A Messiah Is Born
Throughout its history Canaan has seldom been free from strife. Things seem to have been fairly calm before the Israelites emigrated from Egypt. From the time they crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land they were at war with the inhabitants as they tried to secure the land they believed God had given them for an inheritance.
Even after the interior was relatively safe, their borders were not. Israel was never a large nation, though during the reigns of David and Solomon she became a great one. Her problem was location. The route between Egypt and the kingdoms of the north lay through Israel. Any conqueror wanting to travel from south to north or the other way round had to cross Israel first. Sometimes this was difficult; sometimes it was easy.
The ultimate devastation was the Babylonian captivity. Anyone of importance was taken from Israel and forced to live in Babylon. Even after Cyrus, king of Persia allowed the captives to return home things didn’t improve. One army after another overran the tiny nation. By this time the northern kingdom—Israel—had disappeared entirely. What was left was even tinier Judaea, always ripe for the taking.
In this rather dismal state of affairs messianic theology began to take hold. Someday, somehow, the God of Israel would send a savior to return the nation to its former glory. Many came along claiming to be that person. Each had his moment in the sun, attracted a following, then flamed out, dying and leaving the messianic void unfilled. By the end of the first century B.C.E. Judea should have lost hope, but didn’t. Each new claimant rose, then disappeared to be replaced first by disappointment, then the next candidate.
Then, something different—something unexpected—happened. In little Bethlehem—a town of historical importance because it was the birthplace of David, but of little other significance—a baby was born. Nothing special there: babies were born often to the peasant women who lived in the area. But this one was announced by angels and a star. Shepherds ran to see the special child. Magi—foreign dignitaries—arrived bringing gifts. And then—nothing! For the next thirty years the child grew to adulthood in the relative obscurity of another tiny village, until he burst on the scene as a rabbi—a teacher with a message of hope for the hopeless, of healing for the afflicted, and of reconciliation with a God who loved deeply enough to want to be involved in people’s daily lives.
Christians believe this was the Messiah whom God had promised. Unconventional? Certainly. Controversial? Definitely. Effective? In his life and death Jesus showed the way for humankind to live on this earth as God would have them live. In his resurrection Christ opened the way to eternal life with God.
The story has no ending—at least not yet. While we wait for Christ’s return we must try to answer the question that Pilate asked so long ago: “What shall I do with Jesus?” For each of us the answer will be different. This is not a “one size fits all” Messiah. As each of us is unique, so will be our perception of and response to the Christ. Our search will last a lifetime, for how we perceive the Messiah will change as we grow—and this is how it should be. If as Paul says we put on Christ, we will become more and more like him, and our vision of who he is—of who we should be—will become more clear.
As we celebrate this Christmas season let us welcome our Messiah into our homes, our hearts. And our lives. A blessed Christmas to all.