Summary: Through the visitation of the shepherds and magi we see that Christ was indeed good news of great joy for all people.
The Christmas story is so familiar to us that we tend to view it through rose colored glasses. We tend to sanitize the scene to make it seem beautiful, pristine. Our nativities represent a postcard picture of Jesus in a pristine creche as he lies in a manger on a bed of hay or straw. It is serene, and peaceful, but probably not quite as perfect as we imagine it. Let’s take a moment to consider the realities of the story of Jesus’ birth.
Joseph and Mary had to leave the security of their home and family because the Emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted to take a census of the people. They had to travel several days with Mary being almost nine months pregnant. Her contractions may have already began on the trip. They arrived at a bustling town of Bethlehem, normally a small quiet village, but packed out because of the census. As you can imagine, Mary was worn out, completely exhausted from the trip. So they began looking for a place to stay the night, but because there were so many people there was no place for them to stay, not even any guest rooms in the Inn. All they could manage to find was a stable (which was probably more like a cave than the cr¨¨ches we have today in our nativity scenes). Imagine the smell of livestock and manure, as they laid down to sleep.
Mary’s contractions became closer and closer together, she was going into labor, the child was coming that night, no midwife, no family members to help. For all we know, only Joseph was there to help Mary. Joseph, the carpenter, whose rough hands more accustomed to handling wood and stone than delivering a baby. I can imagine Joseph was a nervous wreck, it was all on his shoulders to deliver the Son of God. How many carpenters are used to delivering babies? Joseph wasn’t even trained in Lemans classes, he didn’t have any experience in delivering babies. The baby came that night. From what I am told (since we don’t have any children), giving birth is kind of messy thing. Fluids and blood, not pretty. After he was born they wrapped baby Jesus in strips of cloth (a common practice), and laid him in a feeding trough because there was no basinet or crib available. It was hardly ideal conditions, hardly the way any child should be born into this world let alone the Son of God.
Why would God choose to bring his Son into the world like this?
I believe God was demonstrating to us that He was willing to come down to our messiness; our messy lives, our brokenness, to experience life like us in its humblest form to save us all from it. Another way I could say it is this:
God, out of love for us, was willing to allow his Son to experience our worst so that every person, even in the worst situations can experience God’s best.
God’s Son came in the humblest conditions. We see this in the couple God chose to raise his child, Mary and Joseph, who were people of great faith, but they were poor, and from an insignificant small village called Nazareth. When Jesus’ future disciple Philip told another future disciple Nathanael that Jesus was from Nazareth his response was, "Nazareth, can anything good come from there (John 1:45)?" We also see this in God’s choice of location for Jesus’ birth, born in a messy stable, placed in a feeding trough. God came in the humblest conditions to experience our worst so every person might experience God’s best.
God Sent Jesus Out of Love So All People Could Know Him
We even see this in the visitors God chose to be present at the birth of His Son. God chose specific people to demonstrate how much he loved all people and sent his Son so that all people could receive this Good News of great joy.
1. The Shepherds
The first group of people in the Biblical account to show up at the birth of Christ were the shepherds. An angel of the Lord appeared to them to give them the Good News that the long awaited Messiah had been born in Bethlehem and they could find the baby in a manger. The shepherds responded to this news by going to seek out this Christ child in a manger, wherever he may be. I wonder how many stables they had to investigate before they found the right one?
Why did God pick the shepherds? The shepherds after all had one of the least glamorous jobs of their time. They were responsible for keeping watch over sheep that weren’t even their own. In fact shepherds were some of the poorest people. Their job was lonely, they didn’t get to see their families very often (if they had one) since they had to watch the sheep 24/7. It required them to be gone for long stretches at a time, particularly through the dry season as they searched out pasture for their sheep. Being a shepherd required being outside all of the time even at night or in bad weather (notice the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks at night).