When I read the Christmas story, there are so many things that surprise me. Things that don’t often make the cut in the pre-school nativity, the cosy candlelit scenes in pretty churches of hay-filled mangers and babies that don’t cry and children with tea-towels tied jauntily around their heads.
Like the fact that Mary was likely 14 or 15 years old when she gave birth to a son. Now I have an 11 year old myself, that sounds even more shocking to me than ever before.
Like the fact that they ended up in a stable – or actually, most likely a cave of some sort – probably because they had been shunned by all of Joseph’s family that lived in Bethlehem, confused by the fact that he’d chosen to marry a girl who was already pregnant with a child he didn’t father.
Like the minutiae of the whole crazy story, planned and executed perfectly and intricately to fulfill a story that was thousands of years in the making.
A baby born in Bethlehem, not because that’s where his parents lived, but because right then, at that particular point in time, a Roman government chose to take a census. Two young parents forced to up sticks and travel 90-odd miles, 9 months pregnant and on a donkey, when it would have been the last thing on their minds. All so that the words of a prophet, Micah, would be true:
“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” Micah 5:2
Born of a woman, and an unmarried, uninitiated one at that, to make true the words of Isaiah, another prophet, spoken over 700 years before his birth:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
Born into a one particular family, out of all those on the face of the earth, tracing back through the lines of the great and the good of Biblical patriarchy – David, Jesse, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham – so that another 8 predictions, stretching all the way back to the first books of the Bible, were fulfilled.
The devil is in the detail, so the saying goes, but here and now, it’s the savior that’s in the specifics.
Specific details that narrow down this gift of love.
Specific circumstances that rearranged and realigned themselves to let us know that God was here. Immanuel. God with us.
Specific promises, spoken through holy men and recorded in holy books hundreds of years before they came to pass. So that we would know. That despite the waiting – which must have seemed endless and endless and endless to the Israelite people waiting for their coming king; despite the silence – over 400 years between Old and New Testament writings, where God seemingly said nothing to his people that anyone saw fit to record. Despite it all, when it finally happened, when the Son of God was born on earth, it was PERFECT.
An intricately-woven story of a faithful God who is always interested in the detail and who always answers us intimately. A faithful God who is still the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow, regardless of the silence, the waiting, the uncertainty.
I’m reminded of it each advent, as I re-read the story of a saviour born in such specific circumstances so that we might know He is Truth, and I was reminded of it this week when I listened to this beautiful song from Chris Tomlin. A faithful God whose promises are still – as they always were – Yes and Amen.
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