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Tuesday, December 9, 2014


WHAT CHILD IS THIS? 

 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. —Micah 5:2

The birth of Jesus was no after-thought. Micah predicted that it would happen long before it occurred. 700 years before this announcement he predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem: he would “come forth” from Bethlehem, though his “coming forth” is from old—from eternity. 

Jesus “began” in Bethlehem, but that was not his beginning. These are hard words to understand, until we know the whole story. Once we know the story they make more sense than anything else in the world. This was Emanuel—the eternal God “with us.”

Micah said that Messiah’s birth would be announced at Migdol Eder (“The Watch–Tower of the Flock”)—identified as the Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem, where shepherds were watching their flocks. It was there and to them that the angels announced “good news.”

It’s significant that the announcing angels bypassed Jerusalem where the clergy of that day held court. They also passed up Herod’s palace nearby—Herodium, his villa near Bethlehem—and appeared instead to shepherds in the fields who were, as Luke says, tending their flocks. Shepherds got the word first of all; Micah saw it coming, 700 years before.

No one back then would ever have thought that shepherds would be interested in spiritual things. They weren’t religious men; they were more like Owyhee County Buckeroos than the sanitized sheep–men we associate with the story now.

It’s more striking also when you realize that God never wastes his words. He only speaks to men and women that want to hear what he has to say. It must be that these men, though not religious men, knew their need for God.  

The angel’s words were simple and memorable: “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

A “Savior born for you.” That was the good news! “You’ll know him when you find a baby in a feed trough.” That was the sign.

And so the shepherds went off to search for the baby. They didn’t bother to look at Herod’s palace on the hill; there were no feed troughs up there. They skirted the resorts, the spas and the lodges of the rich and famous and went looking for a stockyard or a feedlot or a cattle pen or for one of the caves in ground into which shepherds drove their flocks at night.

They found the child near their field (They had no idea how near he was!) in a damp and filthy stable, where Joseph and Mary, having been turned away from the inn, found shelter from the cold.

And as they stood in wonder near the make–shift crib they must have asked the question that men and women, boys and girls have been asking ever since, “What child is this?”

Who is this child? This is Christ the Lord, Emanuel; God, up close and personal.

The Old Testament hints of the fact that one day God would himself visit the earth. C.S. Lewis quaintly describes those hints as the leaves of the Old Testament “rustling with hope.” The promise was fulfilled at his coming.

The revelation starts with a trickle of truth, the way the Salmon River begins, originating near Stanley as a tiny rivulet that you can jump across with very little effort, it soon grows into a sizable stream as the Stanley Basin tributaries—the Fourth of July Creek, Redfish Creek and others—flow into it. The Salmon flows on joined by the Yankee Fork and East Fork of the Salmon, then the Pahsimeroi, North and South Forks make their contribution until by the time the Salmon reaches the Snake River its a magnificent and powerful river.

So the gathering stream of revelation in the Bible grows wider and deeper as we trace it’s course through history until it finds it’s final form, not in a gigantic figure, but in the tiny form of a little child, whom the angels said was “Christ the Lord.”

We may unknowingly overlook the vast significance of that name. Christ we know—the Greek form of the Hebrew word for “Anointed One” or ”Messiah.” But the title conceals another gigantic truth: “Lord” is the word used by the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—for God himself. The angel was very bold: this child is not only the long awaited Messiah, the Consolation of Israel. This little one was nothing less than God.

What Child is this? He is the Eternal One. The Alpha and Omega—the one found at the beginning and end of human history.  “The beginning of the past and the end of the future,” as someone has said.

This is the one who created all things. The one who holds everything together, the glue that keeps the universe from another Big Bang. The one who stands at the end of time to receive the universe back, because, St. Paul said, it was made by him and for him.

Thus the Creator became a creature of time; the limitless one was contracted to a span. This one who owned the universe was crowded out of an inn. “The God who had been only a circumference was seen as a center and a center is infinitely small” (G.K. Chesterton). This one whose hands created the universe put himself in our hands, entrusted himself to the human race, made himself so incredibly weak and vulnerable—to bring us salvation.

Salvation! That’s the word in the announcement that got the shepherd’s attention—and should get ours: “Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you.” Here’s one for the likes of shepherds—miserable, irreligious, sinful men and women like you and me. Here’s a God who wanted to save so badly that he got down and dirty. Here’s the only God for you and me; the only God worth having.

The shepherds found the baby nearby—an easy thing it was to find him. I hope you’ve found him too. If not, I hope you’re still seeking. Wise men and women do.

If you’re seeking, I can tell you where to find him. He’s not in our culture, devoid as it is of any indication that a Savior was born. We've left him far behind.

Not to worry, however: he’s still very near: “You’ll find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

David Roper

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