Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded Him and took Mary to be his wife. (Matthew 1:24 [NASB])
Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told. (Luke 2:19-20 [NASB])
After coming into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. (Matthew 2:11 [NASB])
“Advent is over,” people say, “so, why an article about advent?” We define advent as “the beginning of an event, the invention of something, or the arrival of a person.” (Cambridge and American dictionaries) Advent is not just a date and title on a calendar. It introduces and reminds us of an important event and its continuance. Advents can include times such as when a person begins a new job, begins married life, and/or becomes a parent. It is the mark of time when a new phase, new person, and new thing enters and causes a heart and thought change within us that leads to actions by us. Most often this advent culminates in us giving our all for that new situation, person or thing. For example, you don’t have a baby then let it raise itself and do nothing to protect, provide, and care for it. You give it all you have and are. You act upon the belief you are all they have and the knowledge they need you, the parent. From that belief, your intentions guide your actions.
The Advent denoted on a calendar each year is the same. It denotes the point in time the Son of God was born in human form on earth to provide salvation from sins and through that salvation, enable a relationship with God to each person who believes in Him. Advent from that perspective is the time when Jesus came to earth to be in our lives. He gave it His all. He gave His life and died for us so we could be saved. The many millions of people who’ve lived since Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and ascension have heard of His advent and, so, have “seen” His advent. Each of us are these “watchers through the window of time.”
The people who gave and give their all to and for Jesus are like some people in the Christmas story. Jesus’ advent as an infant affected everyone in the story of His birth. King Herod, the shepherds, the wisemen, the Roman soldiers, Mary, and Joseph each reacted to His advent, His birth. Some responded positively to Him and others did not. Let’s consider each character and this significant advent in the lives of everyone who’s ever lived since that time over 2000 years ago.
Mary received the first news of the Christ child’s imminent arrival. The angel spoke to her and told she was highly favored by God. His Spirit would come upon her and she would bear a child who she was to name Jesus. Mary was not anyone special. She lived in Galilee, an area in north Israel that was separated physically from Judea by Samaria. Galilee was an area of amalgamated cultures. The people there were a mixed population since the Assyrian conquest of 8BC. Galilee had Hellenists living in it since Rome, as the conquering nation, took over rule of the territory. Pagan cities and Hellenistic centers existed in Galilee. Because of these things, the Jews looked down upon the people of Galilee; they were not good Jews, according to the Jews of Judah. Into this reality, the angel of the Lord spoke with a virgin, teenage girl and said she would give birth to the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Mary believed in the prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, but found it hard to comprehend she could be that virgin. The angel reassured her, and Mary cherished the child growing within her. She reacted to the news of this advent as many would. She wondered, questioned, and cherished this entrance into her life of this news and this child. It affected her heart, mind, and body. If Joseph had allowed the people to act upon the law and stone a woman found pregnant outside of marriage, it would have affected Mary’s body even more. But God had already spoken to Joseph before the people stoned her. He stopped the stoning. Mary’s belief and knowledge, and her intention to be a faithful Jew who obeyed God, led to her action of acceptance of her situation, pregnancy before marriage.
Joseph was a righteous and honorable man. (Matthew 1:19) He was from David’s line and lived in Galilee, too. Joseph’s father taught him carpentry and about Yahweh and His laws. He taught Joseph how to be in right standing with God. Joseph feared taking Mary as his wife since he was righteous. It would make him unrighteous and unclean, in the eyes of the Jews, to be near her because of her pregnancy. This affected Joseph’s heart and mind, so God sent an angel to him in a dream. (Matthew 1:20) The angel reassured him and told him the birth of this child would fulfill the prophecy of God’s prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14). Because Joseph was a righteous and obedient man, he recognized the angel came from the Lord and took Mary to be his wife without having intimate relations with her until the baby was born. (Matthew 1:24-25) He no longer feared being unclean and unrighteous, nor did he fear what people would say about him. Joseph was willing to look unrighteous so he would be obedient to God and fulfill the prophecy. Joseph’s and Mary’s actions coming from their heart and belief that what the angel said was true led them to accept Mary’s pregnancy and then go as husband and wife to Bethlehem for the census as Caesar Augustus required. (Luke 2:1-5) Their hearts and minds believed, and that belief resulted in actions affirming their beliefs.
Consider next the wisemen or magi, as some people translate the Greek word magos. These wisemen came from wealthy, noble families and were well-educated. They knew astronomy and had learned of the prophecies and religions of the people in other nations. These magi were honest, influential, and counselors of rulers. People sought them and regarded them highly. Unlike Mary and Joseph, these wisemen were at the top of the social ladder. People looked up to them. These men had studied Hebrew scripture and knew of the Messianic prophecies of Numbers 24:17 and Micah 5:2. These three men knew “a star would come from Jacob and a scepter would rise from Israel.” The magi knew this new King would come from Bethlehem and this Ruler would not be new, but from before time began, before God created all things. By knowing and studying these prophecies, these three men determined soon the Messiah would come. They looked for the signs and on the night of Jesus’ birth, a light different from any they’d ever seen appeared in the sky. (Matthew 2:1-2) The wisemen knew in their heads about this King. They believed they would find Him because the prophecies said spoke of it. These humble, intelligent, wealthy men took gifts for a King on their journey to see this Christ child. They recognized they were lower that this One to be born and humbled themselves before this One greater than themselves. These wisemen recognized they should worship the Messiah. They offered gifts fit for a king of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11) These magi knew, then believed, then acted upon their belief. They entered the story of Jesus’ advent upon earth. These men, who were at the top of the social ladder, recognized One greater than themselves, humbled themselves, and worshiped Him. They offered Him their best treasures-an offering for a King. They humbled themselves to worship a baby, in the eyes of others, but a King in their eyes.
About time the wisemen began their journey, God’s messengers visited shepherds in their fields. Luke recorded this encounter in Luke 2:8-18. Jews did not highly regard shepherds. One reason for this occurred was because most of the Israelites had progressed to being farmers, instead of shepherds. When their forefathers lived in the Canaan before the famine, the main occupation was shepherding. When they lived in Egypt, because of the famine, they acquired a prejudice against shepherds. This occurred because the Egyptians looked down on their enemy, the Arabs, who were shepherds. The Egyptians were agriculturalists. Since the Hebrews lived in Egypt for 400 years, they adopted this prejudice. When Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, two-and-a-half of the tribes asked for land on the east side of the Jordan River so they could shepherd their flocks there. (Numbers 32:1) The other tribes of Israel lived on the western side of the Jordan and most were not shepherds. David, the shepherd-King, raised the stature of shepherds as did God, who called shepherds like Amos to be His prophets. (Amos 7:14) Still, the Jewish leaders used shepherds as an example for despised people in the Mishnah, where it called them “incompetent.” Even in Jesus’ day, the rabbis asked how the psalmist and others could call God ‘my Shepherd” in Psalm 23:1 since people despised shepherds. Shepherds were not like the magi or King Herod. They were even lower than Joseph, the carpenter, and Mary’s family. Shepherds were almost the lowest on the social ladder of Israel. It was to these humbled people God’s angel spoke on the night of the Messiah’s birth. At the time, Bethlehem was not a bustling metropolis. About 1500 people lived in and near there. The area had rough terrain and shepherding was an important job for them to provide income and resources. On that special night, the shepherds watching their flocks saw the star and heard the angel speak. The angel quickly assured them not to be afraid. God highly favored them since He sent His messengers. The angel told them where the Christ child lie and told them how to know which baby the Messiah was. To make his point, a host of angels began praising God. Seeing one angel could be called a hallucination. Seeing many angels singing praises to God confirmed this message was from God and they were not hallucinating. Fear turned to joy and urgency to see this Messiah. These shepherds were dirty, yet the messengers of God confirmed they were good enough to see and believe the Messiah had arrived. These shepherds believed in a Messiah as promised by God. Their fear turned to joy and urgency, and they acted upon it by hurrying to Bethlehem to see the Messiah for themselves. Though low on the social ladder, they knew of the prophecies of the Messiah. Their heads knew and their hearts hoped. The Christ child came even for people considered to be too low. These shepherds testified to the truth of the prophecies and what the angel told them by going themselves to see the child. They knew God. They testified by their actions of the truth they heard. They believed. They had a heart for God and knew how to hear Him. No one is too low for God to love and touch.
Consider now the King of Judea with whom the magi spoke. Herod the Great became King of Judea (King of the Jews) as a Client-King appointed by the reigning nation of Rome. The Roman Senate gave him the kingship in 40BC until his death. Herod’s mother was Arab, and his father was a Jew of Idumean descent. The Jews of Judea consider Idumean Jews racially impure and did not recognize him as their king or as a Jew. They tolerated him. To make peace with the Jews, Herod married the granddaughter of the ruling Hasmonean, Antigonus. The Hasmoneans had ruled Judea for 103 years. Herod gained a name as the rebuilder of the Jerusalem temple. He also built roads, buildings in Roman style, and a temple to the Roman Emperor. Herod became known for his fear and paranoia, too. Because he feared his family was conspiring to take his reign by killing him, he killed his wife, her mother and grandfather, and three of his sons. This fear that overwhelmed him made him suspicious of the child about whom the magi spoke. After Jesus’ birth, the magi arrived in Jerusalem asking where the child is who was born King of the Jews. Herod heard about their inquiry and worried. He asked the chief priests and scribes about the Messiah’s birthplace. They told him the prophecies said Bethlehem was that place. Herod now knew the place, but he didn’t know the time of the birth. so he asked the magi. He sent them to Bethlehem and asked them to tell him where the Messiah was so he could worship Him, too. (Matthew 2:1-8) Herod was human like each of us. He feared, schemed, worried, and sought information. His heart (emotions) led his head on an investigation to appease his heart. That investigation led to actions, sending the magi to find the child and tell him. Herod, like the wisemen, lived high on the social ladder. He reigned as an appointed King; however, the Jews, whom he was to rule, did not look up to him. They despised him he broke God’s laws and replaced their self-appointed ruler, Antigonus. The Romans appointed Herod ruler of their domain called Judea but looked down upon him as a Jew whose family bought their way into power. Everyone knew of the murders he commanded of his family and extended family. Herod was a man people tolerated but didn’t like. He was a man who feared, schemed, and then acted upon his heart and head impulses. He believed only in himself and his fear showed his lack of belief in his position and power. Herod’s beliefs and knowledge along with his intentions led him to act because of the birth of the Messiah.
For a nation that God intended to lead through His appointed priests and scribes, the religious leaders of that time did not play a large role in the advent of Jesus on earth. Could it be they were unprepared? Was it because they did not believe what they’d hoped for was happening through a virgin from despised Galilee? These leaders enter this story in Matthew 2:4-6. When Herod heard people talking about wisemen arriving in Jerusalem and asking the location of a different King of the Jews, he became paranoid and fearful again. This stoked his fear. Herod gathered the chief priests and scribes of the Jews asking about the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah. Did they know why Herod summoned them and asked about the Messiah? If they did, they were complicit in the killing of one day to two-year-old male children of Bethlehem and the attempted killing of the Messiah. Who were these men whom the King of Judea summoned and to whom a messenger of God did not announce the arrival of the Messiah? These leaders of Judah were men who wanted to keep their positions as given by God and maintained by Herod. These men despised the Roman-appointed King but feared for their lives under him. When the King called, they went to him. As God’s appointed priests and leaders of His people, they covenanted with Him to teach and lead the people to obey Him and to love Him with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. As God’s called priests, they had high stature with Him and a big responsibility. Because of that stature, they had a high social standing among the Jews, too. What they said carried authority even with Herod when he sought their counsel. These chief priests and scribes received an excellent education. They were humble at times and at others not humble. Sometimes they considered themselves better than others. They intended to follow God exclusively but failed at times. They meant to love God solely with their lives, but that did not always occur. These religious leaders were men who sinned just like each person sins against God during their lives. Though they had a high social standing, they were earthly, mortal, and sinful. These chief priests and scribes when called by Herod, knowing his fear and his past murders, probably feared not going to him. When Herod asked them about the Messiah’s prophesied birthplace, they told him what the prophet Micah said. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The religious leaders loved and feared God, but also feared Herod. They believed in what God’s prophets said. Whether or not they knew it when they answered Herod, they acted in good faith by telling Herod about the prophecy. Their actions resulted in the death of many male children and the continued fulfillment of the prophecy about the Christ child. The chief priests’ and scribes’ understanding and belief about the Messiah’s advent of on earth led to their actions.
One other group of people played on this stage during the advent of the Christ child. These people were Herod’s army. The men of this army were trained Roman soldiers. The standards of the army were high and the punishment for failing to follow orders often meant the death of that man. Add to this that these men probably feared Herod’s wrath, they obeyed his orders. The Roman soldiers considered themselves of a higher stature than the people the Roman’s ruled. That is the common opinion of any dominant and conquering nation over another. These soldiers forced their stature and the laws and desires of their rulers on the people, sometimes through physical harm. They obeyed their rulers’ commands even if they felt the commands were wrong. To do otherwise could cause their own imprisonment or death. The soldiers feared losing the stature their position gave them. Like Herod, the Client-King, their intention would have been to keep their job and stay alive. Matthew in Matthew 2:16 tells us the order Herod gave the soldiers when he feared the prophesied infant would usurp him. Matthew said,
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. [NASB]
These soldiers believed following their rulers was paramount for a better life than most people lived. They enjoyed the stature. They acted upon the stature with force sometimes because most often they could get away with it. They acted on their belief in their rulers because it gave them a better life.
Each of these people or groups of people acted upon what they believed and understood. Sometimes, like us, those actions led to harm and hurt of other people and, at other times, it led to glorious revelations and proclamations. Consider again these people after the birth of Jesus.
After Jesus’ birth, Herod’s soldiers would have continued to fear him and to act according to his commands even if they disagreed with them. They would have kept the same stature amongst the Romans and among themselves they had at the start. Yet, no one can say if possibly one or more of these soldiers heard the wisemen talk, heard about the angels of whom the shepherds spoke, or lived long enough to hear about the Messiah’s ministry and come to believe in Him as their Savior. What we can say about these men is they believed and knew what they needed to believe and know to be the Roman soldiers who acted upon the orders their ruler gave them. True belief and knowledge results in actions. A person often tempers these actions by his or her own intentions. They were humans who failed and succeeded in their tasks and beliefs based on their intentions, just like everyone else. In the future, it would be Roman soldiers who whipped Jesus, rolled the dice for His clothing, hung Him on the cross, pierced his side, and gave him wine mixed with gall to drink (Matthew 27:34). Still, a few soldiers believed and followed Jesus. They allowed their belief and knowledge to inform their intentions to act and follow Him.
The chief priests and scribes had a high stature among the Jews. God appointed them to lead His people to know and obey Him. These men believed in God. They knew His Laws, commands, statutes, and precepts. Sometimes they acted in obedience to God and sometimes they didn’t. They, too, are like other humans who’ve ever lived. Still, what they believed and knew at the time, based on their intentions, are upon what they acted. Belief, knowledge, and intentions lead to actions. If the chief priests and scribes knew Herod asked about the Messiah’s birthplace to kill Him, would they have stopped him or encouraged him? It depends on the intentions of the heart. Still action or inaction occurs by one’s intentions. Were these priests or scribes still alive when later priests and scribes had Jesus arrested and crucified? Were they ones who believed He is the Messiah and followed Him? A few did. We read of them in the Bible. They tried to insert reason among the other religious leaders plotting to kill Jesus. These followers, at least some of them, believed in Jesus, knew of Him, and allowed that to color their intentions. They followed Jesus with their lives.
King Herod’s ruled by his intentions. His intentions were for the Roman rulers to see him as an effective Client-King of Judea and for him to keep his position. He would do anything to keep his throne, including murder. What Herod believed and knew, if the prophecy was true, led him to understand he would lose his status and power. Added to this, if he didn’t act like true Roman rulers, he would lose his status and power. These beliefs drove his intentions. He intended to do anything to keep his reign. His knowledge and belief fed his intentions so that he acted against the Christ child and male children two and under in and near Bethlehem. Herod acted out his beliefs, knowledge, and intentions against God. King Herod never got to meet or see Jesus. He never knew Him personally, but he heard about Him and believed He posed a threat. Based on this, Herod intended to kill Jesus. Herod didn’t succeed, but he caused pain to many Jews because of his actions and intentions.
The shepherds are like most people in the world. They were not high in social standing. They had almost the lowest social standing in their nation. Unlike the three groups-the soldiers, religious leaders, and Herod-they believed God fully even without an excellent education. These lowly shepherds, humble and humbled by others, told other people what God said through the angel and what they saw. They testified about God and the Messiah. (Luke 2:20). Do you think they went to the stable, saw the child, then just went back to their sheep in the field? These shepherds told Mary about the angels. This was probably their greatest experience to that point in their lives. They would not have kept quiet. Just as the angel hosts sang praises to God, the shepherds gave praise to God. The songs they sang to their sheep and that the people heard may have been about the Messiah they saw. Their belief and knowledge caused their heart to intend to praise God, people to hear about the prophecies’ fulfillment, and all to know about the Messiah. Their actions began when they left the fields to go to Bethlehem to tell Mary about the angel’s words, then to tell other people and the sheep about the whole encounter with God from angels, to Mary, Joseph, and the Messiah child. Humble in stature but raised up by God because of their intentions and actions. For thousands of years, people have heralded the shepherds as ones who personally saw the Messiah child.
The wisemen, highly educated, noble, and of a high social standing, humbled themselves to travel months and possibly years to meet the true King of the Jews, the Messiah foretold. Their actions based on intentions, beliefs, and knowledge, like the shepherds, did not end once they saw the child. They recognized God when He gave them a dream. They had the knowledge and faith to understand the dream’s meaning and purpose and they intended to obey God. Matthew records this dream in Matthew 2:12. In the dream God told the wisemen not to return to Herod. This meant Herod would not hear from them where the Messiah was born. As we read later in this chapter, Herod was enraged. Still, the wisemen did not fear Herod. Their belief and knowledge caused their intention to obey God and safeguard the child by their actions. They went home by another route. This other way home could have been longer and more dangerous, but the wisemen would willingly go through hardships to help the child and obey God. Their faith in God encouraged them as they went by a different route. On their way home, they would have had more places and time to tell other people about the Messiah’s birth. More people would hear and have an opportunity to believe, know, and act upon God’s gift of His Son. The testimony of these men to other people would show their own humility in recognition of the Messiah. That act would add proof to Jesus’ identity. The wisemen recognized One greater than them and humbled themselves, unlike King Herod. Though other people considered the wisemen superior, the wisemen considered themselves lower than the One born in a manger.
Mary treasured in her heart what the magi did and what the shepherds said. (Luke 2:19) She and Joseph learned to hear God’s voice for themselves. They had a personal relationship with God. Through hearing His voice, they helped fulfill the prophecy of the Messiah. Mary’s and Joseph’s belief and understanding grew and caused them to act in faith. God transformed them from mere Jews of Galilee. He transformed them from their natural life to act and be for His purpose to bear and raise the Son of God. They went from worshiping God and thinking of themselves to knowing God more intimately and being part of His great plan to bring salvation to the world. They went from focusing on themselves, each other, and their marriage and future to focusing on the miracle of the Spirit-conceived, human-birthed “Son of the Most High”. They sought God daily as they strove to continue to follow His plan–from conception, birth, and protecting the child (going to Egypt to evade Herod’s decree (Mt 2:13-15)). Joseph continued to listen to God to return to Israel (Mt 2:19-23) and thus fulfill scripture about Jesus being raised in Nazareth. Joseph and Mary taught Jesus about the Hebrew scriptures, took Him to Temple, then protected, supported, and encouraged Him and the people He encountered. They enabled the child to grow into His role as Savior. Mary and Joseph believed in God and the Messiah. They knew His Word, Laws, commandments, statutes, and precepts. They intended in their hearts to love and obey God with all they were. This belief, knowledge, and intention led them to act for and with Him, in obedience to His will. These two whom the Jews of Judah despised God used to fulfill His prophecies to send the Messiah to earth. Though low in social standing, God considered Mary and Joseph great.
Though this advent story of Jesus’ entrance into the world in the form of a human seems already to have happened and be done, it is not over. There is another group of people who are part of this story. These people are the “watchers through the window of time”. Who are these watchers? We each are the “watchers through the window of time”. We live after the time of Jesus’ life as a human on earth and have heard the story of this advent of Christ. We have heard of other “watchers” from the time of His birth. Each of them believed or didn’t believe. They each had intentions after learning of the Christ child’s birth. Some intended to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and some did not. Their intentions came from their own desires: 1. To keep their status or not; 2. To allow fear to rule them or not; 3. To humble themselves or not; and 4. To worship the newborn King or not.
As the “watchers through the window of time”, we have the benefit of having learned of the life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, through the testimonies and lives of the apostles and the disciples of Jesus through the millennia. We also have the compilation of the Holy Scriptures. We each know about Jesus. We each have beliefs about Him. We each have intentions. Those intentions could be to humble our self to God and worship, love, and obey Him. Our intentions instead could be to be our own man or woman, do what makes us happy, and/or to climb the social ladder. Our knowledge of God informs our beliefs and ourselves and our beliefs can affect our intentions. Our intentions almost always affect our action or inaction, which is an action in itself.
This advent never ends. It doesn’t end after we unwrap the Christmas presents and discard the paper. It’s open-ended like God’s call to each person to come to Him. The advent of Jesus as human occurred because of God’s plan from before the beginning of time to provide a way for all people to be saved from their sins and the penalty due because of those sins. God planned salvation for each person so H we could be cleansed from sin and made righteous and then be in a right relationship with Him, the One who created and loves us.
You are a “watcher in the window of time” because now you have “seen” the Christ child in the manger and have heard of God’s great love by providing the gift to of salvation to you and each person. You must decide if your actions will be based on this knowledge and your belief. Each person gets to decide for him or herself. Each action causes an action. What will your action be? What will you decide?
God’s action comes because of love.
At the advent of this new year, will you act toward that love?
Will you seek Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
The advent of your life with Jesus can start now
and it never ends.
Lord, if I am truthful, I have seen Your advent through the window of time. I have known or just now learned, and Lord, I do recognize my need for Your gift of salvation. I have been like Herod where I feared someone taking my position at work, home, or in society. I have been like the chief priests and scribes who knew about You but refused to know You. I have been like the soldiers who did whatever I was told just so I could keep my position and not be moved to a lower rung. Lord, I would ask that You make me like the wisemen, or the shepherds or Mary and Joseph, but I realize that is not enough. I don’t want to be like them; I want to be like You. I want to be Your disciple and child, no matter what the consequences. Lord, forgive me for turning my back to You. Forgive me for speaking against You and doing things to discredit You in my world. Lord, please save me from myself and bring me into a right relationship with You. You alone are God. You are Savior. I am not either. Thank you, Lord. Amen.