Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:15-20

The shepherds want to see for themselves. Seeing is believing. Trust, but verify. So they head off to Bethlehem to visit the royal family. This is the real heart of the Christmas story.

The Christmas season is rooted in the doctrine of the incarnation – that God, in Jesus, revealed Godself in human flesh. That Jesus is both truly human, fully human, and true God, fully divine. This is a great mystery of the Christian faith. You can’t get there by doing the math. It doesn’t seem logical to say that 1+1+1=1. No wonder everyone in the story is amazed!

But all of that is theologizing. It can wait. Let’s not let it overwhelm the simple beauty of the story as Luke presents it. An exhausted Mary. An excited, proud, Joseph. Dirty, baffled, anxious shepherds showing up in a space reserved for animals. All gathered around a sleeping, shivering, little baby boy. Humble. Holy.

What does this mean? I think Martin Luther said it best when he noted something along the lines of “if Jesus is not God then he can’t help me; if Jesus is not human, he can’t know me.”

John’s poetry goes like this: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

One of the greatest paradoxes of the age in which we now find ourselves is that there are lots of people who say they won’t believe something until they see it for themselves. They think their faith requires proof. But then they will tell you a laundry list of things they fervently believe that simply don’t add up to the facts. There is something going on in all of that that reveals something deeper going on that has to do with prior commitments.

If we are deeply committed to something, to someone, then the facts don’t seem to much matter. We will spin reality to fit our preconceived notions. This can be dangerous.

All of this draws us back to this scene at the manger. Whatever you choose to believe about God, from a Christian perspective, it has to begin with a human birth, in a humble place, because there was no room anywhere else, witnessed by shepherds, smelling like a barn. That’s where the Christian faith begins.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, that you might know us, you came to be among us. That you might show us what God’s love truly means, you followed your path from cradle to cross. Keep our eyes firmly fixed on you, like those shepherds. And let us, like Mary, ponder all of this in our hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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