Every good story includes a climax, and the Christmas drama is no exception. In act one, God set the stage, getting the context and situation ready for this main event, especially through Zacharias and Elizabeth. Then we saw him prepare the people in act two, telling Joseph and Mary that they were going to have a child by the power of the Holy Spirit; the two willingly submitted to God’s will. In act three, God got the people into position, using Caesar to move Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The time has come, now, for the long-awaited child to arrive, but the focus is not quite what you may expect.
Angels and Shepherds
We begin in Luke, who records the earliest scenes of this climactic event. Having arrived in Bethlehem nine months pregnant, Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger. Suddenly, the heavens opened up, startling some local shepherds. Seeing their sudden fear at the magnificent sight, the angel comforted the men and then told them,
“. . . for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10b-12, NASB)
Suddenly, a chorus of angels began glorifying God, singing,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14, NASB)
Notice two things about this angelic message. First that it was delivered to shepherds. The first people God delivered his message two following the birth of Jesus belonged to the lowest of trades: shepherds. This was no random selection, but intentional, for God was indicating that (1) Jesus came for the lowly (a theme in Luke’s Gospel) and (2) Jesus came to be the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:11, 14).
Having received this joyous message, the shepherds darted off for the town, possibly leaving their flock behind, and found Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes just as they were told. They were enamored. They were enlightened. They were overjoyed. These poor shepherds had seen the Messiah! Praise God! And that’s exactly what they did:
20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:20, NASB)
Magi From the East
A short time after the birth, angelic chorus glorifying God, and the praises of the shepherds, Magi arrived. This is where the Gospel of Matthew picks up the story. Magi, or Wise Men, traveled from their home region—most likely the area of Iran—to Bethlehem in order to not only witness the birth of the King of the Jews, but also to participate in it the child’s arrival.
They first went to Herod, telling him they sought the newborn King of the Jews, having followed “His tart in the east (Matt 2:2, NASB). Herod attempted to exploit the Magi in a plot to kill the child, but God thwarted that plan.
The Magi left the palace and followed the star to the house where Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus were staying. Finally, they see before their very own eyes, the child who was King. The one promised by God. The one for whom they spent countless hours, weeks, maybe even their entire lives searching. Their first response was not to make speeches or shower the baby with gifts under an evergreen tree. After seeing Jesus, the Magi “fell to the ground and worshiped Him” (Matt 2:11, NASB). Only after they worshiped Jesus did they present him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Earlier, I stated that the focus of the Christmas drama’s final act was not quite what you may expect. Many place the focus on the birth itself. However, Scripture places the focus on God’s glory. The angelic chorus sang “Glory to God.” The shepherds left praising God. The Magi worshiped Jesus. Throughout the birth event, God was given the glory. Why? Because he loved us so much that he sent his son to redeem man, that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved (cf. John 3:16).
God set up the situation and the stage for this magnificent event. God prepared his people for the coming miracle. God put them in position, using non-believers to accomplish his will. Finally, God gave us his son, born in a small town in a small country to a small couple. Men from near and far came to see this child; both social elites (the Magi) and social outcasts (the shepherds) were led by God to see Jesus. As the song says, “To God be the glory, great things he has done! So loved, he, the world that he gave us his son!”
God has a purpose for you. Maybe he’s calling you to serve him in a faraway country halfway around the globe. Perhaps he’s called you to serve in another state or city. Or perhaps he wants you to be his witness to your neighborhood. Wherever it is, God has a plan for you.
Some people are called to be pastors, some to be Sunday school teachers. God calls some people to lead their communities in social service, others to reach out to the homeless. Whatever ministry God called you to—and he has a mission for all his children—it is an honor, privilege, and joy to participate.
If already you are where God wants you, the praise God for all he did to get you there. If you are still searching for your purpose, your mission in life, then learn from the Christmas drama. God is already at work, setting things up, preparing for the time that you discover and begin living out your purpose. He is preparing you as well, getting you ready. He is providing opportunities for you to grow, mature, learn, and discover more about Jesus and himself. At this very moment, he is providing opportunities for you to fall more and more in love with him.
Wherever he’s called you to go, getting there may not be easy, but God will always provide a way for you to get there, even if he has to use others around you. God used Caesar to require Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem, so maybe God’s using changes in your work, family, or life situations to move you. Will you go wherever God leads?
Once you discover your purpose, reach your destination, and begin participating in God’s plan for your life, always give God the glory! He does so much that is never made known. God is the ultimate Santa Claus, always giving. But all too often we fail to leave even a crumb of praise for our benevolent God.
This Christmas, join with the angelic praise chorus and sing, “Glory to God in the highest!” Stand beside the shepherds praising God for the gift of Jesus. Kneel with the Magi and worship the newborn King, Jesus Christ!