Microcosm at the Manger

Microcosm at the Manger

I have no idea who coined the idiom “hustle and bustle,” but I’ve noticed that the only time I’ve ever heard a real human say those words is during the Christmas season. Perhaps the complete silliness of that phrase is the only appropriate way to describe the madness that officially begins the day after Thanksgiving each year. The month of December is a whirlwind of endless activity: frantic shopping, decorating, baking, the arduous task of picking out the perfect picture for this year’s Christmas card, stuffing envelopes & mailing out said Christmas cards, office Christmas parties, ugly sweater parties, Christmas programs at church & school, more last-minute shopping, wrapping presents, coordinating travel plans, and traveling from one side of the family to the other. There’s so much running around, so much stress, so much build up, and then…the next thing you know, it’s over. All the busyness of an entire month culminates in a few short hours of exchanging gifts.

Ironically, the “first Christmas,” as recorded in Luke chapter 2, had its fair share of “hustle & bustle” as well. In fact, God used the very craziness that was taking place to fulfill the prophecy that Jesus’ birthplace would be Bethlehem. The Roman Empire was in the middle of a census, as decreed by Caesar Augustus (v. 1). This only took place once every 14 years, and it required each Jewish male to return to the city of his ancestry. Mary & Joseph did not live in the city of Bethlehem, but since Joseph was from the lineage of David (v. 4) they had to travel there from their home in Nazareth – a journey of about 70-80 miles. But there’s something we don’t usually think about – because of the census taking place, there had to have been a ton of people on the move. Imagine the worst traffic day on I-235…except on foot. Shoulder to shoulder with walking sticks, dirt roads, donkeys, and leather sandals. “Bumper to bumper” traffic for what probably would have been a 4-day journey for them…oh, and Mary was pregnant.

But things didn’t exactly calm down for them once they reached Bethlehem. I can’t help but think of the abnormal amount of people that would have been packed into that little city. New families were probably traveling in from out of town every day. It undoubtedly had to be a stressful time for Joseph & Mary – they were away from their home, probably exhausted from traveling many on foot, going through the requirements of the census/registration process, and then to top it off: “while they were there (in Bethlehem), the time came for her to give birth” (v. 6). Once in labor, the fight with the crowd of people continued. Due to the temporarily increased population, there wasn’t a single private room left in the city for them to deliver the baby (v.7)…so Mary had to give birth in what was most likely a cave. How’s that for Christmas stress and madness? Talk about “hustle and bustle!” But it’s the scene around the manger that I want to focus in on. What I envision taking place around the makeshift cradle that held the Creator of the universe in His most fragile state of humanity, is a microcosm of what Christmas is really about. Because the real purpose of Christmas is actually the antithesis of chaos.

Picture this: Mary & Joseph sitting on the floor of a cave, hidden away from the busy streets & public places of an over-populated Bethlehem. The exhaustion from long days of travel was far removed from their minds. The tension & doubt that had once existed within Joseph due to this controversial pregnancy are now just a distant memory. They both think back to their encounters with angels announcing their role in this birth & the confusion they must have felt at first. But the child was finally here, and as they sit & look at this promised miracle – in this moment, there is no more chaos or stress. There is no more tension or confusion. There is awe. There is wonder. There is peace.

And that’s what this birth was all about – the entrance of Peace. Two of the most familiar prophecies regarding the birth of Jesus tell us as much:
a – “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days … And He shall be their peace.”
– “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

But the peace that Jesus came to bring is not just a lack of noise, or some distant idea of serenity. The peace that Jesus came to implement was the end of hostility between two parties. He came to fix the severed relationship between God and man. Because of our sin, we are separated from God. We are broken. There is disorder & chaos. says that apart from Christ, we are enemies of God. But the birth of Jesus brought the possibility of peace to a chaotic, sin-cursed world. It was God Himself putting on the frailty of human flesh, so that “at the right time” Christ could die for the ungodly (), to reconcile us back to God so that we are no longer His enemies. That is peace ().

It’s interesting… the only other people who were invited to celebrate the birth of Jesus that night were a few shepherds (). No-name, dirty, lowly shepherds – an afterthought in their society. They were the absolute last people who deserved to witness the birth of the King of kings. But that’s exactly why they were there – It’s a microcosm at the manger. A peaceful scene among the chaos of the city. The celebration of a King shared by undeserved outcasts.

Jesus entered the chaos of this sin-cursed world and became a curse for us, so that He could offer peace to the most undeserving of all people: sinners. Me and you. Outcasts who don’t deserve to be in the presence of the King.

– “…in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace…”

So while we’re immersed in the “hustle and bustle” of the Christmas season, I hope we can take a step back and stand in awe at what was made possible for us through the birth of the Prince of Peace.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

Micah 5:5

And he shall be their peace.

When the Assyrian comes into our land
and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
and eight princes of men; (ESV)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (ESV)

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (ESV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (ESV)

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (ESV)

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (ESV)

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