Now that the fuss and kerfuffle of end of year festivities is over, I feel a need to look at the Christmas story, bearing in mind that Jesus was really born in March! Here goes:
It was a crisp, clear night in late winter, the stars shining brightly in the moonless sky.
There was a buzz in the little Israeli town of Bethlehem in Judea. In those days Israel was ruled by Rome, and the Emperor, Caesar Augustus decreed that every person had to be registered. Bethlehem, small as it was, was the registration centre for a substantial area that included Nazareth. People thronged the narrow streets, every bed was taken; it was hard to find a table in any restaurant for a meal.
A young couple moved wearily through the crowds. The more observant would notice that the wife was heavily pregnant. They would also notice an air of separation, a politeness between the two. Over this, an aura of despair cloaked them, as they approached the last Inn on the road out of town. The woman’s body sagged when she saw her husband’s shoulders slump further, and she watched the innkeeper shake his head, apologetically. The man turned away. The Tavernier caught sight of the woman and suddenly understood their predicament. He called to the man, beckoned to his wife to follow him. He led them to the back of the building to the stable, where there was a vacant stall.
“It’s the best I can do,” he said.
“It looks wonderful,” the woman said wearily. “It is warm, it is dry, and the hay will make a comfortable bed.”
“Thank you for your consideration; may the God of our fathers bless you,” the man’s voice was husky, tight with emotion.
Overhead a star glowed brightly, and appeared to increase in size.
A little way outside the village, a group of shepherds were sitting around a fire, enjoying the clear night. They noticed the star, commented on it, wondered about it, and fell into companionable silence.
Further afield, a caravan of camels and donkeys moved through the early night towards Jerusalem. There was a sense of urgency in the voices of the drivers, encouraging their camels forward. Underlying their urgings, a serious conversation was taking place between three well-dressed men. If you were to inquire, you would discover that they were respected Magi, wise and holy men respected in the east for their vast knowledge and wisdom.
“We must be close, the star burns brighter, and it has grown in size.”
“We are at the outskirts of the city, why don’t we go and ask Herod – he should know if a king has been born.”
Little did they know the savagery their request would unleash, when Herod, terrified of any opposition ordered the slaughter of all male children to the age of two.
Mathew 2:18 A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (Quoted from Jeremiah 31:15, written some 600 years earlier)
Back in the stable, the young lady, her name is Mary, realised the tiredness and pain in her back were more than the effects of their journey from Nazareth. The contractions began to come fast and were intense. Joseph, her husband, experienced a moment of wild panic as he realised that as a carpenter, his midwifery skills were severely lacking.
His prayer was directed heavenwards: “You got me into this, Father, so I look to you for help in delivering this baby.”
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (approx. 700 years previously)
The animals shuffled curiously as they listened to the muffled grunts of pain, and the quiet soothing voice as it encouraged. Soon there was the cry of a new life.
“Well done, Mary, you have done it! You have delivered the Son! And yes, His name is truly Emanuel, for He is God with us!” Joseph wrapped the small form in swaddling clothes, all he could find in their travel bags, and handed Him to his mother.
Out on the hillside, the shepherds were dozing. Suddenly a brilliant light appeared! Before they could gasp out their fear, they were astounded by the sight of an enormous angel. They rubbed their eyes, their faces reflecting their disbelief, then fear took hold of them.
A voice thundered forth from the being in the midst of the light: “It’s okay, you don’t need to be afraid! I’ve come to bring you some amazing news: tonight in Bethlehem your Saviour has been born, the Christ is lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.”
Suddenly the sky was filled with angels, singing in glorious harmony: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
They couldn’t wait, almost falling over each other in their eagerness to be the first to see if what they had been told was true. Their joy at finding the baby, exactly as had been described, was untrammelled.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He sent his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The simple shepherds were the first to witness the beginning of a new era, an era that would guide and divide the world for centuries to come. They were the first to meet this man Jesus, who with a few chosen disciples, so impacted the world that time has been measured from that day.
Mathew 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.”
It was to take the baby’s lifetime, a scant thirty-three years, and His cruel and unfair death, before men of the human race understood fully the happenings of that far off night in Bethlehem. What is death, but separation? The greatest separation is that from the God who created us. God is Holy, and He is pure, and anything that is not holy and pure cannot stand in His presence.
Exodus 33: 19 Then He (God) said (to Moses) “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
That was the consequence of Adam and Eve wanting to know all about everything – for evermore God’s prime creation, the reflection of His glory, man, would be separated from Him. God was heartbroken. All of heaven came together to find a way to change this. There was only one solution. There was one person who could change this – the Son, Jesus. If He came and lived as a mortal among men, a man pure enough to stand in the presence of the Father, and if He were to die a death that would allow Him to pay the full consequence of man’s sin, a way would be forged for God to once more be able to enjoy fellowship with the being He created in His image.
That is the significance of that heralded birth, in that lowly stable long ago in the little town of Bethlehem.
That is the story of Christmas.