208: The Road to Bethlehem – Manger, Incarnation

The other day I noticed a clock printed on a shop front, around it in decorative writing was printed ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’. I love Christmas; the lights, the festivities and the expectation. But sometimes it feels like this season is marked with fear as well as joy. Fear that expectations will not be met and the waiting will not pay off? This weeks’ passage describes that waiting is not simply watching time passing but a call to join with all of creation in seeking and longing for change, and we are all included in this.

For many of us this advent season is urgently needed, it is a refreshing we have been longing for, a break out of our weariness onto a path that takes us to our Wonderful Counsellor, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel.

With that in mind, these weeks are not simply times of gentle and calm waiting, but an active, desperate cry for change, for God to come and intervene.
In this passage in Luke we are introduced to the shepherds and hear how they were invited to a journey which would change not only their lives, but the world.

They were unlikely characters, those not considered with any stature or importance and yet they were chosen to witness, and to testify to the coming king. They were unsurprisingly scared and terrified, and probably confused and overwhelmed at all that was happening-and yet the invitation demanded a response. They could have simply analysed the angel’s chorus, made a special site of that field or simply distracted themselves with the busyness of life. However, they choose to not only believe what the angels said to them but to seek out this baby who was to change everything.

In our current situations, whatever they might be, are we actively seeking to find the light?

Words for the Week

Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
 and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Isaiah 25:8-9 (The Message)

Also at that time, people will say,
 “Look at what’s happened! This is our God!
 We waited for him and he showed up and saved us!
 This God, the one we waited for!
Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.
 God’s hand rests on this mountain!”


Writer’s Thoughts

The passage begins with the shepherds going about their daily business of tending sheep. God met them there, amid their jobs and their lives, God broke in. We often feel that we need to do something to get God’s attention, that until we highlight our plight He is unaware. The Christmas story is a testimony to God’s heart for us all, the young, the old, the philosophers, the practical, those excluded from society, those who have much advice, and those who are just keeping on with life; we are all invited as we are.

Nonetheless, the significance of the shepherds is important, they were not overlooked despite many considering them unworthy. Not only were they the first to hear about Jesus’ birth but God choose a host of angels to proclaim to them, this is only the second time in the whole Bible that a multitude of angels, rather than an individual angel, has appeared. God wanted them to know that this was bigger than they could truly imagine or expect.

When we are faced with such magnitude and awe inspiring sights, it can be easy to shrink away, to distract ourselves and down play the situation. After all the Jewish people, had been praying for a Messiah for so long, holding on to the prophecies of Isaiah for generations. Even still when you have been waiting for such a length of time, a breakthrough can be overwhelming and can cause doubt to rise. We are left reflecting and assuming that it rests on our own ability rather than God’s power. There was hope and expectation for change, but the answer was surely unexpected; ‘a baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger’ (Luke 8:12). And yet rather than stop and question the shepherds sought out this sign, they took a risk and followed the angel’s instructions.

The waiting was no longer a distant theory or a story passed down through generations, it was an action that the shepherds had been called in to. They left where they were, they made sacrifices and became some of the first people to meet Jesus. The hope of God was now before them, the salvation they had longed for was a physical tangible presence. Yet we know that this was just marking another kind of waiting as Jesus’ life went on to point to God and his rescue plan.

Often, we draw back to the prophecies in Isaiah around the nativity, the signs of Bethlehem and the proclamations of Jesus, but sometimes we forget that also there were prophetic words around the season of waiting, and what that will be like. In Isaiah 25, we are reminded that God hears our cries and is faithful in that season. God is who we are waiting for but also who we are waiting with.

The shepherds’ courage in playing their part is a reminder that even when waiting is hard, and at times costly it is never in isolation, God is always near. Hope can seem like a distant promise, or as one song lyric points ‘hope can deal the hardest blow’. But our hope is not based on the actions of the shepherds, or even the declarations of the angels, our hope is found with the baby in the manger. The baby so vulnerable, but the fullness of God.
We may be weary, and in desperation but our hope is not in vain, He is coming!

Own it personally…

  1. Are there times where you discount your role in God changing your situation because you seem unlikely or unworthy? There are many theories as to why the shepherds were chosen but it can be assumed that they were not expecting it. Try to be open today to God using you in your situation, what is it He is asking you to change, to be courageous in? Maybe it is speaking words of affirmation of God’s hope to someone around you, or coming alongside someone who is struggling?
  2. What emotions have you let characterise this season of Advent? It is a busy time of year and we can sometimes feel under pressure to only show the ‘joy’ of the season, when we also feel the ‘fear’. Take some time to be honest in front of God, to allow yourself to remember that in all these feelings, God is near and working. Pray with those around you, journeying towards the hope that God promises.
  3. Keep pursuing Jesus. The shepherds sought out Jesus, they left what they knew, their comfort to find the one who had been promised. Join with others in praying boldly for God to intervene in your circumstances, but also ask God to reveal himself in the journey.

Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy

The following is an extract from a blog I read at the beginning of the year, it is a reminder that the small choices of obedience, of allowing others to come alongside you and pray with you, are the things that are significant in understanding the value of waiting. They reveal that the waiting is also a process of God changing us. I would encourage you to read this and give God the time and space to show you where He is changing you in this season.

‘I believe that bravery is born in the quiet and ordinary moments long before it’s seen by anyone else. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the moments no one else will ever see – the moments of daring to be honest with our own self, of laying down our excuses or justifications or disguises, of asking ourselves what we really want, of forgiveness, of honesty, of choosing the hard daily work of restoration, of staying resolutely alive when every one else is just numbing themselves against life.
But then come moments – those turning point moments, when you know it matters more than anyone else would know from the outside.
The ‘yes’ you need to say,
the ‘no’ you need to enforce,
the truth you need to speak,
the life you dare to imagine,
the risk you take,
the art you create,
the establishment you defy,
the danger you face,
the living out of what you profess.
Those moments are our turning points because when we look back on them, we say “and then something changed.” That is true. Usually it’s us, we’re the ones who change. We take another tentative step out onto the water, a bit further away from the boat of our safety. And we do it alongside of each other, hand in hand, never alone.’
Sarah Bessey, blog January 12, 2016


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