Pink and orange streaked the sky as the sun set behind the hills around Bethlehem. The first of the stars were beginning to twinkle in the darkening sky. Below the heavens, on an ancient roadway, two dirty and tired travelers trudged along as they spotted the outskirts of the old village. A young man led the donkey his pregnant wife was riding. The miles of travel could be seen not only on their dirty and sore bodies, but on their faces as well. They wore exhaustion like a veil. The veil was torn off in a moment, however, when the young woman, just a girl really, cried out in pain. The child she was carrying was coming. The young man became frantic, running from house to house, begging for shelter for his wife. Each knock on the door was met only by rejection.
Hours later, a small cry rang out from a tiny stable. A baby was welcomed into the earth by stable animals, wrapped in rags and laid in a feeding trough. As the child lay there, shepherds came, sent by heavenly messengers, to worship him. This was no ordinary child. This was God’s only Son, sent into the world to save those who would believe in him.
It is such a mystery. The God of the universe, the Creator, the Ancient of Days, came into the world as a baby. He was not born in a palace or even in a hospital, but in a dirty stable. The King of heaven was not welcomed into this world not by the great kings of the world, but by lowly shepherds worshiped the Lamb of God upon his arrival.
He came not to be adored by the masses, nor to conquer the nations, but to serve the humble, defend the weak, and to save sinners.
Two thousand years after that holy night, we celebrate by rushing to the malls, maxing out credit cards, and battling crowds for the perfect gift. The radios ring out with bells that jingle while we honk on our horns, frustrated about the traffic jam that keeps us from the last-minute shopping that we had meant to finish weeks ago. Families will gather around tables to eat ham with their extended families, with conversation turning less than civil as politics, religion, or whatever else are brought up.
We rush from place to place and from task to task. Giving little thought to the Gift we were given that night, we focus intently on finding the perfect gift for the girlfriend or checking off everything from the kids’ letters to Santa. We breathe prayers of “Get me through this” to God as we drive by the homeless man begging on the street. But that’s probably a discussion for another day.
Have we lost the magic of that incredible night? A virgin’s birth. Angels welcoming the King of the world born in a stable. Have we forgotten the King? This King who came for us. He gave up the highest throne ever and the praises of angels to be turned away from simple innkeepers and worshiped by poor shepherds. He did that for us!
If we remembered that, if we allowed it to be the center of our Christmas celebration, then how would our Christmas celebrations look? Would we be more generous to the Santa ringing the bell for loose change? Would we be more patient with that maniac “driving” on the road or to the clerk taking too long to ring up our items? Would we even consider giving a couple bucks to that homeless guy who’s “probably gonna spend it on booze?” (Again, an issue for another time.) Would we sacrifice our Christmas for others, like that lonely old lady down the street or the sick kids in the hospital, or the man begging on the street? Would we be a little more open and caring to the awkward cousin who keeps tripping over his tongue at the Christmas dinner? Would we stop to listen to the woman who came alone to the Christmas Eve service at church who keeps trying to talk to us?
That manger changed everything. Can we allow the Baby who was laid in that manger change us?
In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!
When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.