For the majority of the nation of Israel, the birth of Christ made no impact. For some Jewish families from the first century, it was the worst day of their lives. And to a select few, the birth of Christ was life changing. Who were the select few whose lives were turned upside down by the coming of Christ?
Each gospel writer has a slightly different angle and focus. In Mark’s gospel, Mark doesn’t mess around with the birth, the Magi, the manger, the nativity scene. Mark 1:1–
1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark is like, bam, there’s Jesus. He’s the Son of God. Let’s cut to the chase. He skipped over the first 30 years of his life and he gets straight to the point. The gospel about Jesus Christ, WHO IS, the Son of God. That statement packs quite a punch. It speaks to the incarnation.
We don’t talk a whole lot about the incarnation, but it’s really mind blowing if you really sit down and think about its implications. God becoming a man. Jesus who is both fully God and fully man. At the same time. It’s mind blowing that this is what the birth of Christ represents.
Rather than letting this truth sink in, we tend to domesticate Jesus. Cut him down to size. He’s one of us. We talk a lot about the humanity of Jesus and shortchange his divinity. We treat Jesus like he is Iron Man. He’s got a shiny suit and weapons and firepower, but if he takes the suit off, he’s just like you and me. He’s my friend. We’re buddies. Jesus and me, we’re tight. He loves me. Those are true statements, but it misses an important element. He is the Son of GOD. God. Jesus is much more like Thor. Is that sacrilegious? The point being, he’s not one of us. He is not like us. He is completely other. But at the same time, he is like us. He sympathizes with us and our weaknesses. It’s both his divinity and his humanity side by side.
Listen to how John describes the risen, glorified Jesus who now stands beside the throne of God in Rev 1.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
This is a very different picture from the baby in the nativity scene. Jesus, the Son of God. The infinite God of the universe, the God who spoke and the universe came into being and stars came flying out of his mouth, THAT God’s Son came into the world. Jesus, he put his glory aside, he didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, he limited himself, he descended to our level and took on human flesh.
As we read Scripture, we get reminded here and there that Jesus is not from this world, we get glimpses into his glory. Let’s read Luke 2:8-9.
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.
We are not even talking about God or the Son of God appearing just yet. Here we have an angel. A messenger sent from God. And because these angels were in the presence of God, their entire bodies reflected the glory of the Lord. And even the reflection of God’s glory that shone from these angels was enough for these shepherds to be terrified. Terror is the most natural human response when we come into contact with the divine.
If Jesus came unveiled in full glory with eyes like blazing fire and a sharp double-edge sword protruding from his mouth, we might fear him, we might bow down in reverence before him because we are scared, but we wouldn’t love him. Love requires intimacy and proximity. Thus, Jesus veils his glory so that we can get close enough to relate with him. Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and hid his glory and entered the world. So that we could spend time with him and touch him and laugh with him and share meals with him. This is how we build relationship.
So when this God who wants to build a deeper, more intimate relationship with us appears, what was the response? How was Jesus welcomed 2000 years ago? To answer that, we turn our attention to John’s gospel.
In John’s gospel, the focus is on the nation of Israel.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
Then, jumping down to v9–
9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word 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 truth.
This passage is very reminiscent of Luke 2:7–
7 …She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
What’s going on here? Why was Jesus treated like this? Jesus came into this world. He’s the Son of God. He’s God’s representative. You see Jesus and you see God the Father, the God that the Israelites have been reading about and praying to. If there ever was a VIP for the Jewish people, he was the one.
How do you treat a VIP? From the airport, you are there to welcome him. You don’t ask a VIP to catch a taxi. People who care about you show up. You pick them up yourself and then you don’t take them to McDonalds and have them sleep in a motel alone. You take them to a nice restaurant and have them stay at your home. You treat them well because you’re communicating to them–you are important to me. You matter.
Whenever my brother Jason and his wife Betty invite our family to their home in Westwood, all of us feel like VIPs. Our room is pristine with clean, pressed sheets and towels. And Betty cooks us a feast each time. We really feel loved. It’s so great having them live so close to us.
What if we came over and there was a note on the door, “Sorry guys, we decided to go out. We left the key under the mat. We are not sure if we’re going to be back tonight because last minute we might go to San Diego, but feel free to entertain yourselves.” Then, we walk in and the heater is broken and the refrigerator is empty and there is trash and laundry all over the place. We’d feel like, I guess we don’t really matter. Actions speak volumes of what you think about the other person. Family wants to be together. Family wants to express love for one another. This is what families do.
Why didn’t anyone make room for the Son of God? Why was there no room in the inn? Why did Mary and Joseph have to try to book an inn for lodging in the first place? Did Jesus want to be born in a manger, which is basically a feeding trough for animals? No, Jesus was born in a barn because HIS OWN, his own family, the Jewish nation, did not recognize nor receive him. He was not welcomed. He was rejected.
Who welcomed him? Mary and Joseph.
In Luke’s gospel, the focus is on Mary. An angel comes to her and says, don’t be afraid because I have some news for you. You have found favor with God and he has chosen you to carry the Son of God in your womb. And when he is born, name him Jesus and he will reign forever and his kingdom will never end. Upon hearing this news, as you would expect, Mary asks, how will this be? The angel responds, the Holy Spirit is going to take care of it. And I am amazed by Mary’s response in v38–
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
What simple faith. What trust. What humility. If it were me, I’d be like, what do you mean the Holy Spirit is going to put the Son of God in my belly? Why me? How is this going to happen? How is my life going to turn out? Can I back out? Do I have a choice in the matter? Mary responds simply with “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Amazing.
Joseph also welcomed Jesus.
In Matthew’s gospel, the focus is on Joseph.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Let’s stop there. Mary and Joseph are betrothed at this point. They’re engaged. And he finds out that she is pregnant and he knows very well that he is not the father. What would be going through the mind of any man who hears this kind of news regarding his fiance? Either, who’s the guy so that I can mess him up? Or, that no good unfaithful woman. I can’t believe she did this. This is the love of my life. The person you want to spend the rest of your life with. If you were in Joseph’s shoes, you’d be rampaging, or you’d be heartbroken, or somewhere in between.
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Joseph knows that this relationship has to end. When you are angry and heartbroken, you often lose all sensibility and because you are so hurt, you want to inflict as much damage on the other person as you can. It’s human nature. Esp. if you are innocent and the other party is guilty. Not Joseph. Joseph wants to end the relationship quietly because he doesn’t want to expose her shame. The Bible calls Joseph a righteous man. We think righteousness is not cursing and not watching R rated movies and reading the Bible, but here, the Bible defines righteousness in terms of how we treat others. How many of us could have treated Mary this way if we were in Joseph’s shoes?
God knows that Joseph was planning to separate from Mary quietly so an angel appears to him in a dream. And amazingly, just like Mary, Joseph responds to the dream in Matt 1:24–
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Again, amazing faith. Amazing trust. Amazing humility. He just heard what the Lord told him to do and he did it. No questions asked.