"Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which the Lord hath made known unto us."
It was the night of the Savior's birth. The darkness of the shepherds' night had been broken by the brilliance of the angel of the Lord. The angel gave them the good tidings of great joy because the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born unto them in the city of David.
Any remaining darkness was completely taken away when a multitude of the angels suddenly appeared. They made known the joy of the heavenly host concerning the announcement of the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem.
And then the darkness of the night returned. The angels went back into heaven. But they left behind some light—the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And the shepherds, believing the report told them by the angels, decided to go at once to Bethlehem. They wanted to see this thing that the Lord had made known to them. The sign given them was of a manger, and so to this manger they felt compelled to go in order to see that which had come to pass.
With the greater light that is ours let us also go and see that manger in Bethlehem. Let us go often in order to look on the Word of God that has come to pass.
Those who gathered around the manger in Bethlehem knew that lying in it was the God of salvation—of their salvation. Mary was there and she knew it. Nine months earlier the angel Gabriel had appeared to her, informing her that she would bring forth a child who "shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). She knew it from her absolutely amazing and unique experience of conceiving a child without a man. She knew it when her cousin's yet unborn child informed her that the event announced by Gabriel was realized within her.
Joseph also knew it. In a dream the angel of the Lord had revealed to him not only that what was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit, but also that her child should be called "Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). So Joseph stood gazing at the manger with the knowledge that lying in it was the Savior.
And now the shepherds joined them—knowing it. The angel and the heavenly host had told them. And they believed.
We know it too. By faith we know it. We know it with a greater and fuller revelation, for the Child has spoken to us concerning Himself. We see the Child in the manger in the light of His cross and resurrection, which enables us to understand better what we see in the manger. Also, the Spirit of the ascended Christ Himself leads us, the church of the new dispensation, into the truth that God is come near to us in the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
How is God near? In the manger God came very near us. He came near so as to dwell with us and to have fellowship with us. In the manger God came down to our level, for the divine united itself with our humanity. God came down to live our life. After the record of the angel's visit to Joseph in a dream, the Spirit used Scripture (Is. 7:14) to interpret the angel's message, declaring that the virgin's son should be called "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:23). He who is eternally in the form of God assumed the likeness of sinful flesh. God with us is the Eternal entering into the limits of time, and the Transcendent being wrapped in swaddling clothes.
This truth is the joy of Christmas. This is what gave the angels reason to praise God. This is what Gabriel said was the good tidings of great joy. If the Baby in the manger is not God with us, then there is no joy—at Christmas or any other time. In the stable in Bethlehem He who was rich became poor, that through His poverty we might be rich. The news of the gospel is that the frail Baby in the manger is God!
God came near. Yet He was hidden. Hidden to the physical and natural eye.
Neither the shepherds nor we can see with our physical and natural eyes that the Baby in the manger is God in human flesh. The Child looks like our children. In the likeness of our sinful flesh the Son of God is very weak. So weak that He is subject to the chill of the night and needs to be wrapped up and covered. So weak that He is subject to death in every sense.
When God made His greatest revelation of Himself, He completely hid Himself from our sight. To the physical eye God was completely hidden. We see, not God, but a little baby—helpless and weak—just like us. But God with us in the manger in Bethlehem does not mean that the Son of God dismissed His divine nature in order to become man. He did not cease being God. Remaining divine He becomes a "babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." The Word of God was lying in the manger, but could not speak. He would have to be taught to talk. Any words of worship and praise given by the shepherds, He did not hear. In Bethlehem's manger God was very near, but at the same time so far. God revealed Himself, but as a Baby He was hid.
The only way to see the Savior who is Christ the Lord in the manger is by faith. That was true for Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, and it is also true for us. By faith we believe, and believing we see that the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes is God—God in our flesh.
If Bethlehem's Babe is God, then the manger can only be the beginning. There had to be more to come. We must not imagine the manger to be an end in itself. No one can see the Savior who is Christ the Lord unless he realizes that the manger is only the beginning. God with us in the manger of Bethlehem became God with us on the cross of Calvary. If faith is required to understand Bethlehem, then it certainly is at Calvary. Earthly eyes saw, on the cross of Calvary, the weakness of the manger swallowed up in death. You could not see there the Savior who is Christ the Lord except by faith.
The glory of God with us was hid. This was deliberate. This was according to God's determinate counsel and foreknowledge. God hid His glory as the way to bring elect sinners, conscious only of their sin, to Himself that they might learn that with Him there is forgiveness. The shepherds were afraid of the angels and their light. Those who are aware only of their sin are terrified of the glory of God and would never come to Him. Like Adam, instead of approaching such glorious Majesty, we hide and cover ourselves. The weary and heavy-laden sinner would not come, but would run away, if the sovereign God did not draw him to Himself. In the manger God opens the way to Himself for conscious sinners to see the Savior. God came down to us in His incarnated Son, in order to draw us to Himself.
The Mighty God came in profoundest humility, so that we might see this thing that is come to pass, namely, the birth of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The shepherds went to Bethlehem to see, and so also do we see. There is no flaming sword to prevent sinners from coming to see.
As we commemorate the birth of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, let us go to Bethlehem. Let us not make the manger in Bethlehem an end in itself. It is only the beginning. Let us also go to Calvary. But let us realize that Calvary too is not the end. It is the way to the resurrection unto life.
As we go to Bethlehem to see the thing that is come to pass, let us realize that He is drawing us to Himself. See the wonder of God in human flesh. See the wonder that the God of glory stooped so low. See too that this wonder leads to another wonder: the Man of sorrows is exalted to God's right hand. Faith enables us to see the birth, the death, and the resurrection of the Savior, which is Christ the Lord. This is what the Lord has made known unto us. God came in our flesh to save unto Himself a people. God in the manger of Bethlehem is the God of our salvation!
Rev. Ronald Van Overloop (Wife: Sue)
Ordained: October 1972
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1972; Home Missionary (AL) - 1979; Bethel, Roselle, IL - 1989; Georgetown, Hudsonville, MI - 1994; Byron Center, MI - 2004; Grace, Standale, MI - 2008Website: www.graceprc.org/
Address0-11243 8th Ave NW
State or ProvinceMI