Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 28, 2008

Marveled, Astonished, and Amazed: Responding to Advent (Part II)

The Nativity

Now that we’ve observed the amplified reactions of Mary, Elizabeth, and the unborn baby John the Baptist (click here for Part I), let’s move on and catch a brief glimpse at three other instances in Luke’s account of the birth narrative to see how those who were exposed to the knowledge and personal experience of the coming of the Son of God in the flesh responded in amazement.

Although in this study, I’ve focused on the appearance of words such as “marveled,” “astonished,” and “amazed,” there are other words that the Gospel writers used to convey the awestruck responses of people who were in the path of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. One such word(s) to take note of is “fear/afraid“. Even though their reaction in this case was primarily in view of the visible manifestation of the angel of Lord in addition to the glory of the Lord which “shone” around them, we still see that a human’s encounter with the Holy always begins with a sense of fear. The text says emphatically that the shepherds were “filled with fear.” Here a little Greek can help us get a better grasp of just how “filled with fear” the shepherds were. The actual phrase consists of a verb (were afraid of/were frightened), a noun (fear), and an adjective (great). A very wooden translation of the clause would be “they were frightened with great fear“. It is clear in the Greek that Luke wants us to see an emphasis in their “fear” because the verb and noun are cognates. In other words, they come from the same root, just like in English the verb “feared” and the noun “fear” are two different parts of speech but come from the same linguistic root.

This makes it even more interesting when in 2:10 you immediately hear the angel of the Lord say, “Fear not.” Instead, the angel proclaims that what he has come to reveal is “good news” and will be for “great joy” to all peoples. Nonetheless, the shepherds, as simple-minded as people make them out to be, were still greatly moved by their supernatural encounter and with the good tidings that had been delivered to them.

Third, under the proclamation of the shepherds, Luke tells us in 2:18, “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them (see 2:10-14). It was the message of the arrival of the long-awaited Savior, who was to come in the lineage of King David, and be born in his city, Bethlehem. One can only imagine hearing the announcement from shepherds that all of the years of waiting since the first promise in Genesis 3:15 were now finally over. The Christ has come! God has come in the flesh in order to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21)! I doubt if the word “wonder” can even really capture the full psychological and emotional elements at work in the people who had received the shepherds’ testimonies. Within this particular scene, we see Mary growing in her awareness and comprehension of all that was happening in the universe as a result of the birth of her firstborn son. Luke says in 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Then, still mesmerized by the majesty of what had been revealed to them, Luke writes that the shepherds returned after heralding the good news of the baby born to be King, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (2:20).” The birth of Jesus was a celebration marked by excitement, rejoicing, and wonder. It is clear in the text that the people got it right as they made God their treasure, having come to know that they were in the process of being eyewitnesses to the Lord fulfilling his great and glorious redemptive plan of salvation. (See also the account of Simeon’s prophetic word over baby Jesus and how Joseph and Mary “marveled” at what was said in 2:22-35)

And fourth, later in Luke 2 we see the 12 year old Incarnate God making an unforgettable appearance in the temple in Jersualem at the Feast of the Passover. Coming off the heels of constant exuberant worshipping and praising God for the birth of the promised Messiah (i.e. Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, baby John, Zechariah, the Shepherds, Simeon, and Anna), Luke continues to build the great cosmic magnitude regarding the earthly presence of the Son of God. The young Jesus was found after three days in the temple, apparently blowing the minds of the teachers who were present. Luke recounts in 2:47, “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.” It seems that from the very beginning of Jesus’ life he caused people to burst with wonder and to marvel at the reality of who he was, is, and is to come. Perhaps those teachers sitting around the inquisitive and articulate 12 year old Son of God that day were not fully aware of just who this child might have been; nevertheless, it is clear from Luke’s account that they noticed something remarkable about this boy, as did his learning parents. As the family departed Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth, once again Luke tells us that Mary “treasured up all these things in her heart (2:51b).” And then with a fitting end to these two chapters, Luke seals them off with a profound and prophetic word (one with OT roots) concerning the maturing Jesus by commenting, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (2:52).”

The story of the birth of Christ truly is amazing. One cannot even begin to exhaust the massive depths of completely understanding what it means for God to become flesh and be born as a baby, and then proceed to grow in wisdom, in knowledge, and in physical maturity. But, zooming out a little, though the wonder of the Incarnation itself is worthy of limitless contemplation, we must not forget that God ordained this event to occur so that Jesus, the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, might secure redemption for those who were under the curse of the law of sin and death as well as ensuring the restoration of the marred creation. However, in “pondering” these things, we must guard ourselves from making the center of the gospel about “us,” for we are meant upon reception of the good news of Christ to follow in the footsteps of the shepherds and return to the manger throne of Jesus Christ “glorifying and praise God” and join with the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest!” And in order for us to have this disposition, we must never lose the wonder and astonishment of the coming of Christ and his divine identity no matter how familiar we may become with written Word of God. May the Lord in his grace and by his Spirit allow us to read the Gospels and the entire biblical canon each time as if it were the first!

“But God when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

~ Galatians 4:4-5 ~

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