I want to share with you all something written by R. Kent Hughes from “The Gift”. May your Christmas day be most blessed!
The Birth of Christ
From ground level, Joseph and Mary were insignificant nobodies from a nothing town. They were peasants. They were poor, uneducated, of no account.
Joseph and Mary capsulized the mystery of grace – because the King does not come to the proud and powerful, but to the poor and powerless. As happens so often in life, things were not as they seemed to the world around, because humble Mary and Joseph were the father and mother of the King of Kings.
They appeared to be helpless pawns caught in the movements of secular history. But every move was being made by the hand of God. The Messiah had to be born in tiny, insignificant Bethlehem! As the virgin traveled, she bore under her steady beating heart, hidden from the world, the busy thumping heart of God.
The Creator had woven Himself a robe of virgin flesh.
The baby Mary carried was not a Caesar, a man would would claim to be a god, but a far greater wonder – God who had become a man!
The journey left Mary increasingly weary as she trod those dusty miles to the south. And when she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem they were exhausted – especially Mary. And then the pains began. Perhaps at first young Mary wasn’t sure and didn’t say anything to Joseph. But then, when there was no doubt that it was the real thing, she informed him – probably with tears. She was just a girl of thirteen or fourteen years.
We are all familiar with the haunting simplicity of Luke’s description of the birth: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, as son.”
In Bethlehem the accommodations for travelers were primitive. The Easter inn was the crudest of arrangements. Typically it was a series of stalls built on the inside of an enclosure and opening onto the common yard where the animals were kept. All the innkeeper provided was fodder for the animals and a fire to cook on. On that cold day when the expectant parents arrived, nothing at all was available, not even one of those crude stalls. And despite the urgency no one would make room for them. So it was probably in the common courtyard where the travelers’ animals were tethered that Mary gave birth to Jesus – with only Joseph attending.
Joseph must have wept, as well as Mary. Mary’s pain, the stinking barnyard, their poverty, the indifference, the humiliation, the sense of utter helplessness, the shame of not being able to provide for young Mary on the night of her travail – it would make a man either curse of cry.
If we imagine that it was into a freshly swept, County Fair stable that Jesus was born, we miss the whole point. It was wretched – scandalous! There was sweat and pain and blood and cries as Mary reached to the stars for help. The earth was cold and hard. The smell of birth was mixed into a wretched bouquet with the stench of manure and acrid straw. Trembling carpenter’s hands, clumsy with fear, grasped God’s Son slippery with blood – the baby’s tiny limbs waving helplessly as if falling through space – his face grimacing as he gasped the cold and his cry pierced the night.
My mother groaned, my father wept. Into the dangerous world I leapt.
It was a leap down – as if the Son of God rose from his splendor, stood poised at the rim of the universe, and dove headlong, speeding through the stars over the Milky Way to earth’s galaxy, finally past Arcturus, where he plunged into a huddle of animals. Nothing could be lower.
Luke finishes the picture: “She wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Mary counted his fingers. She and Joseph wiped him clean as best they could by firelight, but Mary wrapped each of his little round, steaming arms and legs with strips of cloth – mummy-like. No one helped her. She laid him in a feeding trough.
It was low. No child born into the world that day seemed to have lower prospects. The Son of God was born into the world not as a prince but a s a pauper. We must never forget that this is where Christianity began – and were it always begins. It begins with a sense of need, a graced sense of one’s insufficiency. Christ comes to the needy. Ultimately, he is born in those who are “poor in spirit.”
The story moves quickly as Christ’s birth is announced. Shepherds were the first to hear. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” The shepherds on that wintry night were naturally huddled close to their fire, while above, the icy constellations swept by. Suddenly, as if a star burst, glory dazzled the night, and an honored angel stepped forth as the shepherds recoiled in great fear – despite his reassuring words.
That the message came to shepherds first, and not to the high and mighty, once again brings us to the refrain that God comes to the needy, the “poor in spirit.” Shepherds were despised by the “good,” respectable people of that day. They were regarded as thieves. The only ones lower than shepherds, at this particular time in Jewish history, were lepers.
God wants us to get it straight: He comes to those who sense their need. He does not come to the self-sufficient. Christmas is for those who need Jesus! Whatever our situation, He can deliver us. The angel said the “good news” was for “all the people.” Whoever you are, He can deliver you. “Because Jesus lives forever…he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:24-25). Listen to the angel’s words, again, slowly: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Now see what happens. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Here we need a little Christmas imagination. Perhaps there was a flash and suddenly the bewildered shepherds were surrounded by angels.
Not well that it says that it was a “great company” – beyond count. I think that every angel was there because this was the most amazing and greatest event that had ever happened in the universe. I think they stretched from horizon to horizon, obscuring the winter constellations. I like to imagine that they radiated gold, pink, electric blue, hyacinth, and ultraviolet – and that some were sparkling. And then, when they lifted their voices to God, it was cosmic stereo!
How we all would like to have been there – to be a fly on the ear of one of the shepherds’ sheep. But hear this: though the choir in Heaven did it, we on earth have a part, and it is the best part, because we are children of grace. God became man, not an angel. God redeemed us, not angels. Ours is the best part, and we will sing it for eternity!
The angels departed, the glory that lit the countryside faded, the constellations reappeared, and the shepherds were alone. They allowed no grass to grow under their feet. They took off running, leaping the low Judean fences, and entered the enclosure wide-eyed and panting. They searched the stalls and quickly found the new mother and her Babe out in the open among the animals. Immediately they began to announce the good news, telling all who would listen about the angels and the baby. When they left, they continued glorifying and praising God for all they had experienced.
This Christmas is not enough to hear about Jesus. It is not enough to come peek in the manger and say, “Oh, how nice. What a lovely scene. It gives me such good feelings.” The truth is, even if Christ were born in Bethlehem a thousand times and not in you, you would be eternally lost. The Christ who was born into the world must be born in your heart.
Christmas sentiment without the living Christ is a yellow brick road to darkness. That is the terrifying thing about all the Chrismas glitz – that Christmas can be burried by materialism and sentiment and people will not even know or care.
He really did come into the world; and because of this, he really can come into your heart. This Christmas, let us lay our lives before Him and receive the gift.
In this world of sin,
Where meek souls will
receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.