“Behold the Lamb of God”
(Christmas Eve,Midnight Communion 2016.)
Main text – Luke 2:1-20. Preacher – Peter Gillies
Let us start with prayer:
‘Father in Heaven, may the riches of your Word be opened, may the Grace of Your Gift be known, may our gratefulness for the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world be rethought, renewed, & rekindled to Your praise and glory. Amen.’
My purpose tonight is to introduce you to Truth and to Deeper Truth. I want to suggest two things: that there is a Deeper Truth about 1) the birth and 2) the birthplace of our Lord. I will begin with the birthplace.
It is often the case that fable and myth are amusing, entertaining, and harmless good fun – think of the Easter Bunny, or Zwarte Piet, or Hobbits. In some ways we could include the traditional Christmas story:
The pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph follow the decree of Caesar for a census to be taken in the Empire and taxes to be paid. Everyone must return to their home town. This hardship is endured with grace as the highly pregnant Mary rides a donkey in the cold of winter from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There is no room at the inn, and so Mary must eventually give birth in what must be a lowly, unclean, musty stall filled with cows and goats and camels. She lays the baby Jesus in a feeding trough, or manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. (Lucas 2:7 En zij baarde haar eerstgeboren Zoon, en wond Hem in doeken, en legde Hem neder in de kribbe…) Almost immediately, stunned, but happy shepherds emerge from a nearby field to give thanks for their newly arrived Messiah. All the animals of the barn, not to mention the happy Mary and Joseph, gaze on in holy amazement.
However, the deepest truth of this story remains hidden…
From early on, it was prophesied that the Christ would come, so when King Herod heard from the Wise Men that this new “King” had arrived he asked the priests where he could be found – without hesitation they answered that he would been born in “Bethlehem” as it had been written in the book of Micah. Indeed they could have even answered more specifically than that:
Micah 4:8 – “And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.”
This tower of the flock – an actual tower – built to watch over the sheep was called:
This is where Christ was born.
Migdal Eder? – never heard of it. Why was Christ born here? Migdal Eder was not situated just anywhere; any watchtower for any flock. Migdal Eder was not a watchtower for the ordinary flocks that pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but it lay close to the city, on the road to Jerusalem. Eusebius, an 4th century church historian, states that Migdal Eder was about 1.5 km outside Jerusalem, just on the edge of Bethlehem.
- It looked over the shepherds in the same fields as David was when he was sent for by Samuel – leading to the slaying of Goliath and the rescue of the Nation.
- It was where Jacob had mourned the death in childbirth of Rachel.
- A passage from the Mishnah Shekelim gives supports the idea that the flocks, which pastured there were destined for Temple
These shepherds were special. They were under rabbinic care for the sacred task of maintaining the stable to ceremonial standards, tending the sheep, and treating the lambs so they would receive no disqualifying blemishes – typically ensuring this by wrapping them in swaddling (doeken).
Consequently, when these shepherds were told of the angel’s “good tidings”, they didn’t have to search all Bethlehem for the Messiah, they just went back to their home base: Migdal Eder.
Christ was born in a significant place, in a ceremonially sanitary stable, the ultimate sacrificial lamb – surrounded by shepherds who very well understood the meaning of what they were seeing – wrapped in swaddling, and laid in THE manger of all Judah – not “a” manger. (Aside: I can imagine Joseph looking for an inn and coming across Migdal Eder and slapping himself on the forehead thinking, “Of course!”)
41 days after his birth in Bethlehem (8d circumcision +33d purification) Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple to Simeon; it was just down the road.
Many authors over many centuries predicted that Christ would come. They predicted why and how. They predicted where and in what way. There is no possibility these writers collaborated much less that they were all accidentally correct as to the manner and place that He would appear.
Too bad that we have to celebrate His birth on a pagan holiday that could not possibly have been the actual birth date of Christ.
Or could it?
Time for some midnight algebra:
First, we know that shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were not typically in the fields during December… but don’t give up on December 25th, just yet!
We also have clues about Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke concerning the conception and birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived, we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born.
Here is the wiskunde: John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during mid-June.
It was during this time that Zacharias learned that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child (from an angel of the Lord). After he completed his rotation and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived. Adding nine months to the end of June brings us to the end of March as the time for John’s birth. Add another six months (the difference in age between John and Jesus) and that brings one to the end of September.
Eight days after His birth, Jesus was circumcised according to Law in the Temple – prophetically, this would have been on the 8th day of the Feast of the Tabernacle (Rosh Hashanah), corresponding with the 7th of October – 8 days before would have been September 29th. Forty weeks earlier – or 280 days (the perfect pregnancy time) – would place the day that Christ was begotten of the Holy Spirit directly on December 25th.
It is likely that the “Word became flesh” on Christmas Day.
- Christ was not born in pitiful circumstances, but in the most prophetically and narratively perfect place that was specially blessed and constructed for the birthing of sacrificial lambs – Migdal Eder.
- His birth was not attended by oxen, cows, goats, and donkeys in a dirty stall, but by the unblemished lambs of atonement for Israel and their shepherd keepers.
- We know, too, that our Lord was born of the Seed of David in September and can have confidence in the date of September 29th.
The birth of the King, the Perfect Sacrifice, the Light of the World, the Lamb of God arrived after a perfect pregnancy, in the perfect place, putting the conception of Christ close by, if not precisely on: December 25th laid in THE manger of the Tower of the Flock and adding, rather than subtracting, meaning to this most beloved of holidays.
Let us end in prayer:
‘Lord as we prepare to remember The Lamb’s perfect sacrifice by receiving bread and wine, let us be thankful for that special moment 20 centuries ago when the Word became flesh, let us re-live the joy and amazement of the shepherds, and accept the grace that rings out through the ages to touch all who will accept and surrender themselves to Christ Jesus – for it is in His name that we pray. Amen.’