“What Child is This?” – Luke 2, Matthew 2
Christmas Eve – December 24, 2017
Shepherd speaks and prays –
I remember that night… so clearly. I was just one of the guys, out in the fields. We had nicely settled the sheep for the night, made sure the dogs were in place, and we lit a quiet fire to keep warm. We were talking quietly about moving the flock. I was a rough guy with lots of experience. I had been working with sheep for some 20 or 25 years. I knew where all the good pastures were. I knew how to get the sheep to go where you wanted – that’s what one of these is for… a good knock on the noggin or on the backside would get their attention and convince them to go in the right direction. I had sheered sheep (shoulder throw… this one was named Molly). I had slaughtered sheep, lots of sheep. We often reflected on the fact that we raised our lambs to be killed… killed in the sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem, killed for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what God had told Moses hundreds of years ago. When people sinned, a lamb needed to be sacrificed, it’s blood shed. I had even birthed lambs. That’s kind of a yucky experience and a joyful one all at the same time. But none of my experiences prepared me for what happened that night.
We were minding our own business on that silent night when all of a sudden I saw a big, scary angel. I was so afraid. Now, I have fended off wolves and lions before. Was I afraid of them? No. But this angel… well, I had never seen an angel before. The first thing he said was, “Don’t be afraid.” Too late!! I was frozen in fear, and shaking in my sandals. Then the angel said, “I’ve got a message for you… good news… a baby has been born tonight, over there in Bethlehem. He’s gonna save the world… He’s the Messiah. Oh… you’ll find Him in a feed trough for sheep.”
“The Messiah,” I thought. “We Jews have been waiting for Messiah for hundreds of years… yeah, even us shepherds.”
Then there was a whole flock of angels… yeah, a flock… well, they had wings, so that would make them a flock, right? A herd? They weren’t sheep! A host… yeah, a host of angels, hundreds of them, thousands of them all singing “Glory to God in heaven” and “Peace to people on earth.” Peace to us men, us shepherds, and women, and children… peace from God.
Then, just as quickly as the one had come, the whole host was gone. But we put all the pieces together: “The Messiah has been born… in Bethlehem… you’ll find Him in a feed trough.” “You’ll find Him…” That meant that we needed to go, and we did – everybody except Benyamin. We left ALL the sheep in his care.
We found the baby all right, with his mom and dad, and I just stood there… for what seemed like hours. There seemed to be something holy about that night, and that place. It was kind of like when a new lamb is born – I would just marvel at what had happened, and for some crazy reason I would feel like a proud father after we birthed a little lamb. And that’s what I felt like that night. I just marveled – at the message of the angel, at this little child, at the promise of what this child would be. Like proud fathers, we couldn’t help but tell everybody in town on our way back to the fields at day-break.
What child is this? I know I’m biased… but I say this child was a lamb, the lamb, the lamb of God. After all, he was lying in a manger. In my thoughts, on the way back to our flocks, I wondered if our lambs somehow pointed to this lamb of God, if this child, this lamb would one day be sacrificed, if this lamb would bring God’s full and complete forgiveness to rough guys like me who always seem to be messing up, and maybe even bring an end to the constant sacrifices of lambs. What child is this? This child is a lamb, that’s for sure… why else would God send an angel to shepherds? But I do kind of wonder if He will grow up to be a shepherd. I hope He might. I would be proud if He would… because as much as I am a shepherd, I need a shepherd.
O God, thanks for the message of the angel – even though he was a little scary at first. Thanks for the news that a Saviour has finally been born for us – Christ the Lord, Your own lamb lying in a manger. When guys like me mess up my life, when people like us mess up our lives, remind us all – in this little Jesus – that there is a sacrifice for our sins. And when guys like me, when people like us, wander toward other pastures, or get lost, or are threatened by the dangers of life… then, like a Good Shepherd, lead us to Your quiet waters, guide us to Your paths of righteousness, and restore our souls by Your grace until that day when we dwell in Your house forever. Oh, and fill our hearts with that song of the angels – Glory to God in the highest! Amen.
King speaks and prays –
We’ve been called Wise Men, the three wise men. I’m not sure about that. Most of the time I don’t feel very wise. But then again, when you get old like us, you had better have acquired some wisdom… unless you’ve been sitting around on your – you know what – doing nothing your whole life long. That doesn’t describe us. We were go-getters, searchers, inquirers, learners. We were trying to figure out as much as we could about life in this world, and we even looked up into the sky, to other worlds, to learn about this one. They say that knowledge is acquired by having your eyes open and your mouth shut. What child is this? If you keep your mouths shut for a few minutes, and your ears open, I’ll tell you what I discovered, what I learned.
We’ve been called Magi – I don’t even know what that means! I told you I’m not very wise!! I do know that if you add the letter ‘c’ you get ‘magic’ and so people might think that we are magicians. I can tell you I don’t know any magic tricks.
We three have been called Kings, we three kings. I am wearing my crown today because I do govern a small city back east… so a king? That may be a stretch but I’ll answer to king. My dad was the governor before me, so I guess you could say I have royal blood. But I especially enjoyed searching for wisdom, I am an inquirer. In fact, when the Jews left their scriptures in my home land of Persia 500 years ago, I was curious and I read, searched and researched for something that was profound about those people. When a bright star appeared, I remembered reading about a light that would arise and a scepter in Judah. I could only conclude that the star signalled that a magnificent King was born, one who would hold the royal scepter over Judah. We royals like to stick together, so my friends and I were compelled from within to find this new king and worship Him.
We pooled our wisdom and began following this mysterious star as it moved through the night sky. For almost two years, it led us relentlessly over hills, through valleys and deserts, across rivers until we finally came to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. We thought our journey was over. We told the locals about the star and asked them where the new-born king was. The next thing we know, the current king called us to a secret meeting, sent us to the little town of Bethlehem and asked us to report back so that he could worship the new king, too. That seemed kind of fishy… I mean, do kings worship babies? Do kings honour the person who might succeed them? No… kings protect their positions, they kill potential rivals.
Anyway, we went on our way, following the star, came to Bethlehem, and found the baby boy and his parents. We didn’t stumble upon this child, we researched, and searched, and inquired, and were led to this boy, this very boy. What child is this? What would He grow up to be? What would He grow up to do? I don’t know… would He be a magi, a magician, doing tricks with fish and bread, water and wine? Would He be a wise guy, with people gathering around Him, following Him like a star, marveling at the profundity of His words? Would He be a king, commanding the loyalty, the allegiance, the hearts of many who honoured Him? What child is this? Oh, I think we each have to answer that question for ourselves. But I can tell you when I saw Him, I could not help but offer my gifts of gold, incense and myrrh as I bowed down and worshiped Him. That’s something you do for a king… but I was a king. By my actions, I was acknowledging that He is my king… the king… of kings, the Lord… of lords. My entire life I had searched for wisdom, for answers, for truth. I’ll never forget that star. I’ll never forget that father, that mother. I’ll never forget that child – Jesus. My searching, my studying, life’s answers, ultimate truth – they were ALL there… wrapped up in baby Jesus. What child is this? My king!!
Almighty Father, You are so gracious to me, to us. You wrote about the birth of the king of the Jews and You sent a star as a sign for us kings to follow. Thank You for the wisdom to interpret the sign and the stamina to follow the star so that I… so that we all… could be in this place right now to worship this little king, this king of Kings, this Lord of lords. When we diligently search for truth for our daily living, when we genuinely seek out answers to life’s hardest questions, draw us constantly and always to Jesus. Let our real wisdom be found in humbly bowing down to the majesty of this one who was born in a manger. When we offer our gifts to the king, let those gifts be offered in gratitude, sincerity and generosity. Oh, and give us grace to offer not just our gold, incense and myrrh but also and especially our hearts. Amen.
Joseph speaks and prays – (carving wooden cross)
When Mary first told me… I was blindsided, I felt like my world had come to an end; she was having a baby but I knew it wasn’t mine; although we were engaged, betrothed, we had never been intimate; that means before we were married she had already committed adultery; was that the kind of woman I wanted to marry? In that moment I felt like God had left me; I felt so alone from Mary, and so alone from God; She said it was an angel, but I’ve never seen an angel… have you? She said the baby was God’s Son. I wasn’t buying it. How could that be? I didn’t study biology, but I’m not stupid. I know where babies come from. I made an appointment with the family law guy in town to see what we needed to do. But the night before the appointment I met my own angel. It was in a dream but it was as real as could be. Message – the baby is from the Holy Spirit. Told me to call him Yeshua / Jesus – the Lord saves. Boy, I needed saving… I was a wreck – angry, bitter, jealous, you name it. I was reminded of those words from the ancient prophet: “A virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him ‘Immanuel’ – God with us.” I needed God to be with me because – like I told you – I felt so alone from God.
So, when my angel confirmed what Mary, herself, had said, I gradually came to accept the fact that this was God’s baby, a baby that was on loan to me. Let me tell you… I couldn’t help but wonder who my boy was going to look like. You know… sometimes a child looks like its mother, sometimes it looks like its father, sometimes a mix of both.
When Mary came back from visiting her relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea, she was visibly pregnant, and then we had to pack up and head right back down there to Bethlehem. Caesar wanted us all to go to our ancestral villages to register for his empire-wide census. It was a long journey with a pregnant woman – some of you know what that’s like – and then it was compounded by the “No Vacancy” signs we saw all over Bethlehem. God finally provided a quiet place in a stable out behind an inn. And that’s where Mary’s baby was born. Mary’s baby, not mine. Oh, on the 8th day, according to the old laws, I gave Him His name – the name the angel told me – and I called Him mine, but I still had to learn who He was, who He would come to be.
What child is this? This is a miracle baby. Yes, I came to believe and to accept Mary’s story about the angel because I had seen and heard an angel for myself. That night, in the stable, I held this miracle baby in my arms… but somehow I knew that, in reality, He was holding me, always had, always would – ALWAYS! For all eternity.
What child is this? Truly His names tell me everything I need to know.
Immanuel – God with us. That means that in this little child God is humbling Himself, becoming flesh and blood, coming from heaven to earth to live right among us, to experience human life, and somehow to redeem it, to redeem us from our anger, our bitterness, our jealousy. You ask me who my boy looks like? I tell you… He looks like God. He IS God… with us!
Yeshua / Jesus – “because,” the angel said, “He will save His people from their sins.” How? I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s plan is. How do you erase people’s sins? How do you forgive people’s sins? How do you get people on the path to heaven, to the place where we will be with God? I’m not sure… (lifting up cross) but I am convinced that this child, this child of God, is going to do it. God with us so that we can be with God… always!
Father… yes, You are MY Father God, and You know that I don’t always get things right. You know that I don’t understand everything about You. When I don’t, just remind me that YOU are God and I am not. Help me to rely on Your Word and Your promises… because I know that You don’t send dreams and angels to everyone everyday. When I need some assurance, when I need to know – for sure – that You are with me, teach me to look at Your Son, my Son, and to see… well, to see You. God, we all want to go to heaven, and somehow this little one that I’m holding is going to be the path. Reveal that to me more clearly in the days ahead. Never let me forget that His name means that He will save His people from their sins, He will save me from my sins. As I am holding Him, hold me in Your strong, loving arms… today, and for all eternity. Amen.