WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting. —Micah 5:2-5a
The birth of Jesus was no after-thought. Micah predicted that it would happen 700 years before it occurred.
Jesus “began” in Bethlehem, but that was not his beginning. These are hard words to understand, until we know the whole story: Jesus was Emanuel—“God with us.”
Micah said that Jesus’ 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 angels bypassed Jerusalem where the clergy 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. It was no big deal; it was their job.
Shepherds got the word first; Micah saw it coming, 700 years before.
No one back then would 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 these days.
The angel’s words were simple and clear: “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 has been 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 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 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 cave, where Joseph and Mary, having been turned away from the inn, found shelter from the cold.
And as the shepherds 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, God, up close and personal.
The Old Testament hints of the fact that one day God would visit the earth. C.S. Lewis quaintly describes those hints as the leaves of the Old Testament “rustling with hope.”
The story starts with a trickle, the way the Salmon River begins, originating near Stanley as a tiny rivulet that you can jump across with no 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 of the Salmon 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.
T’was much that man
was made like God before,
But that God should be made like man
What Child is this? He is the Eternal One. The Alpha and Omega, the one who stands at the beginning and end of human history. “The beginning of the past and the end of the future,” Ray Stedman said.
He created all things. He holds everything together, the force that keeps the universe from another Big Bang. He stands at the end of time to receive the universe back, because, Paul said, it was made for him.
The Creator became a creature of time; the limitless God contracted to a span. The one whose hands created the universe put himself in our hands, entrusted himself to the human race, made himself incredibly weak and vulnerable—to bring us salvation.
Salvation! That’s the word that got the shepherd’s attention—and should get ours: “Today, in the city of David, a savior has been born to you.” We all know without being told that we need a savior. The question has always been, “Where shall we find him?"
The shepherds found him nearby—an easy thing it was to find him. I hope you’ve found him too. If not, I hope you’re still seeking him. Wise men and women do, you know.
If you’re seeking a savior, I can tell you where to find him. He's not in our culture, devoid as it is of any indication that he was born.
Not to worry, however: he’s still very near: “You’ll find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”