By Jeremy Edmondson
1 Corinthians 1:25- "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."
This is exactly what we find in the event of Christ's birth. As one reads through the account of the announcement and the birth of Jesus Christ, many questions can arise as to how and why God allowed certain things to happen. I can think of half a dozen things that I would have wished to be different about this situation because frankly, some of the details seem down right foolish. Let's look at the evidence.
Luke 1:26-38- The Announcement of Christ's birth.
The promise of the birth of the Son of God is made to a girl in meager circumstances. God chose, of all things, a virgin who would conceive this child apart from knowing a man (v.31, 34-35). This is a prime example of the foolishness of God. Mary was young. Being thrown into this type of situation, why did God not choose a woman who was older, with more "life experience" so that she would be able to better handle this stressful situation? The angel tells Mary that her child "will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High" (v.32, 35). Without this child even being conceived, there is already a "prediction" of the child's worth and an audacious claim that her child is Yahweh God's own son! Again, this is an example of foolishness. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Mary is also told that "the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (v. 32b-33). This would have been particularly hard for Mary to believe. You see, she was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who is "of the house of David" (v.27), meaning that Joseph was supposed to be "in line" to be the king of Israel according to the royal lineage that God established with King David in 2 Samuel 7:16. In fact, Joseph probably should have been ruling at that time. But he wasn't. Instead, Rome had installed Herod as the king of Judea (the southern region of Israel- Luke 1:5). It had to be jarring to think for a moment that Joseph and Mary could be living in the royal palace with riches and power, but instead she was a lowly girl, engaged to a man whose family had been pushed aside and shamed by the ruling government of the day. How foolish of God to make such promises to Mary when He was fully aware of the events concerning the rulership of Israel.
At this moment, the angel Gabriel gives some genuine hope. "Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren" (v.36). This was true! Mary had received word that Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah (both being well-along in years -Luke 1:18) had conceived a child and Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy. The angel provides reassurance to Mary by reminding her that "nothing will be impossible with God" (v.37). Yes. How tempting it may have been for Mary to not trust God beyond reasonable comprehension. This must have been a great deal for Mary to take in. While the reassurance was an encouragement to her, the promises made of the events that would soon transpire and the greatness of the child that she would carry to full-term seemed to be lofty and surreal. How could God use a simple girl like her for something so wonderful? Mary's response shows traces of hope: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (v.38).
Luke 2:1-7- The birth of God's Son.
Mary is almost due to give birth. Besides the dirty looks, bouts of public ridicule, and the ladies out at the well who gossip and snicker as she walks by, things have been calm. Mary is probably preparing her living quarters and making the arrangements for assistance in order to give birth to this child. Then it comes: A decree, issued by Caesar Augustus for the registration of the known inhabitants of Rome's rule. This registration meant that taxes were going to be required of the people. This meant more money, something that she and Joseph were already devoid of. To make matters worse, they would have to travel (while pregnant) to Bethlehem2 because Joseph is "of the house and lineage of David." This "lineage" had become more of a curse rather than a blessing. Traveling while pregnant would be difficult, not to mention the length of the journey, and the tight nature of their finances! Why did God let this happen at this time? Is He not strong enough to change Caesar's mind? Could he not have waited just a little longer so that Mary could have given birth at home? What was God thinking? This must be another example of His foolishness.
The trip was long. Riding a donkey while pregnant is not a day at the beach! It was nice to finally arrive, but upon doing so, Mary went into labor. The child was going to be born! The time to give birth was now! What were they going to do? Joseph had gone door to door, inn to inn, in order to secure a place for the birth of the Son of God. But every place where he inquired had already turned on their "no vacancy" signs. We are unsure of where the birth of Jesus Christ actually took place. What we do know is that after wrapping His limbs to ensure their straightness, His cradle was a feeding trough that animals would frequent. Joseph's morale as a man must have been at an all-time low. How could he have not made reservations in advance? How could he not find a place for his beautiful bride to be comfortable for such an important event? What kind of man ends up looking at a child that he is supposed to care for, lying in a manger of all places? The conditions were poverty stricken. Was there not a medical facility that they could have made it to? What was God thinking in allowing this type of situation to move forward?
Luke 2:22-33- The Purpose of the Christ-child.
In verses 22-23, we find that Joseph and Mary are seeking to be obedient Jews. The time had come for the purification (Lev. 12) and "every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord" (v.23; Ex. 13:2, 12). The sacrifice that Mary offered was a pair of turtledoves (or two young pigeons) as was prescribed by the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12:8. What is disheartening is a reading of Leviticus 12 reveals that the offering of "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" (v.24) was considered the offering of those who were poor. The customary offering was that of a "lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering" (Lev. 12:6). The problem was that Mary could not afford a lamb for sacrifice, and yet, she held the Lamb of God in her hands.
Upon arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem, a man names Simeon approached them. Simeon was a righteous and devout man who had been given a unique promise from the Lord, stating that "he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (v.26). Upon seeing the child of Joseph and Mary, Simeon took the child and said "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (v. 29-32).
Joseph and Mary "marveled" at this announcement (v.33). Such wonderful words were spoken by this man concerning the future of this child. He is the promised Messiah. He is the one who will reconcile sinners to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). He is the one who gives His life for Jews and Gentiles, in fact, the whole world (1 John 2:2). It is the promised Messiah that would crush the head of the serpent forever (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:8).
The circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ have far less to do with the material comforts and accommodations that we may have required in a situation like this. God is not so much concerned with the material as He is the obedience of His people and their desire to be used by Him for His eternal purposes. While Joseph and Mary could have complained about their lot in life, we do not read one ill word that is spoken by them in the Scriptures. As willing servants, they did as God asked, and continued to fix their eyes upon Him as they walked forward in obedience. Their willingness brought the promise of Micah 5:2, that the ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem. Let us be willing to trust God's "foolishness," for it is far better than the "wisdom" that we bring to the table.1 Jeremy Edmondson is the teaching pastor at Resurgence Church in Evansville, IN.
2 This distance seems to be about 75 to 80 miles one way.