What a joyful night: a night to be here together and share the story of Christ’s birth! It is a story we all know well: a young woman and a long journey; a baby born in a stable and his strange visitors. Tonight we come together to tell the story once more and celebrate how it changes us and our world. Can you imagine?
Joseph and Mary have already faced many challenges: an unexpected pregnancy overshadowing their engagement. Now, at the whim of the Emperor, they must travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem: a long journey crossing over rugged terrain. Surely Joseph stressed over money and details: where to stay, how to travel and, of course, Mary and the baby. And Mary’s frustration as she packed food and necessities for the long journey: (throwing her hands in the air, looking to heaven) “why now?!?” Imagine their worries and frustrations? How did they keep faithful hearts amidst the obstacles and complications? Can you imagine?
The city of Bethlehem with its noisy crowds, the stench of animals, and littered streets; generations of family gathered together, perhaps some for the first time. Imagine the look on the innkeeper’s face as he listens to Joseph’s story? Surely there were others who had come in the same way: pregnant wife, little money to pay and, perhaps, more children. What kindness led them to the stable (more like a cave) where animals were kept? As Mary’s labor progresses who was there to help? Was Mary alone as Joseph went in search of a midwife? Had he prepared for this added expense? What kindness led them to the midwife who would deliver THIS child? Imagine the chaos, the smell of animals and the feel of damp, cold walls. Imagine the joy as they heard the first cry, kissed his soft cheek and cradled him in their arms: the Emperor’s decree and crowded Bethlehem forgotten for one blessed moment.
Imagine. The stars shine bright, the fire crackles and the shepherds talk quietly of the Emperor’s decree. Did they deliberately ignore the demand to be registered? Were they on their way to another city? Or, perhaps, the decree was not intended for them: wandering shepherds and their witless sheep. Nonetheless, they are unhindered by the hustle and bustle of the city. They sit around the fire lost in their own world. This same sky breaks open revealing the glory of the Lord: interrupting and disrupting the serenity of the shepherds. Surely they imagined the threat of jackals. This, though, was unlike anything they expected or could imagine. Imagine the chaos: sheep and shepherds running amuck. Into this racket, the angel speaks:
“Do not be afraid; for see— I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord…”
And as the angels gather around them, the shepherds, awestruck and enraptured, are sent out: on their own journey. No longer unnoticed, they too travel to Bethlehem to visit this new born child.
Did they bring their sheep with them? Were they surprised to find Mary, Joseph and Jesus just as the angel told them? How did Mary and Joseph welcome these smelly shepherds. And as the shepherds story unfolds, how did everyone’s heart change? Imagine the joy of the shepherds as the reality sunk in. The words of the angels confirmed. God’s ancient promises fulfilled.
Amidst Emperor’s decrees, crowded streets and ordinary work, the Messiah has come. Imagine. The Messiah has come. Tonight God disrupts and interrupts our world. The angel comes to us and says:
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord…”
We have heard the news and we have come to see him: lying in a manger, just as we have been told. God has come to live among us, to visit our lives and guide us on our way. Our world has broken open and revealed the glory of the Lord. Amidst our worries and frustrations, the Messiah comes. Amidst the crowded streets and noisy crowds, the Messiah comes. Amidst the unnoticed and forgotten, the Messiah comes.
May our hearts swell with joy; our voices sing with the Angels and tell the story: the Messiah comes.