God’s Special People

The New Testament people God chose to meet Jesus were, firstly, shepherds. At the bottom of society, they got the very best deal. Never before or since has anyone in the world seen an angel choir, possibly tens of thousands of them worshipping God with all their hearts; and hearing the inimitable praise-music of heaven! Yet now, heaven’s overwhelming joy was revealed to these shepherds alone. Heaven’s curtains were drawn back. Impoverished shepherds aren’t normally into religion, praise or worship, but these ran to that cattle trough holding a baby. Shepherds don’t normally run, and certainly not away from their sheep. Something big was happening.

Then there was that second group, those mysterious men from the East who turned up: kings, wise men, scholars – who knows? – but certainly not Jews. Although outsiders and from a strange religious background, God invited them all the same. Not one Jewish leader, religious or political, received an invitation; just smelly shepherds and strange foreigners from another religion.

Then came the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple. Their law had commanded that, if the woman’s first child was a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord. So, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to present him and offer the sacrifice required by the law.

On arrival, out of the shadows came two unknown figures. Simeon, an elderly, righteous and devout Jerusalem man was there, waiting for them. The Holy Spirit had told him, that before he died, he would see the Messiah who was coming to rescue Israel. Then, on this day, the Spirit led him to the Temple to be there when Mary and Joseph turned up with baby Jesus. Simeon took Jesus in his arms, praised God and prophesied that he was a light to reveal God to the nations, and be the glory of God’s people Israel! Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and gave a very tough message to Mary, saying her son had been sent as a sign from God, yet many would oppose him. The deepest thoughts of many hearts would be revealed, and a sword would pierce Mary’s very soul.

They were then joined by Anna, a prophet. Most people were likely to have regarded her as odd but harmless. This very, very old and unusual widow lived permanently in the Temple, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She now started praising God and talking about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

What are we to make of these stories? For me, I’m sure they’re true. Luke emphasises that his gospel depended on eyewitness evidence. My guess is he interviewed Mary in great detail. The wise men would have been out of reach, if alive; and Simeon and Anna would surely have died. Maybe he was able to interview at least one of the shepherds.

Why did God use these special people – the shepherds, the wise men, Simeon and Anna? My guess is it was his chosen way to reassure Mary she wasn’t suffering from a crazy illusion. Her strange pregnancy, all those dreams and angels, the terrible journey to Bethlehem when about to give birth, finding no room at the inn – and later escaping to Egypt as a refugee – were all in God’s plan. Then there was the ongoing realisation in Egypt that God had gone before. But I think there’s another reason. God looks at you and me today and thinks we too are special, even if we don’t see it ourselves. And he has special things for each one of us to do, that no-one else can do. At any one time he may use us in ways we don’t expect or understand to do marvellous things according to his plan. For Paul wrote, “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

I believe this message is for you and me. We are all very, very special in his eyes.
It must have been a dark time for the young Mary. Eight or nine months pregnant, she had to travel some 100 miles on rough roads – probably on foot – down to Bethlehem. It was not her idea – she had to go, and the only accommodation was in a farm building with a cattle trough for her baby, and infant mortality must have been high in those days. It must have been hard enough for any pregnant woman—but this one had been told she was highly favoured by God—and her Son was to sit on the throne of Israel. Really? She did not now feel much favoured, and it was a strange way for a future king to be born. How did God help her in all this: there’d been no more angel visits or dreams from God?

Well, God used some special people as his agents – two groups and then two individuals.
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