In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
You’re probably puzzled right now. You may be thinking we made a mistake and sent out the last advent devotional instead of the first. Why are we going right to the end of the story? Why are we starting with the climax of advent anticipation?
Well, we didn’t make a mistake. And we will eventually end up back at the manger. But before we do, we want to make sure that we really understand who it is in that manger. We want to understand that Jesus wasn’t born to be a little cuddle-bunny, but to be so much more. You see, if we focus on a baby in a manger, and keep him in that manger, we miss the meaning of Christmas, and we miss the purpose and person of our Savior.
A wise pastor once wrote, “In our world, Christ’s birth appears to bring little reaction. Is that because we worship a baby, and not a king? Could it be that our celebrations are safe because we hide the Messiah? … How well do we know this baby boy born to Mary?” (George G. Vink) Before we go any further, ask those questions of yourself. Are you worshiping a baby instead of a king? Are your Christmas celebrations actually hiding rather than glorifying the Messiah? And what does “Messiah” mean? How well do you know this baby born to Mary?
This advent season we will explore some of the names given to Jesus in the Bible, to gain a better understanding of exactly who that is in the manger. We won’t be able to cover all His names; by one count, God the Son is given 124 names or titles in the Bible! But every day we will look at one, until we finally arrive back at the manger on Christmas Day. Along the way, we will look at verses from a number of Christmas carols and hymns that point us to who Jesus is.
The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Our hope, our intent, our desire is that once we return to the manger, we will have a fuller, richer understanding of our Savior, and will be better able to worship Him. Come join us on our journey!
Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little child.
(Cecil Frances Alexander)
© 2021 Stephen A. Hoogerhyde.