I continue to be amazed at the topsy-turvy way God works! And perhaps this is never more clear than in the birth of Jesus. I mean, think about it – God’s people had waited thousands of years for the Rescuer – the Messiah – the King who would rule with justice! So one might assume He would be born to a wealthy family in pristine circumstances, right? Wrong!
Although both Mary and Joseph could trace their family line back to King David, they lived in the backwater town of Nazareth in Galilee – they had to travel to Bethlehem for the census and to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. Oh, and they were poor. And in that day, poverty was sometimes seen as an absence of God’s blessing. In the eyes of many, Mary and Joseph were a topsy-turvy choice.
And in God’s topsy-turvy way, the Messiah was conceived prior to the marriage of Mary and Joseph – putting them (or at least Mary) in a bad light – because let’s face it, how many people were going to buy into the story of immaculate conception?
Today, in our 21st century Western culture, we love a good “up from nothing, small town boy makes good” kind of story. But in those days, in a shame and honor culture, this was unheard of! Even one of Jesus’ future disciples is reported to have said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” You can almost hear the disdain in his words.
And the circumstances of Jesus’ birth! Really? Were there no relatives in Bethlehem – not even distant ones – willing to provide a spot for a young woman so near the time of giving birth?
Topsy-turvy, right? Not how you would do if you were the God of the universe?
Not everything about it was topsy-turvy, however. For the Bible does include at least one spectacular detail of Jesus’ nativity: the birth announcement. And what a statement it made! It puts to shame anything I’ve seen in our social media-obsessed culture! We’re talking real live angels and the amazingly bright light of God’s glory – in the days before electricity, no less! But this birth announcement didn’t get posted on Facebook or Instagram; it wasn’t even seen by the socially elite of the day. Seriously? Who wastes a choir of angels on lowly shepherds? Who does that? The God of the Bible, that’s who! The God who works in a topsy-turvy way.
How stunned those simple, manual laborers must have been to receive such wonderful news – good news of great joy. And if they were the first to hear of it, this news truly is for all people – for the insiders and for the outsiders – for the haves and for the have-nots – for the rule keepers who think they must earn God’s love and for those who think they have forfeited God’s love.
The light of God’s glory juxtaposed against the sinful humanity of the shepherds terrified them at first. But they recovered from that…only to hear something just as stunning – they would find the Messiah in a manger. A feeding trough? More topsy-turviness! So off those shepherds raced to find this particular manger.
In confirmation of the angelic proclamation, the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and a baby wrapped in strips of cloth. And in that seemingly God-forsaken place amidst the animals and the dirt and the manure, the shepherds once again recognized the glory of God. They once again were amazed – but they were no longer terrified. In His grace, God came near in a non-threatening, topsy-turvy way – as a helpless baby.
What was true then is true today. God’s glory is all around us. Sometimes, God’s glory overcomes and overwhelms us. Sometimes, He beckons us to unexpected places – like a manger.
Your Central church staff has committed to regularly share Glory-Sightings with one another. We encourage one another to be on the lookout for ways in which God is at work. Sometimes these Glory-Sightings are obvious; other times, if we were not seeking them, we might have missed them.
At this busy holiday time of year, I encourage you to look for God at work in the words of Scripture and in the beautiful Christmas music and in the Spirit-led sermons of our pastors. Carve out time for treasured family traditions, both old and new. Experience God in those memory-making moments. But most of all, don’t miss out on the Messiah in the manger.
If you seek Him, you will find Him – because He is already pursuing you. In His topsy-turvy way, God has come near. He is the Messiah in the manger – the God who gets His hands dirty – the God who cares for the poor and the powerless – the lonely and the outcast – the orphan and the widow.
Where have you seen God’s glory this month? Perhaps you’ve seen His glory in the words of a child or the story of a new believer. Perhaps you’ve experienced God’s glory in the melody of an ancient hymn or in the words of a new song. Sometimes God’s glory comes upon you suddenly in a spectacular way; other times, effort on your part is required. But either way, Glory-Sightings are something to be celebrated and shared. Luke 2:17-18 tells us the shepherds “spread the word…and all who heard it were amazed.” As we continue though the Advent Season, will you share your Glory-Sightings using the comment section of this blog post? Share the spectacular, couldn’t-miss-it-if-you-tried moments. Share the topsy-turvy, had-to-look-for-them sightings. What a great way to encourage one another and to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, our Messiah in the Manger.
Director of Children’s Ministries