In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.
So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).
For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.
Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world. I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?
In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear. And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.
We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.
Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night.
It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.
Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.
Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.
That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty. But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.
The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.
Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.
We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world. And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.
And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.