December 19, 2016
You’d better leave now.
My kids now have kids; they’ve maintained a family value that was embedded in their psyche long before the culture could mess ‘em up. Here’s the Shank approach to life’s commitments: early is on-time; on-time is late; late is unimaginable.
The 21st Century app for time management doesn’t operate on the Shank operating system. We border on intolerant when the modern approach of “I’ll get there when I can… or I won’t make it at all. Don’t wait for me…” collides, head-on. Commitments involving other people are an opportunity to show respect toward them, and regard for the occasion. Late – or, no-show – devalues the people who made a point of doing what they said they would do…
Two thousand years ago, God staged a significant event in a cave/stable on the edges of a small village, just south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem’s hospitality infrastructure was pretty meager; the inn in town had a corner on the tourist trade, and they were sold-out because of the movement of people back to their family’s town-of-origin, in response to a government-mandated census. Joseph and Mary had no reservations… and, hence, no accommodations. The stable – local archeologists’ best guess is a cave, not a structure – was the only provision.
God put the birth of Jesus on His calendar hundreds of years before it happened, but He didn’t send out the invitations until the drama was underway. To validate the story with independent witnesses, appeals were made to men on two ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Women are more likely to prioritize a trip to the maternity ward; they are conspicuously absent the guest list.
Matthew and Luke are the only ones to include the Nativity in their biographical records of Jesus’ life. Each views the occasion uniquely, and it takes a cut-and-paste exercise to get the whole story, between their gospels.
Luke gives us shepherds. Herding sheep – likely destined to be sold for sacrifice in nearby Jerusalem – was not the career of choice in Israel. The men who were never on society’s A-List for inclusion in notable events were beckoned by angels to observe the first hours of God the Son’s appearance as a human baby. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (Luke 2:15). God – accessible to the masses – puts the shepherds in the scene. With limited distractions – out in remote pasture-land – the offer to drop everything and go to town was stellar.
Matthew presents the royal line of the Messiah as he opens his gospel; it’s no wonder that the witnesses to the fulfillment of God’s promise would be royal players “from the east.” Magi – a historic blend of mystery, wisdom, priesthood and government favor – saw the extraordinary light in the sky that illuminated the incident from a great distance, confirmed the predictions found in sacred writings within their libraries, and mounted an expedition to find the Sovereign who had been born.
Royals on a pilgrimage go to royalty for directions: the magi head to Herod’s palace seeking the Savior. Feigning sincerity, Herod sends them off as scouts, asking them to find the child and, then, to report. His intent was to eliminate competition for his throne; the magi didn’t follow-through with him, but the Slaughter of the Innocents was Herod’s attempt to thwart God’s plan. He failed…
The Magi arrive after the Nativity, find Mary and Jesus in a house in Bethlehem, and honor the Child with gold and expensive spices, each with great symbolic meaning. The honor shown the young child bespeaks the appropriate response to the One who is greater. Whether from the lowest caste or the upper class, the invite went out to both. Shepherds arrived earlier; the magi came later, but still in time to honor Him with homage and be included in the Story.
Wherever you’re coming from, you’d better leave now: the offer to see Jesus won’t last forever.