It was a silent night. Every inn, tavern, air BnB was full as full could be. People had travelled, long distances some of them, to comply with the decree issued by Caesar Augustus. And 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 travellers 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 homes in on one young couple, arriving on the scene. The man was walking, and his lady was riding on a donkey (well, possibly! The Bible doesn’t say she did, but I can’t imagine Mary would have walked all the way being 8 or 9 months pregnant!) Back to the story! The man, whose name was Joseph, went from Inn to tavern to BnB, to and fro, but there were no rooms left. They were far from wealthy and could afford no more than the very basic accommodation but there wasn’t even anything basic left. What was he to do for his poor wife? Should they have set off earlier? He couldn’t have left her behind but watching her discomfort over the 70 or 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem caused his heart pain. He loved this beautiful woman so much and he stopped so 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. ‘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 My Son has come to save.’ A voice interrupted their conversation. ‘Ummm… 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’s love for Joseph grew on their journey as she saw his care and concern for her and now, watching his efforts 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 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 on the hills the shepherds were looking after their sheep when suddenly came a bright light. Blindingly bright! Let me just back up a minute. Who were these men, these shepherds? They were poor, uneducated, dirty, bottom of the pile sort of guys in an out of the way place. If you had good news to bring, they would not really be first on your list to go and tell. 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!! These poor shepherds went from talking amongst themselves about new pasture they needed to find for the sheep, that silly ewe who wandered off … again and what food they had left in their backpacks to suddenly, from the blackened sky, a radiant being came and the radiance shone all around them. The Bible says, ‘they were terrified!’ Wouldn’t you be? The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Easy for him to say! And then the angel gave them the good news.
Luke 2:10-12 NLT
10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 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 for the poor shepherds, this angel brought all his friends! And then it really got noisy! They had a full-on heavenly praise party glorifying God. Then they left. All was peace and quietness and dark again! The men were on their own and wondering if they had dreamt it. Did it really happen? Was it that last piece of mouldy cheese they had shared? Or had they really just heard good news of great joy? They chose to believe they’d heard good news of great joy and they 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 were so impacted by what they had heard and seen that when they left the stable, they spread the news. They told everyone they met the things that had been told to them about the baby. The Bible says that all who heard it were amazed. And what did the shepherds do after becoming the first evangelists? The Bible says they went back to their flocks. It’s what they knew. But they did return different men. They had been changed by their visit to a stable in Bethlehem and by gazing on a new-born baby and believing Him to be the Saviour of the world. Believing that Immanuel had come. Their long-awaited Messiah was here, and they had seen Him. And their response? They glorified and praised God. They had their own praise party!
Did you hear the good news? It wasn’t just for the shepherds. Put your name on it, it’s for you too. ‘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 some time over this Christmas to look in the stable. Focus in on the manger and the baby. He is Immanuel which means God with us. God with you. Then if you squint a little, just above the Saviour’s head, you may catch a glimpse of a roughly cut wooden cross. The cross was the direction this baby, this Saviour, was to travel. Why? So that He could gain, for us, access to God. So that we could come to God directly and speak with Him. A dialogue, a conversation, a relationship. But that’s not all. The good news goes on! God raised this Saviour, Jesus, back to life! Does this sound a bit too good to be true? It is good, very good and it is true, very true. Jesus died and was raised to life and in being raised to life this has broken the power and the fear of death. There is life after death and that can be with the God who created us and loves us so much that He sent His only Son to be born as a baby to a young teenage girl who laid him in a manger and called Him Jesus. The Light of the world given for us.
It would be good for all of us to sit in the straw in the stable as it were and wonder at what Christmas is all about maybe for the first time. Ask questions, talk to someone, any of us here. I have two requests: one – don’t leave Jesus in the manger. Two – Let your silent night become a holy night. The Saviour of the world has come.