Christmas! What a magical time!
We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths. We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two. We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat. Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful. It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.
Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful. Even our Christmas carols speak of a little baby who makes no crying and of a night where all is calm.
But how far from that first Christmas have we come? Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?
What about Mary?
How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words: “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Because we know how the story ends, we think “What an honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God. What great news this was.”
But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment. How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin. This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Can you imagine the response of her parents to that announcement?
And how would she face Joseph? He would know he was not the father. What would he say? Certainly he would have questions. Would he still marry her? Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?
What about the child? Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?
Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.
Do I trust God?
Mary had to decide.
Her decision was a matter of trust. She responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
The trip to Bethlehem
How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.” And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.
Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot. Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery. There could be threats of bandits along the trail. They had to carry their own provisions.
The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem. We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable but it is possible that they shared that stable with others. In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.
What a place to give birth!
I can’t imagine giving birth in a cold stable with possibly no help in delivery except my husband who is a carpenter and maybe some strangers who offered help. To lay my new-born baby in a feeding trough for animals.
Baby Jesus did not cry?????
I find it hard to believe that baby Jesus just laid there quiet and calm. After all, the Bible tells us that He came to “be like us,” to understand our weakness and frailty.
- As He began His ministry, He experienced temptation just like us.
- We see Him falling asleep after an exhaustive day ministering to the multitudes.
- In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried out for deliverance from the cross.
- He felt the agony of feeling forsaken by the Father on the cross.
One of the main points the writer of the book of Hebrews makes is that Jesus experienced human life as we know it, so why would He as a baby not have felt the cold, the hunger? Why would He not have cried as all new-born babies do?
Enter the shepherds! Wake up Mary!
Imagine Mary, worn out from giving birth, quieting her baby and watching Joseph tenderly lay him in the manger. Perhaps she thought about the visit from Gabriel and his words about this son she just gave birth to. Perhaps she wondered why, if this boy was the savior of the world, they were sleeping in a stable and he was laying in the place where animals took their meals.
Finally, she leans back on the hay to try to get a little sleep when suddenly the stable is invaded by a group of shepherds straight from the hills where they had been tending their sheep. Possibly they did not smell all that pleasant. They no doubt were very excited and loudly proclaiming what they had seen and heard. As they shared the stories of the angels, no doubt Mary remembered her visit from Gabriel. What reassurance to know that others now had heard the wonderful message that this child was sent from God. She and Joseph were not alone in knowing the wondrous news of this birth.
The visit to the temple
Soon it was time to take the little baby to the temple and present the sacrifices required after giving birth. We can see from the gifts they brought of two turtledoves or two young pigeons that Mary and Joseph were among the poor of the land. Leviticus 12 tells us requirements for this offering.
“These, then are the procedures after childbirth. But if she is too poor to bring a lamb, then she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigoens.
Standing in the temple still reflecting on all the events of the past few days, Mary was again reminded of the importance of her son when a man named Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying
Lord, now I can die content! For I have seen him as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior you have given o the world.
But Simeon’s next words must have given Mary pause as he told her
A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejcted by many in Israel, and this to their undoing. But he will be the greatest joy of many others. And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.
Mary’s first Christmas
How different Mary’s experience of Christmas is from ours. But as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we go beyond the bright lights, the food, the music – may we, like Mary, experience the wonder of this miracuous birth. May we trust this Savior and like Mary, may we say
I am the Lord’s servant. May everything You say about me come true!