In this district lay the fields of Boaz in which Ruth gleaned.
Here the son of Obed was born. David was anointed in Bethlehem.
Best of all, in Bethlehem, Christ was born and revealed.
It was not without significance that Bethlehem, “The House of Bread,”
should be the birthplace of Him
who had come down from heaven to be the Bread of Life for us,
and that He, who was in after years to be the Friend of the people
and Savior of the world,
to be Himself so distressed as often to have nowhere to lay His head,
should commence His earthly pilgrimage within the precincts of a stable.
Let us ask what it was that the Bethlehem manger contained.
I. A VIRGIN’S CHILD.
II. ISRAEL’S MESSIAH.
III. THE WORLD’S SAVIOR.
IV. GOD’S SON.
A Transcendent mystery! Thought is paralyzed when it attempts to conceive how the Eternal could become a child of days, how the Infinite could be reduced to dimensions, how the Adorable Creator could become one with His own creature.
Let it kindle our gratitude
that we can understand something of the purpose of this sublime mystery,
if even we learn little of its manner.
The Son of God became incarnate,
that He might reveal the Father,
that He might exemplify human virtue,
that He might take away our sins,
and that He might be able thereby to make us partakers of His own Divine nature.
– Adapted from Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator: St. Luke (Vol. I, p. 185). London: James Nisbet & Co.
The coming of Jesus Christ initially disrupts us.
It was true for Joseph and Mary… for the wisemen…for the shepherds.
C.S. Lewis, in his book Surprised By Joy, explains:
“No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word interference.
And the Bible placed at the center what seemed to me a Transcendental Interferer” (p. 172).
What an interesting description of Jesus: The Transcendental Interferer.
Jesus messes with our plans. He interferes with our carefully laid schemes.
He delights in ruining what we thought was a sweet deal.
Here are a few examples.
Moses had it good in Egypt. He was sitting pretty.
Until the Transcendental Interferer got him thinking about his destiny.
Joseph had a dream coat and a good arrangement at home.
Until the Transcendental Interferer started giving him dreams.
Paul was advancing in Judaism far beyond his contemporaries.
Until the Transcendental Interferer knocked him off his high horse.
He does this in order to have unhindered sway on the throne of our hearts.
He does this to reign unrivalled in the hearts and lives of his children (“the place of supremacy” or “first place” – Colossians 1:18).
“Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
The truths of Christ are worth keeping; and the way to keep them safe is to ponder them. Meditation is the best help to memory. The truth will never disclose its inmost sweetness to us, nor take such a solid grip of our hearts so as to mold our lives, unless we too treasure it in our hearts, and by patient reflecting on it understand its hidden harmonies, and spread our souls out to receive its transforming power.
A non-meditative faith is a shallow faith. But if we hide His word in our hearts, and often in secret draw out our treasure to count and weigh it, we shall be able to speak out of a full heart, and like these shepherds, to rejoice that we have seen even as it was spoken to us.
J.I. Packer offers a wondering description of biblical meditation:
Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us — “comfort” us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word — as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Put in story form that a child can understand:
Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look as happy as I mean you to be.” Lucy said, “we’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.” “No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?” Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a railway accident “ said Aslan softly. “…All of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them… But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning chapter One of the great story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
– C.S.Lewis, The Last Battle, p. 165.
Father of spirits, looking to Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
we lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
that we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Few, they tell us, finish well…
Lord, let us get home before dark.
Before the darkness of staining your honor,
shaming your name, and grieving your loving heart.
Before the darkness of a spirit grown mean and small,
fruit shriveled on the vine, bitter to the taste of our companions,
burden to be borne by those brave few who love us still.
Before the darkness of tattered gifts,
rust-locked, half-spent or ill-spent,
A life that once was used of God now set aside.
Grief for glories gone or fretting for a task God never gave.
Mourning in the hollow chambers of memory,
Gazing on the faded banners of victories long gone.
Cannot we run well to the end? Let us get home before dark.
- Adapted from Robertson McQuilkin’s Prayer
“Let Me Get Home Before Dark”
Believer, stop here, and think awhile.
Is it a small thing in your eyes to be beloved of God;
to be the son, the spouse, the love,
and the delight of the King of glory?
Christian, believe this, and think on it.
You shall be eternally embraced in the arms
of that love which was from everlasting,
and will extend to everlasting:
of that love,
which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth,
from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave,
from the grave to glory:
that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned,
scourged, buffeted,spit upon, crucified, pierced;
which did fast, pray, teach, heal, weep, sweat, bleed, die:
that love will eternally embrace you.
– Richard Baxter, The Saint’s Everlasting Rest
“She brought forth… she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:7).
It is indeed very beautiful, but oh the pity of it, the tragedy of it, the loneliness of it, that in that hour of all hours, when womanhood should be surrounded by the tenderest care, she is alone. G. Campbell Morgan
Let us marvel at the humble, faithful servant that is the teenager mother of our Lord and worship our great God who strengthens and equips people like Mary and us to serve His great purpose and to fulfill His will, especially amidst very challenging circumstances.