The Modest Appearing of the Son of God
Quiet simplicity marked the arrival of the eternal Son of God in our world. His ordinary birth could be overlooked as a non-event. News reporters would find little to interest them at the Bethlehem stable.
A travelling man and his pregnant wife stopped at a crowded inn. The poor couple spent the night in a cattle shed, where the child was born. A few shepherds came to visit and to adore the 'newborn king'; but that name seems incongruous with all appearances. Shepherds left to tell commonplace citizens of Bethlehem about angels announcing the birth to them. Thus, in a small way, news of the child's birth spread.
No earthly grandeur was visible at the manger. The entire occasion was managed by God with studied modesty. Because of the simplicity of it all there was dignity. Out in the fields were angels who said a Saviour, Christ, the Lord, was born. But everything at the inn was inconspicuous.
It was important that our Lord's birth occur with such delicacy. For this was the beginning of an entire life of a humble king. Always He was 'meek and lowly of heart'. Jesus avoided all excesses of wealth. He sought no applause as do the famous. Never did He have a staged-image like that of the flamboyant. His arrival, His life, and His death were with unpretentious surroundings.
Nothing is so sweet and beautiful, yet to ambitious men so surprising, as the humility of the Lord Jesus. An utter lack of embellishments at the manger deepened the wonder of those who knew He was the King of Glory. Absence of the grandiose and modesty in all things was His style.
In America, very grand Christmas-eve services are held. Ornate halls are beautifully adorned with greens, ribbons, candles, flowers, stained glass. No cost is spared. Talented musicians are sought out: trained choirs, symphony orchestras, impressive organs. Orators are secured to read of Christ's birth. Artists dramatize the story. Participants wear tuxedos and gowns.
The sumptuous and elegant appeal to something in us all. Pageantry and imposing display seem to us to be appropriate to the celebration of the Saviour's coming. But, by these means, we are getting farther and farther from what it was really like at the Bethlehem inn. In such surroundings we are distancing ourselves from the simplicity with which our Lord was comfortable.
In Palestine itself, Christians have built chapels over places where Christ is supposed to have been born and buried. Intending to honour the Saviour, people have built garish places of worship and filled them with altars, candles and robed priests. It is impossible to imagine how these places were when Jesus was there. Truth has been hidden and embarrassed by irrelevant, florid monuments.
Jesus would not have felt at ease in halls of ivory amongst shimmering personalities and great talents that we seem to love and T.V. hosts love to give us. The only gathering at His birth was of a few, lowly, obscure, rugged men. Fearers of God they were but otherwise an unimpressive lot! He came to identify Himself with the lowly.
Of course, nothing is too good for our Lord. We should bring Him the best that we have. As months passed, some Magi did present treasures to Him. And prophets foretold that the riches of the Gentiles would be given to the Messiah.
However, evangelical drift toward the spectacular and the glittering is symptomatic of a serious flaw in the church which is grieving the Spirit. It is a root cause of the spiritual deterioration of American Christianity.
Carnal hearts are ill at ease with the unpretentious decorum of the Lord Jesus. Rather than imitate His humility and meekness, attempts are made to reshape Him with human grandeur. So the Saviour is dandified in fallen man's likeness. There is the Nashville Christmas, the operatic Christmas, the rock and roll Christmas, all transforming Christ into the ways of our generation. One thing is unacceptable — the meek and modest Christ child.
Symptoms of the same disorder are to be found away from Christmas celebrations. Christian respectability and worldly respectability are scarcely different. Christian books, tapes, films and evangelical ministers are packaged with a Hollywood image. The sweetheart of country music is not discernable from the sweetheart of gospel singing. Men of God look and sound more and more like the slick T.V. heartthrobs. Leaders study all the carnal methods of attracting notice. Bombastic personalities trumpet their own greatness and flaunt their ambition. All these things are incompatible with the modest Christ of the New Testament.
We would expect that when men claim to teach the Scriptures, they would imitate the meek and humble Jesus rather than the ostentatious entertainers. A quiet, normal manner belonged to our Lord. His dignity was found in simplicity. His beauty lay in humility. It was never showy or glaring in appearance. Imitate Him as He was, not as He is reworked into the likeness of those who are at home in the spotlights of our world.