|Paintings by Norma Boeckler|
The Glory Has Departed
Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence
Bethany Lutheran Worship on
Monday, May 9, 2016
Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. Few sentences have had such an impact upon human history as this one statement – that God became man and was born of a virgin. History changed at that moment, fulfilling what was promised at the beginning of time. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden for violating the Word of God, at the depth of their shame and sorrow, God promised them a Savior. In cursing Satan, God gave mankind the First Gospel:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
The prophesy meant that the Savior (her seed) would crush Satan (thy seed), that Satan would injure Him. When Satan led his forces in crucifying Christ, the innocent Lamb of God, the Savior Jesus crushed sin, death, and Satan.
Because Adam and Eve sinned against God’s Word, their children inherited and passed on what we call original sin. The term original sin means that all our actions, words, and thoughts are tainted by selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, and lust. Mankind has recorded many noble thoughts and wise advice, but human history is a vast record of shame, murder, and folly. We can hardly deny original sin when we realize how often we fail to keep our promises, violate our own principles, and rebel against God’s commands, even when we know that God commands what is good for us.
The Virgin Mary had a baby. That had to be the greatest miracle in God’s Creation. God became man. That does not mean that God turned into an ordinary human being. Nor does it mean that someone decided that an ordinary person was God. The baby Jesus was both God and man. He is still both God and man. Once He took on our human nature, He never gave it up. When we study the Gospels, we can see that Jesus is one Person with two natures united in Him. The two natures are divine and human.
God decided the time and place for the birth of the Messiah. He sent the angel Gabriel to tell a young maiden that she would give birth to the Savior of the world.
1:30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Mary wondered how this could be, since she was a virgin. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and conceive the Savior. The Christian Church calls the Virgin Mary the Mother of God because the Son of God took on human flesh in her womb, uniting His divinity with her humanity.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph but they were not yet living together. The Jewish custom was just the opposite of ours today. At that time couples were betrothed in a religious ceremony but waited for a period of time before they began living together in the same household. Now couples move into the same household and wait several years—and often several children—before getting married.
Mary’s condition caused severe embarrassment for Joseph. He knew that he could not be the father of her child. He resolved to divorce Mary quietly. Anyone can imagine how both of them must have felt. However, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and revealed to him that the child would be the promised Savior.
1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Matthew revealed that this was taking place to fulfill the Old Testament promises.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
The unity of God’s plan and purpose becomes clearer when we consider that the First Gospel of Genesis 3:15, the Virgin Birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, and the birth of Jesus are all in harmony, in spite of various human authors, enormous stretches of time, and different languages.
The prediction of the Virgin Birth of Jesus came about in a strange way. God used an evil Jewish king to proclaim the certainty of His greatest miracle. King Ahaz promoted idol worship, so he did not deserve to hear such good news. But God offered him the chance to request a miracle, either in heaven or on earth. Ahaz could have asked to be delivered from his enemies, but he trusted in his own schemes and refused a direct command from God: “Ask for a sign.” When Ahaz proudly refused a miracle, the prophet said, “You will receive a miracle anyway.” The miracle was:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
We can see that God revealed His will in separate predictions.
1. The Savior will be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15), “the seed of a woman.”
2. The woman will be a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) and the child will be “God with us,” Emmanuel.
3. The woman will be Mary (Matthew, Luke) and the child will be named Jesus –”Salvation.”
The promise of a Savior being born should have earned Joseph and Mary many favors and blessings, but first they experienced great difficulties. The Roman government ordered a census, so Joseph and Mary had to travel uphill from Galilee to reach Bethlehem. Many Christmas cards show Mary sitting gracefully on a donkey, but the Bible does not have any record of an animal carrying her. Most likely Mary trudged uphill on foot for that long journey. She was about to give birth, hoping for some relief when she and Joseph reached Bethlehem.
Every mother wants to have the best for her newborn baby, especially the first child. Joseph and Mary might have expected to stay with relatives, or barring that, at an inn. But the crowd was so great that they were forced to stay with the animals in the stable near the inn. The Gospel of Luke describes this touching scene in a few words:
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
A manger seems so pleasant, dry, and clean, because people recreate the scene with a wooden box and some dry straw every Christmas. However, no parents today would put their newborn baby in a feeding trough, the actual meaning of manger.
Princes, scholars, and noblemen should have come to the stable to see the newborn Savior. A new pizza parlor enjoys more publicity today than the newborn Savior received. However, God chose to tell shepherds about the birth.
2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
The wisdom of God unfolds when we consider how tenderly the Savior comes to us. Born into poverty in the humblest circumstances, Jesus does not intimidate anyone. Instead, people are drawn to Him, especially when they hear about the circumstances of His birth. Although the angels might have directed the scholars and the rulers to see Jesus, the messengers of God revealed His grace and glory to working men, who rejoiced to see their promised Messiah on his earthy throne, surrounded by animals rather than nobles.
The hardships did not stop when Jesus was born. Wisemen from the East came looking for the Savior, after following the Star of Bethlehem. Pretending to love the Savior, Herod asked the wisemen questions because he feared this newborn king. The wisemen presented gifts to Jesus but did not return to Herod. Nevertheless, Herod sought to eliminate his rival by killing all the boys less than two years of age. God warned Joseph to leave, so the family went into exile in Egypt, returning later to Galilee.
Silent Night! Holy Night!
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Posted by Gregory Jackson at 4:43 PM