“It’s not about you.” By these words, A well-known American Pastor Spoke to a generation of readers about a view of life That strives, however imperfectly, to put God’s purposes in center place. It has been a timely word for a culture that is self-obsessed, where advertising slogans, pop psychologies, and sophisticated theories encourage us to believe that achieving self-fulfillment is our paramount concern. We needed, and still need, a strong corrective to these distortions. Yet for all its benefit to us, “It’s not about you” could also lead us astray and cause us to miss the greatest wonder in all of human history. A brief journey back in time to the center point of history might save us from that.
Luke 2 tells us that “in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (v. 1). In obedience to the decree, Joseph and his wife, Mary, left Nazareth in Galilee in order to be registered in Bethlehem. Mary was with child, though yet a virgin, for she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her child would be the Son of God, born for the salvation of His people.
While they were in Bethlehem, the child was born, even as the prophet Micah had foretold. On that night, there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and said: “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” (2:10–12).
The angel’s announcement was good news for all the people. Being made to the shepherds, it would seem that the good news was for them as well. But just in case they had any doubts, the angel gave them a sign to confirm the truth of what had been spoken: they would find the child lying in a manger. The manger is mentioned three times in this narrative (vv. 7, 12, 16), certainly an indication of its importance.
The angel explained its significance as a sign to the shepherds that the good news is indeed for all the people, themselves included. The animal feeding trough served as the Savior’s crib so that shepherds might believe He was willing to bed down in their lowly condition. He was coming among them, joining with them in their lowliness. Though he was rich, He became poor for us, that we through His poverty might become rich. As God was acting for us, He also sought to assure us that it was so. The Good Shepherd of the sheep would first make His bed among the sheep. The saving God who had made His tent with Israel in the wilderness now made His tent in our flesh. His name is Immanuel, “God with us.”
The plain truth of the narrative is that Christ’s birth was about them, the shepherds, and all other people, too. The manger assured them it was so. God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son, that all who believe in Him might be saved (John 3:16).
In a proper zeal to counter the obsession with self so prevalent in our day, we could easily overcorrect. “It’s all about God” could be a pious replacement, but it is open to misunderstanding as well. God is not self-obsessed in the sinful way our society promotes. He does not depend on anything from His creation, so what He does is not done to meet His own needs. His self-sufficiency leaves no room for the sinful self-obsession to which His fallen creatures are vulnerable. His love and benevolence toward us moved Him to send His Son into the world. What happened in Bethlehem was about us—and the shepherds, too. The manger confirmed it.
Paul tells us this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance—Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the foremost of them all: Paul himself. If we are inclined to think that Paul was overstating the matter somewhat, for surely many have felt the same way about themselves, we are kept from that interpretation by the explanation that he gives for his being saved with other sinners. He says that he received mercy for this reason, that in him, as the foremost, Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:12–16).
In order that all might have hope of acceptance, God saved the worst among us. We might say this is the sign for us, just as the manger was for the shepherds. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, however great their sins might be. That is what it is about. Indeed, this is what all of history is about. Our Bible ends not just with God in His glory but with the redeemed clothed with the glory of God and God dwelling with them. When we have grasped this blessed truth in all its sweetness, we will not be carried away into self-obsession. We will instead sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”