Consider the parents of Jesus having to go to Bethlehem at the “last minute” of Mary's pregnancy. They had no choice. The law dictated that they go, and Roman law was fierce, their “justice” was swift. This little “family-to-be” had to get to Bethlehem as fast as they could. It was a very rough journey, especially for a young woman who was nine months pregnant. Consider further that when they got there, registering as the law dictated, there was nowhere they could stay. There was probably one inn, and it was full, no doubt with other travelers who got there first. Somehow they found a cave of some sort which served as a stable for farm animals. God provided for them in the midst of the uncertainty of the moment and the danger of the place. It was in this humble place that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, true God and true man, made His entry into our world.
The Gospels tell us that there were two groups of people who showed up almost immediately. One group was an entourage of magi and probably their servants. We do not know how many there were, though somehow the legend popped up that there were three magi and even gave them names! This is probably because of the three gifts they left for the newborn king. But these men, Persian astrologers and their company of travelers, were probably many. Three men traveling alone would not have survived such a trip, given highway robbers, the elements, and the Romans. They came because they believed in omens in the stars. They followed the star which we refer to as the Star of Bethlehem because to them it was such an omen. These men were not believers in the same God as the Jews, since they were Zoroastrians.
But when they got to the child, they believed. How could they be in the presence of God in this tiny child and not know it? There is no way we can be in the presence of holiness and not feel it. If you have ever been around someone who is of great faith or who is extraordinarily holy, you do feel it even if it is hard to describe. So imagine being in the physical presence of Jesus at His birth! The wise men had to be filled with the same joy that caused Elizabeth to recognize the mother of her Lord and for the baby to leap in her womb by merely being in their presence. We know the magi trusted God because they trusted the angel that came to them that night and told them to go back by another route. This was a dangerous world that Jesus was born into. Someone already was seeking to end His life!
Another group that showed up almost immediately was the shepherds who were a mostly poor, outcast group. They were considered outcasts because (the Scriptures tell us) they lived in the fields with their flocks. They could not go to the Temple when they were supposed to, the way other Jews could, because they could not leave their sheep. The well-being of their flocks depended on them being there, so they were looked down upon for failing to “keep the law.” While in the fields, they heard the message of an angel telling them that the Son of God had just been born. The message is given to them first, not because they were closest in proximity to the baby and so it was convenient to get a crowd there to witness it. It was given to them because they were the humble and they were, in fact, faithful people. They believed what they heard and saw of the Heavenly Host.
The angels show us that no matter what happens around us that God is aware of it. God is not distant or absent no matter what people choose to do in this world. God is no happier about the evil that has taken place in the world throughout history than we are. To say unexplained that He allows it, (while it is true), almost makes it sound like God has a smug, ho-hum attitude about it, while knowing He will prevail in the end. That is not at all what God is like. The reality of our world is too much for any of us to understand even if God did try to explain it to us. It is far too complex and tangled. The angels show us that God is not only aware, but He is trying to make His presence known. He gives us protectors and guides. This does not mean to say that no one will ever get hurt or suffer. None of us are immune to that: even Jesus had to suffer and die. But the angels tell us we are not alone now and that we do not go through anything alone. Even in our suffering they are with us to guide and to comfort. For some they are guiding them to safety, for others they are guiding them to Heaven where they are safest of all. Just because they are most often unseen does not mean angels are not here.
What do we learn from all of this? First we learn that God has a plan and that no amount of evil can thwart it. Jesus came into the world and fulfilled His mission despite the efforts of Herod near the time of His birth. Next we learn that Jesus, the Savior of the world and King of Heaven, came for all of us: rich and poor, sophisticated and unsophisticated, educated and uneducated, Jew and Gentile, men and women, etc. He is savior for all who accept Him. God never forces us to accept Him, but He longs for all of us to do so! None of us are too good for Him or too far gone in sin for Him. He longs for all of us to be with Him.
We learn that God sends us angels to protect and guide us. Even though God is mostly unseen and the angels are mostly unseen, they are there. The angels deliver God's messages to us, they protect us, they pick us up when we fall, they rejoice with us, and they always try to guide us to God. Ultimately their message is the same as the message we will continually hear from Jesus: “Do not be afraid! Be at peace!” Jesus is the message of God. He is the Word of God! And His message is for us to be at peace. With Jesus at our side how could we ever be afraid?
Let us accept the message of peace which the angels sing. Let us accept Jesus, the Word, as He is born anew into our world which sorely needs Him. Let us welcome Him into our hearts in a new way. May we be as open to His coming as the magi! May we be as trusting in the message as the shepherds! And may we sing "Glory to God in the Highest" with all the angels this Christmas! Let us meet at the crib along with Mary and Joseph, worshiping the newborn King! Peace be with you!
The top picture came from the Houston Museum of Natural Science Website
The icon found halfway through the entry is by Rev. William Hart McNichols called The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It can be found at