Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.
If I point my finger and say, “Look,” you will turn your head and focus your eyes on where I am pointing. However, my little Yorkie, Kyle, doesn’t look where I’m pointing. The dog looks at my finger.
Across the centuries, we have been caught up in looking at the “finger,” the sign, the crib, the crèche, the Nativity scene, where we find Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Shepherds as well as oxen, sheep, and perhaps a donkey. Saint Francis brought the scene back home with him after visiting Bethlehem in 1223.
The display has inspired holy worship as well as human sentiment. But let us remember, the crib is the signpost pointing at a spiritual sight.
In the common culture, what do people know about the birth of Jesus? They know about the manger, the most famous animal-feeding trough in all history. We see it on cards, in statuary, painting, , and, often, with human beings and live animals.
What do we actually know? Mary and Joseph knocked on door of an Inn and were told there was no room. They were offered a stable along with the animals. The stable may have been a cave or the ground floor of a house where people lived upstairs and the ground floor was used for animals.
We enjoy looking at the nativity scene. It has meaning for us. It guides out thoughts as well as out prayers when I consider the fact that God has come home to his people on earth.
However, to gaze upon the manger and neglect why it was mentioned in the first place is like the dog looking at the finger rather than where the finger is pointing.
So why is the manger mentioned three times in Luke (chapter 2:7, 12, 16)? The sign was given to the shepherds. It told them which baby they were looking for. No doubt there was more than one baby in Bethlehem that night. The sign also gave proof that the Angel knew what he was talking about.
The Spiritual Sight
The shepherds were given specific instructions on where and how to find and recognize the child. The sign gave them instructions for searching for the child. However, the spiritual reality was the child.
Verse 11: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
The manger alone is not important. It was a signpost; a pointing finger to the identity and task of the baby boy who was lying in it. Beyond the sign, the shepherd received private information about the identity of the baby. They carry the news to Mary and Joseph. Imagine the surprise of the young couple when it shepherds confirm the secret that up until now had been carefully treasured between the two of them.
Yet there is more. The identity of the baby is heaven’s promise; the purpose of the infant is heaven’s plan for the world. Luke lays out the plan in a stark contrast:
- The opening of the story, Verse 1 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
- The closing of the story, Verse 21 – He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. He became ruler of the Roman world after a bloody civil war in which he overpowered all his enemies and transformed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire with himself at the head. Here are a list of claims made about Augustus, claims that were widely known and repeated throughout the Empire:
- Augustus claimed that he brought justice and peace to the whole world
- Augustus enacted a law that declared his dead adoptive father to be divine.
- Augustus then claimed that he was “the son of God.”
- Historians told story of Rome as reaching its greatest glory in Augustus.
- People greeted Augustus by calling him “Savior” and “King” of the world.
- Particularly in the eastern part of the empire, people worshipped Augustus as a god.
Jesus was born in that eastern frontier of Rome, the child of a young peasant girl, born in a stable, and mentored by a carpenter from Nazareth. Here is a list of what people believe about Jesus.
- Within a generation of his birth, he would be hailed as “son of God.”
- His followers would speak of him as Savior and King of the world.
- They declared that his was and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel
- They believed that he was the true King of Heaven and Earth.
- His church believed and preached that he is the source of true justice and worldwide peace.
- His followers are willing to stake their lives on him as fully human and divine King of Heaven and Earth.
Today, no one would claim that Augustus is the Savior of the world, yet millions upon millions across the centuries have called and continue to call on Jesus an Lord and Savior.
Here is the spiritual reality to which the signpost point: Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and God’s plan to bring salvation to the whole world. The birth of Jesus is the beginning of a confrontation between the kingdom of God in all its apparent weakness, insignificance, and vulnerability in conflict with the kingdoms of this world. The conflict will end when. . .
“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Augustus never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. But within a century or so the Caesars of Rome will not only hear of him but also take every step to obliterate his followers. Within just three centuries, the Roman Emperor himself will become a Christian.
Here is the wonder of it: God uses a small pebble dropped from the arrogant Imperial hand of Augustus to set in motion the movement of a carpenter and his betrothed to leave the hill country of Galilee and the village of Nazareth in order to journey to Bethlehem of whom the prophet Micah foretold: “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 old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2)
The birth of Jesus is the moment God returns to his promised people, fulfilling this promises to them. The birth of Jesus is the moment God moves into action his plan to bring salvation to the whole world. And how are we to respond to God’s promise and plan?
1-Intentionally encourage your soul to be swept up and carried away in the wonder and glory of his birth. Join the angels and sing, “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13-14).
2-Intentionally encourage your soul to journey to Bethlehem. Like the shepherds, leave your “fields” and “go to Bethlehem and see” in your heart “this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15).
3-Intentionally encourage your soul to reflect the praise of God and the witness of his wonderful gift of Jesus. Like shepherds, “spread the word.” and take your place “glorifying and praising God.” With Mary, treasure up “all these things and ponder them” in your heart (Luke 2:16-20).
God kept his promises to Israel
And implemented his plan to save the world.