We all know the story. The story of the babe of Bethlehem and the man of Nazareth is engraved on our souls. Yet, if we are not careful, it can become a distant drama – a story in which we fail to see ourselves.
It beckons us to find a place within the meridian plot. Each of us has a vital place in the story. We may learn from those whose story is recorded.
There was Elizabeth, Mary’s beloved cousin. When Mary approached her, she sensed holiness and rejoicing exploded from her soul: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). Do we, under the inspiration of heaven, rejoice in the most glorious of gifts?
There were innkeepers who, overwhelmed by the surge of travelers, found no place for the dear Lord to lay His head. If they had only known, they might have given up their own beds. They would have found a place! Yet, each lonely traveler we serve is a stand-in for Jesus. Any time we give place for anyone, we give place for Him. Do we make room for Him – and His children – in our homes?
There were heavenly messengers who praised God: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Do we understand the central importance of the coming of Christ? Do we rejoice with the heavenly messengers?
There were humble shepherds who, having heard the news, were immediately resolved:
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger (Luke 2:15-16).
They acted promptly on the invitation to go to Him. And they did more than go. “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17). Do we, with the shepherds, go readily and spread the good news gladly?
There were Simeon and Ana, who had waited a lifetime to see their Lord. Do we wait patiently and serve faithfully as we wait for our time?
There were wise men, those exotic foreigners, who sought after “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy (Article of Faith 13). Their question was, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). Our human nature causes us to grumble about the distance to the temple. Are we willing to travel any distance and pay any price to meet the Savior of the world?
There were those who heard of extraordinary doings. Perhaps they wondered – but failed to act. “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18). “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22).
Jesus regularly inspired awe. He drew crowds of gawkers, spectators, and curiosity-seekers. Yet only the faithful transformed the curiosity into life-changing faith. He invites us to be more than spectators. Are we willing to be both hearers and doers of the word?
There were those so focused on their power that they could not see the divine. Herod was one of those who wanted to protect his own interests at all costs. He murdered several of his own family members. He “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16). Others send spies to assure that Jesus would not threaten their lifestyles. Do we care more about protecting our lifestyles than adopting His?
There were those who were sick, troubled, lonely, ordinary people who followed Him and those uncounted who loved Him and were changed by Him. One of the marks of such is their recognition of their own inadequacy and their desperate need for His holiness. Even Simon Peter felt his own unworthiness when he met the Lord:
When Simon Peter saw [the many fish they caught at Jesus’ direction], he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8).
Yet, “when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Luke 5:11).
When Jesus released the woman from an 18-year, disabling infirmity, the ruler of the synagogue accosted Him for healing on the Sabbath. But magnificent Jesus challenged the ruler to think differently. “Doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13: 15-17).
There was Jairus, whose daughter was raised from the dead. There was the short-of-stature publican Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree to see the passing Lord and was called to serve Him. There was the woman who burst into the house of Simon the Pharisee to show her devotion. There was the centurion who, having felt Jesus’ power, glorified God. Do we come to Him humbly craving the change that only He can offer?
There was faithful Joseph, who quietly served in the background. For him there was no prominence, recognition, or reward. Do we serve faithfully in minor roles?
And there was exemplary Mary. She was a willing instrument in the hands of the Lord:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word (Luke 1:38).
From Mary’s tender soul streamed the Magnificat:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoiced in God my Saviour (Luke 1 46-47; see also verses 48-55).
With all the inexplicable that swirled around her, she calmly served while keeping “all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Do we, like Mary, serve and nurture? Do we do all we are asked even without fully understanding God’s purposes?
There was Jesus – the central character in the ancient drama and in all this world’s history – lying in a feeding trough within a stable. His every word and deed were exemplary. In tribute to Him, I quote excerpts from Dennis Rasmussen (The Lord’s Question, pp. 60-4, from the chapter “Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?”):
A thousand years before a thousand years ago
a holy night descended on the world.
In the darkness of Bethlehem
the omnipotent God became an impotent Baby.
The hands that made the world and hung the stars in the sky
were now just large enough to grasp a mother’s finger …
What would be said of a God who came not in glory but in secret,
a King who came not to command but to obey …
He revealed that man’s greatness is not to be found in dominion over the will of another but in submission to the will of God …
He began his life in a stable, that no one should ever feel too lowly to approach him … And now that I have come, what gift shall I leave before him?
I know, because he has told me, what will gladden his heart:
“Love one another; as I have loved you .
By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
As I bring the gift of love, I shall see the smile of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Each of us has different strengths and different roles to play. God may call us to be like Joseph, Mary, Zacchaeus, Simon, Ana. Each of us has a role to play in God’s redemptive drama. May we fill our role with the goodness and devotion that those earlier characters exemplified and magnified.
And there is another way in which we can see ourselves in the Christmas story:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
He sent His Son for us. So we are indeed a part of this wonderful story – we are the reason for the story. Do we accept and respond to the love that our Heavenly Father offers us that caused Him to send His Son?
Let us serve His Only Begotten Son with all the devotion our hearts can muster, with all the appreciation our minds can gather, with all the effort our strength can marshal. May we gladly submit to the babe of Bethlehem that we may one day be like Him.
At this Christmas season and always, come, let us adore Him.