(watch here: https://youtu.be/hhpb0YX-EKY)
On a night long ago, in a place far away
A baby was born on the first Christmas day.
His name was Jesus, a tiny wee king
And he came to the world to change everything.
Let’s go to Bethlehem and see
The baby that came to love you and me.
Come to the stable and gather around
The manger where baby Jesus is found.
Come all you children and hear this story
Of a tiny baby who would grow into a King of Glory.
Mary and Joseph were tired and sore;
They had traveled all day and then some more.
Finally, they arrived in Bethlehem town
Only to find there was nowhere to lie down.
The hotels were all full, there wasn’t a bed
For Jesus’ poor mother to lay down her head.
The baby was coming, and it was so late at night,
Dirty and ragged, they made quite a sight.
They asked a kind man if they could sleep in his hay
In the barn with the animals, where the cows lay.
The man showed them a spot, it was warm and dry,
And Mary and Joseph sat down with a sigh.
And they slept, for a while, while the stars shone
And waited for morning, for night to be gone.
So our story begins. We’ve been telling and retelling this story for nearly 2,000 years. It is the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior. It is an amazing story, a magnificent story, a story that deserves to be told and retold each and every year! It’s a story that never gets old. It never becomes less amazing, less magnificent, no matter how many times we hear it. God came to us in the most unexpected of ways at the most unexpected of times. It’s no wonder we like to hear the story over and over again. God could have come to us in a far more likely way at a far more likely time. God is all-powerful and all-knowing…of course He could have come in a better way! Yet He chose to come to the small town of Bethlehem, to a poor, engaged couple just trying to begin a life together. Certainly not the parents befitting a mighty king! They couldn’t provide all the riches and privileges typically associated with royalty. They couldn’t even provide a bed for Mary to welcome Jesus into this world. Not that it was really their fault. I’m sure they would have preferred to have been in at least a hotel bed, if not an actual hospital. But the situation didn’t allow for such amenities and they were forced to take up lodging in a stable alongside other animals. Certainly not the environment for birthing kings! But this is how our God chose to enter into our world as a baby boy. This is the beginning of a life that would profoundly change our world. Nothing glamorous, nothing special, almost forgettable. Indeed, a great number of people have been born in similar situations since the beginning of people. We hear the story as privileged people of modern civilization and are appalled at the somewhat barbaric conditions but, believe it or not, most people are born in “less than ideal” conditions. We have to believe that God, all-knowing and all-powerful, understood this about us here in this world. God understands that to connect with the experience of most people He has to actually experience what most people experience. And that was one of the reasons God decided to come to us in the first place—to experience firsthand what most of us experience. God wanted to know what it was like to be born in “less than conditions.” God wanted to be vulnerable and powerless. There is no one more vulnerable than a child born into a low-income family or no family at all. And God chose to take on this degree of vulnerability and powerlessness. God chose to fully enter into the reality of so many of us.
There is great hope in how God chose to come to us. He knows firsthand the vulnerability of so many of us so we can’t really believe He has forgotten us in our struggle. God is intimately with us in our vulnerability and powerlessness. God knows what it’s like to be caught up in the whims of circumstance. God knows what it’s like to live by faith.
While it was still dark, Mary woke with a start;
The baby was coming, she knew in her heart.
So it was in that barn, on that cold, dark night
That Jesus was born, and then wrapped up tight.
As he lay in the manger where the animals eat,
A sheep came and nuzzled his tiny wee feet.
And even the smallest creatures gathered around
While the tiny new baby made small little sounds.
And the dark, dark night wasn’t dark anymore
As the light of a star shone through the stable door.
Three of my four children were born during the night. At the time, it felt like God had a wicked sense of humor, keeping my wife and I up all night like that! Not that we were all that tired…my wife even less so. The excitement of a new baby coming into the world causes all sorts of chemicals to get released in your body. Time becomes relative as the minutes and hours get stretched and elongated. But for three, long nights I couldn’t help but wonder if God was playing a joke on us by bringing our baby into the world in the dead of night. I later found out that the night time is actually the preferred time for babies to be born into the world. Moms can take cover from predators in the darkness. Both moms and babies are especially vulnerable during labor so nature has found a way to give them a little added protection. If only we were all nocturnal creatures, then it wouldn’t be so disruptive on our sleep cycles!
But my wife and I were in our 30s at the time so we could play with our sleep cycles a little. Plus, we had all the amenities of a hospital with regular supervision by nurses and doctors. I can only imagine the sheer terror that Mary, a 14-year-old girl, must have been going through in the stable that cold, dark night. Her body was wreaking havoc on her and she was lying alongside animals in a barn! She no doubt felt like an animal among animals! The darkness probably felt more foreboding than protective. I imagine Mary couldn’t wait until daylight when the strange animal sounds and smells didn’t seem so intrusive. She didn’t have the privilege of waiting until the morning hours though. Jesus took advantage of the protective darkness and came into the world.
Of course, once the baby comes there are no more worries, just sheer elation. The pain and agony of labor is quickly forgotten as the mother holds her child. I’m told this is another one of nature’s tricks to encourage having more children. They say, “Oh sure, the nine months of pregnancy and hours of labor are nothing compared to the joy of having a child!” Mary had to have felt a magnified version of this elation. She not only brought a child into the world but helped bring God into the world. What an amazing feat! The darkness of that night was gone for Mary but the darkness of our own lives is gone with the coming of Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world! Jesus is the hope of the world! Jesus is the love of the world! When we welcome Jesus into our lives, we welcome his light and hope and love. The darkness of our lives is overcome by his light. This is why we rejoice and give praise and thanksgiving for his birth.
There were shepherds whose job was to care for the sheep;
It was very late and they were fast asleep.
But they didn’t sleep for long that night
Because the star and the angels were shining bright.
The shepherds were scared—they weren’t quite awake
But the angels said, “It’s good news, for heaven’s sake!
A baby is born, get up! Come and see,
This news is the best, the very best that can be.”
So the shepherds ran off, and their sheep came too
And they saw for themselves that the good news was true.
When the angels appear, the good news is clear
The beautiful little savior of the world is here.
They shouted out loud that the new babe was found
In a manger, with his family gathered around.
The angels sang songs which gave God all the Glory,
Because God is the beginning and end of our story.
As scared as Mary was lying there among the animals in that stable, at least she knew the importance of the event she was about to behold. Those around her weren’t as privileged. No one knew just how important Jesus’ birth was. Again, we have to believe this, too, was part of God’s plan for coming into the world. God not only wanted to come into the world through an unexpected couple in an unexpected situation but also with an unexpected amount of fanfare. The most fanfare He gets is one bright star in the sky. Evidently it was a bright enough star to scare the sleeping shepherds awake though. Fortunately, they weren’t scared that long because the angels came on the scene to reassure them. They told the shepherds that a baby was born. Not just any boy but God’s Son! A king was born but aside from Mary and Joseph no one but the shepherds knew about it. What an unusual event, with so little fanfare!
The shepherds are not unlike many of us. We’re just going about our lives, minding our own business, trying to somehow get by and along comes a star that shakes us awake. We can’t ignore God anymore. We bear witness to his awesome glory and are forever changed. And it isn’t a glory that is loud and garish. The glory of God is much subtler. The glory of God sneaks up on us like a star in the night. It is magnificent and scary but subtle nevertheless. God’s glory is revealed in ways that are more lasting than a fireworks display. God’s glory is everlasting, ever-shining, ever-bright.
The star of God’s glory can easily go undetected. Not everyone saw the star that dark night of Jesus’ birth. And even if they did see the star, it didn’t really mean anything. Only a handful of people saw the star for what it was—a beacon that was directing to God’s true glory, his one and only Son. People need help seeing the star. It’s there, brighter than any other star, but people need help seeing it. It’s scary to those who don’t know what it means. But God’s star shines for all to see.
No one slept on that first Christmas Eve;
The child was so special, no one wanted to leave.
They sang praises to God, for sending such joy
In the form of a new and perfect baby boy.
The star kept on shining so the whole world could see
That God loves everyone, including you and me!
Tonight is a time to sing and to say
Thank you to God for what happened that day.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
It is an amazing story! Jesus was born in a lowly manger to a lowly couple. The animals were among those to first cuddle and swoon over him. A bright star shone overhead as a beacon to God’s glory below. The shepherds in the fields nearby were awakened by the star. The angels comforted the terrified shepherds and they made their way to the stable to behold the sight. God, our mighty and powerful God, came to us as a lowly baby boy. It is an amazing story indeed!
Yet only a handful of people knew how amazing it was that cold, dark night so long ago. Only a few were blessed to know just how important an event it was. Yes, our God is a subtle God. He came to us in the most unexpected of ways at the most unexpected of times. He didn’t want much fanfare, certainly not the kind befitting a king. But this isn’t to say that we aren’t supposed to share the story with others. It IS an amazing story that deserves to be told and retold year after year. Our world desperately needs the unexpected story of Jesus’ birth. Our world desperately needs to hear how God came to as a vulnerable and powerless baby boy. God loves us so much that He’d enter into a precarious situation in our precarious world just so that He could experience what so many of us experience. God loves us so much that He would send his one and only Son into this world. God loves us! Our world desperately needs to hear this, over and over again.
As we gather this Christmas Eve, let us not only rejoice in God coming to us but also to all people. Jesus is born for ALL of us. The hope and love and light that is in Jesus is more than enough for everyone in this world. Let us share this story, this amazing story, with all those we gather with this season. Despite everything the world would have us believe this season is about, Jesus’ birth is the real reason we gather to celebrate this season. God loves us, ALL of us…Merry Christmas
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.