THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
The numerous slaves, heads down, quietly scurried about the palatial grounds, careful not to disturb their masters. Water splashed in the elegant garden fountains. Perched high on the hill, the huge mansion looked down on the bustling city of Rome. Stunning mosaics covered the floor, and vivid friezes with bright colours caught the eye around the walls. Here the decisions were made that changed the world; decisions that impacted on the lives of everyone throughout the vast Empire. Here was the seat of great power, gathered in the person of the Emperor.
At the same time, away in the far flung reaches of the empire in Judea, on the edge of Asia, a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph arrive in Bethlehem after an arduous journey from Nazareth. The imperial power has demanded they register for a census. They are turned away from the inn, and the only shelter the couple can find is an animal stall.
Here Mary’s child is born. A child who will make all things new. One who was “in very nature God” (Philippians 2:6, NIV). The Only Begotten Son of the Father, the Eternal Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14); the one whose entry into our world could not be more humble.
Out in the fields, shepherds were watching over their flocks of sheep. Being a shepherd was a hard life. And one without much remuneration, and even less respect – shepherds were often considered social outcasts. Suddenly angels appear, announcing the birth of the baby in the stable. Not in Rome, not to the Emperor. Not to the Roman Governor in Judea, nor to the High Priest, nor even near the temple Herod was busy building in an attempt to assuage the Jews politically (and enhance his own prestige).
The angels appear to – shepherds. Jesus’ first visitors were those low on the social scale, without any power or prestige. They were followed by wise men from a far away country to the East. But mostly the world continued on, ignoring the events in Bethlehem. No one in Rome seemed to notice.
The King of Kings, the Saviour – God incarnate – had entered the world with very little fanfare. In Christ, God gives himself to all humanity. To you and me. To all of us, regardless of rank, wealth, gender or race. In Christ we see what grace is – nothing less than God himself. God came to us in a totally unexpected way, and identified himself with us, as human beings. In the most unlikely of circumstances, to the most unlikely of people, God became human to reconcile all peoples to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). In this helpless baby, we see power redefined. We see divinity in the ordinary. We find hope. We find new life.
Whatever your year has been like – whatever pain, loss, suffering, and whatever joy, delight and blessings you have experienced – we celebrate this amazing grace of our giving God this Christmas. May you be embraced by the love and grace of God, and share it as God makes possible, this Christmas season.