Reflections on Christmas
I’ve had many different visitors down the years. Most of them are friends; some are neighbours who come for a chat; a few are unwelcome individuals trying to sell me something! But as far as I know, I’ve never had a heavenly visitor. Imagine how Mary must have felt when, out of the blue, a messenger from God appeared…and with such amazing news. The event happened, of course, about nine months before the birth of Christ that we celebrate on 25th December.
At first, Mary is (understandably) confused… but she becomes convinced that what the angel said is true… and placed herself fully in God’s hands. We should all follow Mary’s example!
Performance Carol: The angel Gabriel
Bethlehem must have been a busy place with so many people coming to register, so it is hardly surprising that the Inn was full.
In those days, the animals were usually housed beneath the main living quarters… so the noise and smell must have been ‘interesting’, to say the least! Mary and Joseph and whoever else was in their party were obliged to sleep with the animals and, soon after, Mary gave birth to Jesus, and placed him in an animal feeding trough. It must have been a close-run thing to find shelter before the arrival of the infant Jesus. Think of poor Mary, having to give birth in such unhygienic conditions… and doing so in front of the animals and people. There was no palace or soft bedding for the Son of God: only a cattle shed.
Congregational song: No room for the baby at Bethlehem’s Inn
Performance Carols: Infant holy, infant lowly and Sleep quietly, my Jesus
I wonder what happened immediately after Jesus’ birth. The fact that a baby was born under such dramatic circumstances would have caused quite a stir. Imagine the scene when the shepherds arrived! It’s difficult to believe that Jesus stayed fast asleep throughout the commotion! Yet many years later, Jesus as an adult would remain asleep in a boat that was being tossed around like a cork on the Sea of Galilee… so perhaps it’s not so far-fetched to think that He rested quietly in Mary’s arms, despite the commotion that was going on around him. I wonder if the shepherds returned to see Jesus for a second or third time? We are not told the answer but I have an inkling that some of them would have done.
Performance Carols: Away in a manger…and/or Holy Child, how still you lie
Congregational song: Silent Night
It seems that after the shepherds had visited them, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus moved out of the animal area and found a more suitable place in a nearby house… or perhaps in the upper part of the Inn. If it existed at all, the stillness of the night certainly didn’t last forever, as our next song explains…
Performance Carol: The night slept quietly
One of the most gripping events that happened on that first Christmas was the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi, who took a special interest in anything to do with light, so we can imagine how they were attracted by a new star in the heavens. The Wise Men were not kings, though they seem to have been wealthy! We don’t know how many of them came to find Jesus…perhaps there were three, corresponding to the three gifts they brought for Mary, Joseph and infant Jesus. No doubt, the Wise Men would have been accompanied by servants with responsibility for the camels… and horses and for security, as you didn’t travel alone in those days, especially when carrying expensive gifts! The Magi first went to Jerusalem and met King Herod—a ruthless man who murdered his own sons—before continuing their journey to the nearby town of Bethlehem. Thankfully, they took seriously God’s warning, given to them in a dream, that they should not return to Herod and tell him where Jesus was located. It’s strange that Herod didn’t immediately send soldiers to scour Bethlehem and the nearby countryside, without relying on the Magi…but thankfully, he didn’t!
Performance Carol: Kings came riding
Mary, Joseph and Jesus eventually escaped into Egypt, where they stayed until Herod died. When it was safe to return home, the family settled back in Nazareth and Jesus helped Joseph in the carpenter’s shop. We read that Jesus grew up to be “full of grace and truth”. Down the centuries, he has transformed the lives of billions of people around the world. Little wonder that Christians celebrate Christmas with so much enthusiasm. But do we know the One of whom we sing? It’s easy to love a baby… but do we know and serve the Jesus Christ of the Cross, who gave His life that we might be forgiven?
Graham Kendrick has written a host of songs, including specific ones for Christmas. Among his many compositions is a little-known song called “Christmas Child”, which asks whether we truly understand the significance of Christ’s birth. Listen carefully to the lyrics and ask yourself: Am I “keeping Jesus in the manger”?
Performance Carol: Christmas Child