This is the third post in a four-part series comparing details in the birth and death of Jesus Christ. The previous two posts shared about Mary's Ponderings and Strips of Cloth.
If you were going to make an announcement that would separate time in two, change the trajectory of the fate of human beings for eternity, and herald the birth of the King of Kings, what audio-visuals would you employ? Even new businesses use some sort of fanfare to spread the word that they are open and ready for business. You may have witnessed it yourself, seeing spotlights shining into the sky, rotating to gain attention, hearing huge speakers play advertisements to pique the curiosity of passers-by and draw them over, or even blaring bands or choruses vocalizing to sing songs of celebration and festivity. The announcement of the birth of Christ was very possibly a lot like that, only much more so in scope and glory.
The Gospel of Luke gives these details into the way God chose to announce the miracle of Jesus’s birth to shepherds:
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-11).
The glory of the Lord has been described as a light that shines brighter than anything we can ever experience in the natural realm. In fact, Revelation 21:22-25 tells us that in the new heaven and earth, there will be no need for the sun or moon, because God’s glory will illuminate all of the earth. Clearly the intensity of God’s glory accompanied this message of good news, so much so that the shepherds needed to be reassured by the angel.
Immediately following the singular angel’s announcement, an army of angels arrived on the scene and emphasized the herald this way:
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14).
I don’t know about you, but seeing the glory of the Lord and hearing the amazing news and the sheer volume of voices praising God would have gotten my attention! In addition, God chose to punctuate the news with a huge exclamation point in the form of a star. No one is exactly sure of what this literally means. Researchers and scientists find no definitive record of a specific ‘star’ during this general time, although there is some debate of the exact date of Jesus’s birth due to calendar changes, mathematical errors, translation nuances, and cultural adaptations. Some speculate it was an alignment of planets, like a similar upcoming alignment that is supposed to occur on December 21 of this year. Others suggest it was a nova or supernova. Still others wonder if it could have been a comet or other celestial phenomenon. The point, however, isn’t so much the source, or how, of the star, but rather, the why behind it.
The star served as the visible sign of the long-awaited King of the Jews to the magi, or wise men from the east. These wise men, most likely mathematically-adept astrologers, had been studying the night skies, studying prophesy, and paying attention to their dreams to discover the time and location of the birth of the King. The star of Bethlehem appearing in the night sky was their ‘go’ sign. Matthew describes the significant events of the magi:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”… And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Mt. 2:1-2; 9-11).
Compare the joyous, glorious events in the heavens at the birth of Jesus with the reactions in the heavens at Jesus’s death. There is a stark contrast.
First, whereas at the birth of Jesus there was the significance of light in the form of God’s glory and the light of the star leading the wise men, at the crucifixion we see the absence of light. In fact, three of the four gospels note that darkness covered everything for three hours just prior to the end of Jesus’s life.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour (27:45).
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (15:33).
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed (23:44-45).
In each of these accounts, from noon to three p.m. there was no light in the world because THE Light of the world was dying on the cross for you, for me, for all humanity.
In addition, whereas a multitude of angels in a heavenly chorus worshipped and proclaimed glory to God for His indescribable gift at the birth of Christ, there was silence in the heavenly realm during His crucifixion. Again, Matthew and Mark each make a point of detailing that Jesus, in His most agonizing, vulnerable moment, cried out to His Father, saying “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. This profoundly illustrates the complete turning away as Jesus, taking our place and becoming the sacrifice for our sin, is for the first time ever unable to be in the presence of the holy God. He was utterly alone and heaven was utterly silent.
As tragic as the contrast between the birth and death of Christ may seem, it is pointless to have one without the other. If we only participate in celebrating with joy the birth of Jesus and stop short acknowledging and internalizing the tragic, agonizing death of Jesus, we miss everything. His entire purpose was to fulfill the covenant God made with humanity to give us everlasting life in His presence. Jesus was sinless and faithful from birth to his death. Praise God, He victoriously conquered death three days later at His resurrection. Now He sits at the right hand of God as our Mediator. Looking at the whole picture, we, like the heavenly host and the shepherds, have reason to celebrate!