Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Phillips Brooks

The quietly disruptive Jesus

Christmas is supposed to be white, isn’t it? Here in Canada we expect to have snow on the ground at Christmas time and many of the Christmas cards we receive feature snowy scenes.

Yesterday I began to wonder what scenes people in the southern hemisphere put on Christmas cards. So I asked my wife, “What kind of pictures do people in Australia have on their cards?” “Ayers Rock,” she said. Well why not? A huge rock formation in Australia has as much to do with the birth of Jesus as does snow on the ground in Canada.

Uluru, aka Ayers Rock – image from Pixabay

Yesterday evening I heard the crunch of tires on snow and then there were young people from church on our doorstep singing carols. Now that does have something to do with the birth of Jesus. Not the snow, but the carols and the good will.

The third stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks says

How silently, how silently 
The wondrous gift is giv'n! 
So God imparts to human hearts 
The blessings of His heav'n. 
No ear may hear His coming, 
But in this world of sin, 
Where meek souls will receive Him still,  
The dear Christ enters in. 

None of the important people were informed that a baby was about to be born who would turn the world upside down. No religious leader, no political leader had a clue of what was about to happen. The angel Gabriel spoke to a teenage girl in Nazareth who was preparing to get married and forever disrupted her life. The angel then spoke to the man she was about to marry and disrupted his life.

Then the emperor in Rome decreed that everyone needed to be enrolled in the tax register. That meant that Joseph had to return home to Bethlehem; he probably had some property or inheritance there. He took Mary with him and they came to this town of about 300 where everyone knew each other and Joseph was no doubt related to them all.

The Bible does not mention an inn, an innkeeper or a stable. Hospitality is a given in this country and the young couple would have been warmly welcomed. But when it was time for the baby to be born, the upper room was too small for such an affair. Help was called, a midwife and other ladies of the family and the baby was born in the courtyard below, where the animals were kept, and laid in the closest cozy place for a newborn, the manger. Then a group of excited shepherds appeared, telling how their night’s rest had been disrupted by the glorious light of God, angels had announced that Messiah was born and told them where He would be found.

It didn’t take long and the story began to be embellished, supposedly in ways to help us understand what had happened. Mostly they transform Jesus into a poor, helpless, rejected baby who is no threat at all to our comfortable attitudes and habits.

But He did disrupt the history of the whole world. He wants to disrupt our lives, too. For each of us there should be a before and an after; the way we lived and thought before we knew Christ and the way we think and live after we truly came to know Him.

May you have a joyous Christmas!

How silently, how silently

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear can hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

(O Little Town of Bethlehem, 3rd verse, written by Phillips Brooks)

I have fond memories of the midnight Christmas services in the little  Anglican church of the Saskatchewan town where I spent my boyhood.  We gathered at 11:30, when all commerce and all other travel had ceased, and in the quietness of the midnight remembered the coming of our Saviour into the world.  There was anticipation in the air, and people who were never seen in church at any other time of the year, except perhaps Easter Sunday morning, would be present for this service.

Jesus was born in the night, when all around was quiet and still.  There was a flurry of activity in the stable as He was born, but no one else was aware of it until some excited shepherds rushed into town telling of a visit from the angels.

It must have also been night when the star guided the Wise Men to the house where Jesus was, probably some months later.  It was in the night that an angel told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee, for Herod would seek to kill the young child.   Was it the same angel who warned the Wise Men in the night not to return to Herod?  Did Joseph confer with the Wise Men before he left that same night?  We can wonder about these things, but they are questions for which the Bible has no answer.  We only know that Joseph took his family that same night and began the long journey into Egypt.   Perhaps in the morning the people of Bethlehem were so intrigued by the presence of the strangers from the east that they did not immediately notice that Joseph and his family were gone.

God still works in the quietness, hidden from public view.  There is a beautiful passage in Job 33:14-18, spoken by Elihu, that describes this:

For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;  then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,  that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.  He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.

May we all seek a place of quietness at Christmas time and all through the year where we can hear God’s message for us.  A blessed and joyous Christmas to all who read this!

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