1st Sunday of Christmas Luke 2 15 -21
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Over the past few weeks we have possibly read the much loved story of Christmas, we have listened too and maybe joined in with some carols on the radio - all so very different this year, yet still so familiar and comfortable. As soon as Boxing Day is over there is always the pressure to rush on to the next thing, this year it will be different, not so many adverts urging us to book our holidays abroad, not so many invitations to visit the Sales in the shops, rather the message to stay home and stay safe. In all the negativity surrounding Covid it has given us space and time.
So let us take a few minutes to stand in the shoes of some of those who didn’t know how it would all work out, those who only had their faith to help them to put together the pieces of the heavenly jig-saw they found themselves part of that first Christmas.
We actually know very little about it, most of the things we believe come from our Victorian Carols. Earth stood hard as iron; snow had fallen snow on snow. The baby Jesus no crying he makes. Mary arriving in Bethlehem on a little donkey and a rude innkeeper who didn’t have room – are all things that have crept in to embellish a rather sad little story.
With the aid of our imagination we walk in Mary’s shoes:
‘Well what a day it was been.
I was shattered, exhausted and yet, over the moon.
Does that sound strange, well let me tell you what happened, then you will understand.
It could hardly have started any worse than it did. Arriving in Bethlehem like that to find the place packed. My heart sank. I knew we wouldn’t find anywhere, but Joseph kept saying “Next time we will find a room you’ll see.”
Next time indeed. A stable that’s what we ended up with – hardly what I had in mind. It wouldn’t have mattered in the usual run of things, but I was nine months pregnant, and my waters had broken and the pains were getting stronger by the minute. So we accepted the stable offer; by this time I wasn’t bothered.
I lay there with cattle breathing down my neck, straw prickling my back and a gale whistling under the door, but I didn’t care, I just wanted my baby to be born. Joseph was beside himself and went to find some men to commiserate with. Some ladies from the inn came in and helped. I’ll spare you the finer details – it seemed an eternity and then that wonderful sound I had been straining to hear - my son crying. I held him tight, I didn’t want to let him go, I wrapped him in strips of cloth and put him in a feeding trough, and exhausted we both fell asleep.
Then I woke with a start – I remembered the words from the angel that had visited me nine months ago. “And you shall call him Jesus, meaning Emmanuel God with us, Saviour.”
Can it really be true, God, has come to his people?
The Messiah, the one we have all been waiting for here in my arms?
I can gladly worship him, but others? Well, time will tell I guess. I tried once more to get some sleep. But there was someone at the stable door - shepherds, what on earth did they want in the middle of the night? What a day it has been!''
Of course there are a lot of gaps in the story and plenty of ambiguity which is encapsulated in the words that describe Mary’s response to the events.
She pondered them in her heart. So many questions, so many worries.
Our lives seem to be made up of a jumble of such jig-saw pieces, some moments of clarity, answers to prayer, moments of deep joy, but these can be rather rare and I am sure many of us have lots of unanswered questions and at this difficult time, lots of worries and uncertainties to face. There are many pressures living in the 21st century and this year seems to have surpassed others! In this Christmastide we have been enriched by the wonder of the story of Christmas and we have more space to follow Mary’s example and ponder not just the wonderful gifts God has given us, but to realise afresh that we are part of the greatest story ever told. It is a bit scary; it is definitely exciting, and we do know it will always have a happy ending.