Friday, December 24, 2021

Micah, Messengers, Mary, Messiah, Mission & Mangers

When Mary gave birth to Jesus, she wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”[1]
We are then told that “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”[2] As far as we know, it was just business as usual for these shepherds. Suddenly,
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”[3]
Unlike our TV shows that depict angels interacting with people, when a biblical angel shows up with a pronouncement – fear is always the natural human reaction. This is why the heavenly messengers always address the emotion before the verbal commotion,[4] as seen with these shepherds:
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”[5]
This is news that these shepherds (and their ancestors before them) had anticipated for literal centuries. Being Jewish shepherds, they would have been well aware of the prophecies predicting the arrival of a Messiah[6]. They, like all of Israel, would have been looking at the horizon, waiting for a Savior named “Immanuel”[7] (literally translated “God with us”.)
Knowing skepticism is inherent in human nature, God graciously makes sure these shepherds understand the message. In God’s wisdom, the angel offers the shepherds three confirmations that these words are both trustworthy and true.
  1. First, the news was delivered by an angel of God. Just like a police officer is an agent of the court to deliver a subpoena or summons, these angels served in a similar capacity and were immediately recognized as having a divine authority.
  2. Biblical prophecy predicted that the Messiah would literally come from this very specific area; Bethlehem-Ephrathah.[8] The shepherds would have expected the Savior to come from the royal city of David, a stone’s throw from the very place they were tending sheep.   
  3. They are given a very specific, crystal-clear sign that only a shepherd would understand and immediately validate:
“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”[9]
The angel’s sign had two components to it. The Baby would be:
  1. wrapped in cloths
  2. lying in a manger
To find a baby in a wrapped cloth immediately after birth would not be considered an impressive sign, since we still wrap babies like that to this day. We do it give our newborns a sense of security and safety as they can injure themselves more quickly with limbs flying everywhere. For these same reasons, it’s quite possible that these shepherds had experience in wrapping newborn lambs. Many scholars believe that these shepherds were considered Levitical shepherds who tended the sheep raised specifically for the animal sacrifices[10] at the Temple during Passover[11]. If these lambs were to be used as a sacrificial offering, they had to be considered, by Levitical law, “unblemished”[12] and free of all defects. Wrapping a newborn lamb with cloths is the best way to keep them safe, secure and unblemished – ready for sacrifice.
These births often occurred in the safety of a “shepherd’s cave” known throughout this region. These caves provided temporary shelter for the shepherds and their sheep. In such caves, mangers were assembled and used as feeding troughs for the animals to use when they ate. Made from wood or stone, these mangers would have been a common site in the shepherd’s cave. 
Given this background, can you imagine the shepherd’s reaction after hearing the angel’s sign??
“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Levitical shepherds would have put this connection together immediately. This Baby was born in the same place and wrapped in the same way as a Passover lamb? This Baby is the proclaimed Savior, Lord & Messiah[13], unblemished and free from all defect? This Baby, lying in a manger, is the One? This Savior is a sacrifice??
This is why, years later, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus he declared,Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[14] John, a shepherd of Israel, understood the significance of Who Jesus was and what He came to do. He didn’t just come as a baby, He came as a lamb that was to be sacrificed for the sake of His people. 
Micah predicted He was coming.
The Messengers proclaimed He was here.
Mary carried Him to fruition.
The Messiah fulfilled the Mission.
The Manger proved He was real.
Joy to the world.
The Lord has come.
Let earth receive her King.

Rod Arters
Director of Student Ministry, Huntersville UMC
[1] Luke 2:7
[2] Luke 2:8
[3] Luke 2:9
[4] See other examples: Daniel 10:12, Matthew 28:5, Luke 1:12-13, 29-30
[5] Luke 2:10-11
[6] 2 Samuel 7:3-17, Isaiah 7:10-16, 9:1-7, 53, 61: 1-2, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Micah 5:1-5, etc.
[7] Isaiah 7:14
[8] Micah 5:2
[9] Luke 2:12
[10] God required animal sacrifices to provide a temporary covering of sins and to foreshadow the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
[11] Passover is the major Jewish spring festival which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, lasting seven or eight days from the 15th day of Nisan.
[12] Exodus 12:5
[13] Luke 2:11
[14] John 1:29
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