"To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit." Psalm 28:1 (NIV)
(Mail day at Nkara-Ewa, courtesy of the MAF airplane)
We were starved for news from the United States in Congo. Nothing was more precious to us than a letter from a beloved friend or relative. Our favorite days were those when we could hear a tell-tale faint buzz (sort of like a very loud bumblebee hovering around a flower several feet away) in the air. Sometimes the sound seemed to fade away. My heart always fell a little as I wrestled over whether I had mistakenly heard the distant noise of the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) airplane bringing our mail. I would run into my sister's room in those tentative moments and sometimes meet her in the hallway running toward my room:
"Did you hear the plane? Or was I just imagining it?" I would breathlessly ask her in my excitement.
The thrill of the anticipation of a glimpse of life from home would start the adrenaline coursing through our veins long before we were assured that the plane was on its way. My mind could actually see my Grandma McKown's handwriting on the bluish-gray air mail letter that she always sent, filled to the very last space of empty paper with her news about everyday life. Nothing was particularly glorious in her letters--no big, exciting events were usually chronicled. It didn't matter to us. We were just starved for that connection with home and the familiar. On rare events, someone might have actually sent a package to us with candy or clothing. My heart could barely remain in my chest as we would have to wait until the pilot got into his plane and took off before we could open the box.
There was a day when a plane came and we were not expecting it. I heard the faint bumblebee noise far off in the distance, but because I was not expecting its arrival, I quickly dismissed the notion that I had heard that sound. I went back to what I was doing, only to race out of the house minutes later as I turned my face to the sky. There, right above me, was the unmistakable shape of the MAF plane. I screamed with delight and ran to get on the Jolly Green Giant army truck to meet it at the airstrip a mile away from our house up the hill. This time was extra special because I had been surprised at the glad discovery that news from home was on the way.
For four hundred years after the prophet Malachi had penned his book of prophecy, news from heaven had not come. Although the first prophecy had been foretold in the garden of Eden to Adam and Eve that a Savior would come to redeem the world from its sin, no new revelation had been given for four centuries after the writings of Malachi. Every devout Jewish household would have anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, but, with no sign of Him and Israel under Roman rule, hope had grown dim.
Suddenly, in the middle of an ordinary night, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The distance between the two towns is not far at all. Yet no one else but the shepherds heard or saw the miraculous display that Luke recorded in his gospel in the New Testament:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:8-19 (NIV)
Why were the angels not seen by all of Bethlehem? Can you even imagine the blinding light of the glory of God's holy angels announcing the greatest news that had ever been given to the weary world? Why were the lowly shepherds chosen as the first to know that the Savior of the world had been born?
I think it is very American to ask those questions. In my arrogance, I look on the outside of people for their worthiness. I like people who smell good, talk correctly, and are living productive lives. If the announcing of Jesus' birth had been up to me, the whole world would have been blasted with the Hallelujah chorus as the stunning news of great joy would be given to all people. After all, this was no ordinary Baby--this was God in the flesh.
My heavenly Father had a different plan. He knew what was beating in the hearts of those looked-down-upon members of society watching their sheep. He knew that they had no big plans for that evening that would prevent them from laying eyes on His Son that very night--no dinner parties, no important meetings like the well-to-do elite of Bethlehem and Jerusalem might have had going on that same night. These simple men living such ordinary lives would have been able to see the miraculous right in front of them--not brush it off as just another exciting happenstance. God knew His glory would not be wasted on closed minds, but minds that would run to see this miracle that they had been told about. He was interested in finding hearts that would be utterly amazed at what they would see so that they could not keep the news to themselves. No, the shepherds were the perfect choice to be the first recipients of the greatest news in the history of humankind.
Where are our hearts today, my beloved girlfriends? Has there been a famine of God's Word in our lives? Are we missing the miraculous because we have our own idea of what miraculous should be? I think so many missed Jesus during His earthly life because they could not see the miraculous encased in a Body of flesh. They were looking for a warrior, a king to ride in with power and authority. What they got was God Himself in human form lying in a feeding trough for cows and donkeys. Instead of a palace for the newborn King, the shepherds found a completely dependent baby wrapped in swaddling clothes born in a smelly barn with animals nearby.
Why were the lowest members of society chosen to see Immanuel first? Because they had the eyes to see Him! God didn't have to fit into a box of expectations for these men. The four hundred year famine of God's Word ended that ordinary night in the fields of Bethlehem because they had ears to hear the glad news being announced. The impact of the sights they saw in that stable moved them so greatly that they couldn't help but share the news with everyone they met. They didn't care how incredulous the story sounded--they visited the Word made flesh that night and had to make it known. Has our Jesus made as great an impact on us?
Jesus, Your birth is mysterious and full of irregularities. It is a mixture of the humble and the miraculous, the incredible and the ordinary, the profound and the simple. It is a masterpiece because of all those qualities that have the ability to draw every human being longing for glad tidings of great joy to You. How amazing You are. We are starving for a fresh word from You this Christmas season. May we find it and tell others what we cannot keep to ourselves about You. End the famine of Your Word in our lives, Lord, end the famine.