Christians everywhere this time of year are thinking of the birth of the King of kings. Don’t tell anybody, but even in summer I sometimes find myself singing (to myself) The First Noel, or, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light:
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
What cause for rejoicing! We live in a terribly dark world, yet into this world of darkness—I am so thankful—a Light has come! Into this world of darkness He came, the everlasting light!
And when I think of the way this happened—the way the God of glory came down into a world of darkness and revealed Himself among men—I am awestruck. It is true that He is the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity; there is none greater nor higher than He. But at the same time, there is none more lowly than He.
There was great expectation in those days that their Messiah-king was about to appear. Would it not be natural to assume that the Great King, the Deliverer of David’s line, would be born in a palace? This in fact is what the Magi assumed when they first saw His star in the east. They made their long journey to Jerusalem, and inquired in the palace of Herod. Where else would such a potentate be born?
But no, He is born to a penniless teenage girl and her betrothed husband who have just had to make a very difficult trip at a very inconvenient time. She is great with child, and just as they arrive at their destination, suddenly her pains come upon her. The inn has no room for them, and so the King of kings is born in, of all places… a stable? He is laid in a manger… a feed trough for cattle? There is no pomp, no ceremony to which the great ones of the earth have been invited. In fact His first visitors are shepherds who are keeping night watch over their flocks while most men sleep.
It is this, all this, that is so moving about the birth of Jesus Christ. Here is all this lowliness—the cattle shed, the manger, the nameless shepherds… Yet we know we are touching grandeur, majesty of the highest order. The open heart cannot help but be on its knees.
Do you long to be involved in great things? So do I. But do we recognize that God’s greatness is always couched in this kind of lowliness? Many in our day are not so sure of that anymore. There is as much a celebrity culture in the church as in the world these days. Hollywood has its stars, but so now does Christendom.
Bearing this in mind, here’s another poem I love.
That Holy Thing
They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
O Son of man, to right my lot
Nought but Thy Presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!
My fancied ways why shouldest Thou heed?
Thou com’st down Thine own secret stair;
Coms’t down to answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer!
George Macdonald (1824-1905)
I love those lines. “Thou com’st down Thine own secret stair…” How deeply we need our Lord Jesus. Only His Presence—He Himself—will avail to right our lot, that situation in our lives we so desperately need an answer for. He comes to answer all my need—my present need, and not mine only: all the prayers of ages past as well. But how does He come? I look at the way He appeared back then when people looked for Him among the important of the day. And I look at what is happening these days in the Church among the fame seekers and big-name entertainers and performers. All too often I am seeing the red carpet being rolled out for “another Jesus” these days, one far different from the lowly One who made His debut into this world in a cattle shed. He came down His own secret staircase, came down Jacob’s ladder from the top to the bottom, and was born in a cattle shed. You mean the High God took upon Him human flesh in that manner? It sends shivers down my spine.
We live in days of such grievous and heart-rending things; there are those who try to tell us that the human family is just an accident of evolution gone terribly wrong, and the sooner it’s all scrapped, the better. I am not among the cynics. God has things in store for the family of man beyond our wildest fancies. He has chosen man, of all creatures, for His own Dwelling Place. When Jacob saw that ladder in a dream at Bethel one night, it was the Man Christ Jesus that He was seeing. It is the Son of man, Jesus Christ Himself, who is Bethel—the house of God (Gen. 28.17, Jn. 1.51).
And wonder of wonders, there are others among men who are part of this same House! But who? The high? The lofty? The praise seekers? The great among men? Beloved, if we want to be part of this Dwelling Place we will be companying with the lowly in “the secret place of the stairs.”
This is my great desire and prayer for those who read this little blog A Mending Feast. Let us not be minding high things, beloved. Let us be among the lowly… anticipating a precious visitation in the Spirit.
…Maybe you would join with me in singing another verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.
Amen. Blessings to you all at this time, and all through the coming year.