(watch here: https://youtu.be/sUlhk7XzfHU)
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.
They say that many of life’s precious gifts often come in small packages. It isn’t the size of the gift that determines how good of a gift it is. Sure, a new car is always a good gift but how often do we ever receive one of those?! No, most gifts are limited to what can fit under the tree. And even then, one can never tell just how good a gift is by its size. Some of the best gifts are the small ones hiding under the bigger ones. And beware of those medium sized, box-shaped gifts…you know they only contain clothes! Boring!
No, more often than not, some of the best, most creative, most unique gifts come in small packages. What they forget to add is that many of these great, small gifts often come when we least expect them. We expect gifts on our birthdays and our anniversaries and holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas. And because we expect them, the gifts seem to lose their value. A truly special gift is one given randomly, out of the blue, as the heart compels you, not as the holiday compels you.
So the best gifts in life often come in small packages and when we least expect them. These gifts sound awfully similar to the gift we have gathered this evening to celebrate. God must have received the advice because His gift was awfully small, awfully unexpected. God came to us in a very small package at a very unexpected time. Poor Mary and Joseph, just trying to make their way to Bethlehem to honor the Emperor’s decree and get registered. They didn’t expect little baby Jesus to come quite so soon. But God did—God gave his gift in just the right sized package, at just the right time, to be considered the greatest gift of all. Indeed, the small, unexpected packages are often the best packages of all! Let us rejoice in God’s gift by singing, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve.”
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.
As hard as it is, I imagine child birth would be much easier if we knew the exact time and day that it happened. We could have all the right medicine, all the right doctors, all the right family and friends, all the right facilities, all the right clothes, at just the right time so as not to disrupt any of our work or daily routines. Our bodies might be strained but our lives and the lives of those around us wouldn’t be inconvenienced in any way. Life could start with ease, not disruption.
Alas, this isn’t how life begins in most cases. No, life starts anew by disrupting the lives of the living. Life bursts onto the scene whenever and wherever it wants to. Life doesn’t care who or how it disrupts; all it cares about is itself. Jesus came on the scene with a splash. Poor Mary and Joseph had left the comforts of their home back in Nazareth, probably not knowing that Jesus would be born while they were away. All those right people and right places and right times abandoned to be born into what? A manger, surrounded by animals, on a cold, dark night?! Certainly not the most ideal conditions, probably not what Mary and Joseph considered to be right either. They, like many parents, were at the mercy of God’s timing. The baby Jesus came when God wanted him to come.
And the star shone bright that dark, cold night. Jesus may have been born in the wrong situation but the world was forever changed. The world was no longer a cold, brutish place. The world shone bright, lit by that star’s light. The world received a gift like no other gift. God loves this world, God loves his creation, God loves us! Let us celebrate life springing forth from wrong situations by singing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
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.
The light shone bright that dark, cold night. The life and hope that came with Jesus’ birth disrupted not only the lives of Mary and Joseph and a handful of animals in the inn but also shepherds in a nearby field. They, too, were just going about their own business and new life and new hope exploded on their reality. They could no longer go about their business in the way they had before Jesus came. Indeed, their business was no longer tending to the sheep! No, their business had become sharing the good news of Jesus’ birth with all the world. Their business had become testifying to the light that had come into the world.
Whenever a baby is born, I often think of that old Coen brothers’ movie from the 80’s called, “Raising Arizona.” It tells the story of a middle-aged couple who are unable to have children. Rather than resolve themselves to their childless fate, they come up with a plan to steal a baby from a wealthy couple blessed with quintuplets. This naturally results in a whole series of unintended problems for the couple, one of which is figuring out how to provide for the baby. There’s a scene in the movie when the husband is bemoaning all the responsibilities that come with raising a newborn. He’s hesitant to give up his selfish ways to tend to the needs of the newly stolen baby. His wife snaps him out of his self-pity by yelling, “Everything’s changed! We’ve got a baby now!” So many times, I’ve heard these words in the back of my mind since I became a father myself. No doubt the shepherds were similarly snapped out of their own self-involvement, beginning with the angel’s proclaiming, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Everything’s changed! The shepherds could longer focus on their own livelihoods. They had to consider the livelihoods of all the people of the world. They had to live for others, just as parents are called to live for their children. Jesus’ birth, like all births, was a disruptive calling into new life and new hope. Let us celebrate the disruption by singing, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
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.
Of course, no one slept that night! Hardly anyone sleeps after a baby is born! The excitement and joy is hard to contain. It is the beginning of something new, something hopeful, something amazing. A new life is a priceless gift; so many years, so many adventures, so much happiness, so much love. Where there is life, there is love and where there is love, there is God. God is love! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God’s love is so strong, so everlasting, so unique, and so special. The world is nothing without his love. WE are nothing without love! There’s a reason why Paul tells us love is the greatest gift of the Spirit, better than the other two gifts of faith and hope. There is nothing like love. We need love just as we need food and water and air.
The gift of Jesus is the gift of love…the gift of the Father’s love. The thing about love is that it is the smallest, most unexpected gift. We can’t expect to receive love and it comes in the smallest of packages-a wee, baby boy. God comes to us unexpectedly and discreetly packaged. What a joyous gift to celebrate! Let us welcome his gift into our hearts and our lives. Let us allow his gift to disrupt our lives as it has disrupted the lives of so many people for the last 2,000 years. Let us give thanks for God’s small, unexpected, disruptive gift by singing, “The First Noel.”