Two women were having lunch in an elegant hotel when they were approached by a mutual friend who asked the occasion for the meal. One of the women replied, “We’re celebrating the birth of my baby boy.” “But where is he?” inquired the friend. “Oh,” said the mother, “you didn’t think I’d bring him, did you?” Isn’t that a picture of the way the world treats Jesus at Christmas? For so many it’s a party without a purpose; a season without a saviour; a carolling without a Christ. The guest of honour is uninvited.But how foolish it is to ignore the child in the manger! This is the most climactic example of history being shaped in a cradle. Before we unpack that, first let me share with you a few other examples of history being shaped in a cradle.
Take the year 1809. The international scene then was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births. For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England’s finest statesmen. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. That child would one day impact the literary world in a remarkable way. On the American continent, that very same year produced the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby’s name? Abraham Lincoln.
If there’d been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: “The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.” But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America. Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news when Jesus was born. The new census was grabbing all the headlines. Everyone was grumbling about those pesky Romans. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: it concerned the birth of the world’s saviour.
Whichever way you look at it, this was no ordinary birth of a child. He was cradled in a manger – of all places. This was among the signs to show that the child born was also God’s son given (Isaiah 9:6). Yes, he was cradled in a manger – in an animals’ feeding-trough – while the world was looking elsewhere for news. Christ was content with a manger on earth when he was born so that we could have a mansion in heaven when we die.
At many times in biblical history, when the world was distracted with some calamity which threatened to become a total disaster, God was looking to the birth of a child. It happened in the days of Moses. The Israelite slaves in Egypt, while being whipped by the Egyptian taskmasters, must have longed for an invincible hero who would rescue them with his strong-arm tactics, but God was looking to the birth of a child to save his chosen nation, as we see from Exodus chapter 2:
“When [Moses’ mother] could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it.
When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him.
When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Exodus 2:3-12)
Well, there were still to be twists and turns in the story, but the rest is history, as they say. God would ultimately use Moses to free the Israelite slaves from Egypt. But for another example of how history was shaped in a cradle – in other words, by the birth of a certain child – let me transport you to the later time of when kings ruled in Israel, after God’s chosen people had been in their promised land for about 500 years. These times were no different from the lawlessness of our own days in some respects. When the southern king Ahaziah was killed, his own mother did a very wicked thing. She seized the reins of power and set about destroying everyone else who had a rightful claim to the throne which had been her son’s.
But one of them escaped – or, at least someone helped him to, for he was a baby son of the king who’d been killed. Yes, baby Joash was hidden away in a bedroom while the slaughter of the king’s descendants was taking place. For the next six years he was kept tucked away from view, hidden in God’s house, the temple at Jerusalem. This is how the Bible sums it up: “So he was hidden … in the house of the LORD for six years, while Athaliah reigned over the land. In the seventh year Jehoiada sent and brought the captains of hundreds – of the bodyguards and the escorts – and brought them into the house of the LORD to him. And he made a covenant with them and took an oath from them in the house of the LORD, and showed them the king’s son. (2 Kings 11:3,4 New King James Version).
I find that inspiring reading. The man Jehoida, who was a priest, bringing in the military leaders into the temple and letting them into the secret – that for all of those six terrible, dark years of oppression there’d been a secret survivor – and that he was the rightful king! How those soldiers must have gasped with amazement – not to mention, relief too – at the sight of the young boy who was born to be king! Someone whose existence had been a closely guarded secret up till that moment. And from that moment something like a military-style coup was launched to bring this young boy to the throne.
But let’s stay a little longer with that moment of revelation in the temple. It certainly had come as a wonderful revelation to those soldiers: to get a glimpse of the king’s son in God’s house. I’m pausing with you at this point, because I can’t help but see an illustration there of something that’s right up to date. Do we not live in a time when Satan has usurped God’s rightful place in the thoughts and lives of men and women? Late on in the Bible the apostle John says: ‘the whole world lies under the sway of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19). In that sense these are dark days we live in, for this controlling influence is ‘the power of darkness’ (Colossians 1:13). It’s tyranny and oppression of a spiritual nature and it’s throughout the world system today.
But what a revelation there is to be found in our Bibles! There’s salvation found in the child born and cradled in a manger – outside of the royal palaces of his day. Someone whose identity was hidden from all but a few. And still remains hidden to so many whose aim is to have nothing other than a good time at Christmas. Oh, if only we can get a glimpse of the King! Yes, I’m talking about Jesus Christ, God’s son and the saviour. He’s the son of the King of kings. And something I’ve come to understand from God’s Word, the Bible, is this: that when we come to appreciate the revelation of Jesus as he stands related to what the New Testament describes as God’s house today, then we’ve come to appreciate the full extent of God’s good news for the people of this world. It’s something I rejoice in as I share it with you.