It was the quietest of nights.
It was the most insignificant of cities.
It was the remotest corner.
But what happened there changed the course of humanity.
No one knew when the labor pains began except for his young, inexperienced mother.
No one heard his first quivering cries, except for his father.
But all heaven rejoiced. And good news traveled on the rush of angels’ wings to light up dark skies as a corner of heaven peeked through the dark curtain of night.
And shepherds–terrified and breathless–collapsed on rocky soil, blinded by the brightness of the messengers.
The messenger spoke, shook the ground and changed everything:
Do not be afraid.
For unto you this day a Savior is born in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord.
And multitudes of angels, millions upon millions of them joined in song. The jubilant chorus poured down light on dirty sheep-tenders–those men of the earth whose beards smelled of the smoke of their small fires–transforming their rough, hard-living faces into expressions of childlike awe.
Glory to God!
Glory to God in the Highest.
And on Earth, Peace and Goodwill to men.
The curtain closed. The night sky in its velvet black closed upon them. A sheep bleated and men remembered to breathe air again.
And once again, it was the quietest of nights.
For the simple shepherds this night would be the most sacred. It was the moment heaven met them. They went to the baby, wrapped in clothes, lying in a manger in the remote corner of that insignificant city of Bethlehem. They worshipped what they didn’t yet understand. What they had witnessed was heaven eclipsing the darkness of the sky and a baby emerging into a merciless world. It made little sense, but it was worthy of quiet awe.
Thirty years passed and multitudes gathered again–this time on the shore of Lake Galilee and in the temple courtyard and on the side of the ancient mountain.
And the multitudes listened and followed and begged for help. They ate and they questioned and they praised with branches of palm. Could it be possible that a shepherd from that night long ago found a place among the crowd?
And then the multitudes gathered again.
It was Passover in Jerusalem and the crowds came in sets of families and clans. They saw the babe, now a man known to claim that he was the Son of God. He gave them signs and miracles; he gave them forgiveness and truth and healing. But he failed to be the king they were seeking. He was a Nazarene, and nothing worthwhile came from Nazareth. He was an insignificant sham. The crowds gathered as storm clouds, piling up, rumbling and seething. The multitudes shouted demands that the innocent man be traded for a seasoned criminal named Barabas. Who would listen now to a shepherd’s tale of singing angels and the infant promise of the prophet Isaiah? The mob pulsed with fury. The exchange was made: a criminal set free for the price of innocent blood.
And they scattered into the darkness again.
For it was the darkest of days.
And just at the moment that Heaven might have sewn the drape of Heaven shut, it was torn in two. Dawn came with the nervous clamor as the women’s sandals climbed the path to the tomb. The multitudes were gone. The shepherds tended flocks, the farmer plowed, the fishermen talked of returning to their nets, but the women came bearing the spices of the dead.
They were met with the brilliance of heaven and words that shook the earth:
Do not be afraid.
The One you are seeking is not here.
He has risen from the Dead.
Advent is looking for the “Coming, especially someone of importance”. What do we look for? A baby in a manger? A victorious king? A kind man? A miracle worker? Or, do we look for a risen king? What leaves us breathless in expectation?
Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus will receive his glory and coronation because of the cross. One day the multitudes of millenniums will bow at the name and glorious title: Jesus Christ, King of All.
Friend, we are the criminals set free for the price of innocent blood! That is the gift of Christmas. We have that old, old story etched on the scrolls of history and retold myriad times in the lives redeemed by the baby of Bethlehem.
We have only to turn to the word to pull back heaven’s curtain to see the glory of the story of Jesus, to hear the angel’s song in our dark souls, to peer into the empty tomb and watch him ascend into glory. We would have no Christmas season without that precious book and the story of our Savior. Read Luke 2 as if you’ve never heard it before. Like the shepherds of old who gazed and wondered at the host of angels and the helpless baby, run to the One who was born that night and make today the day your knee will bow and your tongue confess that Jesus Christ, is Lord.