Frequently, in biblical history, the birth of a baby played a pivotal role in the world.
Certainly, the birth of Moses was significant for the people of Israel in the land of Egypt. Their cries to be delivered from the misery of slavery wafted up to God for many years without any apparent answer! But history has revealed that the birth of a certain child would change the momentum of their despair, even though it would take several years to become apparent.
Pharaoh’s daughter could not resist the pitiful crying of a 3-month old child floating in a reed bassinet in the eddies of the Nile. He was too cute to destroy, as her father had decreed. She would call him “Moses” and raise him as her own. Little did she or the Hebrews realize that God would use her home to be the training ground of one of the greatest leaders of history. The fortune of the Jewish people changed dramatically with the birth of Moses.
Approximately 500 years later, the political and spiritual condition of the Jewish people was abominable and hopeless. They were constantly subjected to marauding neighbors, and their priesthood was corrupt. Eli, their priest, was spiritually insensitive and his heir-apparent sons were degenerate. The present state of the people was pitiful and the future looked desperate.
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Hardly anyone noticed a barren woman, who accompanied her husband to the sanctuary in Shiloh, as she knelt weeping bitterly. No one was lower in the social order and excluded from the circles of power than Hannah. Her prayer was not even audible.
But her heart was crying out, asking God to give her a son that she might raise him to be an honorable leader her people urgently needed. It would take several years for the magnitude of that prayer to be revealed.
The birth of that baby changed everything. The political and spiritual decline of Israel was reversed, and a new day was dawning. The birth of the prophet Samuel ushered in an era that would culminate with the reign of King David, one of the most beloved leaders and writers of the Jewish people.
A thousand years later, if you and I had been in Bethlehem for the tax registration to update the census of the Roman Empire, we would probably not have noticed the Galilean couple trying to find lodging for the night. The animal shelter was hardly a suitable place for a woman who was ready to give birth, but that was the unfortunate fate of those who came into town too late.
Most of Bethlehem slept while the most important event, from the Christian perspective, took place in a stable on the outskirts of the village. The cries of a newborn baby were heard by only a few. A heavenly chorus of angels sang to a small audience of boys watching their flocks on a hillside nearby. Only Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, Mary, his wife, and these scruffy teenage shepherds knew the significance of what was happening in the midnight hour. The long-promised Messiah, God’s Savior, had just been born. God had come to save us.
What was celebrated in private would eventually become the most momentous event of history, giving sinners hope.
It was, and is, evident that mankind needs a Savior. We are like sheep without a shepherd, trying to survive on our own resources.
It is also obvious that help must come from outside of ourselves because we are morally bankrupt. God, in love, had to come and save us from our own perishing (John 3:16). He could have come as a glorious angelic conqueror in such splendor that would render everyone speechless. But He chose to come as a baby. Why? Because He didn’t want to frighten us away. He wanted us to come close.
Who can resist a baby? An Egyptian princess couldn’t leave a Hebrew baby rocking in the river. The heart of a crusty old priest, like Eli, was melted by the child Samuel. And the simple folks who knelt at the Bethlehem manger could only reverently whisper, “Emmanuel, God with us!” When they kissed the baby, they were kissing the face of God.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.