By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
God didn't pull any punches when he sent His Son into the world as an infant born into a family of little social or political influence. On the night of the long-awaited birth and in the days that followed, He made it clear that this infant was the Promised One who would bring salvation to His people.
Infants are so very frail. Why would God tip His hand in announcing Jesus was the Savior to the shepherds almost as soon as He had taken His first breath. In such a politically charged atmosphere, didn't He know the danger posed to the infant Messiah?
Instead, God might have introduced Jesus to the world a little later, allowing Jesus to emerge as a child prodigy or to celebrate His Bar Mitzvah before His grand introduction as the long-awaited Messiah. God might even have waited until Jesus' baptism to announce His Son to the world for the first time. While God made that affirmation in the Jordan wilderness, the announcement followed by about 30 years the exciting news - delivered in the heavens - that a Savior had been born in Bethlehem.
We can imagine cooing to a newborn within our family, or securely cradling the little bundle protectively in our arms. We might resort to "baby talk," sounds meant to sooth, entertain, comfort or even produce a smile. Newborns, even the larger ones, seem so fragile and in need of protection.
It is hard to imagine shepherds leaving behind their flocks to check out a Christmas baby in little Bethlehem. No self-respecting shepherd would have dared to abandon his sheep unless the distraction was of utmost importance.
To be fair, the shepherds made their way to the birthing stable following a rather dramatic light show, a presentation of heavenly proportions. And Bedouin shepherds were hardly used to invitations to the best events. The news was the best imaginable.
Interestingly, the singing angels referenced the birth but they did not use the word "baby" except as an afterthought when they said, "Go see!" The news was this: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you...." They would find this Savior disguised as a helpless infant.
What must it have been like to peer into a manger - a poor excuse for a newborn's crib - knowing that this infant was destined not simply for greatness but for deliverance? What must it have been like to have lived a life subject to an invading army and its brutal whims? What must it have been like to realize (perhaps) that this baby was not sent to be protected but to bring protection and salvation to God's people?
God didn't pull any punches when it came to identifying His Son 2,000 years ago, and He doesn't expect His followers to do any less in 2006.
For many, the baby in the manger at Christmas is not so much different than various sentimental markers for this holiday. Baby Jesus may fall into the same category as Santa, Christmas trees, twinkling lights and a holiday feast to many people, including some Christians. To others, Jesus may not seem as important as giving and receiving all manner of toys and gadgets.
The fact is that people today - not unlike shepherds of long ago - still need to be reminded that what happened in Bethlehem was much more than the beginning of a family for a carpenter from Nazareth and his betrothed.
The good news about the first Christmas was that it identified the Easter Savior in the birth announcement. Christians cannot think about the birth at Christmas without envisioning a cross, a tomb and resurrection. As we express the meaning of the season to others, we can't leave the infant Jesus in a manger. After all, He was born a Savior, died a Savior and was resurrected a Savior.
The infant Jesus in the manger was undoubtedly beautiful, but the enthusiasm and delight of the angel choir was for the advent of the Savior. The angels were introducing the One whom they already knew well to those whose lives could be changed if they met Him, too.
The angels don't sing Christmas carols to us from the heavens these days. It is up to us who know Christ intimately to follow their example and with enthusiasm introduce Him to people in need of a Savior. Christmas gives believers a ready opportunity to help others know the promised Savior.