Chuck Swindoll writes of a commercial venture by one of the largest department stores in the nation. It proved to be disastrously unsuccessful. Their idea was a doll in the form of baby Jesus. It was advertised as being unbreakable, washable and cuddly. It was packaged in straw with a satin crib and plastic surroundings, and appropriate biblical texts added here and there to make the scene complete.
It did not sell. The manager of one of the stores panicked. He carried out a last ditch promotion to get rid of these dolls. He hung a huge sign outside his store that read:
JESUS CHRIST -
MARKED DOWN 50%
GET HIM WHILE YOU CAN!
It seems a little strange that the greatest individual who ever graced this earth should be packaged and offered at clearance prices. Perhaps potential purchasers compared the bed of straw to the deluxe cribs of other dolls and passed by the opportunity to own Jesus. Maybe would be buyers looked at his tattered clothes and thought the other dolls looked cuter in their fuzzy sleepers. At first glance, Jesus probably wasn’t the best doll on the shelf. He lacks the eye-catching qualities that we find so appealing.
But it’s the very lack of pretense and privilege accompanying Jesus birth that makes him even more attractive as you get to know him.
In the Bible, the Old Testament prophet Micah makes a rather incredible prediction. He says…
(Micah 5:2) “But you Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are of old, from ancient times.”
A prophecy about a person born to be king. A prediction about the birthplace of the Messiah – whom we know is none other than Jesus Christ.
It’s an incredible prediction because it was made approximately 700 years before Jesus was born! But to the original hearers, the marvel of the prediction was not that the location of the coming Messiah’s birth had been pinpointed. The most amazing thing about the prediction was WHERE this birth occur. In BETHLEHEM!
Bethlehem in Judah hardly even carried the rank or status of a country town. It was located about 5 miles SW of Jerusalem. It was so small that in both Joshua 15 and Nehemiah 11 it is overlooked in the listing of cities in Judah. The wording in Micah 5:2, “small among the clans of Judah” gives the impression of a village with the least amount of worldly importance.
Even it’s name is unimpressive – the word Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Sounds more like a home for the Pillsbury Dough Boy than it does the birthplace of a king. But it was in fact, in that little town of Bethlehem that the King of Kings came into this world.
When a new king is born you can hear the shots of artillery in a 41-gun salute.
When a new king is born, flags billow and chapel bells peal loud clanging music into the night.
When a new king is born champagne corks stream through the air by the thousands.
When a new king is born people stand together and sing choruses in the street.
When a new king is born, clouds of euphoria make millions of people feel like they are members of one harmonious family.
At least that’s the way one newspaper article says it was on June 21, 1982 when at 9:03 p.m. the future King of England came into the world.
His name was William, Prince of Wales, born to Prince Charles and his young wife Diana. This boy was a legitimate heir to the throne. He was of royal ancestry. Born to be king.
But that’s not the way it was when Jesus came into the world. It’s difficult to imagine a birth more humble or lowly than the birth of Jesus. I think we tend to romanticize the scene by painting it the warm golden glow of a Christmas card. In reality it was pretty dreadful. Douglas Connelly says, “Imagine coming upon a young woman giving birth to a baby in an abandoned car in some urban alleyway, and you come closer to the way it really was.” (Mary, p. 46)
The Bible says it quickly, “and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
Were they in a stable, in a cave, out on the street? No one knows for sure, but we get the idea that this child’s first exposure to the world wasn’t very pleasant.
Ken Gire speculates by saying, “Where you would have expected angels, there were only flies. Where you would have expected heads of state, there were only donkeys, a few haltered cows, a nervous ball of sheep, a tethered camel and a furtive scurry of barn mice.” (from Intimate Moments With the Savior)
Christ’s humble beginnings are a reminder to us of the spiritual poverty in which we would currently be without Him. When we come to the place of trusting Christ to be our Savior, each one of us has the humblest of beginnings. When we come to him, we come as needy people – people who have made countless errors with regards to God’s ideals – people who need to be forgiven - people whose pockets are empty of what it really takes to get to obtain life after death.
The department store manager who knocked down the price of Jesus by 50% didn’t really know what he was saying with that sign. The gift that Jesus brings to world can’t be purchased. None of us could afford it even at 75 or 99% off. The gift of eternal life is free to us, and it’s already been purchased by Jesus himself. And he paid for it with his life. But the appropriate response is to give him, in the words of one of our worship songs, “all we have and all we are and all that we hope to be.”
Christmas is a time for joy and a time for worship, because without giving us a single penny, a child born in poverty has made us rich beyond our wildest dreams. Rich with grace, mercy, forgiveness and the prospect of leaving the black marks of the past behind. And this child himself is today the reigning King of Kings who wants to be best friends with you! Unbelievable? Yes, it is for some. But for others, it’s the best news they’ve ever heard.