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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)
As the founder of a Roanoke-based English as a Second Language (ESL) academy, I’m constantly amazed at how English is such a crazy language. For example, an “artery” can be a blood vessel or a busy road. “Calculus” can be a field of higher math or the sticky plaque that forms on your teeth. “Hold up” can mean wait, to rob, delay, suspend in air, etc. To add to the confusion, for speakers of other languages, each different meaning of an English word translates to an entirely different word in their native language.
That was in mind when I recently saw a friend’s social media post depicting a quiet manger scene with the text:
The World needs a STABLE influence.
Especially in this year when chaos and suffering and instability reigned over much of the world including the US, probably most of us yearn for more stable times and livelihoods. For those who are Christians, though, we agree the world also needs that second meaning of stable–a barn for farm animals, which God is His sovereignty chose to place Jesus as a babe.
I am no Bible scholar, but the Christmas story as told in Luke 2 is simple enough for children to memorize for simple dramas, yet also deeply profound and rich so as to be unfathomable to adult minds.
As we approach Christmas 2020 and the end of this tumultuous year, I invite you to ponder a few aspects from that Christmas story from some 2,000 years ago.
The angels greeted the shepherds with the command and encouragement, “Fear not.” When I taught an honors world civilizations class and we came to the units about Judaism and Christianity, I would sometimes ask my students what they thought the most common command in the Bible was. Some would guess, “Do not kill,” “Do not get drunk,” or “Do not have sex until you’re married.” However, many seemed surprised to learn that the most common command in the Bible is: “Fear not,” or as would say today, “Don’t be afraid.” In what has been called “The Age of Anxiety,” that is a timely encouragement.
According to the Bible, Jesus did not come to earth born in an ornate palace or even a temple. He was birthed in a stable, because there was no room in the inns that night. No room for Jesus. Sound familiar?
The first people to get the message from God about the savior’s birth were not the kings, royalty, priests, or business class. They were the shepherds. In that culture, shepherds were the low man on the totem pole. They were uneducated, unsophisticated, smelly, and had poor interpersonal and verbal skills–that’s why they were shepherds. Why do you think God chose them to be first to get the angels’ message, while the ruler of that realm–the evil King Herod–had to get the memo second-hand from wise men visiting from a foreign country? There has been lots of talk recently how so much of the virus and subsequent lockdowns have had a disproportionate impact on the working class and poorer people. Wealthy people have been able to stay home, order what they want online, and watch their stocks soar to their pre-virus levels and above. Those who struggle and have to work for a living, however, have risked their health by reporting to work wondering if they will pick up an illness or not and bring it home, and many small business owners have seen their life dreams destroyed by the virus and lockdowns. Do you feel small? Insignificant? One message from the Christmas story is: God sees and knows.
When Jesus came to earth, Palestine was not governed by a family-friendly, pro-life, democratic republic with free elections, guaranteed individual liberties, and human rights. Quite the opposite. It was ruled by a despotic foreign power, the ruthless Roman empire that routinely publicly executed criminals and trouble-makers as “a way to encourage the others.” It was like the Chinese idiom, “Kill the chicken to warn the monkey.” Many in America today are concerned by eroding freedoms and perceived corruption and unaccountability in high places. I believe those concerns are justified, and I have addressed many in earlier columns in this newspaper. Still, the message of Christmas is, God can choose to show up and work at any place, at any time, regardless of which king sits on the throne or which president sits behind the desk.
Thank you, loyal reader, for reading this and perhaps my earlier columns. What began as a quarantine project last spring has become a labor of love as I am able to share some thoughts over a variety of topics and issues. A writer’s biggest fear is not being read, so your readership and support encourage me. At this special time of year, I wish you and your family a merry Christmas, God bless, and “fear not.”
– Scott Dreyer
The Christmas Story, according to Luke 2 (ESV):
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
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 great fear. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.