Friday, December 10, 2021

Behold the Lamb

One of my favorite things about Advent is finding seemingly serendipitous connections between the Old Testament and the Nativity story. Today’s reflection is no exception. Except it might not all be true. . .

Being a librarian, I know the value to going back to the original source. For most of what we learn about Christ’s birth, that comes from the pages of Scripture. Some things are historical and backed up by archeology. But this story is hard to pin down. A little bit from the extra-Biblical Mishnah, some from messianic rabbis and theological writers, but most passed along on blogs like this one.

Regardless, it is a fascinating thing to consider, so I will share it:

In the fields of Bethlehem, there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks—we know this from Luke chapter 2. But what if they weren’t ordinary shepherds. Many believe that the nearness to Jerusalem means the sheep kept in this region were meant for high holiday sacrifices at the temple, most specifically Passover. Temple-appointed shepherds, if you will.

There are no recorded laws about the shepherds keeping sheep for the sacrifice, only what the lambs were to look like: without blemish or spots. Whether of not priests had assigned the shepherds to that Bethlehem field, I have no doubt that at least some of these lambs made their way to Jerusalem for sacrifice.

But here’s the most interesting part: Some believe that to keep the blemishless lambs clean, the shepherds would wrap them in “swaddling clothes,” maybe even leftovers from used priestly garments, and to keep from injury, they would lay them in a manger.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they say,
“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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10b-12)
Not very specific directions. One part of this story sheds light on that. Many believe the “Tower of the Flock” from Micah 4:8 is Migdal Edar, a specific structure for birthing and determining the lambs for sacrifice on the outskirts of Bethlehem. With the information that the baby would be “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger,” there was only one place matching that description, and the shepherds would have known where that was.

Again, these will likely remain just theories, so take them with a grain of salt. But, they are super fascinating to think about and help point us to what we do know. Scripture is full of parallels between Jesus and the sacrificial lamb. Indeed, “the story of the lamb” as Tim Keller put it in his 2002 sermon by the same name, is a Bible-long story. He says, “At the very center of Biblical faith is the bloody death of an innocent victim.” God cannot forgive without payment—someone had to bear the price.

During the Exodus, God tells Moses He is sending a massive destructive force (death) against the Egyptian firstborn sons, and the only way the Israelites could protect themselves was with the blood of a lamb, spread across the doorposts of their houses. The lamb paid the price, on behalf of the Hebrew sons. But this was not the last chapter. As incredible as this Passover lamb was, they needed a deeper one, for a more radical and long-lasting salvation.

Fast forward to the Last Supper, where Jesus essentially tells His disciples, “I am the Lamb.” Keller imagines Jesus’ actions and words during the Passover meal to say, “My death will be the central event to which all of the history of God’s relationship with the world has been moving.”

Hannah Brencher concludes her essay on this very topic with this: “He [God] doesn’t pick random locations. . . He picked the breeding grounds for Passover lambs to be the birthing grounds for the lamb of God-- blood poured out for all of us.”

Bethlehem was chosen for a reason. The image of shepherds and sheep throughout Scripture were chosen for a reason. Regardless of theorized details in this story, we can confidently join John the Baptist and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.