I don’t know about you but for some reason this year I have just not been able to get into the mood to decorate my home for Christmas. Usually by this date I have not only the whole house decorated but also most of my Christmas cards written and sent! Perhaps it is because we have been having a relatively mild winter and it just doesn’t feel like December. Perhaps it is because my son is now too old for Santa and so Christmas is taking a more spiritual emphasis this year. Perhaps it is because I am lazy and a natural procrastinator. Or perhaps it is because my attitude needs tweaked…ok, maybe it needs a good old fashioned over-haul! But this year I feel more like the Grinch and Ole Scrooge than I do like a grateful Christian. Ever been there? So how do I get out of the funk I am in, that is the real question? I think that I will begin at the beginning of Christmas.
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7, (New American Standard Bible, or NASB).
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7, (King James Version or KJV).
I have purposely used two versions to contrast the telling of Jesus birth because the old favorite King James Version states that the people were to be taxed and the newer versions state that there was a census and not a tax being done. Either way, it was a major undertaking of Rome that required the people from all of the known world to be counted, and knowing governments if the people weren’t taxed on the spot they were being counted to be taxed later I have no doubt! I wonder what the protocol was for people who had no idea who their Father was to return to his place of birth, or for those who had lost their genealogy documentation. I’m sure there would have been some kind of government protocol for them, don’t you? Okay, back on track Katherine…so Joseph took a very pregnant Mary with him to Bethlehem and there was no room for them anywhere to rent a room. There was no advanced reservation system so it was a first-come-first-served system. Having been pregnant and carried three children to term I really feel the pain of what Mary must have endured. There is no way that I could have made such a journey in my last trimester of pregnancy. I hope that the angels gave her invisible comfort as she endured and persevered through the journey. Joseph did his best for her and I am sure that she appreciated his thoughtfulness. Poor Joseph too, he had to have been worried that she would give birth out in the bush. Even though life was far different then than today a new Daddy still worries about the birth of a child and the health of the new Mommy, right?
The time came and Jesus was born. Joseph had to have been there helping her. We aren’t told if anyone else was there, perhaps a mid-wife or someone who helped women give birth. We are told, however, where Jesus was born, in a barn where the Son of God was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. A manger was for holding hay for the animals such as cows and horses to eat from, it was never intended to be a baby cradle. Imagine how unclean the place was, animals poop in barns you know. Imagine how many germs were around that place and yet Mary went through labor and Jesus was born in that place. I can’t help but think, though we are never told, that the angels of heaven were surrounding the place and making everything as clean and sterile as a modern-day hospital delivery room for Mary and the Babe. Mary may have known what to do in taking care of a little baby because she was probably not sheltered from such knowledge as many are today, but still, where was her Mother, her aunts, her sisters? The government of Rome had required that they be elsewhere as only she and Joseph went to Bethlehem. Life has a way of being messy sometimes and I find it encouraging that in this story of Jesus’ birth we see a bit of the messiness of Mary and Joseph’s life. They were alone and far from family, perhaps they are even outcasts from society because of Mary’s being pregnant before marriage. In any case they are alone and yet they are not alone because God is with them, God is protecting them, keeping watch over them, God is pleased with them and looks down with favor upon them. And God sends them some people to comfort and encourage them.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Luke 2:8-20, (NASB).
God sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son to a group of people, not the rich of the community, not the leaders of the synagogue, not the leaders of the Roman Empire, but to the working men, the lower than low of society, to the shepherds who were tending to their sheep. How utterly amazing!!! I don’t know about you but I see a message to us today in this. Jesus came to earth as a Babe and His first guests are shepherds who were told the good news of His birth. It was quiet on the hillside where the sheep were resting. The shepherds had to watch the sheep closely to make sure that no wolves or varmints were out there trying to steal a sheep. They are awake and watchful and they are the first to hear of the Savior’s birth. Imagine their surprise as the night sky fills with heavenly hosts and an angel and they are singing. I would be wondering if my imagination was running away with itself or if I were asleep and dreaming. But no, the sky is flooded with singing and the angel steps forth and announces the birth of Jesus. What a special moment. I find it interesting that it is in the quiet moments of life that God often speaks the loudest to me. I find it interesting that it is the watchful that are given the hidden treasures. The world is too loud, too full of noise, and too busy to hear the soft voice of our Master. We are His sheep and we hear His voice. That is reason enough for me to get out of this funk and into the decorating in anticipation of Christmas, to share with family and friends in the love given to us that precious night in Bethlehem. I can’t continue in a Bah Humbug mentality.
Until next time…Katherine