“Seeing Shepherds,” a painting by Daniel Bonnell, arrested my attention. It’s the images of angelic light flooding a dark night and the shepherds, transfixed, caught up in the heavens right there in the lowliness of their mundane existence. The sound must have surpassed the greatest performance of Handel’s Messiah. They must have been jazzed, jubilant, mixed with stark terror because nearby God entered the world as man. Jesus, Lord at his birth. My favorite Christmas text from Isaiah describes who He was then and who He is today.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:6-7
As we peer into the Christmas narrative during this season, may we glimpse a deeper truth than we have previously seen. I hope we are awakened, even healed very deep within our souls, by the warmth of the love of God. For an entire worldview of how we relate to God and man is presented to us in the manger scene. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The exciting quality of Christmas rests on an ancient and admitted paradox. It rests upon the paradox that the power and center of the whole universe may be found in some seemingly small matter, that the stars in their courses may move like a moving wheel around the neglected outhouse of an inn.”
The angels heralded his birth, a star lit the way to where God became man and dwelt among us, a mother looked in awe at the newborn King, and though out of sequence, wise men worshiped him and gave precious gifts. God’s power and holiness came down into a humble, dirty stable, as He stooped to enter our weary world.
Jesus, Lord at his birth, to reconcile man to God and man to man.
We can’t take the mildness without the might, the peace toward man without pleasing a holy God through receiving the gift of his Son, the horizontal reconciliation without the vertical – getting right with God.
It’s important for us, our children, and our world that seems to be running towards chaos with no reference point or moral compass. In recent years there has been some conversation and controversy over the de-Christianization of Christmas. A fifth grade choir director at a school in Long Island, New York removed key lyrics from the Christmas song “Silent Night.” Many of the lines that point to the very heart of the Christmas message were axed from the students’ performance: “Christ the Savior is born,” “Holy infant so tender and mild,” “round yon virgin, mother and child” and “Jesus, Lord at thy birth”. The lyrics were deleted and nothing replaced them.
This is a lesson for us. If we remove “Christ the Savior is born” and “Jesus, Lord at thy birth” there is no one to replace him. We will have an empty civil religion with no power to heal our broken lives, to transform our families, and to change our world. If we remove God from the manger, we are left with a tired young couple on a stressful night giving birth in a stable because they had nowhere else to go. While we may commiserate, we wouldn’t sing about it through the centuries.
The joy, light, and hope of Christmas are because of who Jesus is.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14