I love to learn new things. There is so much I don’t know and still have yet to learn, but I’m one of those people who think you’re never too old to learn and grow. Even to make change. Whether its learning about myself and how I might do things differently (ouch), or about the people I love and how I might live differently to be in relationship with them, or walking through messy lives with friends, or even about my faith – I love the learn. I especially love it when I learn the back story of an already Holy story that opens up my imagination and I can get a better visual picture of what might have happened and the meaning behind it.
The visual part is important to me because I’m a visual learner. Oftentimes I have to see something laid out or drawn out for me to understand. That’s why I had to have math tutors in Algebra in High school – well that, and a few other reasons that we won’t go into. But when God surprises me with a visual gift during the Advent season…well, it makes my day and renews my belief that God is very intentional about having relationship with me.
We were all sitting around a Christmas brunch table; a group of ladies, all fairly knowledgeable theologians,*, and suddenly when one of us shared wisdom, we all were amazed at what we had heard. WHAAT? We had never heard this spiritual correlation before. We were chatting about how we had seen God show up this Advent season. That’s what we women do…talk about faith, talk about our kids, talk about hormones, or talk about food. Oh…and Jesus. You know…the important things in life.
Anyway…when I asked our hostess’s adult daughter the High and Low of her Christmas season, and how she had seen God work through both…she shared that her High was learning the back story of the shepherds and the lambs in Bethlehem, and the role they played in Jesus’ birth. Did you know that for centuries the Passover lambs were raised by shepherds just outside of Bethlehem? In those shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem a very special breed of sacrificial lamb were raised and nurtured to be brought to Jerusalem at Passover to be sacrificed to cover the sins of the people. Now I hate the idea of little lambs being slaughtered – I mean they’re so cute and cuddly. The shepherds who attended to them were designated from the time they were young to be the ones who would have the job of “keeping watch” over the Temple’s flocks. One of their tasks was to make certain that none of these “widdle wams” were blemished while being birthed, and that they were kept clean.
For that reason, these lambs were immediately wrapped in “swaddling clothes” after their births. Sound familiar? For the lambs it was done to protect them from injury, since baby lambs tend to thrash about and harm themselves in their first few hours of their lives. These “special” shepherds keeping watch over the temple sacrifices were the same ones to whom God announced, through His angel, the birth of the ultimate “sacrificial Lamb.” These shepherds knew the swaddling procedure, and when told it would be a “sign”, they knew what Micah 4:8 told them (read it) and realized they needed to quickly go (Luke 2:16) and see the newborn Jesus, the Son of God. The angel really didn’t need to give them directions to the birth place, because they already knew.
Joseph and Mary most likely didn’t understand the full significance of the swaddling clothes in which they wrapped the baby Jesus. The only other time people were wrapped in swaddling clothes was when they were being prepared for burial after their death. How fitting that Mary’s little lamb (no relation to the song), God’s perfect Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb, the Lord Jesus, would be born and lay in a manger in burial clothes. He was born to die. God wanted us to know that this Lamb came to be the FINAL Passover lamb, the one sacrificed for sin forever. Your destiny, my destiny, the destiny of the world was wrapped up in Mary’s little Lamb.
WHAAT? Why had I not heard this before? Of course, we don’t know any of this for certain. That’s the cool thing about faith. But we do know that within a few moments of the Messiah’s birth, God dispatched shepherds to come and pay homage to the one destined to bring “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
Here’s God’s version of the story:
“And in the same region (talking about Bethlehem) 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 (now THAT was probably pretty cool), 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 (again, Bethlehem) a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped n swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts (again…so cool!) 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, (I can’t get enough of this heavenly stuff) 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 the manger.” ~ Luke 2:8-16
What a story. But is it just a story? That is for you to decide. But me…I’m loving the back story of the story of the birth of Christ and I choose to believe what I can’t always see in front of me. I choose to believe the story that has been passed down through the ages, and proven true in my heart and life over and over again. How about you?
This is my gift to you this Christmas Day…and God’s gift to you every day. Merry Christmas my friends.
* In my typical attempts to make myself look way smarter than I really am, I must tell you that although I consider myself a theologian, its not a pride thing. You are a theologian too. Anyone who studies the Bible or seeks after God is a theologian. You may not get it all, but you are a theologian. So hence, the use of the word. Celebrate your theologiany. (I made that word up). HA!