Luke 2:6-12 (NLT)
WARNING: If you keep reading, it’s going to change your nativity scene forever.
I like to ask questions when I read the Bible. Here are some questions I had while reading Luke 2. Why didn’t the angel give directions to the shepherds? And how did the shepherds know where to look? Was this a huge cosmic oversight? Did the angel Gabriel mess up?
I think you’ll agree – God has never been unprepared or surprised. Throughout history we’ve seen God’s plans work with complete certainty. Noah and the animals during the flood, the Israelites freed from slavery, the walk through the Red Sea, the manna from heaven, the judges leadership, the giant – Goliath killed, Jonah the prophet rescued from himself by a whale. God always has complete control.
So why do we assume “no room in the inn” would be an unfortunate accident? As if God sends this young couple on a journey of 100 miles to find NO VACANCY and no options.
What if “no room in the inn” was part of God’s plan?
A little 1st century history … in 1st century Jewish culture, many shepherds would have brought their flocks into sheepfolds in the evening. Folds were a mixture of several flocks, and then separated in the morning to graze. But there was one particular flock that was segregated and was not permitted into folds. They were herded outside Bethlehem, about one mile north of the city. This special flock was guarded by shepherds day and night. And these special sheep were bred and raised to be lambs sold at the Temple for sacrifices. And these special shepherds were specially trained to care for the flock – to discern blemish and injury and were responsible to keep the lambs from any blemish or harm. These shepherds would select the lambs that would be used for the sacrifices, always searching for the perfect lamb without blemish.
Because these priestly shepherds were responsible to care for the sheep about to give birth to the sacrificial lambs they had a ceremonially clean lambing place at the Tower of Edar, at the edge of Bethlehem. This tower was used for centuries by these shepherds to bring the baby lambs into the world, inspect them for blemish, and wrap them in strips of cloth to keep them from harm. By accident? I don’t think so.
What if it’s these shepherds God chooses to tell about the birth of his son. By accident? I don’t think so. Knowing this, we see the angel gave very specific directions. The angel didn’t forget. It’s just that we may not notice the specific directions.
“You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”
Is it possible God had the whole plan laid out from the beginning? He’s the expectant father, I’d assume so.
It makes perfect sense … to tell the priestly shepherds who had watched thousands of sacrificial lambs come into the world. The angel gave specific directions and instructions. How will you recognize him? He will look like the perfect sacrifice without a blemish. The sacrifice you’ve been searching for!
It’s as if God is showing off – a proud dad – here’s my son. And God would want to show the shepherds, who had been breeding and raising the most perfect temple sacrifices. I don’t know about you, but so many times I find myself striving to please God while knowing that my best still comes with blemish. I find myself trying to find a way to please God, even when I know that’s not why God loves me. I attempt to create, put together, and offer to God what, at best, is a blemished offering.
When God only wants me to notice – the perfect sacrifice he’s provided for me. God’s gift to each of us.
Rick Court is the vice president of the camp’s board of directors and serves as a pastor at Hope Church in Voorhees.
This devotion is also found in our Beyond the Trappings Advent Devotion book available online.