The Christmas story is beautiful, rich, invitational, simple yet complex. It is filled with intricate details, some foretold to prophets hundreds of years prior.
When the time was right, God kept His promise but fulfillment was complicated. I wonder if God wants to fill us with Christmas awe and wonder each time we unwrap a revelation in His story.
For example, Jesus’ birthplace. Mary and Joseph would never have planned an 80 mile road trip…that would be crazy! Mary was nine months pregnant. But that would be the exact time that the emperor, Caesar Augustus, would issue a decree requiring a census of the entire Roman world. It was necessary for Joseph and his bride to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And of course, that is where Mary went into labor. Prophecy given to Micah 700 years before Jesus was born was fulfilled that day.
God has reasons behind every decision he makes and He decided Bethlehem would be the birthplace for His Son.
I once toured Bethlehem and visited a dark, dingy cave. It was not the spot where most tourists gather, hoping they are visiting the actual birthplace of Jesus. But since no one knows for sure where in Bethlehem He was born and since scholars are fairly certain that His birth took place in a stable inside a cave, perhaps I was in the right spot.
Bethlehem is only a few miles south of Jerusalem. In ancient times, many sheep would graze on the hills nearby while shepherds watched over them. These flocks had a specific purpose. They were born to become a sacrifice offered to God at the temple in Jerusalem. The law required the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and every evening for the sins of the people. The people didn’t realize that this would one day point to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
When a ewe was ready to give birth, she was taken into a cave for protection. When the lamb was born and found to be flawless, without blemish, it was chosen and set apart. These perfect newborn lambs were wrapped in swaddling cloths so they would not become blemished. The cloths protected them from scrapes or cuts that would spill their blood prematurely. They were protected from dirty stains from the earth. These little lambs were deemed holy. Worthy of being sacrificed.
Mary gave birth in one of these caves. And she wrapped her little newborn in swaddling cloths…the cloths that were designated for the chosen, sacrificial lambs. Her baby was holy. He was born to be the perfect Passover lamb, the perfect sacrifice. He was born to save the world, born to die for us.
Jesus was born in the same place where tens of thousands of lambs had been born for the purpose of sacrifice. But He would end the continual need for atonement when He was slaughtered. Jesus’ blood spilled once and for all … for all sins, past, present and future.
As I sat in that cave, I pondered:
Jesus is the Lamb of God and He created the cave where He would breathe His first breath.
Jesus is the uncreated Creator yet He became flesh and experienced life as a man.
Jesus is the promised Savior and He created the tree where He would one day be nailed as He breathed His last breath.
Our God is a promise maker and a promise keeper.
Jesus would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. He would be the One who “was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities with the punishment that brought us peace.” He’s the One who was “led like a lamb to the slaughter.”
Why? Love. Unfathomable love. Love that I can’t even explain. Love without limits. Love willing to give all. Sacrificial love. Love that never fails. Perfect love. Love that was revealed for all to see by the coming of a baby born in a cave in Bethlehem. And the love story continues.
We are loved and desired by that kind of God. Amazing! Absolutely amazing!
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
1 Peter 1:19-20.