Summary: Using the format of "The Night Before Christmas", an imaginative account of Joseph’s feelings at the nativity.
A worshiper’s task on Christmas Eve is always the same, and it is no simple one. The task is, first, to let the beauty of Christmas happen. It doesn’t require explaining or expounding. It just needs to happen.
But then the task becomes more complex, for we gather on Christmas Even around this table, the table of sacrifice, the memory of His death. And our worship takes on a serious and somber tone, knowing that He was born to die. How can we celebrate the joy of His coming while we face the signs of His departure?
This is a night, then, for the whole story of salvation to be told. This is a night to taste the joy of His birth, to sample the bitterness of His death, and then to sing of the wonder of His saving work.
All through the Advent season we have been saying it and singing it: this God has done, this profound and incredible thing, that the world might be saved. The creative word of God, His eternal will, has become flesh, one with us. And we celebrate God’s concreteness, God’s definiteness, God’s near approach to us, because He is redeeming us and saving us from our self-imposed disasters.
“His name shall be called ’Jesus’ … God saves … for He shall save His people from their sins.” One of you sent me a Christmas card that puts it well: “The Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, or pondered. But the Word became a Person to be followed, enjoyed, and loved!”
Tonight I want to present this story in an unusual form. I think you will recognize the form if not the exact wording. I present it, after the Scripture reading, with apologies to the Rev. Clement Clark Moore, author of the famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas". Tonight it becomes for us, "A Vision from Joseph at Bethlehem”
’Twas the night before Christ came, when all through the land
Not a creature was stirring, not one grain of sand;
The shepherds had brought home their flocks with much care
In hopes that spring shearing would pay them fair.
The people were hardened all tired in their dreads,
While visions of savior Kings slept in their heads;
And Mary in her thin robe and I with my staff,
Had just sheltered our selves from the cold winter’s draft.
When there on the straw she set up such a wailing,
I sprang to her side for fear she would be failing.
Away to my child-bride I flew in an instant,
To be in this moment the one who was constant.
The moon on the lines of her now-heaving breast
Gave a luster of glory to what happened next.
For, what to my wondering mind did come nigh
But the form of a child and the sound of his cry!
With a smile from his mother, so tired, yet so strong
I knew all my worries had surely been wrong.
More rapid than eagles now angels they came,
And I trembled and worshipped, for they knew my name:
“Up, Joseph, stand, Joseph; hear Michael, hear Gabriel!
Rise, shepherd; learn, wise man; sing, Judah and Israel!
To the poor of the world, to all those of good will,
Now fear you not, fear you not, fear you no ill.”
Oh, dead hopes that beyond all history’s tale,
When they meet with this miracle, all stories do pale!
So out to the bright skies the angels they flew
With their songs full of joy, and yet sorrowing too,
For there in the shadow I looked where he cried,
Saw hurting like bleeding, as if He had died.
As I drew in my breath and was thinking it through,
To the stable the shepherds came with a clue.
Their words were "salvation" and "peace" and "good will" ,
But I knew we are tarnished, sin wants those to kill;
Our baubles, our things, we hard grasp them right now,
We act just like mad men, with frown in the brow.
Our hearts, how they narrow; our hatreds we cherish;
Not thinking how awful for young lives to perish.
The word from His mouth, we hear as God’s power,
For such wisdom from heaven had been far from this hour.
The rod of God’s wrath He held tight in His arm,
But the grace of His goodness He brings us thus warm.
He had all our faces and a breadth in His living
That passed beyond races and mere bias and striving.
He was open and brave, and a man’s kind of man,
And I felt when she bore Him the drama began.
A look in His eye and a drive in His walk
Soon gave me to know He was more than just talk.