On Christmas Eve, 2019, a special baby arrived at the Potter Park Zoo in Michigan. A male black rhino calf was delivered safely, which is significant because only 5,000 of these critically endangered animals remain in the wild in Africa. While we may get excited about the birth of a rare black rhino, how much better should we feel about the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity! One is exciting, but the other is life-changing.
So much of God’s plan for history came together on Christmas Eve. At the macro-level of the Roman Empire, Caesar took a census at precisely the right time, likely for reasons of strengthening political control and generating more tax revenue (vv. 1–3). Caesar Augustus, also called Octavian, was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar and governed for 41 years. One result of his imperial edict was that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (not Nazareth), as had been prophesied (Mic. 5:2).
God’s sovereign care was also evident at the micro-level of Mary and Joseph’s young family (Luke 2:4–7). They’d gone to Bethlehem for the census because Joseph was of the line of David. They were probably planning to stay with relatives, but no guestroom was available so they ended up staying where animals were kept. We only know this detail from the single mention of the “manger” or animal feeding trough in which baby Jesus was laid.
Despite all the fulfilled prophecies, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were surprising and full of incongruities. We need to hear this story with fresh ears. The Messiah had been born...in a barn? The King had come...as the child of a poor couple? “God with us” had arrived in the flesh...and the first witnesses were animals?
>> Are you attending the Christmas Eve service at your church tonight? If Advent candles are part of your worship tradition, it’s finally time for the “Christ candle” to be lit!