O Come, All Ye Readers
While decking halls with boughs of holly and trimming trees, leaving cookies for Jolly Old Saint Nick, and listening for sleigh bells in the quiet of that night before Christmas are all wonderful, fun traditions, none of them are really what Christmas is about.
Two centuries ago, a heavily pregnant Mary was forced to travel from her home of Galilee in Nazareth with her new husband, Joseph, to his ancestral home of Bethlehem in order to take part in the mandatory census by Roman decree. We complain about delayed flights and security checks today, but think of what Mary and Joseph must have endured on their journey, which was about seventy miles. Slow, slow travel. Days on end. Rugged terrain. Complete discomfort.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph sought out a place for his wife to rest. The Greek word used by Luke for inn is kataluma. Rather than the modern idea of a inn with multiple rooms, a kataluma references the upper room of a house, most likely a house owned by one of Joseph’s relatives. When scripture says there was no room in the inn, it simply meant that there wasn’t even a corner available in the common room for Mary to lay down.
But, there was a stable, tucked away from all the crowds in Bethlehem. There was a bed of straw for Mary instead of a hard floor in the corner of a common room. The stable was a safe shelter. A place where Mary could give birth to her son in privacy.
On that night, not too far from Bethlehem proper, there were shepherds out in the fields. Many historians believe that these shepherds were Levitical shepherds charged with keeping watch over the sacrificial flocks used for temple worship. It is supposed that the fields in this particular region were the Migdal Eder, translated at the watch tower of the flocks. In the lowest level of the watch tower was where the Passover lambs were birthed. Since the Passover lambs had to be pure without spot or blemish, when they were born, the shepherds would wrap them gently in strips of cloth and lay them in troughs hewn from the bedrock, not unlike a manger.
To these men, on that silent night, an angel appeared in the heavens, clothed in glory so bright, it illuminated the landscape with blinding brilliance. The sight must have been truly awe inspiring, so awe inspiring that the angel had to reassure them:
Then a heavenly host of angels filled the night sky gloriously, singing tidings of this great joy. The import of all this would not have been lost on the shepherds. Don’t forget, they were Levites, from the priestly tribe of Israel. They were the ones charged with bringing into the world the Passover lambs which would be sacrificed annually for the atonement of Israel. They wrapped those lambs in cloth and laid them in mangers. They would have been more than familiar with all the prophecies about the coming Messiah.
The news the heavenly hosts sang of quickened the hearts of the shepherds. They traveled to that stable to see for themselves that which the angels proclaimed.
There they found a man and a woman amidst the lowing cows and the baaing lambs. And, as foretold, swaddled and lying in a manger was a baby. His name was Yeshua, which in Hebrew means Yahweh is restoration, salvation, and deliverance. These priestly shepherds understood the indelible connection between the baby’s name and the fulfillment of prophecy.
And they witnessed more. Magi- men of great spiritual wisdom and repute- knelt before this child. They carried costly gifts of specific significance- gold which symbolizes Christ’s deity; frankincense which represents his holiness, and myrrh, an embalming spice, which signifies the suffering love he would endure for our sanctification. They lavished this infant with this veritable fortune and paid him the ultimate homage by kneeling in reverence before him.
And while the shepherds didn’t come with physical gifts, they were overcome by the grandeur and awesome significance of the moment. They too knelt in adoration.
Why would magi, men of wisdom and experience, of great pomp and circumstance travel across the world to kneel before a baby in a feeding trough? Why would Levitical shepherds hurry to a stable to kneel before a child?
Because that child was the child foretold of old. The child of promise.
The Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, had come. The King of kings had comes to earth. The Deliverer. That’s why the shepherds hurried to be there. That’s why the wise men journeyed from afar to behold the sight.
And while the moment was one of reverence, it was also a time of great joy, just as the angel had said:
The spirit of Christmas is a spirit which is joyful and triumphant.
The angels proclaimed tidings of great joy which are for all people. Those tidings were that the child of promise had come to earth, the Savior of the world, Christ the Lord, Emmanuel. God was with us in the flesh, the incarnate deity, born to reconcile sinners with the Father.
Those joyful tidings are about our triumph. We are worthy to stand before the holy presence of the Father because we are washed and made pure by the blood of Lamb. And this gift, the greatest gift ever given, is for every single person without discrimination. Good tidings of great joy to all mankind.
I wish you all, dear readers, a happy Christmas, for it is a happy time. May you have times of great joy this holiday season. May we be like Ebenezer Scrooge after his transformation, full of generosity and joy:
P.S. Here’s a link to my YouTube Playlist containing all the songs featured on today’s blog with a few more sprinkled in for fun.
P.P.S. And if you’re looking for some fun Christmas music, check out this playlist with a few of my other favorites that didn’t fit in today’s post. Santa, while delightful, didn’t fit into today’s theme, although he features in quite a few of these songs.