I have often marveled at how the Bible uses symbolism in basic stories to teach lessons about life. The story of Job is one man’s journey through adversity, yet is the inward story of every man’s struggle. The story of Moses in Egypt is an outward story of a prophet, trying to lead his people, but is an inward story of God’s dealings with the wicked and righteous children.
The Christmas story is packed with such symbolism.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” (Luke 2:1-5)
Bethlehem was a significant city, because David, the king, had been born there. David was chosen to rule over all Israel, because he was pure in heart. He didn’t remain that way, but in the beginning he was righteous and followed the Lord. Joseph was of the linage of David, so in a sense he would have been a prince if the government had remained in the hands of the Israelites.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
The place where Jesus was born is significant also. He could have been born in the temple, which would have been a fitting place. He could have been born in a palace, but the Father chose a stable for His child to be born in. He wanted the world to know that Jesus had humbled himself to the lowest station. He was without a home, and was no better than the beasts of the field. If he had been born in the palace, the world could have said, “He was destined to be a king.”
The Lord wanted the lowliest of us to know, that birth station and family status is not the measure of true greatness. Success doesn’t come from our parents or our home town. Whatever circumstances we might be born with, do not determine the outcome of our lives.
The Lord could have arranged for someone to take Mary into their home and allow her to bear the child near the warmth of their fire. I am sure there were many righteous people who would have taken her in, but the city where there is no room in the inn is a teacher, and symbolic of a world where Christ will come and there will be no room in the hearts or lives of people. They are too busy with the cares of the world to see the plight of the poor and the downhearted struggling around them.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.' And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2-8-17)
Why did the angels come to the shepherds? The Lord could have sent them to King Herod, to Caesar, or to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were the figureheads of government. They could have made a decree to the entire world that the Savior had been born. That is not the way the Lord works. He is the one who looks on the heart.
What kind of man was Herod? He had all the babies killed because he was jealous of his position. Caesar was a pagan, and didn’t believe in God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees would later nail Jesus to the cross after they had bought him for 30 pieces of silver. Wickedness in high places was not the only reason the Lord chose the shepherds. Shepherds care for flocks of sheep. Christ would later refer to himself as the Good Shepherd, and refer to his followers as His flock.
Even in Old Testament times, people were called sheep. Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." The shepherds would be those in leadership positions over the people. They would shepherd the flock with love and bring them to the sheepfold, where there was safety and security from the dangers of the world.
“And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18) The message of the Lord is not shouted to kings and rulers who make laws and decrees. It is given to humble followers to share it from heart to heart in burning fervent testimony that they have seen and know for themselves. As the wise men followed the star, not a national decree, so we will follow Christ in quiet unseen choices in our hearts.
Why the star? Now I am not saying that the North Star was the star of Bethlehem, but the North Star has long been a star of navigation. Mariners and merchants have used the star as a compass for thousands of years. What a wonderful symbol to use for Christ. As the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem, if we follow Him, He will lead us through the darkness to everlasting light and life.
“But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Mary knew more than she told the world. Humility keeps sacred things and ponders them. She probably shared with a few cherished people her wonderful knowledge, but she would not have her son ridiculed for a story that only the pure in heart would understand or believe.
At Christmas time, there is so much to ponder, so much to understand and believe about the life of Christ. So often we hurry along the streets strewn with lights, tinsel and plastic greenery. We duck in and out of stores looking for the perfect gift for the person who will give us the perfect gift. We fill our houses with decorations, presents, food and potpourri. But do we take time to fill our hearts with the love of God? Do we ponder the wonder of His glorious birth, and believe His miracles? Do we know Him and share our testimony of Him with non-believers?
Christmas is a remembrance of His birth, but it is a new beginning for Christians to make new commitments that His truth and His story will never die. Let us share it from heart to heart until it changes the whole earth. Then let the angels tell His story and let the sky ring with glory as He comes to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
6 potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups grated cheese
1/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup chopped chives or new onions
2 cups crushed corn flakes
Grate potatoes. Add soup, sour cream, cheese, and chives and mix well. Pour into baking dish. Mix butter and crushed corn flakes. Spread mixture over potatoes and bake at 350º for 30 minutes.