All was calm and bright on this spring night in Bethlehem as the full moon lit the flock of Paschal sheep in the nearby fields. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of a newborn babys cry. It came not from the towns inn, but from a lowly cave used for a stable and for birthing lambs. Even so, it was the holiest of nights and the worlds fate hung on the slender thread of the source of that cry. In it lay love, hope, freedom, and salvation for all people. The new mother rejoiced at the precious life released from within her body as her husband wiped his new son clean and laid him gently on his mothers breast. This was not just any other night, nor was this any other child. He was the fulfillment of Gods promise to Eve in the Garden of Eden millenniums ago, and to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all their descendants.
God kept his promisebut not in the way anyone expected. No fanfare from a royal palace, no fancy clothes in which to wrap the newborn king, no parents of royal birth; only those to whom God chose were to be present shortly after his birth. God wished it to be this way, for a new age of salvation by faith and spiritual worship was about to unfold through this little child. At the appointed time in history, Gods Son had come to redeem all humankind and open the way to eternal life.
Mary had no thought of all this at the moment. Her only concern was the new life in her arms, who had settled down and was sleeping peacefully. She leaned over and gently kissed him, not realizing she was kissing the face of God. Joseph did his best to make them both warm and comfortable, then he took Marys son and laid him gently in a manger full of hay so his mother could rest. He thanked Hannah for her kindness, then she went back to tell Eli.
Praise of Angels
There would be another astonishing event that night. Across the field not far away, shepherds were tending the sacred flock of ewes and their lambs without blemish which were destined for Passover sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. Even the shepherds who guarded them were also set apart and treated with respect by all.
Three men, one with his young son, were gathered around a campfire in the shelter of some boulders. It was unusually bright this night with millions of stars shining in the heaven. As the shepherds watched their flocks white coats glowing in the moonlight, they discussed the coming Passover for which their lambs were destined and the meaning of the sacrifices. They were completely unaware that the sacrificial Lamb of God had just entered the world.
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared in the sky over the pasture, bathing them in terrifying brightness. Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people. A Delivererthe Messiah, the Lord has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the City of David. This will be the sign for you. You will find a child lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth. All at once a choir of angels began singing praises to God, Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace to all in whom he delights. The Prince of Peace had come to earth. Nothing could ever take the gift of peace from the souls of the lovers of God.
Homage of Shepherds
After the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds believed the promise. They said to each other, Lets go see this wonderful thing that has happened that God has revealed to us. They had seen Mary and Joseph earlier and knew exactly where the child was bornthe sheep cave! Full of excitement, they hurried to the shelter at once, shouting for joy all the way. The noise disturbed Mary and Joseph in the darkness. Joseph hastily lit a lamp.
When the shepherds arrived, they found the baby lying in the manger just as the angel had said. In short breathless phrases they related what the angel had said about the birth of the Messiah.
David, the shepherds son, immediately connected the prophecy to his name and wanted to see the Promised One. Joseph held the lamp over the sleeping baby in the manger so he could have a better look. The boy asked him, Whats his name?
Jesus is the name given him by the angel who appeared to me and I am also a descendant of David the King.
Oh, you believe the prophecy too! the young shepherd exclaimed. He thought for a moment and then added, Its getting cold outside. I have a gift for your new son, my own sheepskin cloak. It will keep him warm and I want him to have it.
I am grateful. It is his first gift. Joseph took the sheepskin from the boys outstretched arms and immediately covered Jesus with it. May Gods blessing be upon you.
Davids father was pleased with his sons generosity. He had been singled out for a great honor, a privilege greater than had been given any man, that of making the first gift to the Son of God. Their questions around the campfire had been answered. This little Lamb of God was the promised Deliverer of Israel!
The shepherds went back to their flock, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen. It had all happened exactly as they had been told and they could hardly wait to share the good news.
After the shepherds left, the little family was alone again; but Jesus parents could not sleep. As they lay together in their bed of straw, Mary and Joseph had thoughts that kindled remembrances of when the angel appeared to each of them over nine months ago. Now here they were with their infant son in a manger.
In spite of all these miraculous events, Mary looked toward her child in a poor bed of straw, silently asking herself and God, Is he really the Son of God? Is this a place for the Messiah? With these unanswered questions, she drifted off to sleep for a little while. But dawn was already breaking on a new day of redeeming grace.