Summary: Christmas Eve: There were so many things in the Christmas story that aren’t what they seemed to be. But God used them to bring salvation to the world!
A visitor to the zoo noticed one of the keepers sobbing quietly in a corner. He asked, “What’s the matter with that poor man?” He was told that the elephant had just died. “Fond of him, was he?” the visitor asked. “No, it’s not that,” came the reply. “He’s the one who has to dig the grave.” Things aren’t always what they seem. (Adapted from Sermonillustrations.com)
In 1884 a young man died, and after the funeral his grieving parents decided to establish a memorial to him. With that in mind they met with Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University. Eliot received the unpretentious couple into his office and asked what he could do. After they expressed their desire to fund a memorial, Eliot impatiently said, “Perhaps you have in mind a scholarship.” “We were thinking of something more substantial than that... perhaps a building,” the woman replied. In a patronizing tone, Eliot brushed aside the idea as being too expensive and the couple departed. The next year, Eliot learned that this plain pair had gone elsewhere and established a $26 million memorial named Leland Stanford Junior University, better known today as Stanford! A simple, unpretentious couple… things aren’t always what they seem. (Adapted from Sermonillustrations.com)
A family brings a baby to the front of the church. After some words are spoken, water is poured over the head of the baby, and the pastor speaks the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And what we see sure doesn’t seem like much - a wet baby – at best some happy parents and grandparents and family and friends. But things aren’t always what they seem. Because God has promised to do oh so much more – He’s promised in his Word to bring faith and forgiveness! By these, God brings new life and light to the infant and ushers him into his Kingdom. The unseen hand pouring the water is Jesus’. Faith and forgiveness come as the Holy Spirit, in a beautiful, mysterious way, comes in the Word and water. Things aren’t always what they seem.
It’s tough to live in the shadow of fame. Jerusalem was, after all, the epicenter of all that was Jewish. That is where the pilgrims came for the annual religious festivals. And the little village named Bethlehem, about 5 miles south, south-west, was small, and overshadowed. Its biggest claim to fame was that a long-ago resident from there – a shepherd boy - had done good. And so Bethlehem became known - because of that shepherd boy - as, “The City of David.” Even so, important didn’t come to mind when thinking of Bethlehem of Judah. It was just a sleepy little village.
How could the prophet Micah have ever written this about that no-account little town: “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 from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2) After all, wouldn’t a ruler, whose origins are from old, from ancient times, choose an important place to be born – a place like Rome, or Antioch or maybe even Jerusalem? Could Micah have been asleep at the wheel when he penned this prophecy? Maybe the old boy misunderstood what God was telling him to write. No! It’s just that things aren’t always what they seem.
Some 700 years after the prophet Micah wrote, not even knowing the bigger purpose, a pagan emperor issued a decree that every citizen of the empire be counted. And because Bethlehem had been the home of the shepherd boy who done good, David’s ancestors had to make the trip to Bethlehem to be counted. Among the ancestors who made the trip, a very pregnant young woman and her husband, a poor, simple carpenter. The emperor thought that he was counting citizens. This young couple thought that they were traveling to a town to be counted. But things aren’t always what they seem!
That poor young couple had traveled to Bethlehem all the way from Nazareth. Because so many people were there for the census, the city’s inn was full. And while there, the young woman went into labor. They had to find a place for her to give birth. The only place was in a stable. Some think that it was actually a cave that was used as a stable. In that lowly, dank place, in the company of barnyard animals, this poor peasant girl gave birth to a baby boy. She wrapped him in strips of cloth, and laid him down to rest in the feeding trough from which the animals ate. Seems like a stable and a feeding trough are a fitting nursery for the offspring of peasants. But things aren’t always what they seem.