“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
Have you ever asked for a sign? “God, if this is from you, let the next song on the radio be Christmas Shoes!” God can do better than that. If you’re going to ask for a sign, let it be like Gideon who asked for his fleece to be dry while all the earth around it was wet, and then again the next night for his fleece to be wet while all the earth around it was dry. Actually, I don’t recommend asking God for a sign. Perhaps you’re looking for something and you already know God’s answer. We do, however, see a couple of places where God gives signs, especially as we study the events of Advent. One is from Isaiah 7, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” That’s quite a sign! A virgin conceiving a child is a miracle beyond miracles. No one would deny that if something like this happened we would naturally credit God for working it out, unless of course we simply didn’t believe it, which is another conversation altogether. What about the sign given to the shepherds?
The shepherds are hanging out in the field, busy watching the sheep graze, when all the sudden an angel appears in the glory of the Lord and speaks to them. This is exciting! A grand moment! The angel tells them about the messiah, the “kyrios” the Lord (In Hebrew this was YHWH) who has been born- good news to all nations! The shepherds must have been dumbfounded! Light! Glory! Angel speaking to them! YHWH being born as a baby! The angel tells them what the “sign” will be, and then multitudes of angels come out and start saying (though we like to picture them singing…) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”. This was some fantastic sight! What was the sign again? We would find a baby wrapped in cloths- ok, that’s not so abnormal- lying in a cows feeding trough. That’s a bit strange. What about the angels? Can’t that be the sign?! What about the glory? The light? Isn’t that also a sign?
Strange the way God works at times. The spectacular in our eyes is nothing compared to the simplicity of what the true treasure unveils for us. My dear seminary professor Dr. Warren Gage just sent me a Christmas devotional that he put together from his organization The Alexandrian Forum. I encourage you to look it up. In it he speaks about this very strange yet ordinary sign. A baby wrapped up on swaddling clothes would be completely immobile and actually look a bit like a mummy. While in the Western world we depict mangers to be an x-shaped wooden structure, at this time in Israel likely the manger would have been a hollowed out stone. This strange sign that the shepherds were sent to behold was a baby wrapped up in mummified cloths laid in a sarcophagus-looking stone. The sign given to the shepherds, the good news for all men given to the world was a baby who was come to die. There in the city of Bethlehem, whose name means, house of bread, the bread of life was laid in a feeding trough for the sustenance of all the world.
When we think of God giving us a sign, if we’re honest, we want the impossible. We want to see the glory. We want to see the light. The mystery of this sign is in its simplicity that the glory of the heavenly angels all point to the humble humanity of the incarnate God. The sign of the shepherds is our sign as well. Jesus, even in his nativity has come to give himself, to be broken for the sin of the world. Come to Bethlehem and see, him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King. Gloria in excelsis Deo!