God’s extravagance and humility are shocking. The King of Kings, the Son of God and Son of Man incarnate, the Savior of all humanity, was born into human flesh in an anonymous stable in a small town to the fanfare of the smell of sheep and donkeys. The most important birth in human history happened when and where almost no one was watching.
Joseph and Mary were at home in Nazareth during the final weeks of the pregnancy until the decree came from Rome that sent them on the sixty mile trek to Bethlehem where they were too late to find good lodging. They went from a warm four walls with family to a room intended for animals. And as Luke tells the story, it is almost as if the birth simply comes:
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (vs. 6-7)
Everything about the birth of Jesus Christ leads us to the emptying, or the humility, of God. Paul tells us that Jesus, though God, did not count equality with God something to hold on to, but he willingly emptied himself and took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:5-7). The author of Hebrews tells us that because God’s children all share in corruptible flesh, the Son of God took on that same flesh to destroy the one who frightens us with death, the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The birth of Jesus Christ happens in a way completely disconnected from and completely unmoved by the whims and trappings of human power. We seek our stability and power in what the kingdoms of this world tell us is power, but Jesus shows us a better, a deeper and more stable way. Though the most powerful man on the planet, the emperor of Rome, sent Joseph and Mary packing, God had – and still has – his way.
But the extravagance of God? On a nearby hillside there were a handful of common, ordinary laborers doing their job in the middle of the night. And it is to these shepherds that God decides to give maybe the clearest and certainly the most magnificent revelation of the significance of that night. While they watched their flocks by night, an angel materialized and lit up the hillside.
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” (vs. 9)
It didn’t end there. After another minute or two, God sends an entire choir of the heavenly host to sing the glories of God and the reasons for the birth of their Messiah. Now that is the right way to announce the birth of a King!
But who was the audience? Bethlehem is just a couple of miles from Jerusalem. If God simply moved the angelic choir over a couple of hills, all the population of Jerusalem would have heard the news. Instead, God opens the sky and pours forth his extravagant glory upon a handful of simple shepherds.
We might be tempted to think that was a waste of angelic effort. God didn’t think so. God spoke and the shepherds responded by going to see Joseph, Mary and the baby, and by telling everyone the saw about the glory of God. God didn’t need kings and princes – He needed willing and humble shepherds. There is no effort wasted declaring the glories of our God.