Christmas Eve 2021 Nigel Bunce
Christmas is a blessed time for both adults and children. Luke presents us with a truly magical account of Jesus’ birth. It has just as much relevance to today as it did 2000 years ago.
Christmas with the Old Masters
As I thought about the birth of Jesus this year, I thought about Old Masters’ Nativity paintings. Mary always wears her traditional blue and white dress. Everyone else, even the shepherds, has nice clothes. There are usually a few cute lambs in the picture. And, a brilliant light from heaven illuminates the whole scene.
Art and Nativity pageants romanticize the Nativity. Reality would have been completely different. I don’t see Joseph and Mary looking gazing adoringly at the new baby with the light from heaven shining on them.
Christmas with the Scriptures
Instead, I see couple of exhausted, hungry, and dirty teenagers clinging onto one another in the dark. They’d come to Bethlehem for a census. So, they had to walk nearly 60 miles from home in Nazareth. Because, Scripture tells us, everyone had to go to their ancestral town or village. So, there were loads of people in Bethlehem. All looking for somewhere to stay. But, even if there had been a Holiday Inn in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have had the money to stay there.
So, hungry and tired, Mary and Joseph trudged around, looking for a cheap place to stay. But everywhere was full. Finally, just as the search seemed hopeless, they came to this one place. The owner said they could stay in the shed out back. Or, maybe it was a barn.
The Infant Birth
And then, Mary’s birth pains started. A couple of kids from Nazareth, not even farming people. What did they know about reproduction? Did anyone offer to help those two kids in the darkness? We don’t know.
Maybe Joseph had to help with the birth. But he probably didn’t know much about what to do. Birthing was women’s work. And, how clean was the straw? Joseph and Mary must have been desperately worried. In those days giving birth was highly dangerous. So many women died in childbirth.
All this reminds me that this is still the reality for many people in the world today. I think particularly of refugees, escaping from their homeland. The woman is expecting a baby. When the time comes for the baby to be born, she doesn’t end up in a nice hospital with clean sheets and trained nurses.
Instead, she’s like Mary. She ends up outside. Or in a humble shelter. Giving birth to a baby under insanitary conditions. Just as dangerous as 2000 years ago. Having had two children born in modern hospitals, I just can’t imagine how awful it would have been, if I’d had to help deliver them, without help, in a cold and dirty stable in the dark.
Life is so different for those of us who are fortunate. Christmas is a happy, special, and wonderful time. There are parties to attend. Special meals with family and friends. Even though, this year we have to cut back on those things – again – because of the COVID pandemic.
Michelle and I will miss being with our kids and grandkids. But there’s a plus side. Video technology brings them right into our living room. Back when I first came to Canada, we only had the telephone, and it was super-expensive. We only used it on special occasions.
Christmas with the children
Let me talk now directly to the children who are watching. Part of the magic of Christmas is coming to church on Christmas Eve and seeing the church all decorated. And, in the creche we can see Mary and Joseph, and the animals around the manger. Baby Jesus is lying in the manger. Just the way that we read in our Bible story.
The people who wrote the Bible used a special word to describe Jesus. They called him “Immanuel”. That word means, “God is with us.” Because Jesus is God’s gift to us.
Who were Mary and Joseph?
Joseph and Mary were not important people. They were just ordinary. Like us. But God thought that Joseph and Mary were good enough to be Jesus’ parents, even though Jesus was such a very special gift.
Joseph was a carpenter. Mary wasn’t working because she was expecting a child. When they travelled to Bethlehem they couldn’t afford to stay at a hotel. They had to make do with sleeping in a stable with the animals. There, Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus.
Imagining the first Christmas
I would like you to shut your eyes, and pretend that it’s the night that Jesus was born. Just imagine that you are one of the shepherds out on the hillside. You are looking after your sheep. Brrr! It gets mighty cold out there on the hillside.
The sky is black, with millions of stars, too many to count. If you listen carefully, you can hear the sheep snuffling away as they sleep. They are all snuggled up close together. It’s your job to keep them safe from the mountain lions, and. So, you have to stay awake.
Suddenly, the sky fills with light. An angel appears out of nowhere. This is really scary. But the angel says, “Don’t be frightened. I’ve got amazing news. Right down there, in Bethlehem, God’s son has just been born. If you hurry down, you can see for yourselves.”
A Christmas prayer
So, still imagining that we are really there, you stare into the baby’s eyes. He’s so new they aren’t really focussed. Unfortunately, it’s tradition to bring a gift, but you have nothing to offer except love and wonder for this holy child.
So now, let’s shut the door of the stable. It’s windy outside, and we don’t want the baby to catch cold.
Now, open your eyes again. Let’s end with a prayer. “Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus into the world. We ask, what gifts can we give people this Christmas? Answer, we can show everyone in our families, our friends, and even strangers Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. They mean more than expensive gifts from the store. So, I’ll finish by wish you all every happiness and blessing this Christmas season. Amen.”