God came down the backstairs at Bethlehem

In an aggressive bid to attract members, a Midwest megachurch recently sunk $25,000 into decorations for a lavish Christmas program. We’ve come a long way from the manger.

Something in us likes to be dazzled and entertained, to have our senses galvanized with spectacle. There are even public-relations firms that specialize in media blitzes and festive openers, providing clowns, fireworks, and dance troupes to showcase a new product or introduce an aspiring celebrity with great hoopla.

Why did God not use a few special effects when Jesus was born, and let loose a miracle or two like those that occurred at the dawn of Creation, or with Moses and the Exodus? Why did he not go for maximum exposure by choosing Athens, Rome, Alexandria—even Jerusalem—for Christ’s birth? And if the prophet Isaiah had announced that the coming Messiah King, the virgin’s child, would finally sit in royal splendor on David’s throne, why a cave as the setting for the birth?

True, a star appeared, but not many knew why or for whom. And an angel chorus heralded the event, but none but a few poor shepherds heard their announcement. Surely this was not the auspicious beginning one would expect for the birth of the world’s Savior.

Yet this anomaly tells us something. It points us not only to what God was up to then, but also how Jesus comes today into the midst of our lives.

God’s Gentle Sign

Jesus came first to us, as preacher George Buttrick suggested, as a gentle sign. A working-class couple welcomes their first child in a stable with its pungent odors, among animals whose moist eyes reflect the flickering light of the oil lamps brought in for the birth. No sounding of ...

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