“But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 16:4a ESV)
Memories are incredible things. I’m so glad God gives us the joy of remembrance. Every year as Christmas begins, I remember the joy of childhood and Christmas morning. While we never went hungry as kids, gifts really only happened twice a year; on our birthday and Christmas. So, those events became cherished memories. In some ways, our modern affluence has robbed our children and grandchildren of the the joy of Christmas. We have become so accustomed to getting what we want that we no longer find real joy in the gift.
But, I don’t want us to spend time just reflecting on our memories. Jesus tells us in the passage above that he has told us certain things so that we would remember them when we most need them. Listen to his words, then tuck them away and remember them when their time comes. Certain words, phrases, sounds and even smells can cause memories to come rushing in and transport us to specific events and places. Just as that is true for us it was also true for the disciples. Perhaps the smell of bread baking would transport them back to the upper room and the remembrance of these words. But, how is all of this related to Christmas? Hang with me for a few more minutes…
In Luke’s account of the Christmas story, we learn of a group of shepherds who were witnesses of God’s glory and an angelic choir announcing the birth of baby boy in nearby Bethlehem…
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1-20 ESV) (or you can watch it here as told by my favorite Christmas narrator)
Have you ever wondered how those shepherds found Joseph, Mary and the Christ with just that simple statement, “you’ll find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” Where do you start looking? Perhaps the angel’s appearance, words and song of praise brought some distant memories back to their minds. In fact, I believe that’s exactly what happened and here’s why…
Bethlehem is just six miles south of Jerusalem and the fields surrounding the holy city were specifically used to raise the cattle and sheep used as sacrifices in the Temple. These shepherds weren’t just any old shepherds, they were Levitical shepherds. They were raising the lambs used in the Temple worship. But as Levites, they would have been familiar with the Messianic prophecies. In fact, you may recall that the Magi told Herod: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” (Matthew 2:5-6 ESV)
But even more specifically, the Rabbis taught that the Messiah would come from the Migdal Eder or Tower of the Flock…
“And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8 ESV)
You might not be familiar with that specific prophecy concerning the Messiah and His origins, but I’m sure you’re more familiar with this one…
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:2-4 ESV)
Where is this tower? It is in the fields near Bethlehem. While I won’t quote the passage here, you can read in Genesis 35:16-21 about Rachel and the birth of Benjamin near the tower outside of Ephratha or Bethlehem. Note: when Rachel gave birth she named her son Ben-oni or “son of sorrow” as she was dying, but Jacob changed the boy’s name to Benjamin or “son of my right hand.” Consider the prophetic truth of that in relation to Christ.
So, what does all of this have to do with the shepherds being able to find the Christ as announced by the angels? Well, there’s one more piece to this picture that I want to tell you about, then I think it will become clear. These shepherds were raising lambs for the Temple worship and those lambs were required to be perfect, without spot or blemish. As the lambs were born they would be quickly inspected and, if they met Levitical expectations, they would be quickly swaddled in clothes and placed in the stalls or mangers of the tower. We’ve become accustomed to the traditional view that a manger was a feeding trough. But, the word is generally translated as a stall.
So, the shepherds were told that they would find the Messiah near Bethlehem and the SIGN they should watch for would be that the child is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a stall. I think memories came rushing in. They knew these prophecies and promises. They were familiar with the words of Micah. The announcement would send them running to the stalls of the Tower of the Flock. This was not a guess, it was a revelation! They didn’t have to wonder where the child would be, they knew exactly where He would be lying. God had been telling them for centuries where the child of sorrow, the son of His right hand would be born. In the Tower of the Flock.
One last thought you ought to consider, if you haven’t already picked up on it. The baby born that night was God’s perfect lamb. His mother took him and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a stall of the Tower. While she may not have completely understood, yet, she was preparing Him for the fulfillment of both names… son of sorrow and son of my right hand. Why is that important? Because our salvation rests upon Him being both… He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the King of kings who will reign from His Father’s right hand. But remember His words, “I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
Merry Christmas and may you always remember who He IS… especially when things get tough and the outlook is bleak. Not everything is at it appears. Trust Him. If you don’t yet know Him, I pray you will open your heart to Him this Christmas.
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