“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 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 Saviour, 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!’”
And so at last the great day came. After centuries of false starts and failures, the promise to the first man and woman in the Garden of a seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head; the promise to Abraham that blessing would come to the world through his offspring; the promise to David of a son who would sit on his throne and who would build the everlasting Kingdom of God – all these promises and much more were about to be fulfilled as the child is born, as the son is given.
The contrast between heaven and earth is stark.
Earth has no idea that the long promised Messiah is about to come. Joseph, a son of David, from the royal tribe of Judah, travels with Mary, who is also descended from David and of the tribe of Judah, to his father’s house in Bethlehem. He does so because the king of the empire, Augustus Caesar, the self-styled divi filius – son of the divine – had issued a decree establishing a census. Yet heaven has planned this long ago when a higher power than Caesar issued his decree centuries before:
“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” (Micah 5:2)
On earth there is no fanfare for the birth of God’s Messiah. Not even the inn can provide a room for him, and so his mother and Joseph must head for the place where they keep cattle. Yet in heaven they have been anticipating this moment, and when it finally arrives the host of heaven cannot contain themselves and there is an outpouring of great rejoicing.
On earth it is night time, and so the fields where the shepherds tend their flocks are shrouded in darkness. But when the angel appears to announce to them that the great day has come, he is clothed in light and his radiance fills the shepherds with awe.
But though the earth and its people are quite oblivious to the momentous event taking place, it cannot remain that way. It cannot be kept hidden. It is great news, to be received with great joy, and it must be told to all people:
“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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
For unto us a child is born who shall bring the blessing to the whole world promised to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob (Genesis 22:18; 26:4 and 28:14). Unto us a child is born who shall be the Saviour who shall crush the head of the serpent and save his people from their sins (Genesis 3:15). Unto us a child is born in the city of David who shall build the Temple of God and sit on the Throne of his father David forever (2 Samuel 7:13; Isaiah 9:7). Unto us a son is given who is God’s Messiah – the Christ – who is King of Kings to rule over the nations (Psalm 2). Unto us a son is given who is the Lord, the Mighty God himself (Isaiah 9:6).
After centuries of waiting, the promises have been fulfilled. Heaven has at last come down to earth and Immanuel – God with us – is born. The Saviour-King has come.