Across the Pastor’s Desk: Think about the birth of Jesus

Published 8:00 pm Friday, January 20, 2023

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Nancy Overgaard

It worked! Putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the Nativity during the Christmas season helped me notice and think more deeply about details surrounding the birth of Jesus. It also helped me develop a resolution for the New Year.

Nancy Overgaard

The puzzle drew my attention to a once familiar detail in the Christmas story that somehow faded from memory, one I also tended to overlook when reading the familiar story.

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One detail I have never overlooked is that many individual angels appear throughout the birth narrative. There is the angel that appeared to Zechariah to foretell the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-25); another to Mary to foretell the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38); another to Joseph to explain the divine nature of Jesus and how he was to respond (Matthew 1:18-25); yet another to the shepherds to tell them about the birth of Jesus and how to find him (Luke 2:8-12). When I think of the Nativity, I think of all of those angels and have never forgotten them.

Yet, somehow, I forgot the fact that on the night Jesus was born, the entire sky filled with angels praising God and bearing witness to the magnitude of what was taking place. It was only as I struggled to piece together all of the angels across the sky in the Nativity puzzle that I stopped to think more deeply about the implication of this detail. If a vast host of angels responded to the birth and person of Jesus in this way (Luke 2:13) what does this say about how I am to respond? Has my response been adequate? Do I fully grasp who Jesus is and give him the honor due him?

Another detail of the puzzle that caught my attention was the reverence of the wisemen for Jesus, evident in their posture and in the magnanimous gifts they brought. In the jigsaw puzzle, as in many pictures of the Nativity, the magi, who traveled for days to honor Jesus, were there on bended knee.

Matthew 2:1-12 explains where we get the idea they knelt before Jesus and why. The wisemen, whose identity we do not fully understand, seemed to fully understand the identity of Jesus. Not only did they identify him as a king, one destined to rule and reign. They came, they said, to worship him, a word that can also mean to fall down and worship, to kneel, to bow low, to fall at his feet. The star that guided the magi shines brightly in the background, another indicator of the extraordinary nature of the one born, the only one for whom a star ever shone.

King Herod, too, seemed to grasp the magnitude of who Jesus is and what had just happened. Herod interpreted King of the Jews, the title used by the magi, to mean the Christ, the Anointed One, in Hebrew the Messiah whose coming the Old Testament prophets foretold. We know this because Herod gathered the chief priests and scribes to find out where the Christ was to be born.

I had to wonder again about the paucity of my own response to Jesus compared to the wisemen. How much effort do I make to spend time in his presence? Are my gifts and worship worthy of him? Do I really grasp the magnitude of who Jesus is and respond in a worthy manner?

The Christmas carol whose words penetrated most deeply for me this year is said to date back to the 4th Century and to be one of the oldest Christian hymns still in use: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.”

As we enter the new year, I invite you to join me in pondering deeply the significance of who Jesus is and how best to respond.

Nancy Overgaard is a member of the Freeborn County Ministerial Association.