Summary: A reflection on our views of the meaning of Christmas with references to Isaiah, Matthew and Luke.
It is Christmas Eve, but what does that really mean to us in today’s secular world? What does it mean to the thousands of shoppers who have ran out of time, trying desperately to find that last minute gift? It is Christmas Eve, but let’s go back to that time 2000 years ago to see what the view of Christmas was then!
The prophet Isaiah believed that the world was in darkness, but soon, very soon they would be exposed to the light, the light coming into the world and it would be everlasting, infinite – without end. Isaiah tells us that the world would soon waken to the sight of a child, born to be “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. That is Isaiah’s view of the coming of our Lord, a child who would bring hope and peace and restore light to the world, for the people were in darkness!
Our Gospel lesson this evening from Luke gives us another view of Christmas, we know from earlier Gospel accounts that Joseph had doubts and Mary had fears, but now these have been reconciled and the young couple are going to be included in the census. Poor Mary, pregnant, desperate to have this baby is having to travel across a huge country and of course they arrive in Bethlehem to find all the rooms have been taken. No room in the Inn for this young couple, but they can have the barn, and share it with the innkeeper’s animals! Unusual surroundings for the birth of a King! What was their view of that first Christmas night?
As Luke’s story unfolds other characters come into play, the angels have appeared to shepherds in the field. These angels have brightened up the evening sky, their trumpets loud and they sing, in their message they make the proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to all mankind.” The voices must have filled the evening sky, one thing for sure their presence did! It must have been an awesome sight, for the angel looking down in their multitude and speaking to only a handful of shepherds. What was the angel’s view of that first Christmas night?
O those poor shepherds, watching their flocks by night, they must have been terrified beyond belief! There they are loyal, dedicated hill farmers, making sure that their animals were safe, just sitting there minding their own business, not bothering anyone when suddenly out of nowhere pops a multitude, a heavenly host of angels proclaiming the good news of the birth a child. I guess from the story that the shepherds quickly composed themselves and decided to make way to Bethlehem to see for themselves this great event. Was that the first sign of doubt, or did they go to pay homage? What was the shepherd’s view of that first Christmas night?
Poor Mary and Joseph, there they are huddled with the animals in barn; their newborn child is in the feeding trough, a manger for his bed. Poor Joseph convinced only by a dream to stay with Mary, not to divorce her, thus avoiding shame on her and her family. Poor Mary, like any new mother she must have had many ambitions for her child. Perhaps she hoped that he would grow up big and strong to be carpenter like his father, or merchant trader. Instead, here is this new family surrounded by animals, lying on straw and suddenly these hill farming shepherds appear, soon to be joined by Kings or wise men from Orient lands. What was their view of that first Christmas?
In the story we have a silent player, a character who is almost forgotten – as we are distracted from his presence, but he has been there all along, he sent the angels, whom proclaimed the good news, he sent the Magi who followed the star, but we forget that He was there amongst it all. After all, it was all part of his divine plan! In the story is God, God in heaven who was now coming to live amongst us on earth. God appears to Joseph in a dream, he comforts and reassures Mary regarding her pregnancy but somehow we seem to forget that God is there. What is his view of that first Christmas?
After all, God is giving the gift of a newborn child to a couple and this child is to be a special child, a unique child within the world, a child prophesised by Isaiah as the wonderful, mighty, counsellor and everlasting Prince of Peace – a gift to the world. A gift, which was given freely – what would be the child’s view of that first Christmas?
Of course, the infant Jesus was too young to understand all the implications of his incarnation, after all he was just a new born babe, but the Angels, Shepherds, the Magi, the Innkeeper, his parents and God all had a view on this wonderful gift. Has that view changed from 2000 years ago?