Modern Day Ruth
Supporting Players in the Birth of Jesus
One fascinating thing about the birth of Jesus Christ is the number and diversity of individuals whose lives were touched. They were drawn as though by a magnet into the drama that became the dividing point of history. Each person played their part, some willingly and knowingly, others reluctantly or ignorantly. Those who had a role in this historical pageant were lifted out of obscurity, forever immortalized in the pages of history. The course of their lives was changed. No one has come into contact with the Christ Child stayed the same. Each had their moment and their part to play. For that moment, they occupied the center stage, then moved aside to make room for another. Finally, all disappeared and left only the Son of God to occupy the spotlight alone. The true star appeared and will remain forever the chief attraction. Let us open the history pages and briefly note some supporting players.
First, there was Mary, a young woman in her early teens. She was of humble but noble origin, born in a small town called Nazareth. Mary's devotion to God and her obedience to His will were absolute. She was discreet and chaste in her conduct. She made occasional appearances during the life and ministry of Jesus.
Then, there was Joseph, a just and devout man. He, too, was of royal descent, although he worked in a humble but honorable profession. He was a carpenter. Joseph was a patient man, close enough to God to hear Him speak. And Joseph, having heard God speak, is quick to obey Him. Joseph was a good man who had an important part in the nativity and early life of Jesus, then his name faded from the narrative, to be seen no more.
Caesar Augustus, though he didn't know it, played a small but vital part in the plot. He was emperor of Rome, and Rome controlled the Mediterranean world. Caesar declared that all should be taxed, which meant everyone had to be registered. Jesus would have been born in Nazareth without Caesar's law, but the census brought Joseph and Mary from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Caesar's part was perfectly timed, so the child was born in Bethlehem, as the scripture had predicted.
The innkeeper has played a part in Christmas tradition simply because every inn must have an attendant. He is not mentioned in scripture; he was just an ordinary person. He did not have a room for Joseph and Mary. He could not very well turn them away in Mary's condition. Giving them the use of the stables was, in reality, an act of kindness for which the innkeeper shall be remembered.
As with the innkeeper, no names are given to the shepherds who came. Just shepherds, ordinary, nameless, working men. Undoubtedly, they were men who cherished the hope of a coming Messiah. They were given the privilege of being the first to hear the good news of great joy and being witnesses of Christ. Theirs was a dramatic part but one that was momentary.
Other nameless participants who played a significant role were the wise men from the east. These were not ordinary working men of the Orient. They were called Magi. They were deeply religious men who knew Jewish prophecies about the coming Messiah. They had determined the time of His birth; they were only waiting for the sign. Their travel involved preparation, risk, expense, and endurance, yet they came. Having paid their tribute, they faded into oblivion as mysteriously as they appeared.
Every play has a villain; Herod was a puppet king over the Jews who received his power from Caesar. He was mean and dangerous and would not hesitate to slay his mother and sons to protect his throne. A man of his nature could not tolerate another in his kingdom called the "King of the Jews." His order to execute Bethlehem's infants was in keeping with his character.
All these and many more played a role in the pageantry surrounding Christ's birth. They represent all walks of life, all cultures, and all levels of society. These were men and women, Jews and Gentiles, noblemen and peasants, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, old and young, housewives, politicians, scholars, laborers, businessmen, and professionals. One thing they all had in common — at some point in their lives, they came in contact with Jesus.
This is an ongoing experience, for He is that true light that lights every person who comes into the world.
Jesus is the shining star from the line of Jacob. The lily of the darkest valley, the rock of all ages. He is the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is altogether lovely; He is the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Friend of Sinners, the Lamb of God, and the Coming King. He is indeed the Christ, the Son of the Living God!
Contact with Jesus is electrifying, but that in itself is not sufficient. We must receive and accept Him. The shepherds came and left glorifying and praising God, but the rich young ruler came and went away sorrowful. The wise men followed the star joyfully while Herod grew hateful and violent. Pilate asked a question that is still pertinent, "What shall I do then with Jesus, which is called Christ?". As he was confronted with this question, so also are we. What will be our answer?
He was in the world, and though the world was created through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. —John 1:10-13