And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

I don’t think I’ve ever paused to think about the power of a theatrical spotlight. I’m not talking about the potency of the lumens produced by the equipment itself, but the power it has to focus our attention. In a play, our eyes are drawn to the object of the beam – the center of the action, the mask of the phantom or a heart-wrenching plea to “Bring Him Home.” It’s only natural as our eyes are drawn to what shines brightest. Given this, think about how much power the person directing the spot has on our perception of reality. They get to choose what we focus on and what we do not focus on. It is a significant yet potentially subversive power to shape our understanding.

I say this because we live in a time of many spotlights—drawing our attention toward a myriad of “important” things. For the better part of 2020, the brightest beams focused our attention on the “apocalyptic” significance of the election, its hero/demon candidates, voter fraud, the coronavirus, violation of personal rights, social justice and the like—all in opposite and contradictory directions. The world directed our focus through its digital spotlights…and we looked on.

Things were no different in the days of Jesus’ birth. The world was just as divided and chaotic back then as it is now. In the greater 1st century world, the spotlight was on the workings of imperial Rome (Luke 2:1). In the narrower scope of Jerusalem, it was on the machinery of Jewish politics and religion with its many factions and sub-factions contending for power through use of their own respective spotlights. As such, we find Jerusalem caught up in the drama of its own political, existential world. Could we say that this, in part, was why they missed the day of their visitation and the birth of their Messiah? I think so.

Minus all of the sentimental overlays that we bring to Luke 2:7 and its account of the birth of Jesus, the scene is less than ordinary. In fact, it’s downright pitiful—“She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” A contemporary version of this verse would find a young woman giving birth to her baby boy in a dirty back alley with no other bed than a homeless shopping cart.   It’s a pathetic image to say the least. The irony, of course, is that this is precisely where the Savior entered the world—a moment of unspeakable divine glory. And while earth focused its attention on workings of human power and conflict, God pointed his great spotlight into a “dark alley.” And the only ones to witness it were a group of nameless shepherds.

This teaches us an important truth about how God works in our world. God doesn’t move with the spotlight of the human world but in defiance against and outside the spotlight of the world. If the human spotlights are shining—what the world deems newsworthy—you can bank on a recession of God’s saving power and focus.   Rather, we look into the back alleys of human weakness, where simple people serve God’s simple purposes with simple faith (no cameras or microphones), and there you will witness the glory of God at work in the lives of ordinary people (like Mary & Joseph).  

May I encourage all of us this season to rebel against the spotlights of the world! Don’t let them enslave your thoughts! Don’t let the “director of the theatre” set the agenda of your focus. If you do, it will siphon your joy, weaken your faith, and fill you with fear. Rather, focus on the fact that God pointed his bright light in an obscure location in Bethlehem and changed the world forever. In the same manner, He continues to shine His great spot on what the world deems simple and weak (un-newsworthy). After all, we’re told explicitly that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the strong (1 Cor 1:27). Yes…I say…let your thoughts rebel this Advent as we consider the pitiful beginnings of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

(Originally published 2020)

No Comments