Based on my perspective as a Christian, I believe that we are living in exciting times even though the latest Pew Research Report clearly documents the decline of Christianity all over the world.
On Sojourners website, Stephen Mattson writes:
“For Christians, the most worrying aspect about the Pew Research Report shouldn’t be that Christianity is declining, but that the population of those claiming to be Christian hasn’t historically affected the nation in a very Christ-like way. For a faith based upon following the example of Jesus — who brought healing, restoration, empowerment, peace, forgiveness, justice, and love wherever he went — the statistics for when Christianity had the largest majority of the population within the U.S. unfortunately correlates with some of our country’s most racist, unfair, violent, and inhumane moments. So before we lament the decrease of “Christianity” and mourn its death within America, maybe we should be hopeful that this is an opportunity for followers of Christ to actually act like Jesus — becoming a Christian nation for possibly the very first time.”
I have written “Mary’s Song” to fan the embers of our awareness to God’s Perfect Plan for us since the beginning, centered in the coming of Jesus Christ and how we can trace it down through history. God is bigger than we can even imagine, yet he shapes the smallest details of our lives if we ask him, to give us the best most fulfilling life we could ever have. We can’t possibly understand our connection to God the Father unless we right-size him in our perspectives. Even at this very moment, God continues making a universe that we don’t have telescopes strong enough to measure his size. If you were to lay a quarter on the ground, it’s comparison in relative size to the North American continent would be like comparing the size of our solar system to the Milky Way Galaxy, our home, which is only one of billions of galaxies. We don’t have microscopes powerful enough to see how infinitesimally small his identity in creation can go. Wrapping our minds around this helps us appreciate even more the magnitude of this God who only wants our praise and to be the center of our love and devotion as we are the center of his love.
I hope that this writing will reaffirm your faith and belief in the impact of the timeless story of the nativity of God’s unfathomable love for us and that God is faithful and keeps all his promises.
The infant’s first cries pierced the cold night heralding at long last the arrival of hope, of redemptive grace and yes, spiritual revolution. Nothing would ever be the same again. The stars overhead gave witness to this long anticipated event that came in a hidden moment, away from the public eye. This cry would break the silence of 400 years with no prophets – not a written word from the One true living God. Joseph gave a sigh of relief that mother and son were now resting and quiet. The moment of water and blood had come and gone without mishap. Mary 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.
“The true Light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” From Matthew and John
Immanuel – God with us – looked up into his mother’s young face searching to know her as newborns do, soothed by the warmth of her faded into sleep. Here was the infant prophesied by all the great prophets. Micah spoke of Him having origins from ancient times. Yet here He was – nothing ancient about this sweet boy in her arms. Here was this child that just months prior had been foretold by a heavenly messenger that she would be given.
She recalled with wonder the visit she had made to her cousin Elizabeth as the Holy Spirit had moved upon her and Elizabeth. “In a loud voice she (Elizabeth) exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
“And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.” Luke 1:42-54NIV
Mary’s pondering of the prophets’ words, the song the Holy Spirit had given to her and the compelling events of the hours, days and months to follow would be a gradual knowing of the one signature purpose to come at the closing of her son’s short life on earth. But for now, she too could sleep to the soft “wuffling” sound of love and assurance another mother was making to her calf nearby. In this setting that had been foretold for the flesh and blood birth of God, all of creation could return to its original intent where human and creature resided in peace together communing with God. God had come for us crossing that insurmountable divide because we could not save ourselves.
Jesus’ physical origins had to be implanted in Mary by the Holy Spirit. Had He been conceived in the human, natural way, He would have been born under the same condemnation as all of us because of the original sin. He would have had to be redeemed from the fall like the rest of us. Jesus’ coming fulfills prophecies on a continuum of ordained preparation from the beginning. Nothing was left to chance. God is faithful. God is intentional. “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’.” Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV
The back story of Christ’s birth is remarkable in its magnitude of impossibility and at the same time the possibility for the details of prophecy to take place reassuring us that God is always in control of his Plan for us. The Roman Empire at that time included an expansive area with the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Euphrates River on the east, the Danube and Rhine on the north and the African desert on the south. The Roman Empire ruled over a third of the earth’s population at that time. One historian suggested the population of the empire to be around 100 million people. It was also recorded that the most fertile parts of the known world at that time were under Roman rule. By now in this pagan culture the Jews were an occupied people, many sunk in sensuality and superstition with some exceptions as Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zacharias who had remained true to the living God of Israel.
Three hundred years prior, the Old Testament had been translated into Greek so it was known in the Empire mostly among the elite intellectuals. Even at this time the Jews were scattered over the earth. Now, Israel, more than ever, waited for the coming Messiah and the liberation from Roman bondage that they anticipated would take place for them as God’s chosen people and the prophecies that declared it would happen.
Many prophecies were in play. The time was right. The Scriptures referred to this as the “fullness of time” when people were living in spiritual darkness on a broad scale. It’s important that we understand what was meant by this term. It was the fullness of time when the rich and intellectuals across the Empire who set the trends in any culture were worshiping philosophy and recreational pursuits contributing to the contextual backdrop of the heaven-on-earth intervention that was about to take place. The inclusion of so many cultures within the empire provided a way for the spreading of the gospel of redemption that was coming through this long awaited Messiah. The Roman Empire was well known for its gigantic system of roads, another asset to the spreading of the Good News.
Evidence of the splendor and affluence of the Roman Empire was just a few miles away from Jesus’ birthplace. Bethlehem lay in the shadow of one of King Herod the Great’s palaces called The Herodian. It had 90 ft walls with elaborate halls, guest rooms and a 1000 ft long terrace.
“At the time of the birth of our Lord even the Jews had sunk into a state of the grossest degeneracy. They were now divided into sects, two of which, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, are frequently mentioned in the New Testament. The Pharisees were the leading denomination, being by far the most numerous and powerful. By adding to the written law a mass of absurd or frivolous traditions, which, as they foolishly alleged, were handed down from Moses, they completely subverted the authority of the sacred record, and changed the religion of the patriarchs and prophets into a wearisome parade of superstitious observances. The Sadducees were comparatively few, but as a large proportion of them were persons of rank and wealth, they possessed a much greater amount of influence than their mere numbers would have enabled them to command. It has been said that they admitted the divine authority only of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), and though it may be doubted whether they openly ventured to deny the claims of all the other books of the Old Testament, it is certain that they discarded the doctrine of the immortality of the soul (eternal life), and that they were disposed to self-indulgence and to skepticism.” William Dool Killen “The Ancient Church”.
Indicated in Genesis 49:10 was that the Messiah had to come before another event that would soon take place: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah. . . until Shiloh comes. . .” Jewish rabbis recognized the term “Shiloh” as a Messianic title. The “scepter” refers to the judicial power of the nation of Israel. After King Herod the Great’s death in 7AD, all of Israel’s judicial power was removed from Judah. Because God is faithful, Jesus had been born by then.
Now that the scepter had been removed, the Romans could pronounce the death penalty on the Jews which would have included crucifixion. Adopted by the Romans during the first century B.C., crucifixion was applied mostly to slaves, criminals and disgraced soldiers because of its brutal and shameful nature.
Throughout the empire there were censuses being taken for the purpose of taxation but the area of Palestine was the only area where the population had to return to the city of origin because of the compunction the Jews had for lineage. At that time, Roman law, in deference to Jewish customs and prejudices, stated that the census would be undertaken based on the city from which a person’s ancestral family belonged. Because Joseph traced his lineage back to King David who was born in Bethlehem, he had to go to that city 80 miles away to register.
This decree for census was carried out according to the Jewish custom after the fall harvest when the Jews had money, maximizing the tax collected. The weather in autumn also made this possible. God used Rome’s greedy penchant to collect as much money as possible and the Jew’s fascination with their ancestry to fulfill the amazing prophecy of Christ being born in Bethlehem. According to one reference in my prophecy research about the birth of Christ, it states in Micah 5:2 that because there would be two cities named Bethlehem, the Prophet Micah used the term “Ephrathah” which means “fruitful” to indicate precisely which Bethlehem. Micah’s prophecy occurred 500 years earlier.
One of the issues that Christ highlighted in his ministry was the prideful way that the Pharisees used their lineage to feel superior to others. God can even use human pride to fulfill his promises and prophecies.
It was impossible at this time for many Jews to attend the celebration of the Feasts in Jerusalem three times in a year as they were spread out in the empire. The trip to Bethlehem after the harvest could have been at the same time of the Feast of Tabernacles, Israel’s most joyous feast held for the purpose of thanksgiving, where Joseph could observe this event with his family in Bethlehem. It occurred every year in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar just after the harvest, around September or October on our calendars. “Thou shalt observe the feast of the tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine; and thou shalt rejoice in thy feast.” Deut. 16:13-14 This is the feast that theology historians believe will also be the timing and fulfilling of Christ’s return to dwell on earth to set up His kingdom.
The last three feasts celebrated in the year all had a special message that was connected to the coming of Jesus. Rosh HaShannah teaches repentance; Yom Kippur teaches redemption and Sukkot or Tabernacles teaches rejoicing. After the harvest, Israel gathered together to worship in thanksgiving for God’s blessing and lived in temporary shelters for seven days. The shelters reminded them of when Israel lived for forty years in the desert. In John 1:14 we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The Greek word for “dwelt” is “skenoo” which literally means “tabernacle”. Christ came to tabernacle with us. What would be a more temporary dwelling for a baby than a stable?
The timing of Christ’s birth fulfilled the purpose of this feast as He fulfilled the purpose, shadows and types of every Mosaic feast. Jesus’ coming fulfills this feast in the joy and thanksgiving we feel when we walk out of the darkness and our eyes are open to the awareness of Christ our Savior. Our God is a faithful God who keeps his promises to the smallest detail.
“The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.” Lam 3:22-23
“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
Numbers 23:19 NIV
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” II Timothy 2:13NIV
At the time of the birth of John the Baptist, his father Zecharias also was given a song. Within the song, he sang these prophetic words about the birth of Christ: ”Because of the tender mercy of our God. . . the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79
Simeon, a righteous priest in the temple in Jerusalem was promised by God that he would not die before he would see the Messiah. When Jesus was forty days old, His parents brought Him to the temple for Simeon to speak the prayer of dedication over Him. Simeon spoke these words: “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples – a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel”. Luke 2:30-32
When I was a child, my parents took care of any preparation that was needed to be done ahead of time so that certain events could happen in a timely manner and provide a stability I really didn’t give much thought about. It was just a continuous rhythm in my life that made me feel secure and loved. I certainly benefited from it. That’s what God, our heavenly parent, has done down through history. He has taken care of all the preparations and planning needed beyond our awareness so that however history unfolded because of our freedom of choice, God could still keep his promises to us “to a thousand generations” it is written. God’s Plan will still prevail regardless of what we choose or even if we’re non-believers. Children don’t understand the reasoning behind what their parents are doing, because they don’t see the big picture the parents see, and parents do what they do out of love for us.
“. . . the greatest possible manifestation of love already manifested on our planet – God putting himself in our place. And so there is no greater love you could ever know. When you feel it and when you don’t, it doesn’t matter – it doesn’t change anything. Nothing you do can alter this love. No good work can increase it. And no sin can lessen it. When you feel it and when you don’t, it’s there nonetheless. We cannot change it – we can only receive it and be changed by it. We can only let it change us. For the greatest possible love has already been manifested. God has come down. It is only for us to receive and do likewise.” Jonathan Cahn “The Book of Mysteries”
On her last day on earth, Mary reread the words of the song of praise she had written down and cherished throughout her life remembering that long ago moment in her youth when the Spirit spoke through her: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. . .”
She, the humble servant, had bore the Son of God on the earth. With God’s help, she had honorably raised Him to perfection. Her son had performed mighty deeds and scattered the proud. She saw firsthand his mercy upon the humble and hungry. He was homeless throughout his ministry and never attained any success in the world’s eyes, yet no one has ever lived in history that has had a greater impact on the soul and spirit of humanity than Jesus Christ.
Mary didn’t say many words in the Scriptures but we recall at the special wedding when she admonished the servant to respond to her son: “Do whatever He tells you”. This is an admonition for all of us.
She accepted that God did not spare his own Son – her son- but gave Him up for us all.
Mary’s song is our song, and our song today, in our time, is to resonate with Mary that our God’s faithfulness is still sure, true and boundless and that “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.”
“’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He, who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’” Isaiah 40:25-31 NIV
It is my hope that as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, with burning acclamation, we will sing our own song of joyful praise in not only words but also redemptive ways in which we live each day to be a blessing to God for his never ending faithfulness.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good will toward men!”