Mr. Doezema is editor of the Sunday School paper used in the PRC. We include one of the Bible stories here, so that a part of this Christmas issue of the SB can be used with or by children.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
For many hundreds of years the children of Abraham, the Jews, were looking for the Christ to come out of the line of David. David had been a great and powerful and famous king. The Jews expected a Christ to be born who would be even greater and more powerful and more famous than David. The glory of Israel would then, they thought, shine brighter than it had ever shone before. What an exciting time that would be!
Were the Jews excited when they learned that the forerunner of that great King was born? Was there a celebration in the city of Jerusalem? Did the leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees and Scribes, begin to prepare for the coming of the great King who would sit on David’s throne?
The answer to all of that is, No. There was something about the story of the birth of John, the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, that just didn’t seem right. No important person had seen an angel. Just a poor priest in the hill country of Judea. Could something so great have so lowly a beginning? The leaders of the Jews said, No! And most of the people agreed with them. So the story of an angel appearing to Zacharias in the temple was soon forgotten. Old Zacharias must have been just imagining things.
Several months later, however, the same angel, Gabriel, appeared again. And again it was not to anyone who was great or powerful or rich or famous. It was not even to one who lived in Jerusalem, the capital city, where the throne of David and of Solomon had once stood. It came instead to a poor young woman who lived in a little town in Galilee. Nazareth, it was—a town hardly important enough to be on a map of the land of the Jews. And Mary was a nobody. None of the important people in Jerusalem even knew that she existed. Who could believe such a story as this?
“Hail, thou that art highly favored,” the angel said to Mary, “the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.” Highly favored! And blessed! In all the history of Israel no greater honor could there have been for any woman than this honor, to be the mother of the Messiah. This honor would be Mary’s. “The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David,” said the angel. Mary believed that. “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” Mary believed that. Her son would be the long-awaited Messiah.
One thing, however, puzzled her. “How shall this be,” she asked “seeing I know not a man?” Mary had already given her solemn promise to marry Joseph—but they were not yet married. And the angel was already talking about Mary having a baby. Does the angel mean that, after they marry, then Joseph and Mary will together have a son?
The answer to Mary’s question was the most astounding, the most amazing part of the message of the angel. Joseph would not be the father of Mary’s child Jesus. In fact, no man would be the father of this child. Never before had anything like that ever happened. And never has it happened since that time. Every other baby who has ever been born into this world has had a human father and mother. This child, the angel said, would be born of a virgin. He would have a human mother … but not a human father. Few people at that time believed it. Few people believe it today. Mary believed it.
But Mary had to believe something even greater than that. The virgin birth, the angel explained to her, did not mean that her child would be fatherless. Jesus would have a Father. But His Father would be none other than God Himself. “That holy thing which shall be born of thee,” said the angel Gabriel to Mary, “shall be called the Son of God.” Think about that! The Creator God, in human flesh, soon to be lying in a manger in Bethlehem. Could Mary understand that? No. Can we understand that? No. But Mary believed. That is, God gave her faith to believe. And He gives us faith to believe. Though we cannot fully understand it, and though the world may mock us for having such faith, we can say, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Such good news! But to whom could Mary tell it? Who would believe her? “Thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age,” the angel told Mary. Ah, thought Mary, I can go to Elisabeth. She will understand. So away Mary went to the hill country where Zacharias and Elisabeth lived. And to Mary’s surprise, she did not even have to tell Elisabeth what the angel had told her. “Whence is this to me,” asked Elisabeth, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Yes, “my Lord.” Elisabeth knew what Mary knew, and she too believed.
One who did not yet know anything about all this was Joseph. Finally one day he learned, too, that Mary was pregnant, that she was going to have a baby. Joseph thought at first that Mary must have gone to live with another man. But then the angel appeared also to Joseph, to tell him that he could still take Mary to be his wife because, the angel said, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Then Joseph, too, believed. And he took Mary to be his wife.
The Savior Is Born
Many years before Jesus was born, God told His people, through the prophet Micah, that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Jesus was now very soon to be born. And where were Joseph and Mary? They were not in Bethlehem. They lived many miles away, in the village of Nazareth in Galilee. And they were not thinking at all about traveling anywhere. Was Micah, maybe, wrong?
But then there came a decree of Caesar Augustus, the decree that every family in his empire should be taxed. Joseph and Mary, because they were in the family of David, had to go to Bethlehem to register (that is, to give their names) for that taxation. A hundred miles it was, from Nazareth to Bethlehem! A long and difficult journey for Mary … who would soon give birth to a baby. The decree, they must have thought, could hardly have come at a worse time. But it was God’s time. Just in time for the birth of Jesus. And it was in God’s way. Not, this time, by an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream … but by the decree of mighty Caesar, the ruler of the great Roman Empire. Why in that way? So that we might know that our God controls everything. Caesar Augustus was the most powerful man in the world at that time. His word was law. No man could overrule him. But our God simply used him as He pleased—to fulfill His promise to His church. What a great, good God is ours!
But can this really be the right time? For when Joseph and Mary finally reach Bethlehem, they find that the inn is already full. Too many people in Bethlehem at that time because of the taxation. No room left for two poor travelers from Nazareth. So a barn, a stable—that’s the only shelter left for Joseph and Mary in the town of Bethlehem. Can it really be that this is God’s time and God’s way? Did not Joseph and Mary arrive too late?
Think about that. The promised Messiah. The King who would sit on David’s throne. Wrapped in rags (swaddling clothes) and put in a manger for His bed. Can you believe that? No sign of the greatness and power of David. No sign of the riches of Solomon. Just poverty. Dirt poor. Who would believe that this was the Messiah?
Can it really be that God planned it that way? Yes, it can. He did. Why? Two reasons. Try to understand this, children. The first is to show that earthly riches and earthly power have nothing to do with the kind of King that Jesus is. That’s why most of the Jews did not want Him. They looked for, and wanted, an earthly king, one who would give them freedom from the Romans and bread for their tables. It was clear already in His birth that this King would never give them that. He took on Himself our poverty, our spiritual poverty, to give us freedom from sin, and to feed us with the bread of life. The manger bed and the swaddling clothes were therefore not wrong, but exactly right. They fit with the kind of King Jesus is.
The second reason why Jesus was born in a stable was to show what kind of people we are. No room in the inn. When Jesus came into this world, there was no room for Him. That’s the way it was. That’s the way it always is. No one wants the kind of Savior Jesus is. No one invites Jesus into his heart. No one, by himself, comes to Jesus. The Father in heaven brings him.
Whom does the Father bring? “Not many mighty, not many noble,” the Bible tells us. “But God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” We see that already in His choice of Zacharias and Elisabeth and in His choice of Mary and Joseph. And we see it again in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. That announcement was more glorious by far than that which any earthly king had ever before been given. For the herald was none other than an angel from heaven, the night was bright by the glory of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host sang glory to God in the highest. But to whom was that announcement made? Not to the rich and the famous and the powerful and the wise in this world. But to poor shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. In them God had kept alive a hope for the Savior … from sin. They hurried to Bethlehem and found it even as the angel had said: swaddling clothes, a manger, Christ the Lord. And they believed. May God give us that same faith!