Long ago while watching over his flock at night, a young shepherd looked up at the starry sky, overawed by it all, as many of us have been as often as we have looked up. David the sweet psalmist of Israel took up his lyre and began to sing to the One who created it all:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet… (Ps 8:3-6)
“What is man that Thou art mindful of Him?” Many of us have wondered that too. Why, God? Why are you interested in man? In me? There’s a lot compressed in that beautiful psalm—being made for a little lower than the angels, then being crowned with glory and honour… What is all that about? And this—Thou visitest him… What’s that about?
It means more than to just pay a visit to someone. The word has the thought of watching over, attending do, caring for with deep concern.
Here is how it is best described. There came a day when the One who created the moon and the stars that David with great wonder was looking up to… He came down:
And the word became flesh…
Who is this—the Word? Let’s read this more fully.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Jn. 1:1-3 NKJV)
And then down to verse 14:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth…
That astonishes me, overawes me. The Word by whom all things were created—all things in heaven and in earth, whether visible or invisible (which would include the myriads of angels) as the apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:16—this One became flesh, became human, and “dwelt” among us. The Man Christ Jesus born in Bethlehem was God dwelling—“tabernacling,” or tenting, you might say—among men.
How lowly of God, the God who created all things, that He should do this, become incarnate as a human being. The whole story of Jesus’ birth is… how can I describe it? It is majestic in lowliness: it turns to tinsel all other majesty. He did not swoop down from Heaven full grown, a king in royal robes. He was born a helpless baby, the firstborn of a virgin teenager espoused to a poor carpenter. They had come to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had called for a world-wide census and Joseph was required to register there.
Bethlehem itself was not a great city, it was a little town:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. (Micah 5:2)
You can be sure that in calling for this census, the great, the majestic, the august Caesar, the ruler of the whole known world at that time, whom all in his empire were to worship as god… you can be sure he knew nothing of this ancient prophecy. There’s something else he didn’t know. The very idea of being anybody’s servant would have been contemptible to him, yet here he is, unknowingly serving the purpose of the August God of Heaven and earth who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
Enter Joseph of the lineage of David, and Mary, who called herself a handmaid of the Lord (Lk 1:38). It’s not likely they had this prophecy in mind when they set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But they knew they were in the will of God, and were simply complying with what Joseph was required to do.
There was no room for them in the local caravansary; many others had returned to Bethlehem for this same purpose. So Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. His first visitors were shepherds who had been watching their flock by night when an angel declared to them the Good News of His birth.
This is the Word by whom all things in Heaven and earth were created? Born like this?
Yes. It was all part of the God of immeasurable greatness revealing Himself in great lowliness. How could one so incomparably great but do otherwise?
Yet this was only the beginning of His identifying Himself with man. Here is the incarnation in the words of the apostle Paul:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:5-11).
What depths of lowliness are these? He who created all things was born a human being, and going further, humbled Himself unto death—not an honourable death, but the death of a despised criminal, so that no human being fallen to the depths of sin and depravity should be beyond the reach of His arm and His heart.
I bow the knee, dear Lord, I bow my knee—and my heart. You are mindful of man. You demonstrated it by visiting him. I know this personally. You showed yourself mindful of me years ago, and visited me in a time when my world had caved in around me… and You are with me to this day. I am so thankful. I love you, and worship you, thankful that where broken hearts humble themselves to walk with You, “the dear Lord enters in.”
I love that old hymn by Phillips Brooks. Here’s a link if you’d like to sing it along with me. I’ve followed it with another: Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy. It’s not really a Christmas song, but it’s what His incarnation ultimately meant.
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
For Christ is born of Mary
And, gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the Holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And peace to men on earth
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.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.
The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.
He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space.
The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.
The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.