A Christmas Story. By Carol Russell.
It was a silent night. Every inn, tavern, Air B&B was full as full could be. People had travelled, long distances some of them, to comply with the decree issued by Caesar Augustus. Bethlehem had never seen so many visitors all at once for, well, maybe ever! Those offering hospitality had denarii signs in their eyes while the weary travelers tried to sleep in beds that were not their own with the guy in the next room snoring loudly and the baby in the room opposite crying all night. It was chaos! What was the Emperor thinking? But no one dared voice their thoughts on that! They were living under Roman rule and the rulers were cruel and tyrannical. You towed the line or bore the consequences. So it may have been a silent night but it wasn’t a peaceful night!
But that’s just the backdrop. Our story hones in on one young couple, arriving on the scene. The man was walking and his wife was riding on a donkey (well, possibly! It’s not written anywhere that she did but I can’t imagine she would have walked all the way being 9 months pregnant!) The man, whose name was Joseph, went from Inn, to tavern, to B&B, to and fro but there were no rooms left. They were far from wealthy and could afford no more than the very basic accommodation on offer but there wasn’t even anything basic on offer. What was he to do for his poor wife, Mary? Should they have started out earlier? He couldn’t have left her behind but watching her discomfort over the 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem caused his heart pain. He loved this beautiful woman so much and they stopped many times on the journey for her to rest and now there was nowhere for them to stay. What were they to do? Sleep in the gutter? Joseph cried out to God in desperation. ‘God! Would you have Your son born in the gutter with all the muck and stench of humanity?’ God’s reply was immediate and with so much love ‘that’s the very people He is coming to save.’ A voice interrupted their conversation. ‘Umm…excuse me. If you are still looking for somewhere to stay, I’m afraid all my rooms in the inn are full but I do have a stable area. It’s where my animals bed down but there’s plenty of straw and it’s out of the cool night air. The straw will keep you warm.’ Joseph thanked him, glanced heavenward, and followed the innkeeper behind the inn to their new sleeping quarters. The innkeeper said goodnight and left. Joseph tried to make it as comfy for Mary as possible. Mary saw all his efforts. Nothing bypast Mary! She saw everything. (Sometimes Joseph wished she didn’t!) Mary loved Joseph all the more for his care and concern for her on their journey to Bethlehem, especially his efforts now to make the straw into a bed for them. And then it happened. ‘Oh no! Joseph – the baby’s coming!’ ‘What, now?’ ‘Yes Joseph. Right now!’
So this silent night became a holy night. A glorious night. The night when pure love entered the world. When a bright light shone that could never be extinguished. The night when heaven touched earth. The Saviour of the world was born. And then it was no longer a silent night.
Up in the hills where the shepherds were looking after their sheep there suddenly came a bright light. Blindingly bright! But let me just back up a minute. Who were these shepherds? They were poor, uneducated, dirty from sleeping with their sheep, bottom of the pile sort of guys, in an out of the way place. Definitely not centre of town position. If you had good news to bring they would not really be first on your list to deliver it to. And this wasn’t just good news, this was the greatest news ever, in the whole of history, past, present and future! Yet God chose these lowly shepherds to be the first to get the news. And what a delivery system! The shepherds were sat chatting amongst themselves about a new pasture for the sheep, that ridiculously silly ewe that had wandered off … again! And what food they had left in their backpacks and then suddenly, no prior warning of any kind, their black hillside became radiantly bright. The radiance was all around them and a being, an angel, came down from the sky and spoke to them. It is written that they were terrified! Wouldn’t you be? He said to the shepherds ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Alright for him to say! Then he gave them the good news. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”’ As if that wasn’t enough, this angel brought all his friends! And then it really got noisy! They had a full on heavenly praise party, glorifying God. Then the angels left. The shepherds were on their own again on the dark, quiet hillside. What just happened? Did they dream it? Was it the food they had eaten earlier? Or had they really just heard good news of great joy? They chose to believe they’d heard good news of great joy and went to Bethlehem to see this thing that had happened. They believed, they went and they found what they were looking for. But it didn’t stop there. They then went off and spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child. It is written that all who heard it were amazed. What did the shepherds do after all this? They returned, it says. Returned to where? I suspect they returned to the hills and their sheep. It was their livelihood. It was their familiar ground. But they returned different men. They had been changed by their visit to a stable in Bethlehem. By gazing on a newborn baby and believing Him to be the Saviour of the world. Believing that Emmanuel had come. The long awaited Messiah was here and they’d seen Him. And their response? They glorified and praised God. They had their own praise party!
If you haven’t heard the good news, I want to tell you. Not corporately but as individuals. This news is for you. Put your name on it. It’s yours. ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. A Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.’
Take a look in that stable. Focus in on the manger and the baby. He’s Emmanuel. God with us. God with you. Stay there a little while.
Then squint a little, just above His head and see a cross. That’s the destiny of this little baby. Does it sound cruel? Well yes it does. Does it sound unfair? Well, again, yes it does. But how much do we want to know real peace? I don’t mean world peace but peace inside of us. Peace in the midst of the chaos of life. Do we want to know real freedom? Freedom from all the things inside of us that hold us back, put us down and tear us apart. And what about real love? We all need to be loved. That unconditional, even in my jammies with unbrushed hair and no make up ‘I love you’ love. That’s what the cross is all about. God has peace, freedom and love in bucket loads for us but there is such a huge chasm between us and God, way bigger than Cheddar Gorge. It is caused by all the bad, selfish, unlovely things that we have done or will do. If we search inside ourselves we know we’re not perfect but, you see, God is. He is perfect in every way. Not in a Mary Poppins kind of way. He has no selfish agenda, no ego. He is pure goodness. He is just even when we think He isn’t. He knows the big picture. He is purity, righteousness and holiness held together by love. That’s God. In our natural state we could not approach Him. To bring things to rock bottom, there is a price to be paid for all the bad stuff. The penalty is death. No more, no less. But the good news of great joy is – a Saviour, a Rescuer has been born to you! That’s why Jesus came. He knew we couldn’t do anything ourselves to bridge the gap so He took all the punishment necessary so we didn’t have to because He loves us, loves you that much. Now we have a way across that great gulf. It’s the cross of Jesus. So the cross was necessary. It was cruel and it was unfair. Did Jesus deserve it? No. Very much no! We deserved it. But Jesus willingly accepted the punishment that we could have a relationship with Almighty God and know inner peace, freedom and pure love.
So we’ve looked at the baby in the manger, we’ve seen the cross, now look beyond the cross. There’s even more good news. There is an empty tomb. The bible tells us that some of the women who followed Jesus went to the tomb where He had been buried and they met some angels who said to them ‘why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!’ This was God’s trump card! He raised Jesus to life, taking away the fear of death and opened the door to eternal life in Him. This is our hope. Our future.
So as we think of that beautiful baby in the manger, worship and adore Him. Think about what Christmas really means and who Jesus is. Without Christmas there would be no Easter.