1st Reading – Mary
(watch here: https://youtu.be/8XaMHMA3fgE)
It all started that night when the angel showed up. He was telling me how much God loved me and how I was going to be blessed. Then he said that I would become pregnant before Joseph and I got married. To be honest, I’m still not sure how being an unwed teenage mother in a small town where gossip spreads like wildfire is a blessing from God.
When people found out, it was horrible. My father wouldn’t even look me in the eye for weeks. When I would walk down the street I would hear the whispers. “Look at that little whore. She comes from such a great family, too, and this is how she repays them. And poor Joseph—such a good man. He doesn’t deserve something like this. God will judge her.”
I was sure my life was over when Joseph came to see me. I thought he was going to tell me that our engagement was off, but instead he said the angel had visited him, too, and that he knew God was doing something great. I could tell from his voice that he wasn’t sure he believed what he was saying, but then again, I wasn’t sure I believed it either.
When my belly was so big I thought I would burst at any moment, Joseph told me we would have to travel to a faraway town for the census. As we made the journey I began to feel the pains. At first I wasn’t sure if it was contractions or just that the donkey wasn’t very steady on its feet. But sure enough, when we got to Bethlehem my water broke. None of the houses had any room for us, even though I was clearly in labor. One man said he’d do us a favor by letting us stay in his stable. Some favor. I didn’t want my baby to be born in a cold, wet cave surrounded by filthy animals. Still, it was better than nothing.
After he was born I was holding him, trying to rock him to sleep and I started crying. There I was in a town where we knew no one, with a baby people at home knew wasn’t Joseph’s. “I’m so young,” I thought. “I can barely take care of myself. How can I take care of a baby?” Just when I thought God had abandoned me, I looked down at my son. He was staring up into my eyes with a calm that I’d never seen in anyone before. It was as if this little infant was saying, “It’s OK, mommy. God will somehow make this all work out.” And somehow, deep down, I knew it was true. Somehow God would make it all work out.
We begin our story with Mary, the most vulnerable character of them all. It’s hard to imagine the roller coaster of emotions she felt during her pregnancy. She’s just a young, insignificant girl! She didn’t deserve to be singled out to bear such a heavy burden. She had already received a lot of flak for being engaged to older man. Now she was being burdened with carrying the child of someone other than her betrothed! No one was going to believe an immaculate conception. And why should they? It had never been done before. No, she was in for a long nine months of humiliation from family, friends, and strangers alike. But she just keep her head down and walked quietly. Somehow the humiliation never came. People left her alone and Joseph even decided to stick with her through the pregnancy, something that very few men did at that time. If you were found pregnant with a child other than your husband’s or betrothed, you were destined to be abandoned and rightly so. God doesn’t impregnate young virgins, only men do. And there was no artificial insemination or other alternative methods of getting pregnant. No, if a woman got pregnant, it was from sexual relations with a man.
The fact that Joseph stuck with her and the people around her for the most part left her alone was a miracle in itself. Perhaps God was with her in ways other than simply impregnating her. It was no small thing that she was allowed to carry the baby to term and be provided for during that time. Joseph’s love for her must have been pretty strong. That, or his faith in what the angel had told him was pretty strong. In either case, there was something or someone that was supernatural at work in the situation. God had to have had his hand in it somehow. Only He can make the impossible possible. Only He can ease our worries and our sorrows. God is good all the time!
2nd Reading – Joseph
Why did this happen to me? Ask anybody in town, they’ll tell you I’m a pretty good guy. I work hard running my family’s carpentry business. I got engaged to a nice girl from a nice family. Everything was going great until I found out she was pregnant. It just didn’t make sense. That wasn’t like the Mary I knew. A girl with a family as great as hers doesn’t do that kind of thing. Then she came and told me this unbelievable story about an angel and the Messiah and how we were part of God’s great plan. I would have thought she had gone crazy but it sounded like even she was having a hard time believing what she was telling me, like it was the truth but it was so painful she could barely get it out.
Now, I know the laws of Moses. A woman who commits adultery is to be publicly stoned to death for the shame she has brought on her family. But I didn’t want to see that happen to her. Her family had suffered enough because of this. So I was going to break things off quietly when the angel came and spoke to me. I thought now I was going crazy. But the angel said that everything Mary told me was true—that this baby was the Messiah and we were charged with his care.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a religious man. I believe that all the promises God made to our people will be fulfilled one day. I just didn’t expect it to look like this. No one I’ve told about this has believed me. If God was going to do these things in such a weird way, don’t you think God would have let everyone else know? Wouldn’t God at least have told the religious leaders? They’re the ones who are supposed to know what God is thinking. But instead it’s up to me, a simple carpenter, and my new wife to care for this baby as if he were my son. I have no idea what will happen with this boy. But deep down inside, somehow I know everything will be alright. Somehow God will make it all work out.
And then there’s Joseph. He had just as much to worry about as Mary. He, too, ran the risk of being shamed out of town. It’s one thing to be betrothed to unfaithful woman…it’s a whole nother thing to stay with that woman! What was he thinking?! Didn’t he know what family and friends and strangers would think of him? Didn’t he care?! What kind of man sticks with an unfaithful fiancé? Evidently a man like Joseph. Maybe it was a good thing that the angel visited him and reassured him. His love for her wasn’t that strong to withstand the shame her pregnancy would place on him. He needed an angel to give him the strength he needed to walk with her through the pregnancy. On the other hand, maybe his love for Mary was that strong. Maybe he would have stuck with her no matter what she did. She could have killed a man and he would have kept on loving her unashamedly! The angel’s visit was a mere formality, done only to assure us of God’s hand in the situation.
Joseph’s love and faith were put to the test. It probably took a little of both to carry him through his time of great uncertainty. We need a little of both to carry us through our own difficult times. We need to believe in the power of love to save us when the chips are down. We need to cling to Paul’s words of wisdom, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
3rd Reading – Shepherd
It was a cold night. The coldest night of the year, they said. They were right. It was the kind of night where you feel the chill deep down in your bones, and you couldn’t stop shivering even if you wanted to. On nights like these, I hate being a shepherd. I mean, it’s bad enough that they pay us next to nothing and the owners treat us like dirt. It’s bad enough that we have to stay up all night fighting off wolves and other creatures, even the occasional human thief. Hell, it’s bad enough that these sheep are so dumb they’ll walk straight into a hole that a blind guy could see, and I have to fish ‘em out. But the part that really gets me is how people look down on us. I mean, I know we smell bad since we hang out with sheep all the time, but that’s not the reason. When we’re in town people avoid us because they think we’re scum. Men pull their daughters a little closer when we’re around because they’re afraid we’ll try to rape them. Other people put their hands on their money bag when they see us because they’re afraid we’ll rob them. I’ve never hurt anybody in my life! I’m just trying to survive like anyone else. It’s not like my life’s goal was to be a shepherd. I just couldn’t get any other job, and it’s better than nothing.
Like I said, it was the coldest night of the year. We were sitting around the fire trying to keep warm, but it wasn’t working. Someone starting passing around a flagon of wine they had swiped from an owner. I took a few big swigs because it helped me feel warm. I thought I might be able to get some sleep, so I started to doze off. That’s when it happened. This bright light came from out of nowhere, and I heard someone shouting something. I figured someone was using some kind of trick to be able to steal our sheep. I squinted and saw the figure of a man saying, “Don’t be afraid. I have good news.” He tells us that in town the new king has been born and that we should go see him. He said that a star would show us the way.
All of a sudden the light disappeared. I thought maybe the wine had some funny stuff in it and I was seeing things, but everyone else saw it too. And after the spots went away from our eyes, there it was! A star that I had never seen in the sky before, shining as bright as the moon! We headed off, not knowing why. It didn’t make any sense. After all, why would a bunch of dirty shepherds be allowed to see a king? Even regular people didn’t want to be around us. Why should a new king be any different?
When we got into town, the star didn’t show us the way to a palace or a fancy house like we thought. We figured a king would be born in a real nice place. I saw King Herod’s house once and it was the biggest thing I’d ever seen. Instead, the star led us to a cave filled with animals. In there was this real young girl and a guy who turned out to be her husband, with a newborn baby wrapped in rags. Now I knew we were crazy.
One of my friends told them why we were here, and the guy looked surprised. “The angel told you too, huh?” he said. An angel? That’s what that thing was? He said that angels had told him and his wife that this baby was the Messiah that God had promised to Israel. They weren’t sure what it meant either. They just somehow knew it was true.
I walked over to take a look at this kid. He was asleep, so I was real quiet because I didn’t want to wake him up. Suddenly he opened his eyes and looked up at me and smiled. It wasn’t one of those normal baby smiles. It was more like how my mom used to look at me when I was little. It was the kind of smile that said “I love you.” I still have no idea what all this King and messiah stuff is about. What I do know is that there’s something real special about this baby boy. I don’t know what God has in mind for him and his parents, but I know that somehow God will make it all work out.
Mary and Joseph had a lot to lose from the unexpected boy—their family and friends, their reputations, their careers, their engagement…their very lives! On the contrary, the shepherds had very little to lose. Nobody thought very highly of them, nobody trusted them. They had come to expect very little of themselves and what life had to offer them. This isn’t to say they discontent with their lot in life. No, they were content in their calling, maybe more than most people. But after a while, they had become used to more or less living in the shadows. They were the forgotten ones of society. People assumed their presence but wanted very little to do with them.
Yet God pulled them out of the shadows. God entrusted them with the good news of Jesus’ birth to share with all the rest of us. Mary and Joseph were happy keeping their child a secret. For nine months, they had painstakingly hid their child and the circumstances surrounding his conception. No, they were determined to keep Jesus a secret for as long as the townspeople would let them. But God wasn’t so determined. God wanted Jesus’ birth to be known throughout all the world. And he needed someone special who stood to gain nothing from sharing the news. Shepherds had nothing and no one would give them anything for receiving the wonderful news of Jesus’ birth. They were perfect candidates for the job. But that didn’t keep them from being afraid of what might be expected of them. Like Mary and Joseph, they didn’t want to leave the shadows and come into the limelight. Sometimes God pulls us from the shadows whether we like it or not. Sometimes it’s good to come out of the shadows. God uses just the right people for just the right job.
4th Reading – God
Oh, my children. Oh, my precious children…you’re so afraid! What has that world done to you? I know my ways are mysterious but haven’t I always come through for you? I love you and want nothing bad to happen to you. Can’t you remember how I came through for your ancestors? They called on me and placed their trust in me and I delivered them from their misery. I took care of them when no one else would. I fed them and guided them and blessed them. Can’t you see that is all I want to do for you? I’m coming to you as one of you so that you’ll better understand just who I am. I want you to understand me! I want you to understand the ways of the universe but you need to go slow. You can’t understand it all at once. It’s too much to take in all at once. But trust me, I will reveal to you the answers to all of life’s mysteries eventually. For now, simply behold that baby. Hold him, cherish him, protect him, feed him, and teach him. He needs you now and one day he’ll repay your kindness and generosity. He’ll give you more than you could ever imagine. He’ll give you a piece of me! Don’t be afraid of what others might think of you. I am with you and I will make it work out. My angels can be scary sometime but know that they’ve come to you on my behalf. I don’t want you afraid. I want you glad! I chose you out of all the other people in the world to help me be known through that little boy. Help me help you! I love you!
God knows our fears and our doubts. God knew the fears and doubts of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. And God sympathizes with us. God feels sorry for us. At the same time, God loves us so very much. He’d never want anything bad to happen to us. God sent us his Son as a way of showing us his love. God wants us to know what He knows. God wants us to live without suffering and misery. But He can’t remove it from this world. Only we can remove the suffering of this world. And only when we want to remove it. Unfortunately there are too many people who want to keep the suffering for whatever reason. Because of them, our suffering never ceases. God is willing to help us remove our suffering but only if we, as a whole, will no longer tolerate it.
Why else would God come to us as a newborn child each year? He wants us to know peace and love and unity and wholeness. He wants us to experience an alternative way of living with each other…a way without suffering. Yes, there will be suffering in the short term but in the long term, Jesus’ way is one of harmony with each other and with God. Let us celebrate the coming of our Lord and the new life he shares with us. He is the greatest gift the world has ever received! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.