Christmas: God’s Grace Through the “Insignificant”

20171225_150202One of the reasons that grounds my assurance in God is His deliberateness. All that God does He deliberately does with purpose and intention. There are no accidents or happen-stances with God. Even when our minds can’t fathom how or why God chooses to work in particular ways, what we need to do as finite beings is trust in the wisdom and goodness of the Infinite. This is part of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

One of the reasons why I like Luke’s gospel is his Holy Spirit inspired attention to detail. I often remind myself when I start to wonder why so much seemingly insignificant detail is mentioned, that God has a reason for including the particularities in Scriptures. They are for our good and our worship. God is in the details. In Luke’s account of the birth narrative of Jesus, every detail is important and the detail about Jesus’ earthly parents must not be taken lightly.

In Luke 1:26-38, Luke records the annunciation of Jesus’ conception and birth by the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph. However, verses 26-27 contain a great deal of important information. As I stated earlier, every detail of Scripture is significant, and these first two verses are pregnant with significance that we cannot afford to miss.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

According to this text, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, of the house of David and they were living in Nazareth in Galilee. Nothing seems unusual about these details on the surface, but let’s consider this information more closely.

The “Insignificant” People

Scripture reveals that Mary was merely a pre-teen or teenage Jewish girl who received this angelic annunciation. Except for one questionable lineage account, the Scriptures are silent concerning Mary’s lineage,which doesn’t give us any reason to assume she was a person of significance or importance in society. Mary, very well, was an ordinary Jewish girl of her times.

Verse 27, however, gives us a bit more detail about Joseph. Luke records here that he was of the “house of David”. Two other instances of Joseph’s lineage are mentioned in Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-16, which both tie him to David. In addition to this familial detail, we also know Joseph was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:65, Mark 6:3). As a couple, Joseph and Mary were of meager financial possessions. Luke 2:22-24 records that after Jesus was born, they presented Him at the temple according to the Law and offered two turtle doves or two pigeons as a sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus tells us that in the event people couldn’t offer a lamb or bull as a sacrifice due to economic inability, turtledoves or pigeons were acceptable.

Based on these truths, it is reasonable to conclude that both Joseph and Mary were ordinary working class citizens of Israel. By worldly standards, there was nothing significant about them.

The “Insignificant” Place

In addition to their ordinary statuses, they were residing in Nazareth of Galilee. Archaeological and historical discoveries have revealed that Nazareth was an ancient agricultural village that had between 200-400 residents in the first century. It was situated 65 miles north of Jerusalem and about 71 miles north of Bethlehem. While Jerusalem was the religious center of the Jews and Bethlehem was known for being the birthplace of David and eventually Jesus, Nazareth was not a significant place in the first century. In fact, one of Jesus’ disciples, Nathanael, couldn’t believe that the Messiah would be associated with Nazareth. In utter disbelief, Nathaneal uttered, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?(John 1:43-46). By worldly standards, nothing was significant about Nazareth.

The God of the “Insignificant”

Mary was a young Jewish girl. Joseph was a poor teenage carpenter. Nazareth was small non-respected agricultural village in upper Galilee. Yet, God purposely chose all of these elements to accomplish His redemptive plan in Christ. As Luke records, Joseph and Mary were betrothed and he was from the “house of David”. The significance lies in the fact that centuries before God made a covenant with King David stating that a king from his line would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:8-13). From a worldly perspective, the seemingly insignificant are profoundly significant in God’s redemptive plan. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear the profundity.

May Christmas be a reminder that our God deliberately accomplished His significant plan of redemption in Christ through seemingly insignificant people or circumstances so that He alone will get the glory and praise that He rightly deserves.  Rejoice in the fact that God extends grace through the insignificant and to the insignificant to accomplish His eternally significant purpose. 

Merry Christmas!

d.

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Christmas: God’s Grace to the “Insignificant”

Wca0c354e2f0bcd4674d99a5d8d878a16hat generally comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Frenzied shopping trips, wrapping and unwrapping presents, decorating a Christmas tree, putting up lights, holiday parties, scenic landscapes of snow, aromas of holiday meals and treats, family gatherings, singing Christmas songs and hymns, etc. Those of us who are Christians understand and believe that the Christmas season is a time to remember how our great God sent His Son, Jesus, to ultimately save us from His eternal wrath because of our sins. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is arguably one of the greatest events of human history, but definitely the greatest birth to ever have happened. While only Matthew and Luke records the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke records an account that Matthew doesn’t that has great significance and offers great encouragement. Luke’s inclusion of the angelic announcement to shepherds (Luke 2:8-21) serves to remind us of God’s grace to the seemingly insignificant.

The “Insignificant” Shepherds

Shepherding is very common in the Middle East and parts of Asia. During the time of the biblical patriarchs and after, shepherding was the way of life and commerce for most families. Moses was a shepherd (Exodus 3:1-2), Abraham was a rich shepherd (Genesis 13), Jacob was a shepherd (Genesis 30:25-43), and David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Shepherding was a noble calling as it pictured leadership and care. Think of how David described God as his shepherd in Psalm 23 and in many other Psalms. However, by the first century when the Roman Empire subjected Israel to its rule, shepherding was seen as a very low class calling in Israel and the surrounding areas. To be a shepherd was to be socially inferior and shepherds were often marginalized. Considering that, it ought to make us wonder why the LORD would send an angel to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Why them? Why not a prominent business man or woman? Why not an influential political figure of the day? There is a reason and Luke’s gospel emphasizes it throughout. Let’s look more closely at what Luke records.

10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

After the shepherds were approached by the angel, fear immediately struck them and they were instructed by the angel to not fear. If we casually read these verses, we’ll miss an important point the Holy Spirit is making through Luke’s account. However, if we thoughtfully read keeping the audience, and the social and historic contexts in mind, we’ll notice the gravity of these verses. The angel of the LORD says in verse 10, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you….” and in verse 11, “For unto you…..” . Who is this message of good news for? Who is the Savior born to? This gospel (good news) is “for all the people”, but notice the personal emphasis of the angel’s words… “I bring you” and “Unto you…”. This good news was for them!  This angelic announcement wasn’t an announcement given to Israel at large, but to the shepherds. The fact that God entrusted this news to the shepherds and saying that the Savior was born for them verifies the indiscriminate grace of God toward people.

What the Holy Spirit wants us to understand is that God lavishes His redemptive grace on whomever He will. He is no respecter of persons. This reality runs throughout Scripture. God chooses whom He chooses to lavish His saving grace. Those whom the world would discount or pass over, God chooses for His plans so that He gets the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31)! Jesus was born that the lowly and seemingly insignificant might be saved.

I believe the shepherds were saved shortly after their angelic encounter. Verse 20 tells us that after the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw Jesus, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Their praise was a direct result of the good news brought to them by the angel. These shepherds laid their eyes on their Good Shepherd (Jhn. 10:1-18), the Shepherd of their souls, their Savior!

So how should we think about Christmas? We should be reminded that Jesus saves those whom the world would otherwise look over. Jesus saves the ‘insignificant’. We should be overjoyed that our socio-economic standings, education levels, gender, or ethnicities are not barriers to God’s grace. For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and for that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to be our everlasting hope.

Merry Christmas! 

d.